~ Time Enough ~
by Isobel Rowan
swansedai [at] gmail d o t com

Disclaimer: Captain Janeway and her crew aren't mine, but I like to play with them. Thank you, Paramount, for creating them.

Characters: J/7

Timeline: Around the middle of season 7, I think. (I am not a precise person, more of a big picture gal. So there may be a few minor inconsistencies. What I lack for in precision, I make up for in plotting and character passion.)

Sex: Oh, yes with mature rating.

Violence: Chapter 7 is graphically violent with references to violence against women.

Summary: A mysterious human child is found in the DQ among a Reptilian Race who worship the Borg. Though her origins are a mystery, she is destined to change the lives of Capt. Janeway, Seven of Nine, the Voyager crew and time itself.

Genre: Romance/Adventure

Chapter 1: Discovery

Captain Janeway smiled, her head slightly tipped and a small gurgle of disgust threatening to roil in her throat. She averted her gray-blue eyes from the cold, slithering gift in her hand. She felt drops of water hit the knee of her trousers and she fought for a placid appearance.

In front of her were Captain R'hoth D'goba and Councilor Fehl Ba'tour, both representing the Mencari, a reptilian race of spacefarers. Both of them towered over Captain Janeway and her diplomatic envoys by nearly three heads. The turrets of their eyes were moving eerily independent of each other, taking in the visitors easily. Their snouts were flat and long, filled with rows of serrated teeth.

The Councilor wore billowy pants, similar to Captain D'goba's, but it shimmered with a more ornate design.

Councilor Ba'tour held out its own gift in fat, muscular hands. It gestured to Captain Janeway in encouragement, perhaps. But its facial features were remarkably absent, except for a fork tongue that slithered in and out of its massive mouth. "These are blind gormah eels," it raised its paws filled with thin, black creatures with milky eyes. "They are found in the only lake on the homeworld. To all Mencari, they represent abundance and good fortune, Captain Janeway." The Councilor dropped its wiggling, sliming creatures into a glass bowl of water. "Please, Captain," it gestured toward the bowl. "It is part of the ritual of friendship."

My pleasure, Janeway thought as she finally divested herself of the slippery creatures. The two groups of eels immediately formed a winding ball, causing the Mencari present to begin a percussive pounding of their long, powerful tails on the ground. They raised their snouts in unison, crying out a cheer before allowing their tongue to snake upward.

The Captain looked secretly at her oily hands and then around for a towel. When none was offered, she reluctantly wiped her dress trousers. These will have to be recycled at least twice, she thought.

Councilor Ba'tour adjusted a bright red sash at its shoulder. "Captain Janeway," it said, one eyes fastened on the shorter human while the other observed the Borg. "This is a auspicious omen! They are mating! The ultimate blessing to bring forth another brood. It means the Goddess blesses our friendship."

Captain Janeway allowed herself a genuine smile. "We are grateful for your friendship, Councilor Ba'tour."

"Ah, Captain," it said. "The Mencari are grateful for saving our merchant ship from the pirates."

"I am grateful as well," Captain D'goba said, his lisping more pronounced than the Councilor's.

"We owe you much here on this outpost as supplies are scarce. The hydroponics garden needed to be replenished." The Councilor allowed its tongue to vibrate uncomfortably close to the Captain, who used all of her willpower to keep her feet planted in place and her spine from tipping back.

"We were glad to help," Janeway said, focusing carefully on one of the Councilor's green eyes.

As the Captain listened to further explanations of the celebration events she followed the Councilor's other gaze to Seven of Nine. Upon beaming to the remote space station, she had been singled out for excessive, obsessive deference. She was whisked away after the commander of the outpost, Councilor Ba'tour made a formal, diplomatic request to the Captain for such honors.

Seven had been brought back to join the Captain and the rest of the crew moments before the friendship ceremony. She was wearing shimmering pantaloons much like the Councilor's but in shades of blue and aquamarine with sandaled feet. In addition, she wore a matching halter-top with her face covered by a thin, gauzy headdress. Seven's blonde hair cascaded down to bare shoulders. Her clavicle was a sharp, sleek line of fit beauty.

The Captain thought Seven looked breathtaking, though a bit mechanical in her movements in the sensuous and revealing garb. Janeway forced herself to look away. She had not felt attracted to a woman since her Starfleet Academy days. Ages ago, she thought. When she had time and the inclination to pursue a relationship. Now, she was the captain of a vessel fighting to survive on its journey home. Her responsibilities precluded such luxuries. Anyway, Seven's heart belonged to her second-in-command.

Seven had walked stiffly to the Captain surrounded by members of the command staff. She much preferred the tight, full covering of a bodysuit that she usually sported. She was grateful no one spared her any attention, except for Chakotay. He had mentioned on more than one occasion that his brief lustful gleam should be welcomed for the compliments they were. However, Seven of Nine found them intrusive and objectifying. But the Borg drone was resigned to them as part of the mating rite.

But when the Captain's eyes swept quickly over her ill-clad body, Seven felt complete naked. She was unsure if Janeway's expression carried censure or disdain, particularly when the Captain looked away. The thought of either pierced Seven to the core of her being, a place that Chakotay had never even approached. After living almost three years on Voyager under Janeway's careful study, Seven reduced her sentiment for Janeway to one of respect as a student for a favorite teacher.

Captain watched discomfort, apprehension, fury and finally fear play across Seven's face. Though she had repressed her emotions for eighteen years in the Borg Collective, they tumbled out of her, rapid and powerful like water from a crashing dam. Janeway considered that it must be disconcerting for a former Borg drone to be singled out, but Councilor Ba'tour explained that the Mencari owed a debt to the Borg. Unusual, Janeway thought. She made a note to pursue that information later.


The ritual of friendship was long and complicated, involving many steps with only two of ten having been completed. As the Captain waited patiently for another role, she felt a breath at her ear. "Captain, you're doing great," Chakotay whispered with a wry lilt.

She smiled uncomfortably as the Councilor's eye swiveled to capture her. When it darted away, Chakotay spoke again. "It's okay, Captain," he whispered. "One of the Mencari mentioned to me they can't hear low or high frequencies."

"Next time, Commander," Janeway said with a playful tone, "you will be assuming the diplomatic duties." She brushed her own hands together for good measure.

He smiled, a dimple parading itself on his tan cheek. "That will be the time I'm treated to mystery meat that tastes just like a Kobe steak," he whispered. "It would be just your luck."

Janeway shifted on her feet, waiting for the curious Mencari eye to pivot away. "Good thing I don't believe in luck, Commander."

"See Seven?"

Janeway again waited for the questing eye to find another point of interest before she answered. "Yes, she is quite stunning."

"Thank you."

Janeway nearly whirled on the chauvinistic comment. The commander sounded so Twentieth Century sometimes. She wondered how Seven could endure the untamed sexism. Perhaps she doesn't know better, Janeway thought. Chakotay appears to be Seven's first love interest that she was aware of. Though Seven of Nine continued to individuate since being severed from the Collective more than two years ago, she continued to struggle with interpersonal relationships of all sorts. The Captain sighed quietly, shoving a basic need for companionship - Seven's company - way down into a dark pit, where it belonged. She turned sharply from Seven when the Councilor addressed her.

"So now, Captain Janeway," Councilor Ba'tour said in a lispy accent. "We have gifts for you, our defenders." The Councilor's head tipped side to side continuously, as if to see the Captain with both of its eyes. Janeway tried to ignore the long, flicking forked tongue as it flitted in and out of a mouth filled with pink saliva. "There is no other gift we could offer more holy, Captain Janeway of the United Federation of Planets."

The Councilor laid what Janeway believed to be translucent material across the Captain's hand. It stepped aside, allowing every Mencari on the outpost to follow suit. "These are the gifts of ourselves, Captain. The revered remnants of our most recent molting."

Chakotay tucked his chin, smiling as he scratched his forehead. He felt a nudge from Lieutenants Torres and Paris, only shaking his head in answer.

The Captain's smile was reduced to an isolated curl of her lips, as she nodded graciously as each of the Mencari aboard the space station reverently offered their own skin in homage.


The Captain carried the heavy load of scaled skins over both arms. The room set aside for the Voyager crew's pleasure was not close to the festivities, in deference to their need for tranquility. Sauntering side to side, two honor guards escorted the Captain as she lugged the gifts, her arms quivering with exertion. Captain Janeway would have walked briskly, yet she had discovered that the Mencari were an unhurried race. Perhaps from their heft or the curious way their muscular legs moved in counter sync to the arms and head. Janeway considered they undulated, rather than marched. Perhaps they are a recently bipedal species, the scientist in Janeway mulled.

Leaving the guards at the door, a breathless Janeway entered a twenty meter by twenty meter room, lavishly decorated in silk-like fabrics in cool blue tones. Cushions littered the floor, but absent were any chairs or table. She hastily tossed the heavy load into a corner.

As the other crew members arrived, Janeway had finished a conference with Lt. Commander Tuvok. "Fine, Tuvok," she said abruptly. "Janeway out."

Ensign Harry Kim turned to take in the room. "This reminds me of that cheap hotel on Risa," he said to no one in particular. "The one with the-"

"The one with the retro neon lights and the nude bellhops," Lt. Tom Paris finished, as he and Lt. B'Elanna Torres entered the room.

"That's the one," Kim said, crossing his arms.

Torres pivoted on one foot taking in the room. "Please tell me we are not 'camping' here tonight, Captain."

The Captain unbuttoned the collar of her dress tunic. "Not unless you want to, Lieutenant," she replied dryly. "Remind me to drink an entire bottle of Romulan Ale before one of these."

"I will require an intoxicant as well, Captain," Seven said, entering the room with Chakotay at her elbow. She crossed her arms over her bare belly. "My attire is most...insufficient."

The Captain watched once again the morphing of human emotions in her beautiful face. It was such a pleasure to watch the former Borg revel in feelings, however distasteful she found them. Janeway lightly tapped Seven's cheek with her fingers. "Or you could just...adapt, Seven."

The humorous comment drew chuckles from the other members of the command crew, including Chakotay. But Seven of Nine offered only an icy stare and an arched brow, uncertain why the quip made her bristle.

The Emergency Medical Hologram, sporting his mobile emitter, materialized in the room. He looked around at the accommodations with a sardonic arch of a brow. Janeway was surprised there were no tart comments from the sarcastic doctor. But he had been known on occasion to bite them back. The Doctor flipped open a tricorder, his face transforming into childlike curiosity. "These Mencari are fascinating," he muttered as he studied the readings.

Janeway appeared over his shoulder, reading the data. "The Mencari are...single sexed?" She was usually careful to hide expressions of surprise. Starfleet captains could not indulge in the simple reaction at the risk of losing the confidence of her crew.

"Yes," the Doctor said uninterestedly. "What's more noteworthy is the lack of opposable thumbs. It completely sweeps away generations of scientific hypotheses regarding differently abled species."

"You don't find their singular gender to be noteworthy?" The Captain noted that her command staff seemed more interested in sex than thumbs, as well. Perhaps that's only natural, she thought.

"Captain," the Doctor said matter-of-factly, "there have been countless species on earth with only one sex. Some even with three."

"I believe that Species 8472 has eight," Seven noted.

"I'll bet the pick-up bars in fluidic space are pretty crowded," Paris said with a quirk to Torres, who rolled her eyes.

"You'd still have trouble rounding up a date there, Tom," B'Elanna replied sourly.

"I don't need a date," he said, pulling her shoulder close to him. "When I've got you."

"Then cut the crappy jokes. Or else."

"As the only two adults in the room were saying..." the Doctor said, nodding sharply to the Captain. "It is not the sex. The Alpha Quadrant has as many species with as many sexes as days of the week. But the truly astonishing fact remains...a sentient, reptilian species-"

"That is warp-capable," Seven noted.

"Yes, that a species such as the Mencari completely bereft of opposable thumbs have built a modern, spacefaring civilization... It simply boggles the mind and shatters so many theories of Darwinian evolution."

"Wait a minute, doc," Chakotay said, leaning against a marble-like pillar. "Apes have thumbs and-"

"Aked frogs on Phylo Antares have opposable thumbs," Janeway noted.

The Doctor looked up sharply. "Having a thumb did not ensure evolutionary ascent," he replied arrogantly. "Its absence only precluded it."

Torres threw herself down on a few pillows she had stacked up against a wall. "I'm surprised they haven't been driven to extinction," she said, thinking of her interactions with them during the day. "They are so...docile."

Janeway pushed off the wall, a hand on her hip while the other absently rubbed her downcast head. She considered the Mencari height, yet they nearly crouched in almost submission at the site of Seven of Nine and to a lesser degree the Captain. They had avoided physical contact, even a mere shake of hands and paws. But they had abjectly and profusely apologized. "The Mencari are indeed that," she finally said. "Yet, one look at their musculature, they could send me flying a hundred meters with one swipe of a tail. So why docile?"

Janeway stopped, looking up quickly to capture Seven's eyes. "Have any Mencari ever been assimilated? Is there anything about them catalogued in that...brain of yours." Janeway had struggled to leave out "lovely."

Seven looked away, an expression that she was considering the answer. "No Mencari have ever been assimilated by the Borg Collective, Captain."


"But they practically live in the Borg backyard," Tom said.

Seven pushed away from Chakotay, tiring of his hand around her bare waist. "Captain," she said, walking closer to the woman. "Not only have the Mencari never been assimilated, but every attempt to do so has...failed."

The Captain's raised eyebrow urged Seven to continue.

"Their overlapping scales prevent assimilation tubules from entering their flesh."

The Captain considered their deference to Seven. "None of this really adds up."

The Doctor snapped his tricorder closed. "Are we going to dream up wild stories about the Mencari or use empirical data to actually theorize?"

"What are you suggesting, Doctor?"

"I believe, Captain, that while the rest of you...enjoy tonight's festivities, I have been offered a grand tour of the space station by the Councilor's aide. And I believe it would be wise to take her up on the offer."

"Her?" The Captain noted.

"Yes," he replied with a bored tone. "All Mencari are she's."

"At least that we've seen here on the station?" Chakotay said.

"But how do they have babies?" Tom asked the question that no one would voice.

"Leave it to Mr. Paris to turn our attention once again to sexual reproduction," the Doctor noted distastefully. "Perhaps we will conduct a seminar about asexual reproduction on Voyager. It does exist and is quite prevalent, even on Earth." The Doctor took his leave of the Captain and dematerialized.

"Well, so they are all she's," the Captain said, with a crooked smile.

"That is not an open invitation, Mr. Paris." Commander Chakotay's chuckled when Tom shrugged his shoulders, one of which was punched by his angry sometimes-girlfriend.

"Thanks for the clarification, Commander." Tom rubbed the upper arm gingerly then turned to offer his most innocent look to Lt. Torres. "Don't worry, B'Elanna. I'm a one-Klingon man."

"Uh huh. That's what I'm afraid," she hissed as she walked away, her hands clenched to nearly white.

"Hey, what does that mean?" Tom turned to Ensign Harry Kim, gesturing to the retreating figure of Torres. "What does that mean?"

"It means, Tom," the Captain said finally, raising a hand to silence him. "You should know when to pipe down."

"Pipe down? I haven't said anything! It was-"

"Now would be a good time to start," Captain Janeway said with a small edge.

He snapped his mouth.

The Captain looked around the room at her command staff. "We have two more hours. So let's do our best to survive this diplomatic mission."

"Despite the absence of Romulan Ale."

The Captain's head snapped to Seven after her small jest, but she and Chakotay had already turned the corner of the hall. The Borg was not usually given over to humor. But six words seemed to tickle Janeway to the tips of her toes.


Councilor Ba'tour offered a plate of a gray, slug-like delicacy. "Captain, as my honored guest, I offer you the most sublime dish in the four worlds of the Mencari. Gallatore sumante. From my personal collection."

Janeway had been enjoying herself sampling the fine Mencari wine. All very dry vintages with a pleasant fruity taste. They had offered dishes that appeared to be pasta-like and cooked gormah eels had tasted like chicken. But Janeway had grown alarm when the delicacy began to slink across the plate, leaving a mucous-like trail behind them. Janeway gestured to Seven of Nine with her glass of wine. "Councilor Ba'tour," she replied. "We all know who the real guest of honor is. Seven of Nine, tertiary adjunct to unimatrix zero one."

Seven was unaware that the Captain had her entire Borg designation memorized. The designation of Janeway's lips were sublime, Seven thought. Until she found the plate of Gallatore sumante under her nose."

"The Captain is most gracious," Councilor Ba'tour lisped, earning an ingratiating nod from the starship captain.

Seven offered the Captain a stern look. "Yes, she is most...honorable."

Janeway looked away briefly, a light air of amusement dawning. "Councilor Ba'tour said they are simply delicious."

Seven curled a corner of her upper lip slightly when she picked one of the moving creatures from the plate with the hand covered in a Borg mesh. Slowly, she brought it to her open mouth, wondering belatedly if the creature was aware. Just as she was about to lay it on her tongue, a tinkle of Janeway's communicator signal stopped the Borg.

"EMH to Captain Janeway. Medical Emergency. Or is it an intergalactic diplomatic blunder necessitated by a medical emergency followed closely by-" Weapons blasts were heard in the background.


Tingling of the transporter precede the appearance of four people. Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine, the doctor holding a thin, frail girl materialize on board the U.S.S. Voyager. "Captain to Tuvok," she bellowed, sparing a glance at the Doctor and human child.

"Tuvok here."

"Are all hands present and accounted for?"

"Aye, captain."

"Then get us out of here before-"

The ship shook once and twice. "Report!" she barked, holding onto the edge of the transporter control table.

"The Mencari have fired low-yield photon torpedoes. Curious. Their ships are many but ill equipped to offer us any real damage," he replied with the usual disinterest.

"You have your orders, Commander. Janeway out."

Janeway cursed the EMH, but knew he'd done the right thing. But it was not often that Voyager could manage to have and keep a race on friendly terms. Janeway turned an icy stare on the Doctor. "I want a full report, doctor." As she marched out, she yelled. "Seven, you're with me."


"Report," she said entering the bridge.

"Captain, the Mencari have scrambled eight lightly armored ships," Ensign Kim said.

"This is not docile," she said wryly.

"They're hailing us!"


"Captain, I am Sky Marshal To'nock. I did not have the privilege of partaking the friendship ceremony. A pity at first. But now we see you for what you are. A beckoning palm without water. You have deceived us and taken what is not yours." Though it was difficult to tell one Mencari from another, this one's sash was black with a tattoo at her left shoulder of a lightning bolt. She bared her serrated teeth and allowed pink saliva to drip.

The captain stood, buying time to find a peaceful way out of an untenable situation. She was silently trying to suppress the idea of deleting the Doctor's program, no matter how gratifying the thought. She had to think, get them out of the fix the Doctor's rashness has caused them.

"Our doctor, a hologram, as you know Sky Marshall To'nock, detected the child's DNA as human. His inquiries led to altercations and..."

"We are on the brink of war because of a photonic?" The Sky Marshall waved a clawed, scaled hand and Ensign Kim's station began to beep wildly.

"Captain, they are powering up their phasers. All eight ships." In that instant, the Doctor materialized on the bridge, just out of sight of the view screen. He raised his chin arrogantly at the Captain's glacial glare.

"Send the child back immediately and your ship will be escorted safely out of Mencari space."

Captain Janeway adopted her most reasonable tones. "Sky Marshal, she is one girl. One human girl. What could possibly be so-?"

"Captain, your photonic-" The Mencari seemed to become increasingly difficult to understand as her reptilian mouth became stiff with anger. "kidnapped a Mencari. She belongs to us, regardless of any DNA similarities you have manufactured."

"Captain," the doctor said, approaching her. "If I may address this." He turned to the view screen. "I am a medical hologram, not a power tool! I don't manufacture, I observe-"

"Doctor!" the captain chided. "Get on with it."

"Anyway, I have conducted several key DNA scans, Sky Marshal. If anything is rotten on Mencar, it's your story."

The Mencari Sky Marshal shot out of her command chair, her profusive salivation spilling from her mouth. "You insult me?"

"Please, Sky Marshal," Janeway said. "He's a photonic, as you said. But, may we hear what he has found?" To the doctor under her breath, she hissed: "This better be good or you'll be reprogrammed to scrub nacelles."

The Doctor arched an eyebrow and drew his mouth into a tight line. "The child, her name being Dani...if anyone is interested...is not only 100 percent human...she is also the offspring of two Voyager crew members."

"Who, doctor?" The captain's veins were corded. Why did the EMH have to be so obtuse. If that wasn't proof of sentience, Janeway didn't know what was.

"Really, captain! You have complained about my bedside manner for years and yet you expect me to just blurt out what should be a very private moment-"

"Now, doctor. That's an order!"

"All right. Don't say I didn't warn you." He looked at Seven, still wearing her celebration outfit, and then at the Captain. "Congratulations, Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway. It's a bouncing seven-year-old girl."

To the shocked looks of the crew, including the girl's parents, the Doctor sighed. "I should have replicated some cigars. Perhaps that would have made the announcement more festive." Janeway caught the glare from Chakotay, who had been courting Seven of Nine for the past six months.

"Captain!" The Sky Marshal bellowed. "She is ours. We want..."

The captain gestured across her neck in a "cut signal" command.

"Captain!" Ensign Kim cried. "They're firing."

"Shields up."

Several blasts shook the ship. "Incoming!"

"Tom, get us the hell out of here!"

"Aye, captain."

Chapter 2: Possibilities

Captain Kathryn Janeway was grateful for a harmless Mencari pursuit, allowing her to remain on the bridge. She now watched the stars distort on the view screen as she recalled the last few hours.

It kept her from sharing an awkward moment with Seven of Nine, who had retired to her quarters to change for a meeting with the Doctor about the child. Their child!

When the Doctor had revealed the girl's parents, she and Seven had shared a look for several moments. Seven was awash in eagerness and joy. It was profound and unmistakable. Janeway regretted meeting Seven's consummate happiness with dark dismay. Seven's pained eyes told Janeway that she had understood her Captain's non-verbal cues all too well. The joy was banished by fear and disillusionment. It was as if the Captain had ripped Seven's beating heart from her chest and tossed out an airlock. I'm such a fool, she thought. Such a damn fool.

Janeway squeezed the arm of the command chair, watching her skin fade to white with the grip. "Captain," her Chief Security Officer said at his station behind her. "Do you believe the Mencari are capable of locating Voyager?"

She was grateful for this interruption. "Your guess is as good as mine, Tuvok."

"It appears our escape was easily accomplished," he said in his flat, matter-of-fact way.

"Too easily."

Janeway reached around to massage her aching neck and perhaps to alleviate five-million-isoton headache. Why don't I leave the bridge, she wondered. Because I have total and complete control here. When the Captain ordered a hard to starboard, nothing prevented its execution short of a hull breach. Even then, the maneuver would be completed. But to be a mother was a challenge she never pursued or even considered. And yet she was a mother to a seven-year-old girl.

She absent-mindedly rubbed her neck, glancing up at the view screen. The Captain almost hoped that the Mencari would overtake them. Not that she would yield one single millimeter of Voyager or a single cell from any crewmember. She merely dreaded the looming discussion in sickbay about the child.


The Sick Bay doors swished open. A biobed beeped. A small figure lay covered. She could just make out strands of reddish blonde hair. Her milky skin looked clean. Janeway remembered registering a heavy and revolting scent of manure as the Doctor had approached station-side and when they had parted in the transporter room. She wondered at it, more for its absence now.

The Captain could hear the faint hum of Voyager and finally the murmur of soft voices. She stood at the door of the Doctor's office, with the EMH seated behind his desk, Seven in the only other chair and Chakotay standing as a sentinel over his girlfriend. His tanned, muscular hand lay possessively on her shoulder. The sight of their touch nearly caused Janeway to stumble. It reminded her there was no hand at her own shoulder. The bleak loneliness gnawed at her.

The choices in favor of her Starfleet career over lovers crashed down, sounding in her ear like the ticking of a clock in a large, empty house. Three words burned themselves on her heart. You were wrong. You made the wrong choices. Ah, but how could one change the past?

Seven watched a confident Janeway stride coolly into the room. Her unshakable trust in herself and her beliefs had always attracted the former Borg drone. Janeway's self-awareness was so compelling and beautiful.

But in one stumbling heartbeat, Janeway's mask had been stripped away, revealing for Seven's surprised scrutiny an unexpected vulnerability and a tenderness so eager it rendered the younger woman breathless. In that moment, Seven of Nine wanted to bridge the divide between them - of rank and rancor, culture and age differences. But in another heartbeat, the public Janeway was locked firmly in place again. The chasm grew to insurmountable proportions and in that moment a longing so profound took root in Seven, one she'd never even imagined. It was for the private Janeway that Seven hungered.

Seven moved to rise to her feet, but a casual flick of Janeway's hand and a low "as you were" spared the room the stifling Starfleet protocol. The last thing Janeway needed to remind any of them was that she was their commanding officer. Steering a course through this with a woman who had defied her at any opportunity would be difficult enough.

Janeway took a spot near the far door, giving her a view through the transparent steel to see the girl lying asleep on the biobed. My daughter!

The Doctor looked around to find a pensive Captain, an uncertain ex-Borg and a fidgeting First Officer. "Well, I'm certainly glad that Dani has been sedated," he said, patting his desk down. "Given the level of enthusiasm in this room, I may have to break out the fire suppression hoses."

"Doctor, can you just give dispense with the theatrics?" Janeway asked.

"Fine, Captain," he said, handing both women two padds he had found lying on his desk. "As I mentioned earlier, Dani is the offspring of Captain Janeway and-"

"Doctor," Chakotay growled with a bitter edge. "We remember that part."

The Doctor regarded Chakotay with an annoyed look. The imposing Commander crossed his arms before giving a lift of his chin. The Doctor looked down at his own padd, thumbing down the information. "Very well...then I'll skip-"

"Doctor," said the smooth, even intonations of Seven of Nine. "I believe that I have several questions."

"As do I," the Captain said, trying to avoid glancing at the couple. "Despite Commander Chakotay's complete understanding." Then she turned toward the couple, finding a glower from her First Officer and a blank look from Seven. "Seven, after you."

"Thank you, Captain." Gracefully, Seven shifted her long, shapely legs to face the Doctor. "Doctor, I was unaware that two females could copulate-"

Janeway closed her eyes and pursed her lips. Two fingers pinched the bridge of her nose. The purple stars behind her clenched eyes gave way to a curvy, naked figure draped across her bed. Her blonde hair splashed on a pillow. Seven's eyes hooded and her moist lips parted. Janeway's open mouth poised over a scrumptious nipple and a hand hidden between lanky legs. Janeway snapped open her eyes when she almost groaned. She found a bold curiosity in intense blue eyes, a blonde head tipped to one side.

"My apologies," Janeway whispered. The words sounded half-hearted even to her own ears.

Chakotay edged forward in his seat. "What Seven would like to know," he said, "is how could she and the Captain have a child together but be completely unaware of it?"

Seven turned steely blues toward Chakotay's handsome face. "That was not my question, Commander." Seven said with an edge of steel.

The Commander smiled softly at the warning in her voice. He had always preferred spicy women.

Seven frowned before turning her attention to the Doctor. "As I was saying," Seven said, "I cannot comprehend the mechanics involved in, nor the biological process permitting, two females to mate. Could you explain how this can be?"

"Excellent question, Seven," he said, without sarcasm. He favored the woman whom he believed had more in common with him than either human present. As the Doctor droned on about the various theories, Seven turned her eyes to Janeway.

Seven had always felt pleasure to study the classically Irish face with its smattering of freckles brushing her cheek bones. The gray-blue eyes that could esteem or immobilize even the most experienced Star Fleet Officer. The expressive eyebrows that rose and fell in harmony with her logical arguments or playful banter. In fact, Seven mused, Janeway had such a sharp mind; it was nearly Borg-like in its efficiency. But as a drone, the Captain would have been an abysmal failure and likely recycled because of her proclivity to independence and enterprise.

Again, Seven's gaze perused the Captain's body from eyes to thighs. The thought of having sexual relations with her was intriguingly tempting. Seven made a note to research female-to-female copulation techniques.

Seven lamented the apparent disinterest of the Borg Collective in the aggregate sexual experience of millions and billions of lives. That they had assimilated female lovers of females (a statistical probability, after all), no group memories of homosexual practices survived in her database. For that matter, heterosexual and even polysexual rituals and logistics had been discarded out of hand, irrelevant to a species that reproduced through assimilation.

Belatedly, Seven of Nine turned her full attention to the Doctor when he began a breathy explanation of an absorbing concept. "Actually, there are numerous natural instances of parthenogenesis-that is female-only reproduction-all resulting in solely female children, as is the case with Dani. This phenomena has been studied in the Alpha Quadrant in lower plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. It's interesting to note that the Alanchoe plant on Tiburon undergoes an internal flowering-"

"Doctor!" the Captain said, sharper than she intended. Then more gently, she added: "Doctor, we appreciate your...thoroughness on the matter. However, we may encounter another Mencari contingent any moment. Can you confine your remarks to this specific case?"

"As you wish, Captain. I just find the entire notion of reproduction quite fascinating." The Doctor gestured to the padds he had given them earlier. "Dani's DNA is split between the two of you, as you would expect in any offspring-"

"I do not believe you have answered my question," the Borg said, giving a sideways glance to the Captain. Their eyes held for a breath, each reveling in that brief moment in a powerful affinity neither had ever really experienced before. Seven turned her attention back to the Doctor when she heard Chakotay clear his throat. "In this particular case. How can a subunit have two mothers?"

"Because this subunit," he said with a lift of a brow, "doesn't have two mothers, Seven. I've highlighted in yellow her specific mitochondrial DNA. This section is passed unchanged from mother to children. Dani's mt-DNA is a perfect match to Captain Janeway's." The Doctor regarded the Captain, whom he noted had once again pulled on a mask of impassivity.

"Is there evidence of...genetic manipulation" The question tightened Janeway's shoulders and expression, but it was one that had to be asked.

The words "genetic manipulation" hung in the air like tobacco smoke, filling their minds with historical atrocities. Earth had banned genetic engineering in the twenty-second century after the protracted Eugenics War when the world fought to overthrow the oppression of a group of designer supermen led by Khan Noonien Singh. These men were designed through genetic manipulation to be mentally and physically superior to ordinary people. The practice was banned worldwide and, later, within the Federation.

"No, Captain, I see no such evidence." To Captain Janeway's skeptical lift of a brow, the Doctor elaborated. "If Dani were genetically engineered, I would have detected anomalous sequences or genetic fillers that match neither-" and then with a brief, deprecating glare to Commander Chakotay "-donor."

"Yet," Seven said. "Dani exists."

"Oh, yes, she does," the Doctor said enigmatically, nodding his head emphatically. "Eliminating all possible conjectures leaves the likely solution. Sexual reproduction."

A tense, stillness descended in the room. Janeway was unsure if it was directed at her from the pair or from Chakotay to his girlfriend. She chanced a glance to see the couple withdrawn and disregarding each other. Janeway hated to see anyone's relationship sour, especially Chakotay whom she had always considered a friend. But the possibilities with Seven made the Captain feel that perhaps the consuming loneliness could finally be extinguished.

Into the void, Seven of Nine spoke. "Doctor," she said. "I was not aware that women could copulate with each other. Nor have I ever noted any sexual tension between the Captain and I."

Janeway inhaled sharply, looking away. She'd give up her morning coffee for an entire week to fast-forward through this meeting. A sexually inquisitive ex-Borg drone newly independent and facing a potential lesbian tendency more than complicated an already complex situation.

The Captain gathered all of her dignity to speak the words about herself and a member of her crew with whom she'd had only the most casual of friendships. ""Doctor, are you saying are you saying that we had sex to produce this child?" She forced herself to not look in Chakotay's direction.

"Of course not," he said egotistically. "I use sexual reproduction in its scientific sense. The union of one egg and one sperm. It doesn't matter whether that union was in the bedroom or petri dish."

"Doctor, I do not possess testicles. Therefore, I do not produce sperm," the Borg pointed out helpfully.

He arched an eyebrow, handing them both another padd. "Here is an article I found from the twenty-first century detailing experiments with stem cells."

The three officers groaned.

"Indeed," the Doctor replied. "Remember that medicine then was in its infancy. However barbaric the use of stem cells, there was an actual successful experiment coaxing bone marrow cells from a female to create sperm. I can only conclude that may be the case here. So, Seven, to answer your question succinctly, you are the father. Congratulations, daddy."

"But where does the girl come from?" Chakotay inquired. "Seven has never had this procedure. Is she from our future or-"

"No," the Doctor replied. "Once again, by brilliant deduction, I have found a phase variance within her cells. She is one-point-two percent out of phase with our universe. Ergo-"

"She comes from an alternate timeline," the Captain said. "But that still doesn't explain how we found here in the Delta Quadrant. In our universe."

"If I had that answer, Captain, I would probably be Q and certainly not dependent on a computer to sustain my holographic matrix."

"Thank you, Doctor. I'm so glad you pointed that out."

Her look of disdain was completely lost on the chief medical officer. "Your welcome."

Chakotay shifted on his feet and squeezed Seven's shoulder. "How do we send her back?" Chakotay drew a slow and furious look from the Borg. This was the man whom she gave her virginity to, Seven thought. She was mystified about why he was adopting a defiant attitude toward the girl. My subunit, she thought. She also cast a murderous glance at Captain Janeway. If the good Captain perceived her as insolent before, she would likely be thrown in the brig over the child. "Unacceptable." Her voice was molten with fury.

Captain Janeway brushed aside the uncomfortable feelings that Seven set to simmer. She'd always prided herself on doing the right thing, regardless of extenuating circumstances. The tempest brewing in Seven of Nine's inner cube would have to wait. She dropped her arms and straightened. Her contralto voice of command was a cat-o-nine tails aimed at her First Officer. "Chakotay, the child will remain on Voyager, if and until we determine why she is here."

He crossed his arms, lifting his chin. "She's not a puppy. You can't just keep her. She-"

"Hold on," the Captain said, raising a hand. "We have no way of knowing whether it is even safe for her to return."

"The Captain is correct," Seven said, her features softening at the older woman. While the Captain and Chakotay stared each other down, Seven heaved to her feet, obstensively to speak as a peer. But the blonde wanted physical distance to match her increasingly emotional distance from him. "Perhaps the Captain or I sent the child through a singularity to this universe."

Slowly, the Captain's battle weary eyes met Seven's. They had always sparred relentlessly. She felt a sudden flooding of relief to not be alone. "Perhaps that universe was too dangerous," the Captain whispered.

Janeway was rewarded with a small curl of Seven's lips.

"But in this timeline," Chakotay said, stabbing his own palm with a finger. "To allow her to remain here would be a violation of the Temporal Prime Directive."

Janeway stilled herself. She'd always promised that she would listen to a crewman, even if she disagreed with him. That was more imperative now than ever. She did not need a mishandled disagreement with Chakotay to divide the crew.

Chakotay nodded at her consideration of his arguments. "We don't know what a child will do to this timeline. This universe. To keep her here in our time is both unethical and against Starfleet regulations."

Slowly, Seven turned a glacial gaze on him. Though she was most uncomfortable with anger, it was the only emotion she could feel at this moment.

"The reverse could also be true, Commander," the Captain said. "To return her could be unethical and a violation of the Prime Directive."

Janeway's words brought Seven back from a cauldron of fury. "Since we are unaware of the circumstances of her temporal displacement, it would be unwise to return her." Seven turned to meet the Janeway's gaze. "Do you not agree, Captain?"

"Definitely." Janeway rewarded Seven with one of her patented crooked smiles, the ones that always made the Borg want to shudder. It was a baffling response considering the ambient temperature inside Voyager was a constant twenty-two-point-two degrees Celsius. Neither hot nor cold, she thought. Puzzling.

The Commander steadied himself with one hand on the back wall, looking down at his Starfleet-issue boots. He stomped a foot, as if to remove caked-on dirt. "I would like my objections noted for the record, Captain." He looked up to meet her gaze, but offered no softening of his features as a gesture.

She nodded sharply once. "So noted, Commander."

"I will note them as well, Commander," the Borg said, the thorny displeasure in her voice lapping at the First Officer.


"Well, now that we've gotten paternity and maternity out of the way," the Doctor said, more to himself than to his three guests. "Ah, here it is." He displayed a three-dimensional image. "This is Dani's skeletal frame." Three red flashes displayed. "On the clavicle, tibia and metatarsus. Here, here and here. Her bones were broken-"

"When?" the Captain asked stridently.

"From bone ossification scans, the metatarsus break appears to have been the most recent. I would estimate within the last three months. What I found disturbing, Captain, was that each break, beginning in the foot, was progressively worse than the one before it."

"Almost as if it were intentionally inflicted?" the Borg asked.

"Possibly," the doctor replied grimly.

"Torture!" the Captain said, a barb of rage embedding inside of her.

"I cannot confirm that as of yet, Captain," the Doctor said hastily. "But I cannot rule it out either. So it remains a grim possibility." The Doctor watched the two women. When he was certain they'd finished this line of questioning, he resumed. "None were set with any precision."


"They will have to be re-broken and set with a bone-knitter."

"Will the child experience pain?" The Borg asked.

"I can render her unconscious and, as the three of you are aware, there would be some discomfort even after the bone-knitter had completed its cycle."

The Captain had lowered her head, arms across her chest. "Is that the worst of it, Doctor?"

"No." The barbs cinched around the Captain's heart. "I wish I could say it was," the Doctor said. He turned to push another button, changing the three-D skeletal image to one of the central nervous system. A red light flashed in the front of the brain. "That is the prefrontal cortex. A device of unknown origin is embedded there."

"Does this device transmit signals?" Seven asked.

"Does it override any of her higher brain functions?" the Captain asked.

"Can it be removed safely?" Seven inquired in one breath while the Captain continued with another.

"If it is removed, how will it affect her?"

The Doctor's head had ricocheted between the two women, until he finally held his holographic cheeks with his hands. "Stop. You're making me dizzy. I do not know the answers to these questions. Dani has only been my patient for all of two hours. I will need time."

"This device could potentially be a weapon of some sort," Chakotay said. Finally looking around to find Seven once again discontented with his remarks. "In theory. Isn't that right, Doctor?"

"In theory, it could be her very own personal holodeck, Commander. As I said, I will need to conduct more tests, run more scans. Things of that nature. I don't have the luxury of pulling-"

"Fine, Doctor," the Captain interrupted. "When can you start?"

"Right now, if you'd like. But I think there are more important matters."

"Such as?" the Captain said.

He rolled his eyes. "I sedated her as she was crying out for her mother, Captain. Crying for Seven of Nine. She needs your comfort while I prepare other diagnostic procedures."

The Captain's eyes widened. Her breath quickened. She could almost feel her heart beating out of her chest. It was so much harder to focus. She'd faced the Hirogen, the Borg, the Kazan and countless others, but a seven-year-old daughter was the most frightening prospect of all.

She glanced quickly at Seven, who appeared not to have any of these panic reactions. Oh, wonderful, she thought.

"How many more procedures are required?" Seven inquired.

"Captain and Seven of Nine, Dani has been through a harrowing experience. The fact that she has recovered recently from pneumonia is of little note at this point."

"Doctor, I want a full and complete medical report on my desk as soon as humanly possible. Is that understood?" Even the Doctor was not immune to Captain Janeway's whip of command.

"Yes, of course. Though to say as humanly possible is a little insulting to me, Captain."

"As holographically possible, then."

"Thank you, Captain-"

"Oh, Doctor," Janeway said. "One last question. What of the girl's smell when you carried her?"

He leaned back in his chair. "I believe that she was safeguarded-"

"Safeguarded?" Chakotay's voice was almost shrill.

The Doctor nodded, but continued as if uninterrupted. "Safeguarded against the Mencari adults. It appears from the information they gave me prior to our hasty retreat that Mencari can be somewhat...cannibalistic. Their hatchlings protect themselves by wallowing in fecal matter until they are large enough to defend themselves. The smell wards off potentially hungry adults."

The look of horror was matched on all three human faces. "Docile indeed," Seven whispered.

The Doctor was unphased by the habits of corporeal beings. He found many human rituals and habits to be equally repugnant, but he knew that now was not the time to enumerate them.

He stood and gestured toward the door. "Shall we meet your daughter?"

Chapter 3: Circling

Commander Chakotay tried to make his way to the child's bedside, but Seven blocked his route. "Commander," the Borg said flatly. "It would not be wise for you to remain." He glanced self-consciously at Captain Janeway and the Doctor as they made their way out of the small office.

When they were alone, Chakotay turned back to study the blonde for a moment. "Why is that, Seven?"

She lifted a brow, letting her eyes wonder. Chakotay sensed this was almost like a tedious chore for Seven of Nine, that he should know why he was not needed. Or wanted, he thought.

"The child may not know you," she said flatly. "It could prove traumatic. It is imperative for us to reduce stresses."

"Ah," he said, looking over the shoulder as the Captain and the Doctor conversed beside the sleeping 7-year-old.

"Whose stress are we reducing, Seven? Yours? Or the Captain's?"

"Neither," she said sharply. "The child's well-being is my concern. As a new crew member, she should be your concern as well, Commander."

Chakotay let his raven eyes around the Doctor's less than private office, as a hand slid down over his taut lips. He had been planning a holodeck getaway for he and Seven for their six-month anniversary for the day, all the rations he could muster. He wished they were there now away from the day-to-day stress and from a child who wasn't his.

"Look, Seven," he said finally in the hushed, tranquil tones he used to sooth his horse. "I'm sorry about all you've been through in the last few hours. I'm sorry a child with your DNA is lying sick on a biobed. But I couldn't in good conscious let you and Captain Janeway forget about our obligations to the ship, this crew and to Starfleet."

As his silky voice began to lilt, Seven let her gaze slowly slide down capturing the essence of the man. The Mayan tattoo emanating from his left temple, the three gold pips and Starfleet command red and the Starfleet-issue boots he stomped angrily in the meeting.

"It's my job," he added when she remained mute.

Finally her blue eyes found his endless black. "When, Commander?"

He stared at her. When Chakotay realized Seven was not going to elaborate, he smirked slightly. Sometimes she was too childish and it "When what, Seven?"

"When did you become Starfleet's drone?"

The smirk slipped from his face, replaced by a glower. Chakotay usually adopted a mentor role with her, one he both thrilled to and abhorred. It brought them together to in knowledge but it separated them as unequal. It seemed to be the role Seven herself was the most comfortable, one she'd adopted even with the Captain.

A few weeks ago, Chakotay and Seven's conversation had slipped into a discussion of authority, command structure and the obligations of an individual to the society and herself. For the Borg, drone was the essential foot soldier. But in the natural world, Chakotay had pointed out, drones were emasculated beasts of burden doing the queens bidding.

The memory suffused his face in a glacier and his lips parted slightly. His eyes bounced furiously between hers. "I can understand that you don't know that this is not the way lover's fight-lover's who want to keep loving. I think you are hurt and I'm truly sorry-"

"Answer my question, Commander."

"Commander is it?"

"Yes, Commander."

"Is that how it is now? Chain-of-command? Because if it is, I should put you on report for what you just asked me."

The sheer boredom on her face was another slap to his face. "By doing so, you merely confirm my assessment, Commander."

He poked the inside of his cheek with his tongue and brought himself to his full height. "Which is?"

"As a Maquis you fought for your ideals. You believed Starfleet was wrong to enter a truce with the Cardassians. And even if you had been the only Starfleet officer to resign his commission, you would have done it. You would have been the one-man Maquis."

He blinked, staring at Seven's passionate face. He'd never seen her so enthralled in her own ideas before.

"Conscientious objector is, I believe, what history calls your kind. And you would have given your life for your belief." Chakotay lifted his eyebrows, wondering where she was headed with this.

"Regardless of regulations." The three words were a second slap, and he shook his head slightly.

"Is this a discussion of my career now?"

Seven pulled back from him, a sad look settling on her face. "No, Commander Chakotay. It is a discussion of your earnest desire to return my daughter to a place and a time where she could be killed."

"She's not your daughter, Seven."

"She shares my DNA-unlike Seska son's-the one you thought was yours. The one Captain Janeway risked this crew and this ship to find for you."

He looked up, remembering when he had told Seven about that harrowing time. "That was different," Chakotay finally said.


"I didn't know he wasn't my son and he was in danger."

"Ah," she said. "So the child is my daughter and she's in danger, but-"

"You don't know that she's in danger, Seven. Maybe your counterpart in the alternate timeline wants her back that she-."

And there is was. Proof that Commander Chakotay was willing not only to suggest that Dani be returned from where she came, but to argue and fight unrelentingly to separate her from the girl. No, Chakotay did not love her. His concern was Borg-like, at its most diabolical. Seven had a function and a station that she must fulfill. Anything outside of that was irrelevant and non-essential.

Chakotay had his pick of women on the ship. Seven was one of many. He had said recently he desired commitment. That is how he lured Seven of Nine to his bed, a quick and mildly pleasant experience. But for him now to light against a dream of her becoming a mother. A dream she had shared with Chakotay lying naked next to him in his bed. That was more proof.

With her independence from the clutches of the tyrannical organism like the Borg, the thought of what they had stolen from her seemed more real and she became awash in bitter grief. The Borg had stolen her childhood. Her innocence. They had taken freedom, joy and creativity, leaving only mirthless, mind-numbing work. They had taken her adolescence and her fertility. Her future! She was powerless then. This Seven would not now allow Chakotay to rip from her hand.

With a lift of a cleft chin, the splash of loss and abandonment were submerged. "You are terminated from this relationship."

"I'm...what? Terminated?"

She stared mercilessly at her ex-lover. Then Seven set her blue eyes for the door and turned on her heels.

"You can't just walk away!"

Seven stopped at the entrance of the Doctor's office, and without turning said: "What is it about terminated that you do not comprehend?"

He stepped behind her, both strong, tanned hands on at her waist. In her ear, Chakotay whispered: "You can't mean that, Seven. Every relationship has bumps-"

She stepped forward, effectively out of reach. "This is not a bump, Chakotay." Her bland voice focused the Doctor and Captain Janeway's gaze on her. Seven's eyes seemed to be relieved, Janeway thought, as when the blonde said: "It is an implosion. Our life as it has been is over. From this time forward, we are strangers."

Seven stepped gracefully toward the Captain. "Captain, may I have a few-"

Captain Janeway watched Chakotay, his jaw muscles rippling, as he angrily stalked from sickbay. Then she turned to offer Seven an empathetic expression. "Are you all right?"

She nodded, her placid features once again in place. "I am now, Captain. So may I-"

Janeway studied her crewmember, looking for signs of a crack in the formidable armor. She wanted to take the woman in her arms, but knew that would be completely inappropriate. She was the Captain, after all. Belatedly, Janeway felt eyes burning into her, realizing that Seven was also studying her. "Oh, yes, of course, Seven. Take your time. We'll wait here." Captain Janeway berated herself for enjoying the view of Seven swaying her hips as she exited the room. "Sublime," Janeway muttered.

"What was that, Captain?"

She turned toward the Doctor. "You were saying, Doctor-"


As Seven approached the biobed, the Astrometrics Officer felt vaguely displaced. She accepted Captain Janeway's small, warm smile as she leaned over, studying the child's familiar face. Seven of Nine's only memories of children were of boys and girls with wide, frightened eyes and mouths frozen in blood-curdling shrieks just as her assimilation tubules punctured their necks. Seven of Nine the Borg was ruthless and unrelenting. The pity had been irrelevant and even after she was severed from the Borg, the guilt was irrelevant. That is also why Seven of Nine was utterly unprepared for a tenderness so formidable her pull to the child lying on the bed would even defy even the tidal gravitational forces of a black hole.

"Let's get started. Shall we?" The Doctor raised a hypospray to wake the sedated child.

Seven stood to her full length. Janeway could see the shiny blue eyes bursting with unshed tears and a possessive hand curled around the girl's became transparent.

"Doctor, may we delay the hypospray for fifteen minutes? I wish to study the child's physical characteristics." She looked at the Captain, expecting to see impatience because of the delay. Janeway's simple look of affection was heartwarming and Seven actually allowed her lips to curl slightly at the corners.

"I suppose you'll want some privacy. I will just practice my play. I will be starring in MacBeth in two weeks. I hope you'll both come." He looked down at the slumbering child. "Dani, too." Then he de-materialized.

Seven bent at her waist and placed the back of her fingers on the child's smooth, creamy cheek. "So soft," she whispered, her breath on the fine, white down of the child's cheek.

The Captain rubbed a thumb over a dimple in Dani's chin. "She got this from you, Seven."

Seven shifted her eyes to see the divit, affectionately caressed by the Captain. Then she brushed a few strands from her face. "The light red hair is from you, Captain."

"Strawberry blonde."

"Captain?" She looked up briefly.

"That's what light red is called. Strawberry blonde."

Seven regarded the child once again, rising to her full height. "It is nearly midway in hue between yours and mine."

"I'm sure that won't be the only feature we will find that belongs to both of us."

Seven let her fingers trail down the girl's soft arm, finding bone where muscle should be. "The child has not consumed sufficient nutritional biomatter."

The Captain finally laid three fingers on the girl's shoulder. "She is a scrawny thing."

"And quite tall." Seven scanned the child with her ocular implant. "Exactly One hundred twenty-seven-point-two centimeters." The Borg noted, secretly pleased to have passed on something of her Nordic heritage. Then, Seven looked gravely at the Captain. "Is it wise to subject the child to Mr. Neelix' cooking?"

Seven's expression was so grave that the Captain had trouble keeping hers serious. A crooked smile slowly stretched across her face, lighting it up. "Is it wise for any of us, Seven?" She looked down at the slumbering child, her fingers dipped into the small hand.

"Indeed." Seven lifted the child's hand, studying each fingernail working her way up to the seven-year-old's lean shoulder. "Captain, do you believe that we loved this child?"

"Oh," she said, watching the Astrometrics Officer inspect the girl with a profound sense of awe. "I'm certain we did." Janeway tipped her head to the side, caressing the girl's cheek. "How could we not?"

Seven pulled the covers back to study the girl's bruised legs, wincing at what she found. "I have a powerful drive to protect her." She looked into the Captain's eyes, wondering why she had never seen Janeway's compassion and vulnerability before this. "Though I am not acquainted with her."

"The maternal instinct is very strong."

Seven turned her attention to the child, running a finger over a scar she found on the child's forearm. "Do you feel this, as well?"

"Oh, yes."

"Do you think we could make another one?"

The thought startled Janeway out of her own thoughts. "Excuse me?" she said in an uneven croak.

"If we made another baby, you and I, would she be identical to this one?"

"We haven't even made this one, Seven. Not really."

"We did somewhere, in some alternate timeline," she said, looking up at the biobed instrument panel. Seven saw many other new, exciting possibilities she'd never considered. Finally, her eyes narrowed on Janeway. The smaller woman was quite attractive. The Captain was stimulating feelings in the Borg that she found both pleasant and disquieting. "Do you believe we loved each other?"

Janeway thought about the question. The more she pondered it, the more she realized it was an astute insight into motivations. "They must have, Seven. No one willingly shackles herself to shrieking and incontinent infants."

Frowning, Seven looked down at the girl. "The girl is not incontinent now?"

"Oh, no!" The Captain waved a dismissive hand. "Just for the first year or two. But she's not far from adolescence. And that's an entirely different sack of potatoes."

Seven belatedly realized that the Captain had deftly changed the topic. She wondered if Janeway did not have sexual feelings for her in this universe. Do I desire her? Seven wondered. She watched as Janeway lightly touched each of Dani's toes, as if doing a roll call. When the woman actually kissed the top of the foot, Seven was so charmed a brilliant smile stretched her lips showing Janeway her straight, even teeth.

"You know, Seven, I don't believe I've never seen your teeth before."

With even a hint of mirth, the younger woman responded. "I do not believe I have ever seen you kiss someone's foot before."

In a heartbeat, a suggestive grin touched Janeway's lips before it disappeared as if it had never existed. Seven registered movement on her lips, but no words were spoken.

"What did you say, Captain?" In fact, Seven knew very well that she had not spoken.

Just then, the Doctor materialized.

Startled, Janeway started. "I really wish you wouldn't do that."

"And five, four, three, two and...time's up." Without waiting, the Doctor pressed the hypospray to Dani's neck, then stood back.

Dani's head began to move slowly side to side and a small moan escaped her cracked lips. Her long eyelashes swept open to reveal eyes the exact color of Seven's. She blinked at the tall blonde, her eyes filling with tears. She bolted up, her feet landing with a thud. In no time, Dani pressed herself to Seven's body, wrapping her arms around the woman's waist and burrowing her face into her mother's chest. "Mommie!"

Seven absorbed the blow of Dani's body to hers as she met Janeway's shy gaze with a look of pure raptured bliss. Automatically, one of Seven's arm brought the child close while the other luxuriated in the short pale russet strands. Just when she thought she could not be more content, the child looked up into her tall mother's eyes. "It's really you," she said, before burying her face again to laugh joyfully.

"Well," the Doctor quietly. Captain Janeway was astonished to see the sarcastic Doctor moved to silence. "I believe I will let the three of you get-"

At the sound of his voice, Dani turned with a gasp at the site of Kathryn Janeway standing beside him. She paled and wobbled, before burrowing further into her mother. "I see a ghost," she whispered, gritting her eyes closed until she saw red spots.

"A ghost?" Janeway and Seven exclaimed together.

Without turning, Dani pointed in Captain Janeway's direction. "I see her."

Janeway frowned inwardly. She hadn't even spoken to the child and here she was already frightened by her. Terrific.

"Do you see her?" Dani looked up at her mother again.

Seven kissed the top of her head. "Yes, Dani. I see your mother. She's no ghost. Take a look."

Slowly, Dani laid her cheek on Seven's chest. Through her long, reddish eyelashes she watched the figure smile at her. Only after her eyes had rolled over the figure of her mother did Dani push gently away from the blonde, still gripping her hand. "They told us you died."

Kathryn's faint smile was sad as she tipped her head. She knew that she couldn't pollute the timeline with more knowledge than Dani needed, in case it was imperative she be sent back. But the urge to chuck it all to hell nearly overwhelmed her duty. But she held firm for the love of a girl she hardly knew. "I'm right here, love."

At the sound of her voice, Dani sobbed. "You even sound right," she whispered. She tucked her chin, releasing Seven's hand. Kathryn took that opportunity to open her arms wide in invitation.

Dani ran and flung herself into Kathryn. "Oh, Cappie," she cried.

Janeway looked up at Seven, who had another rare smile spread her lips. "Cappie?" Janeway mouthed. Awful.

"You feel right, too." The girl inadvertently wiped her leaking eyes and nose with the Captain's tunic.

"You do, too," she said, stroking her hair. Kathryn continued to enfold the girl tightly, cooing words of comfort when her eyes lifted to find a Seven who looked completely and totally enshrouded in a mist of delight. Kathryn closed her eyes, a single tear squeezed from each eye. I'm silly, she told herself. None of this is real.

Dani lifted her head, watching a tear fall on her shoulder. "Why're you crying?"

Kathryn wiped the other drop away, smiling warmly at the child. "Oh, it's been a long time since I've seen you. That's all."

"My Cappie," she whispered. Dani pulled back to look into her mother's eyes. "They told mom and me you were dead. But you aren't!"

Janeway smiled, relishing Dani's childlike love. She had no intention of trying to explain alternate universes to a seven-year-old. For now, Janeway convinced herself to allow Dani to call her Cappie.

"They were mistaken," she replied.

Just then the Doctor rematerialized with a bowl of soup and a beverage. He started to speak, but the site of a tender moment between Janeway and the child stopped him again. Instead he set a plate down.

The girl opened her eyes too and sniffed. "Somethin' smells."

"Yes, well, I usually don't bring food around to my sickbay. But, since you're special, I made an exception. You certainly could use the calories."

The Doctor indicated for Dani to sit down a round, white table. She looked at Seven. "Will you stay and eat with me?"

"I do not require nutritional supplements at this time," Seven said. But a shadow of fear and loneliness moved across Dani's face and the Borg relented. "However, I will sit with you while you eat."

Dani spun around to take the Captain's hand. "Cappie?"

The Doctor's amused eyes met the Captain's. A withering look stabbed into him. "Yes, Cappie, perhaps you could join them," he said, humor lacing his words.

The Captain's icy glower disappeared when she looked down at Dani. "I think I can manage some time."

The Doctor's brow arched. "It's not like these few hours will ever compare to the double and triple shifts you've pulled."

Captain Janeway knew it was the responsibility of the Chief Medical Officer to oversee the crew's well-being, including hers. But sometimes, he was such a pompous ass, she wanted to just unplug him.

"After we eat can we all play a game?" When their gazes became dubious, Dani tipped her head. "Please," she said, pulling out the word with as many musical notes as possible.

"Will you consume all of your nutritional supplement at this time?" Seven asked her, after remembering a time when Naomi's mother Ensign Samantha Wildman had used the same technique.

She looked down at the bubbling red soup on her plate. Her nose crinkled and her lips curled in obvious disgust. "What is this?"

"Why don't you try it?" The Captain said, loosening her tunic a bit. She looked down at her hand, faintly grimacing. She wiped her hand on her slacks and used a napkin on the stain. Kids, she thought. She really wished she would have gotten in a sonic shower and, now, that she could change her uniform. She had a feeling it was going to be a while until Dani went to sleep.

Dani sat in the corner of a chair she didn't bother to pull it out. She spooned some of it up and let it fall to the bowl.

"I believe that is Neelix's feragoit goulash," Seven said, peering over the table at the dish.

"It looks like ferret guts, all right." Dani sniffed the spoonful of goulash, earning a raised eyebrow from her taller mother.

"Neelix has claimed that his goulash is a delicacy in twelve star systems."

Dani ignored the Captain. "And it smells like ferret guts, too."

"I was not aware that you were a connoisseur of the intestines of small, domesticated carnivores," Seven said, a typically placid face. She waited for Dani's reposte, but the girl continued to glare at the watery soup with floating white chunks. "Perhaps it would be wise to sample the dish before drawing conclusions."

She loudly slurped some from a spoon, after blowing on it. "Hmm." Dani sipped the goulash with a loud serious of slurps. "Tastes like Gee-gee's Irish stew." She gave a beaming smile to Kathryn.

Both of the women glanced involuntarily at each other, wondering whether they should inquire just who Gee-gee was.

Dani stopped her spoon mid-air, looking straight at the Captain, who was trying to smother her dismay of the predicament. "Will Grandma Gretchen stop by today?"

Janeway's face lit up with understanding. Ah, Gee-gee. Of course. "No, your grandmother is not in this...parsec of space." She watched the child chewing enthusiastically, smiling at her with the simple joy of a child. "Do you enjoy it?"

Before she realized it, Dani was done eating. "What's for dessert?"

Seven glanced down, finding only an empty tray and spoon. "What would you like? I could program-"

Seven paused at the look of shock and concern on Dani's face. Dani looked over at Kathryn expectantly.

When the surprised child didn't speak, Kathryn leaned back on her chair. "What, Dani?"

Dani raised her eyebrows and her eyes became golf balls. "Cap, are you gonna let Andy zap me up a chocolate cake?"

Kathryn's intuition was telling her that this situation was more than met the eye. First, she presumed that "Andy" was really Seven, though she didn't understand the significance of the name. For that matter, she realized that they didn't even know Dani's complete name. "Zap" as it relates to the food replicator...Hmm, that sounds like Gee-gee, Janeway mused.

Kathryn and her sister, Phoebe, were raised in Indiana by traditionalist parents who shunned such modern conveniences such as food replicators and transporter technology. She remembered growing up that she and Phoebe couldn't play Parisi Squares or Kadis-kot like the other kids. They played checkers, hopscotch and jump rope. "God forbid that you and your sister should actually grow up as friends playing in the sunshine," she remembered her mother saying at the time. It was dismal for a child to be different. Now she appreciated the traditionalist values. But perhaps the alternate Kathryn invoked the same rule for their family.

Kathryn tugged her ear, tipping her head to one side. "Oh, I don't know, Dani. Don't you think our reunion is a special occasion so that we could bend one tiny rule for today?" Then she gasped as she finished speaking at the significance of what that really meant for her and Seven.

Dani seemed to consider the words, before nodding once; while Seven's eyebrows were nearly in orbit. "Yeah, okay, Cap," Dani said, in such a conciliatory way as if she were conceding a grand point. "I guess I could let you guys slide this time."

The Captain tousled the girl's head until she heard a faint, playful growl. "My, perhaps you should be caged."

Seven caught her breath to see a small replica of a crooked smile grace the child's face.

"After cake," she said, picking up her fork, eyeing Seven with anticipation and a lick of her lips.

Seven rose and stepped toward the replicator, after receiving a secret wink from the Captain. She knew that B'Elanna Torres had mentioned her love of chocolate, as had other women on the ship. She was reasonably confident that the replicator included that data file. "Very well, chocolate cake."

"With lots of icing," Dani added helpfully. "And don't forget the sprinkles."

Seven pivoted back to place a slice of chocolate bedecked with colored sprinkles. "Your dessert." Seven placed a two-layered chocolate cake and glass of milk in front of the child.

"Where's yours?" she asked crestfallen.

Seven gave a small curl of one corner of her mouth, pivoted back and pressed more buttons. She returned to the table with two more plates. "Captain," she said.

Just as Seven's fork was poised to dive into the dessert, she caught an odd expression on the child's face. Kathryn realized that Seven called her Captain, hardly a name a woman called her wife. Like a parent groping in the dark for direction, Kathryn did the best she could. She provided a diversion.

"So, Dani. Checkers?"

Dani's eyes snapped over. "I'm red!" A few crumbs of cake flew out and her parents were treated to the sight of a mouthful of cake.

Janeway gave Dani a mildly admonishing look. She had the good sense to blush and apologize.


Later, Kathryn, Seven and Dani were playing a game called Borg Chess. The special gridded, triangular board has been warped from a cube into a flat two-dimensional playing surface. The peculiar board allowed parallel paths to intersection and intersecting paths to become parallel. Of the nine sets of triangular pieces that started the game, Dani had three remaining, Seven had four and Kathryn five.

Kathryn raised her hand to move one of two remaining queens, placing it near the apex of her quadrant. As soon as Janeway relinquished the piece, Dani's eyes clouded.

She threw herself back on her chair and folded her arms. The seven-year-old brushed furiously at tears. "I'm not a baby, Cappie."

The contradiction between her conduct and her words nearly made Kathryn offer an infuriating smile. But she remembered those from her own youth and quashed it out of hand. "I didn't think you were."

Dani's thin, light copper eyebrows shot up. "Why're you letting me win then?"

Janeway's expression pleaded with Seven, but she was only offered more pretzels. When Janeway looked again at the girl, she noticed that her pale skin was the color of her freckles. Janeway opened her mouth, but closed it. Of course, she'd set her queen up to be gobbled. She and Seven had been pandering the entire game. Isn't that what parents were supposed to do? Kathryn inhaled deeply, laying a hand on the table near Dani.

"I'm sorry, Dani-"

Dani swung her arm across the table to nab her drone and then fired it at her mother's taller piece, knocking the queen off the table. Her own piece landed across the room, both shattering to bits. "I knew it!"

The outburst startled both women. Janeway thought an admission would have smoothed everything over, instead they were treated to a seven-year-old tantrum. The women watched Dani angrily sweep all of the game pieces into the pretzel bowl, before folding the board and laying it on top.

"I guess we're done," a stunned Janeway managed. Not even her younger sister had been quite so volatile.

The Doctor materialized by the table. He frowned at the game pieces in the bowl and at the huffing girl. "It appears I've arrived just in time for your next antibiotic injection." He smiled pretentiously at Dani.

"I have to pee," she growled, bolting to her feet. Dani was standing in the middle of sickbay before she stopped. Without turning she asked: "Where's the head?" She pounded her fists to her waist waiting.

The Doctor toward the ensuite in the far corner. They all saw her hesitate slightly. "Do you want one of us to go with you, Dani?" Janeway said, rising to follow through with that offer.

"No!" But she remained turned away, showing them the chopping lengths of uneven hair. Then as if the clouds had rolled by and the sun was out, Dani's voice became so small. "Doctor, would you stand by the entry?"

"Post traumatic stress disorder," he whispered to the women before making his way to the other side of the room.

When the ensuite door slide closed, Janeway gave Seven a fatigued look. "I think you've spoiled her, Seven."

Seven quirked the eyepiece at her left brow. "Perhaps Gee-gee did." Her emphasis on Janeway's mother's nickname made the older woman actually snort. "It is illogical that I would allow such behavior."

Janeway clicked her teeth. "I don't know, Seven. Her tantrum was very efficient." Slowly, Janeway's small grin found an unamused Borg drone.

"The child possesses red hair." The quick nod of her head for emphasis was greeted by a beaming crooked grin.

"Let's call it a draw." Janeway tossed a pretzel in her mouth. "The irony is, Seven, we were both holding back." She'd watched Seven give away so many pieces to Dani the competitive drive in Janeway nearly compelled her to cry foul.

"Of course, Captain, but I believe the rules are different for us. You are the..." Seven stared up, considering the most precise description. "You are the spur and I am the...feather."

"The spur? Why am I the spur?"

"Because, Captain. As you spurred me on, so do you also inspire the child."

"Easy for you to say. Feather." Janeway's eyebrows peaked at the top of her nose, sloping down and out with a wry look twisting the corners of her mouth. Seven had come to know this as Captain Janeway's playful expression.

"What I meant, Captain, was-"

Janeway pointed a clawed finger at Seven. "That's another thing, Andy."

Seven crossed one arm over the other, an eyebrow arched high. "What is the other thing and who is Andy?"

"You're Andy. Evidently, it's my designation for you."

"How did you reach your conclusion?"

"Intuition." Janeway said the word, emphasizing each syllable. She knew the ex-Borg would be tweaked by the very concept.

"That is a human fallacy." Her monotone voice still managed to infuse the insolence of an entire galaxy. "Does your intuition know the significance of 'Andy?'"

"Not yet. But it will."

"Perhaps we should make an inquiry with the child."

"No!" Janeway glanced over her shoulder at the ensuite door. "She'll be aware of her timeline shift. It's better not to confuse her."

"This is...inefficient, Captain." Seven of Nine's frown on her full lips was just about the cutest one Janeway had ever seen. She wanted to reach across the table and kiss the pouting lips.

"Don't call me that in front of her, Seven. Her reaction when you first used it was...shock."

Seven stood to collect their cups for recycling. "Very well, then. I shall call you Cappie."

Janeway's eyes narrowed and her lips thinned. Her voice dropped in register. "You can't do that." She carried the other dishes and game pieces to the replicator station.

"Why is that?"

"Because that's Dani's name for me. Intuition tells me you've given me a different nickname."

"Perhaps you are...Three of Three."

Janeway stared up at the tall blonde. "No, I don't think so." Janeway finally shook her head. She'd never really realized that Seven had a sense of humor. How good was entirely debatable. Of course, the fact that they wrangled at nearly every crossroad may have obscured that fact.

"Intuition?" The mockery in Seven's voice was thick meringue.

"Yes," Janeway said curtly with a hint of wry amusement. Seven turned toward the replicator, as Janeway leaned her shoulder against the wall beside the replicator: "The same intuition that told me..." Janeway tapped a finger lightly against Seven's shoulder. "...to sever you from the Borg."

Seven keyed in the program before watching the dirty dishes dematerialize. Then the blonde turned on her heels, resting her forearm on the wall above Janeway's head. The move put them within a breath from each other. Seven's lips parted as she stared at Janeway's.

Janeway laughed self-consciously, falling back to the wall. She seemed relieved to be out from under Seven's shadow. "You were saying, Seven." She'd tried to keep her voice smoothly modulated, but it cracked at the end. The Captain pretended it meant nothing.

Seven swung the palm of her hand over, trapping Janeway against the wall. As she spoke, the taller woman allowed her gaze to roam over the woman's face and upper body. "I do not believe I have ever expressed my gratitude to you for freeing me."

Janeway's eyes snapped to Seven's. The blonde began a deliriously slow descent toward Janeway's lips. Seven heard a humming moan so faint it required her Borg-enhanced senses to record it. She does want me, she thought.

Just as their lips hovered a whisper apart, Janeway pushed against Seven's shoulders. "Please," Janeway pleaded. "Please don't."

Seven straightened, but kept her arms firmly in place. "You do not wish to be thanked?"

Janeway's eyes tracked to the Doctor standing patiently by the ensuite door, reading a padd, oblivious. When she looked back at Seven, her cloudy eyes were rimmed red. "I do not wish to be kissed."

Seven dropped an arm, but her body rippled from the force to keep herself there. "But, I believe... Did I misperceive, Kathryn?"

The Captain's given name sounded like a symphony on Seven's lips. But "duty" crashed inside of her, drowning out the melody with a wild, deafening caterwauling. Janeway suddenly felt the heat of the woman's shoulders under her palms, reluctantly letting them drop to her side. Janeway focused on the starburst at Seven's right cheek. "No, Seven. I sent a message I had no business sending."

Seven's confusion was heartbreaking. Captain Janeway felt a lump form in her throat, but she swallowed hard against it. "I'm sorry," the older woman whispered.

Just then, the whistle of Janeway's communicator propelled Seven away from her. "Lt. Tuvok to Captain Janeway."

The Captain squared herself and swallowed her lips briefly before replying, her eyes never leaving the gorgeous figure turned away from her. "Janeway here."

"Captain, I believe your presence on the bridge is required."

"What is it, Tuvok?" Her impatience with her oldest friend was razor thin, but she knew it would breeze by him effortlessly.

The ensuite door swung open and Dani looked at Janeway from across the room. Fear and regret passed through her eyes like lightning on a mountaintop.

"Apologies, Captain, but we are being hailed by three Mencari vessels."

The Captain nodded, more for Dani's benefit. "I'm on my way, Tuvok. Janeway out."

With only a flutter of her fingers in departure, Captain Janeway turned on her heels, the door swishing closed behind her.


The Doctor watched Dani's features twist and darken.

"Are you feeling all right, Dani?"

The question drew Seven over to her, seeing an anguished young face. "Are you ill?"

She shook her head, still staring at the door. "Do you think Cappie's mad at me?"

Seven smoothed the child's pajama collar. "No, I do not believe your mother was in the least threatened by your childish display. She has faced the Hirogen, after all."

Dani swiped nervously at another tear. "I'm...I'm..."

The Doctor immediately started running his tricorder around her, watching the displays intently.

Seven draped an around the girl's shoulders. "You are tired."

"And you've been through quite a traumatic experience, Dani," the Doctor said, frowning at the data. "You are still adjusting, it seems."

"Doctor, could you tell Cappie that? That I'm-"

"Out of sorts?" he asked.

The girl nodded, pleadingly.

"Since it's quite true, I will include that in my report that your mother ordered...on her desk...with bells and whistles before she reprograms me as a cookie dispenser."

The tension was broken when Dani giggled. "I like cookies. Snicker doodles are my favorite."

"Good to know," he replied, urging her to sit on the biobed. After administering a hypospray, the Doctor produced a lollipop, earning him a brilliant smile.

She sniffed it. "Strawberry. My favorite."

"That is mine as well," Seven replied proudly.

"Sorry, Seven. I only had one lolly," the Doctor confessed.

"I shall endeavor to carry on, Doctor."

Before Dani popped the candy into her mouth, she stopped with it poised mid-air. "Mom?"

Seven noticed that the Doctor busied himself at the workstation, but he seemed to be merely brushing his hands over the keys. But his ears were perked.

"Yes, Dani?"

"Why didn't Cap kiss us on the way out?"

Seven raised an eyebrow, considering her reply carefully. "I do not know."

But slowly a mischievous grin stretched out on Seven's lips languidly. "Perhaps you should ask Cappie yourself."

The Doctor half turned, a smirk and a gleam signaled his enjoyment of the suggestion.

"That's not like her." The girl stuck the lolly in her mouth, smiling at the flavor. It seemed as if the events of the day were rolled off of her. But looks were deceiving.

4: Stand Off

Voyager faced twenty-five Mencari vessels, just past a desert outpost of a planet. The largest Mencari vessel was the flagship, with stylized serrated teeth represented on its forward hull and its sixteen laser cannons pivoted between targeting Voyager's life support and its warp engine. Though any Mencari vessel was inferior in firepower to Voyager, as a fleet, they were a formidable force.

The red alert klaxon was sounding; Janeway was gripping the sides of the command chair. She'd just issued an order to bring all weapons online.

"Torpedo bays fully loaded," Ensign Kim said. Janeway could almost hear the adrenalin rush in the lad's tight voice.

"Phasers are online, Captain." Lt. Tuvok's voice was cool and even.

Having her back to the wall was nothing new to Captain Kathryn Janeway and her crew. They'd defied the odds countless times since being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Firepower of any kind was always inferior to shrewd ingenuity. Captain Janeway always preferred to talk her way out of tight spot first. She was first and foremost the consummate diplomat. Ruling out all other options, Janeway was as cunning and resourceful as any Starfleet captain. Maybe more. She didn't have the safety net of an entire fleet of starships to watch her six.

A Mencari in bright red and orange scales flashed on the view screen. Her sash was gold and her tattoos at her left shoulder were menacing daggers. A large necklace of teeth adorned her neck. They were not Mencari teeth, Janeway noted. Some looked to be Nihydron, Mawasi and perhaps even Krenim.

But the most arresting part of the Admiral's uniform was the skin of a Hirogen complete with an eyeless, screaming face draped over her head and shoulders.

Janeway set her jaw, not willing to be cowed by such barbaric practices.

The Mencari leader jerked her large head back and forth, each eye turret twisting around. In their earlier encounter, the Mencari had seemed so much more fluid and graceful to Janeway.

Finally, the Mencari opened its long snout to reveal jagged teeth and dripping, pink saliva. As she began to speak, her tongue slithered in and out. "Captain Kathryn Janeway."

"Yes, I see you know me."

The Mencari snapped her mouth shut, inclining its head. "I am Fleet Admiral Chock B'laam."

Janeway crossed her legs, letting an arm drape over a thigh. "What can I do for you today, Admiral?"

Janeway watched as B'laam's scale colored deepened. She heard a crewman gasp and she hoped it was out of decibel range of the Mencari.

"The child," B'laam hissed. "She is ours." Her lisp became more pronounced; her movements more erratic and her streaming pink saliva more effusive. She raged on threatening Voyager with all manner of curses and B'laam ordered the fleet to target the ship's life support and warp core.

Slowly, Janeway slipped a silver pocket watch from her trousers. She adjusted the chain and dropped it, allowing it to swing. The Captain fixed her gaze upon the watch. Slowly, she could hear B'laam's voice begin to grow softer. The lisp became less pronounced and the invectives ceased altogether.

As she stood, Janeway winked at Chakotay, who had given her the watch as a gift during a particularly nasty battle with time thieves. They survived then and they would survive now.


In the end the Captain had secured a temporary truce of sorts. Janeway agreed to meet the Mencari High Council on their flagship to further discuss the child's custody. She could not fathom what possible motive the reptilian race could have for wanting her daughter, but they would have to present a formidable case of facts before she would even let them sample one molecule of Dani's DNA.

Janeway would be leading the away team personally. The only question was who would accompany her. Later, as Janeway sat in her ready room, thinking about the skills she needed on the delicate away team, she steeled herself for a formidable confrontation with Seven of Nine. The ex-Borg was not on the list. Janeway knew their almost-kiss and the daughter they now share would make the apparent away mission snub go down like a forkful of Klingon pipius claw.

Since becoming a member of the crew and the command staff, Seven had felt no qualms about openly challenging the Captain. The line between functioning as an individual or as part of a cohesive unit still a blur for Seven. The Captain had been lenient with her insubordinate outbursts because of her circumstances. But now, the personal complications promised to make a nest of ravenous Cardassian voles seem like a picnic compared to this discussion.

Janeway sighed, telling herself she was still the Captain and that was that.


Janeway stopped just outside the briefing room. She could hear Tom Paris asked if anyone knew when the Captain had acquired lizard-charming skills and wondered if she would teach him.

"For you, Tom, snagging any charm no matter how revolting would be a step up." B'Elanna Torres' comment produced ripples of laughter among the command crew.

Janeway almost laughed out loud as she imagined Tom's indignation. Oh, they all needed time off desperately if they laughed at that. But not now. Now was never the time.

Janeway blanked her face and strode in, her confident gait setting the tone. The Captain noted, as she always did, how the conversations usually faded away when she walked in. It went with the job, but she hated it sometimes. It was a necessary and painful flaw of command.

She laid a padd down at the head of the table and took her seat. "Good morning," she said evenly. She looked around at her command staff, each watching her expectantly. The sight of twenty-five Mencari vessels off the port, not to mention the ongoing yellow alert, had set everyone on edge.

She glanced briefly around the table, then at Commander Chakotay, sitting in his usual post to her left. A thought nearly sucked the air from the room. Chakotay's dark eyes were the color of rich coffee. Janeway wondered if that had been his allure for her all along. Coffee addiction explained her attraction to him, more than hormones. Now that she had a regular supply, her need for him had receded to nothing but professional consideration. "Commander?"

He nodded graciously, though Janeway noted the absence of his usual gleam. He began efficiently to brief the command staff on a plan he and the Captain had discussed to deal with the latest belligerent race that they had inadvertently crossed. Janeway marveled at his relaxed, but efficient tone. It made him an exemplary XO.

Chakotay's face always seemed to smile, even when he was as serious as a photon burst. "The plan," he said, looking at each crewmember in turn, "is simple, really. The Captain will lead a small away team to the Mencari Flagship Yohl Ik'nal. The mission is obviously to find a diplomatic solution to our impasse."

"What exactly is our impasse," Lt. B'Elanna Torres asked. She knew the rumors about a child, the supposed offspring of Captain Janeway's and Seven of Nine. She hadn't been on the bridge during the shocking revelation and she'd yet to meet the kid. But she was not about to face an enemy on hearsay.

Janeway glanced sparingly at Lt. Torres, ever at Chakotay's elbow. She'd proven herself a gifted Chief Engineer without the usual credentials and attendant course of study at Starfleet Academy. Her brilliance was outmatched only by her temper and, as Janeway understood it, by her deep passion for the blond sitting beside her. Unfortunately, the side effect of her love affair was a whittling down of the mythology of her volatility. Still, she remained a formidable force and Janeway was always thankful to be working with her.

"Good question, Lieutenant," Janeway said. "The Mencari believe they possess a claim on a human child. My and Seven of Nine's child, to be exact, if DNA tests are to be believed."

The Doctor bristled slightly. "Captain, I assure you that those tests are full proof, though not knowing the state of medical technology and knowledge of the Mencari, it would be hard to say whether they find the test credible or valid."

Janeway softened her gaze. "I understand, Doctor and I meant no disrespect. The point was Dani is clearly human and yet, these..." Janeway restrained an urge to use any perceived derogatory reference to the unusual race. "Mencari are not. But they are clearly not willing to step aside."

"Twenty-five warships represents a compelling assertion they intend to pursue their entitlement," Tuvok said, in a voice devoid of any loyalty or feeling. It was a voice Janeway had often heard, usually finding much wisdom there. Not today. She was resentful now of its lack of sentiment.

Lt. Paris tipped his head, turning it slightly. From his expression, Tom was trying to figure something out, but couldn't quite grasp it. "Why do they even want the kid?" Paris asked.

Lt. Paris lifted a corner of his brow in a small smirk. He knew Janeway was studying him. Insolent rascal. The irony of Thomas Eugene Paris was that no one ever guessed that the Captain and the Lieutenant were hewn from the same quarry. Starfleet brats. That's what they were. Both of their fathers were Starfleet Admirals with two wives, one of flesh and blood, and the other a Federation ideal.

"That's what I intend to find out," Janeway said. Her gaze gravitated to Seven's, as if she were the only one in the room. It sounded like a promise to everyone's ears, even her own.

"Captain," Paris said thoughtfully. His concerned expression was inconsistent with his usually buffoonery. "I'm not sure if I'm not that away team, but I'd like the chance to accompany you." He leaned forward, as he ticked off his justification. "If you get caught over there with our transporters down, you're toast."

"The Mencari have trained their laser cannons on our transporter system," Tuvok confirmed.

"Without a good pilot, you're stuck in lizard hell." Tom did a double take on B'Elanna. The pride in her face was unmistakable, as was the ripple of fear for him. He curled his lips just for her eyes. Then he took on a deadly serious look. "And I'd suggest that the Delta Flyer be your mode of transportation, instead of transporters."

Chakotay had steepled his hands, resting his lips on the tips of his index fingers. "What about Voyager, Tom? She needs a good pilot."

Tom's small smile vanished when he trained his eyes on the First Officer. "That's the beauty, Chakotay. If we get caught behind enemy lines, I can whisk the away team off of Reptile Central and rendezvous with the ship." Tom faced Captain Janeway, brushing Chakotay's objections aside. "You have a good plan. My suggestion will make it better, Captain."

Tom had certainly proven himself an able pilot-more than able, a superb pilot-and vital member of the command staff. He'd come a long way since Janeway tapped him to pilot Voyager while he was serving time in a Federal penal colony.

Janeway tried to comfort herself in Tom's redemption, both professional and personal. She smiled when she thought of Tom having two wives as well. One a living, fiery bat'leth of a woman and a Federation ideal. Janeway admired, and sometimes even coveted, his union, one that she mercilessly denied herself.

Janeway noticed Tom's face turn to concern and she moderated her own expression to plain attentiveness. "All right, Tom. You're in."

Tom nodded once. "Now I wonder if I should take some flies and crickets with me," he said with a heavy lace of laughter in his voice. "Lizard snacks might come in handy."

Some crewmembers chuckled, but he was still chided by Janeway, who didn't even crack a faint smile. "That's enough, Tom. The last thing we need is to denigrate the Mencari to 'pet' status."

Chakotay cleared his throat. "So here is the away team list. Lt. Commander Tuvok, along with two other security personnel, Ensign Hite and Crewman Lennox; Ensign Samantha Wildman as the resident xenobiologist; and Lt. Mitchell, a scientist, and now Lt. Tom Paris." He looked around the room. "Any questions?"

"I do not have a question," Seven finally said. Her icy blue eyes locked onto the Captain. "I merely wish to point out that you are making a tactical error, Captain, by keeping me from the away team mission."

Janeway looked out of the window, listening to Chakotay and then Tuvok try to reason with Seven. It was like trying to hit a baseball with a noodle sometimes, especially when Seven believed she was right, as she most certainly always did.

Janeway had no intention of allowing Seven or Dani anywhere near that ship. She was trying to keep them safe. But her other reasons were purely selfish. Personal passions clouded reason and an unreasonable captain meant certain destruction. She'd borne the heart-wrenching cost so far of trying to get crew back home. The distance and alienation of command made difficult decisions as these easier sometimes. But Janeway knew that Seven of Nine was dangerously close to tearing down the walls she had carefully and painstakingly built.

Their liaison started out as mutual preservation. The Borg was in a losing battle against Species 8472. They needed Voyager, whether they would admit to that or not was irrelevant. Janeway rescued Seven, though, at the time, the ex-drone thought of it as a cruelty.

Now they were tethered by loyalty to a starship, by Starfleet protocols and now a child they shared. But there was always something more. Janeway felt it, a chemistry between them. The Captain chalked it up to gratitude for freeing the woman from the most tyrannical power in the galaxy.

But yesterday's near kiss shattered that delusion. Janeway now knew that Seven felt the same magical attraction and it scared the hell out of her.

Janeway inhaled deeply. She compacted the yearning for love and companionship, making it a quantum black hole in the middle of her heart. She allowed every longing to be sucked in, never to see the light of day. Janeway's growing affection for and devotion to Seven fiercely resisted the divorce.

But logic would win out. Nothing more could come of their relationship. Not now, not ever.

But out of Janeway's deepest self, an agonizing wail rose to her consciousness. She pressed a finger to her ear while she hammered it down ruthlessly. That was the hurt that would never be allowed to heal, not if the Captain would ever get them back home.

Reluctantly Janeway finally allowed herself to look at the ex-drone, listening intently to Chakotay and the others discuss the plan again. Seven seemed absorbed in their conversation.

Of course, Seven immersed herself completely in every moment, whether it was realigning the field coils in the warp nacelles or trying to defy the Captain on the Velocity Court. Janeway's eyes softened as she thought of Seven dashing and whirling in a desperate bid to win just one game against an "inferior opponent." She nearly chuckled out loud to consider a huffing Seven queuing up an additional round after Janeway soundly thrashed her on the court. Five times.

After listening to the others list a host of reasons to keep the contingent small, Seven finally acquiesced. "You will have to remain here, Seven," Chakotay said, with no bitterness or arrogance. He was relieved that she would be out of harms way.

Seven lifted her chin and said, "I will comply."

When finally, Seven disengaged from the intensity of the plan, she met Janeway's eyes. It was a split second, but not even the composed Kathryn Janeway could quash the tormenting ache for unattainable lips. Janeway's eyes darted away, sure that Seven had not seen it.

"Questions about any other details? Are we all clear on contingencies? Commander Chakotay?" Janeway was surprised no one made any remark, however inappropriate. She knew that her new relationship with Seven was the new morsel of gossip onboard the news-starved starship, but this trepidation was highly irregular, not to mention unprofessional.

Janeway swiveled her chair to her first officer. Since he'd been elevated to her number one, Chakotay had been nothing but expert. She could see the strain around his eyes, but he'd always been the best poker face around. "Commander?"

He smiled, one whose light did not touch his obsidian eyes. "I understand, Captain. But I still don't understand why they can't come here?"

Lt. Torres frowned at Tom, who only raised an eyebrow in warning. "It feels like a set up," Lt. Torres added. "Every instinct in me screams it."

Janeway regarded the team, knowing that their personal loyalties to her as Captain were impeccable. "I understand your misgivings. But we cannot negotiate with a race who has something to prove. We'd never get out of this unbloodied. We have the technological upper hand. If our diplomacy is going to work, we've got to do one thing. Let them sit down at the table with us as equals. We can only do that if we make a strategic concession."

"And a risky one," Lt. Paris added.

"That's why it's called give-and-take, Tom."

"It's not the giving that scares me, Captain. It's what they want to take."

Janeway and Seven's eyes met again, the mutual magnetism drawing them together. But the Captain dragged her gaze away. "If this child belonged to any one of you, we'd be fighting just hard," she said.

"Like with Chakotay's supposed son," B'Elanna added.

"Yes," Janeway said, grateful for a precedent that wasn't her daughter. "The issue is our survival and that of our children, all of them." She looked around for any questions or comments. "Okay, then-"

"Captain," the Doctor said evenly. "I believe there is one more thing."

She arched a brow at him, wondering what he could possibly say about this away mission.

"It's about Dani..." He registered the quizzical looks around the room. "That's the girl's name...Elizabeth Eridani Janeway."

Janeway swallowed her surprise. Elizabeth was her own middle name. Eridani was probably Seven's astrometric contribution, she thought amusingly.

"What about her, Doctor?" Seven finally asked.

"Normally, I would tell both parents alone. However, I think this information may impact your mission." He looked between the two mothers. "It's about the mechanism in Dani's cerebral cortex."

He briefly explained to the rest of the command staff about the device of unknown origins and where it resided.

Janeway squinted, steeling herself. "All right, Doctor. Go ahead."

"The device is integral to her brain functions, Captain."


"There are very long neuropeptides connecting the object with her central nervous system - both autonomic and somatic."

"Doctor," Janeway said with a tinge of shock. "What does it do?"

The Doctor's sigh was frustration. "I don't know," he admitted reluctantly. "I need to do more tests."

"You don't know!"

The Doctor realized belatedly that she was no longer the Captain but now the Mother. The latter were always more difficult to handle, more so than their children. He considered Ensign Wildman, a nervous mother to be sure. Perhaps he did learn something useful from her hysteria after all.

"Captain," he said in his most reasonable tones. "The device has begun emitting a biogenic field." He explained that she was surrounded by an energy field powered by her biological energy.

Janeway's eyes snapped back to the Doctor. Her voice was low and steely. "When?"

"Sensors show it began when the Mencari fleet moored beside the ship."

"Biogenic?" Seven said, musing aloud. "Is it a reaction to the Mencari or a-"

"Stimulus from the Mencari? I don't have these answers. As you are well aware, after dealing with Species 8472, the biogenic field interferes with the sensors."

"And it cannot be removed."

He had never heard Captain Janeway sound defeated. "No. It could kill her. It assists her own autonomic nervous system in regulating her heart rate and other involuntary functions."

Janeway placed a hand on her hip while the other toyed with her chin. "The questions are simple then: does that thing in her head control her or-"

"Does she control it?" Seven finished the question. They both were on the same track.

"And who the hell put it there?" A hard look settled on Janeway's face.

"The Mencari know more than they are saying," Tom added, deeply suspicious of the reptilian race.

"It would appear so," the Doctor allowed.

Janeway was looking off in the distance. The Doctor could not be sure what she was thinking, but whatever it was, her features were beginning to assume those of the Captain who defeated the Krenim and their temporal weapon ship that had distorted the timelines of countless worlds. The strength he saw there provided the Doctor, and perhaps others in the room, with a sense of reassurance.

"Is Dani in any immediate danger?" Janeway asked, ashamed that it wasn't her first question.

"No, I don't believe so. But the computer is monitoring her system and reports to me every thirty minutes with any changes."

"Good," she said. "Notify me immediately of any changes, even if I'm on that ship."

"I always do," he said, with only a faint whisper of biting sarcasm.

"Then we're done," she said. Most of the others were filing out, she heard faint whispers about "the child." No doubt that Seven could hear everything they said.

She stood up and looked out at the stars distorting in the window. "Good luck, Captain," the Doctor said. He was one of the last to leave, anticipating more questions from the mothers, but surprisingly receiving none. "I am sure once you turn on your charm and diplomacy, the Mencari will be offering you the very ships they travel in."

"Damn right," she muttered to her reflection in the transparent steel.


Janeway spun around on her heels. There was much to do before they boarded the Delta Flyer and she wasn't going to waste a single moment, not with so much at stake. She was surprised to find Seven of Nine still seated, staring at her.

Captain Janeway opted to sound nonchalant. "Oh, Seven," she said, walking to her chair to pick up a padd. "I didn't see you there."

When she turned to go, Seven stood up. "Captain Janeway, I remained here to have a word in private with you."

Janeway sat down, pushing back against the seat. "All right."

Janeway assumed her customary listening mode, fingers to chin and full attention.

Seven assessed the Captain, feeling oddly and vaguely removed from someone she nearly kissed just three hours prior. It was an unsettling emotion that Seven had trouble not only processing, but setting aside. She felt a nearly overwhelming need to discharge saline solution from her tear ducts; however, Seven of Nine suppressed the feeling. Tears are irrelevant, she chided herself.

Janeway knew from experience that Seven could say nearly anything and usually did. Her ideas were sometimes off the wall, but never stifled. Creativity was a human ingredient after all.

"You are punishing me." Her comment was flat.

Janeway leaned forward in earnest. "No," she said. "I am not. This was a command decision, Seven. Why would you believe I am punishing you?"

Seven raised an eyebrow. "I wished to kiss you-"

"Hold on, Seven of Nine!" Janeway raised her arms. "That discussion should be saved for another time."

"You wished for me to kiss you as well, though you undoubtedly deny it."

Janeway stared at Seven, surprised at her insight. But still the Captain's face was implacable. But she remembered the hovering of lips and the puffs of hot breath on her cheek. Janeway remembered thinking that she wanted Seven's lanky arms around her instead of resting on the bulkhead. But her face said none of this.

Seven relived the moment as if she were there again. She ignored Janeway's words, and focused on what her body was saying. With Seven's ocular implant, all of Janeway's physical responses could be measured. Her pupils dilated. Her heart rate soared to 92 beats per minute. Her respiration climbed to 24 breaths per minute. Her body temperature escalated in particular zones, on her face, under her arms and between her legs. This was identical to how Janeway had responded three hours ago.

When Janeway did not respond, Seven stood and walked catlike to the other side of the table. Seven was a scientist, a woman of learning who developed a hypothesis, testing it under certain conditions.

Janeway stood to meet Seven eye-to-eye, bringing a nod from the ex-Borg. "You wanted me to kiss you, Kathryn-"

"Seven!" Janeway barked, too quickly she knew. The Borg moved infinitesimally closer, her aim to test the theory. "Seven," Janeway whispered. She rubbed her temple with her fingertips. "I was hoping to debrief the situation between us. Later. When the Mencari were well behind us and we were operating in neutral space."

Debrief. Seven noted the cold word. No, she did not have much relationship experience, but Janeway's vital signs contradicted her attempts at distance.

Seven would supply her the data she needed. "Because Kathryn cannot accept a token of my affection, the Captain denies me a place on the away team as punishment. It is an unsound and irrational strategy."

"Seven," the captain said. Her voice was low and warning. "What parts do you find to be unsound?"

"Is it not the first officer's duty to ensure the safety of the Captain?" Seven knew the answer to this. It was Starfleet protocol that the First Officer lead an away team, particularly one as dangerous as this.

She doesn't want me to go, Janeway thought, with tenderness yanking at the edges of her awareness. And this is why most Starfleet captains are bachelors. Or old maids, she reasoned. Janeway conceded the point to Seven, surprised that she had immersed herself into protocols she did her dogged best to defy.

"Chakotay and I discussed it. In the end, the Mencari know me. Because of my part in their Ritual of Friendship. I am not about to give up the advantage of good will we earned saving that Mencari vessel from pirates."

"My absence from the away team provides the Mencari an insurmountable advantage."

Janeway was not about to make the mistake of a rookie captain and enter that little trap. "Considering your self-confidence, I'm surprised you haven't asked to face them alone."

Seven heard no censure in the comment, but reacted with pride. "I had not considered that possibility," she thought, as if the Captain would seriously deem it an option.

Janeway turned away finally, shaking her head with a small smile. She walked to the window, staring out again with her arms across her chest.

"Exactly how many tactical errors have you identified, Seven?"


Janeway sniffed, then nodded. "Seventeen? It seems like you've given this more thought than I have."

Any cadet worth her salt would have taken cover at Janeway's tone. But for the Captain to use a gross exaggeration signaled the need for a full retreat even to the bravest heart. But not Seven of Nine. "I am thorough, Captain," she agreed.

Janeway considered the best way to steer a course through this morass of insolence and personal entanglements. The last thing she needed was to alienate a command staff member, a Borg and the mother of her child.

Decision made, Janeway whirled around, clasping her hands behind her back. "If I were looking for a war tactic, I might agree with you, Seven. But that's your first error."

Right on cue, Seven's chin went up, Janeway thought. Her signal of arrogance was usually a source of amusement for a patient teacher. But not today. "This away mission isn't about overwhelming the enemy. It's about diplomacy."

And if Seven really knew me, I wouldn't have to tell her this, Janeway consoled herself.

"Diplomacy is irrelevant, Captain." Her gaze was predatory and unflinching, pinned on the woman standing toe to toe.

"To the Borg, maybe it is," Janeway conceded. "But we aren't the Borg. Voyager is not one of millions of cubes and our mission is not conquest. We will be approaching this with Starfleet goals and protocols. As it should be."

"Sometimes Starfleet regulations should be repudiated." Seven's voice was not its usual monotone. The hint of emotion was like the first blush of spring.

"This ship is Starfleet and this Captain has promised to uphold its ideals." Janeway met the blue gaze with a commanding veneer.

Seven read the signs of Janeway's obstinacy. She was brainwashed to believe that all regulations were equal, just as Seven had been as a drone. "Kathryn," she whispered. "Fraternization, a measure of Starfleet conduct, is insignificant compare to the ideal of the Prime Directive."

Janeway stared at the blonde, realizing they weren't talking about the away mission anymore. It was about what their future could be. Janeway shook her head. "I cannot pick and choose what Starfleet rules I will obey, Seven. What kind of example would I be setting? Insubordination could destroy Voyager? Strand us here forever?"

Janeway had never seen so much disappointment in her. Never had she allowed it show. The emotion hooked the ones the Captain was suppressing.

The mere thought of touching Seven nearly brought Janeway to her knees. Foolish, foolish, foolish. It would have been merely sexual experimentation and then Seven of Nine would be right back in Chakotay's bed. The thought tightened her chest painfully.

Janeway used that pain to smash her feelings for Seven into oblivion again. I am not standing near a chasm, the Captain told herself. I will not fall. Captain Kathryn Janeway drew herself up, tugged her tunic down, adjusted her collar with a slight shake of her head and fixed a determined expression on Seven of Nine. Once again, she accepted the mantle of loneliness, calling it instead duty and responsibility.

Her voice hardened again. It was business as usual. "As for the away mission, I did not put you on the team for a very good reason, Seven."

Seven lifted a chin, waiting for the response.

"The Mencari worship Borg." Janeway held her breath, waiting to see if the Astrometrics Officer would understand.

"And I am Borg."

Janeway rewarded her with a proud nod. "Yes," Janeway said, feeling a change in the ambiance at last. "Just because I'm willing to give up the home field advantage doesn't mean I'm going to play my closing pitcher just yet."

Seven had hardly studied such an obscure sport as North American baseball. She did not completely understand the significance of what her Captain had explained, but she understood the gist. "Very well," she finally said rising. "I shall comply with your plan."

Janeway's small smile warmed Seven to the tips of her toes.

"I'm grateful," Janeway said facetiously.

Before the silence could transmute to sexual energy, Janeway abruptly picked up the padd and started walking toward the door. "Good day, Seven," she said without looking back.

"Captain," Seven said in her even tones again. The Captain stopped and half-turned. "I have been asked to relay a message."

"From Dani?"

At Seven's nod, Janeway pursed her lips. "Let's hear it."

"Dani said she wants to see you."

"Yes, of course," Janeway replied. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

Chapter 5: Familiarity

It was another twenty-four hours before the Captain had made it back to sickbay. She worked a triple shift preparing for the diplomatic mission with the Mencari. The database that the Mencari had given them had proved invaluable in the process.

In the turbolift, Janeway leaned back against the wall, tucking a cup of coffee against her chest between her folded arms. She snapped her eyes open when she felt someone standing beside her. She didn't remember the lift stopping, much less a woman actually stepping in. But when Janeway opened her eyes, a human crewmember was she found giving her body a definite perusal of interest.

Janeway swallowed hard and blushed. Gossip travels at faster-than-light speed in confined places, she thought. No doubt Janeway was now considered the alpha-lesbian, maybe even the trophy.

"Buenos dias," said a tall woman with dark almond eyes and full lips. Janeway smiled and nodded in greeting, in English.

Janeway became fascinated with the ceiling seam. Only the crew of the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars could flawlessly weld two sheets of duranium together. They looked like one solid plate. Craftsmanship, pure and simple.

As Janeway admired the craftsmanship of her ship, she racked her brain for the woman's name. Oh, yes. "How are you, Lt. Priestly?"

Madison was her first name and Ortiz her second name, Janeway thought, satisfied that she still made time to know her crew. Or in this case, know about her. After remembering her name, the woman's particular's came to mind: seven years out of Starfleet Academy. Commendations in science for discovery of new lifeforms on seemingly lifeless balls of dirt. Janeway raised her eyebrows slightly, impressed with Priestly credentials.

Priestly nodded politely. "Fine, thank you, Captain. How goes the preparation for the Mencari?"

Janeway's face suddenly revealed its fatigue. "We disembark at twelve-hundred hours tomorrow."

"I took the liberty of uploading observations about the Mencari to Lt. Mitchell's tricorder. It may come in handy."

"The gist of the report?" In a split second, Janeway's voice went from cordial to commanding.

"I pored over their database. The Mencari have pigment-filled cells in their skin that

expand and contract, according to ambient colors, or to mood. You know...anger, fear and pain."

"Hmm, I think I triggered their anger mood quite effectively this morning. What else?"

"This gives them effective camouflage."

"I was afraid you were going to say that," Janeway frowned.

"From the accounts I've seen in their literature and their social organizations, they are very loyal, Captain. Or should I say..." Priestly bowed, with a hand to heart, as she spoke, "E'tza Ush'maul Po'pol Vuh."

"What is that?" Janeway asked startled at Priestly's fluency in the Mencari language.

"Hmm, it's hard to translate...but let me try..." She tapped her chin as she looked up, vaguely wondering what the Captain had been observing in the duranium sheet. "It means 'resplendent...succulent..." Priestly blushed furiously at the ill-chosen word. "I was going to say succulent plant..." She said by way of explanation. Her blush deepened and even Janeway appeared to get red around the ears.

She raised her hand. "It's fine, Lieutenant. I don't want you to sprain yourself-"

"No, no, Captain. I know this word. I studied the ritual intently after some of the away team..." She looked away, trying to swallow a smile at the thought of the slimy blind eels and the muculent slugs. When she looked back at the Captain, Priestly's expression was pensive. "They explained the friendship ritual in depth and it was...intriguing."

The computer announced Janeway's deck. She stepped forward. "Yes, it was most definitely that. I better-"

"Please, Captain. One more minute. I know I've taken up far too much of your time. But I believe this is important information for you."

"All right," she said with an indulgent smile. Her weariness always gave in to her insatiable curiosity.

"It means 'resplendent cactus...Yes, that's it. 'Resplendent Cactus, protector...no, shield of the Sun People.'"

"Resplendent Cactus, shield of the Sun People?"

"Yes, that's accurate," she replied, pleased with herself.

"That's quite a title."

"It's your title among them, Captain."

"I beg your pardon?" Her voice cracked.

"The Mencari, from their own records, do not share the Ritual of Friendship with just anyone. You did them a great service and now you are 'Resplendent Cactus, shield of the Sun People."

Priestly was smiling brightly.

"What does it mean, Lieutenant?"

Instantly, her smile vanished. "I'm not...I'm not sure. I've only had a few days to review the records, Captain. It would be like the Mencari being able to read President of the Federation, but having no cultural knowledge to correctly understand its significance."

The Captain gave her an apologetic look. "It's fine work, Lieutenant. Please keep me posted on it. It's quite fascinating."

Just as the Captain stepped off the lift, she turned to the woman, finally remembering her specialty. "Madison," Janeway said, earning a brilliant smile from the young woman. "I thought your specialty was data analysis and synthesis."

"It is, Captain. But I dabble in languages on the side," Priestly shrugged. "It's a hobby."

Janeway nodded once. "I suppose it is just another form of analyses."

"Yes, that it is, Ush'maul."

Janeway gave her an amused expression. "That's just what I need," she said smoothly. "Another nickname." Then the Captain turned on her heels and headed for sickbay.

"But, Captain," Priestly said as the doors began to slide closed. "There's so much more, especially about their rituals."

"Later, Lieutenant," she said without turning back.

She came the sickbay entry, downing the tepid coffee as she stood at the door. "Oh, that's good."

Finally, the door hissed open, revealing a haggard looking Captain Janeway with a coffee mug hanging from her hand at an odd angle.

Janeway blinked around the darkened sickbay. The auxiliary lights were on and she saw a gleam off of the Doctor's baldhead, but there was no one else.

"Ah, Captain," he looked around as she neared her. "What's the matter?"

"I was expecting to see Dani and Seven."

"Oh, well. Dani was getting a little feisty. Seven contacted Ensign Kim and, after threatening him with assimilation, he found available quarters for them both."

"Oh, God," the Captain said quietly on the mention of the Borg pastime.

"Don't worry. Ensign Kim was not assimilated. And I'd say Seven and Dani made out quite well."


"Yes, the only available suite was the VIP quarters on Deck 3."

The Captain's face fell quickly, turning into a frown. "Not the one across from the Captain's quarters?"

The Doctor resumed scrolling through some information on his padd, completely oblivious to her discomfort. "Yes, the very one," he intoned. Then he looked up and smiled. "How fortunate for all of you. Now you can keep up the illusion of togetherness."

The Captain's face turned rock hard at the Doctor's sarcasm. "It's for the child's sake, Doctor."

He gave her a wry look, punctuated with an arched eyebrow. "Well, whatever the case may be," he said. "There's something I think you should know. About Dani."

Captain Janeway waited for the typical biting witticism from the hologram. When none were forthcoming, worry lines etched themselves into her forehead. "That bad, huh?"

When he continued with his impeccable bedside manner, Janeway inhaled deeply. "Is it about that thing in her head?"

He looked up, as if thinking. "I can't answer that. But it is about some of the tests she completed."


The Doctor looked at Janeway strangely. "No, Captain. It was yesterday."

"Was it?" She scratched her head. "Time flies."

"I would like for you and Seven of Nine to come to office to discuss the test results. As soon as you are humanly able."

Captain Janeway wasn't about to tell the holographic doctor that she'd just pulled a triple shift and was now head to spend time with her daughter in lieu of sleeping. The last thing she needed was for a ray of light and puff of air and to pull rank on her.

"We'll make some time."

He nodded. "Now if you'll excuse me..." He walked to his office.

She looked around again and headed out the door toward Deck 3.


The adrenaline boost Janeway got from that splash of coffee already exhausted itself. Standing outside the VIP quarters, Janeway cheered herself on. C'mon, Katie. You were more tired during the alliance with the Borg against Species 8472. This is nothing.

But still, the Captain could hear her double bed singing a lullaby to her. She steadied herself with a palm on the bulkhead and touched the keypad. After a chime announced her, the door slid open.

The VIP quarters were as spacious as the Captain's quarters, which were small compared to other classes of starships. Fleet engineers had to sacrifice comfort for a sleeker, faster ship. Trade-offs, she thought. The ship would get them home that much faster.

Janeway's serious expression gave way quickly to a bright smile. The ambient light was muted, the shadows revealing Seven and Dani together on the couch, half turned to the door.

"Hello, sweetheart," Janeway said affectionately to the girl. She looked less pale today, her mother thought. Even the dark circles around her eyes were less noticeable. Now if we could just fatten her up, Janeway thought. She noticed Dani was wearing electric blue pajamas with ruffles along the neckline and sleeves. It made her eyes sparkle.

Janeway crossed the room to sit on the edge of the coffee table directly in front of Dani. The Captain noticed a small black stuffed animal in the crook of Dani's arm. She patted the girl's knee. "You look great, Dani."

Only then did Janeway realize something was amiss. The girl hadn't smiled at her mother. Janeway berated herself for missing that detail. "What's wrong?"

"I thought you were mad at me."

Janeway's brow creased, as her brows pleated together. "Why would you think that?"

Dani brushed at an eye. "Because..." The girl looked over to Seven, her eyes pleading for her to explain it to the Captain. But she was greeted only with a wry lift of a brow. Dani frowned. "Because I went all Klingon on you and..." Dani shrugged and looked away uncomfortably. "I hadn't seen you since."

Janeway grimaced at the derogatory reference to Klingons, silently thanking her lucky stars that Lt. Torres was nowhere in the vicinity. A lesson in diversity would have to wait though.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," she said. "I was preparing for the Mencari visit."

At the mention of the Mencari, Dani's eyes widened and she appeared motionless.

Belatedly, Janeway realized that maybe she didn't know about it and she shouldn't have mentioned them. Damn. She looked at Seven.

"I spoke with her briefly about it, Cap..." Seven cleared her throat. She was not accustomed to operating "incognito" as B'Elanna Torres had called it. The Collective appeared in vast numbers, offered terms of surrender to entire planets and then assimilated them. The Borg did not skulk! "The child was alarmed."

Janeway mouthed a soundless "ah" and then looked back at Dani. "I'm not angry. You've been through quite an ordeal. Allowances will be made." She crossed a leg. "But not forever."

The child brightened, and took a bowl to offer Kathryn its contents. "Popcorn," she said around a mouthful. "Want some?"

"We were watching the...fireworks," Seven said, gesturing the window.

Janeway cast a gaze over her shoulder. She'd seen this view a trillion times.

"Can you stay with us a little?" Dani pleaded, almost like she could read Janeway like an open book.

Janeway favored Dani with a crooked smile. "Is there room for one more?"

Kathryn envisioned the child sitting in the middle. She could barely contain a frown when Dani moved to one side and patted the middle cushion. "I warmed it up."

She peered briefly at Seven, amusement brushed her eyes lightly. "Here I come." She leaned into Dani, offering a cold shoulder to Seven of Nine. Kathryn felt an arm drape along her back on the couch. It was a reasonable place to put a long arm, she thought.

The delightful sense of contentment surprised Janeway, as Dani snuggled into her. "Everyone comfortable?" Dani asked.

Kathryn felt the couch rumble when Seven adjusted herself. When she felt warm thighs against her tipped leg and what she thought was a breast poking her upper arm, Janeway shot a warning look over her shoulder.

"I am adequately arranged." Seven's voice was a teasing whisper in Janeway's ear.

"Relax, Cappie," Dani said with an exasperated sigh. "This ain't the bridge."

"Isn't" Kathryn and Seven said in unison.

Dani giggled, while burrowing a little more. After a few minutes, she finally felt Cappie settle in.

"So how was your day, Dani?"

"Awful until Mom got us this neat room."

Dani abruptly sat up. "You know...I'm confused."

"Why is that?" Seven asked, still pressed against Kathryn and enjoying every second of it.

"Why we just couldn't go home. You know, to the Captain's quarters."

Kathryn felt off-kilter. She never felt that way. Not in the most dire of circumstances, facing certain death. This was disorienting. A gurgle in her throat came across as dismay but Seven remained calm.

"Because Dani," Seven said matter-of-factly. "The Captain's quarters are under renovation. To make it larger."

Dani settled back in, satisfied with the answer. Dani began to stroke Cap's arm, as it lay near her lap.

"Am I finally getting a sister?"

Dismay may be my constant state, Janeway thought, not knowing what to say.

When neither spoke, Dani leaned forward to look at them both. She noted the distance between them and the frowns they both wore. "I guess not." Her voice was tinged with disappointment and she was quiet for some time.

Later, after relaxing again, the trio spoke about the different star constellations and how they differed from an Earth vantage. They discussed the new races they had encountered and promised to introduce her to Neelix. And they promised her a picnic in the holodeck as soon as things settled down.

Dani and Kathryn both shut their eyes minutes ago. When Dani jerked herself awake and asked if they could eat breakfast in the Mess Hall, Kathryn stood up, yawning and stretching.

It was such a casual, intimate gesture that Seven enjoyed seeing Kathryn so unguarded. She also admired the woman's form. When Kathryn caught the look of blatant appraisal, she shortened her yawn, declared it bedtime and ordered a six hundred hour wake up time.

Dani stood up, her blue pajamas twisted slightly. "G'night, Cap." Dani puckered her lips and waited for Kathryn to lean down some. When Kathryn began to offer her cheek, Seven gestured negatively behind the child. Then she tapped her own lips. Kathryn changed her trajectory, finding a chaste kiss from her daughter to be quite endearing.

"Silly Willy is going to bed, too," Dani said, holding up a stuffed black cat.

"Silly Willy?" Janeway's question was an uneven croak. Really, Katie, you are going to have to be ready for anything with Dani, she thought. This constant state of surprise just won't do.

"Yes, Captain," Seven replied quickly to head off any confusion. Janeway heard a note of warning in Seven's voice and understood its implications. "Silly Willy, her imaginary feline."

Dani wiggled the stuffed animal side to side. "He likes you, Cappie."

It was common knowledge that Janeway preferred canines, but if she had to live with a cat, an inanimate feline was superior to an actual one. She patted the black cat's head. "Nice kitty." Janeway dutifully kissed the animal between its ears. "G'night, Silly Willy."

Janeway then watched as Seven took the girl in her arms, whispering something that made Dani giggle. Seven lifted the child's chin, kissing her tenderly on the lips. Seven patted the cat, also kissing him between the ears, as she patted Dani's protective arm around him. Janeway was surprised with the warmth that surged up inside of her at the scene. Suddenly, she just had to leave.

"I will see you both tomorrow," Kathryn said.

Dani stopped at her bedroom door to watch Kathryn glide by Andy without so much as a look. When Kathryn reached the door, Dani called for her. "Aren't you going to kiss Mom good night?" She tipped her head, waiting for the reply.

Janeway got the uncanny sense that she was being tested. It was unnerving. "Oh, I just had my mind on the Mencari," she said, knowing it sounded like a weak excuse even to her ears.

With an amused expression, Seven sashayed her way to Kathryn, stopping when they were mere inches apart, while Dani watched them from the door of her room. The redhead gave a tremulous smile, while Seven placed the palm of her hand at Kathryn's cheek and slowly and delicately joined their lips together.

Janeway felt as if she were free-falling toward an irresistible force. It was a soaring freedom, of well-being she had never known. She knew it would be like this for them.

For Seven of Nine, the kiss felt like a thousand suns exploding, light and heat bursting into every pore. Then Seven registered the faintest mewling from the other woman's throat. She understood it as fulfillment and longing, the same emotions she also experienced.

When Seven pulled back, she noted that Kathryn's vital signs showed marked excitation equal to her own.

Kathryn slowly opened her eyes to see a clear look of desire. "That's not fair," she whispered.

"I am Borg." The corners of Seven's full lips were just curled.

Kathryn wanted to ask if her resistance was futile, but she knew the answer. Nor did she want to encourage Seven any more than her traitorous body had. "I'll see you later," she whispered again. She waved to Dani, who stood with her arms crossed and left the battlefield where she had endured her worst defeat.


Janeway started her day with another defeat, a small but intense good morning kiss from Seven. The taller woman relished the explosions that reverberated inside of her. The Captain regretted the flutters elicited by the sensation of free-falling. With an unprecedented eight hours of good sleep, she managed to keep her overactive nerve endings from triggering moans of pleasure. But Seven's smug look afterward told Janeway she couldn't lie anymore about wanting her. She'd have to come up with another plan.

Breakfast proved to be an exercise in parental embarrassment. Dani had informed the entire crew of Janeway's nickname. She heard it in the Mess, in the corridors and even on the bridge. Lt. Paris took a particularly fiendish pleasure in calling her Cappie, despite a level ten Janeway glare that should have incinerated him on the spot.

Finally, the threesome arrived in sickbay to find an impatient Doctor. "Captain, I'm so glad you've found the time to join me."

Janeway ignored his sarcasm, but found it difficult to ignore her irritation at the Emergency Medical Hologram. "Are the reports ready?" The whip of her command voice had moved cadets and ensigns to tears. But the Doctor was heedless.

Instead, he handed Dani some simplified blueprints of Voyager and colors to occupy her as he spoke with her parents. When he tried to lead them away, Seven stopped next to the child, who had begun to color in the ship. The taller woman smoothed out the hair falling at the girl's neck as she carefully selected her next color. "Would it be acceptable to remain here working on your masterpiece while Cappie and I step into the Doctor's office?"

Dani looked up, clearly alarmed to be left alone.

Seven pointed to the Doctor's office. "We shall be no more than three-point-two meters from you, Dani. You will not be alone."

The girl's anxious blue eyes looked at the Doctor's empty office and then the sickbay entry.

Seven kneeled down beside the child's chair, rubbing her knee comfortingly. "There are no Mencari on board, Dani. Further, I will never allow them to harm you."

The girl's eyes pooled with moisture. She opened her mouth to speak, instead closing her eyes tightly. A single tear fell from each eye.

"I believe," Seven said soothingly, "you will earn an ice cream sundae for bravery beyond the call of duty."

Dani wiped her eyes with a sleeve. She sniffled, as she played with Seven's collar. "With hot chocolate and a brownie?"

Seven eyed her suspiciously. "The Doctor failed to warn us you were part Ferengi, Eridani."

Dani's brilliant smile softened Seven's expression. "Very well," Seven replied. "It is, shall we say, a deal."

"Hug on it?" Dani opened her arms wide.

"I will comply."

Janeway marveled at the little arms around Seven's neck. Janeway's heart wanted to burst because of Seven's kindness and sensitivity to their child. At that moment, she knew the feelings for the blonde were not merely sexual, but timeless and spiritual.

"Seven is very maternal," the Doctor noted.

"Yes, she is," the Captain agreed.

The Doctor stopped regarding the padd. "So are you, Captain Janeway."

The comment surprised her, bringing up a skeptical eyebrow. Before the Doctor could embarrass her further, the Captain caught Seven's cool, feline walk from the corner of her eye and she followed her into his office. They smiled softly at each other, as Seven sat beside her.

The Doctor sat, shifting uncomfortably. Without his usual sarcastic remark, the Captain was aware that he had more bad news about their daughter. Their daughter? Janeway realized that she'd accepted this new development so easily after only several days. Could it be she had wanted a family all along?

"At your request, Captain, I conducted a full range of tests, including psychological, intelligence and medical, etc. etc." He lifted an eyebrow. For the holographic person, that was a prelude to disquieting news.

Janeway focused over his shoulder at Dani, who had stopped coloring in favor of studying a tricorder at the table.

"Other than the issues we discussed earlier, her medical tests all returned normal. Psychologically, I would diagnose her with post traumatic stress disorder, after her harrowing sixth-month experience-"

"Doctor," Janeway said, focusing back at him. "Have you completed your report about how you found her and what she has said about her time with the Mencari?"

"No, I have not been able to complete it," he said testily. "I've been conducting these tests for the present, not the past. They are quite time-consuming."

"Dani has indeed consumed a large quantity of the Doctor's time," Seven added.

The Doctor nodded kindly, thanking Seven for her observations.

Once again, Janeway wished the EMH would growl a sardonic response, but he refrained. She returned her focus to Dani, who was laying pieces of the tricorder on the table in careful order.

"Yes, as I was saying, post traumatic stress disorder is highly treatable, but both of you -as her bonded parents - will be instrumental in restoring her psyche."

"And the intelligence test?" Seven's voice was dispassionate, but Janeway noted a tightness in her human hand, as it rested on the chair arm.

The Doctor pursed his thin lips, adopting a caring and considerate tone. "The tests show that Dani suffers from severe learning disabilities."

The Doctor remained quiet, letting Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine absorb the information. They were two highly intelligent women. It was only natural they would expect their offspring to display the same vaunted intellect.

Seven arched the Borg implant over her left eye. She had been surprised at the silence of the Captain, who only seemed to stare at the Doctor. "What learning disabilities are evidenced?" Seven finally asked, turning her attention to the hologram.

"Multi-sensory dyslexia, including math and reading, for starters."

"But that disability was eradicated," Janeway noted, her eyes focusing again on the EMH.

"Not in this case," he replied. "Since I am uncertain of the circumstances of her conception..." The last word brought a tension to the room he found difficult to identify. "I can only analyze what the tests reveal."

"What else, Doctor?" Janeway asked curtly.

"The IQ for an average seven-year-old is 100. She tested at 79."

"And that means what?" Janeway's voice was testy and sharp.

"She has below average intelligence." The Doctor registered the pain in their expressions.

Janeway glanced at Seven, who slowly met her gaze. The Captain did not realize she was looking for reassurance, until the Borg's hand clasped her own. She squeezed back, taking a deep breath before she resumed facing the results. Janeway hated to be out of control of a situation, but she saw no way to tame this. That is likely what Dani felt during her tenure with the...

Janeway's head snapped back to the EMH. "Doctor, could that thing in her head be affecting her cognitive skills?"

The Doctor nodded. "We are still testing it and unsure of what, if anything, it does."

"It must have a function," Seven said, matter-of-factly. "It would be inefficient to invest the resources to implant a device that served no purpose."

"As I said, I am looking at every avenue-"

"What about the Mencari themselves? Could they have damaged her prefrontal cortex in some way?"

"Brain scans do not indicate damage-"

"But the hypothesis is possible," Seven said more as a statement than a question.

"Yes, it is a possibility. I'm sure you've read about the intricacies of that part of the brain in your training at Starfleet Medical Academy," the Doctor sneered at the haughty Borg, who merely raised an eyebrow of indifference to him.

Janeway sat straight up. "What were the questions you asked?"

The Doctor handed her a padd. "The questions and answers are there."

Janeway reviewed the material, sparing part of her awareness for the EMH.

"There's more, I'm afraid," he said. Janeway continued to study the questions and answers, without looking up. Seven thought it a curious defense mechanism. "Preliminary indications are she may have Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder and-"

The older woman let the padd fall to her lap, as she looked over the Doctor's shoulder. Understanding seemed to be dawning. "That's enough, Doctor." The Captain rose to her feet. "I would like a word with Seven. Alone, please."

The Doctor stood. "I'm sorry, Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine." Then he dematerialized.

The Captain ordered the computer to reduce the opacity of the Doctor's transparent walls. They could see out, but no one could see in. She stood up and stood near the window, giving her an unobstructed view of the girl.

"The IQ test is supposed to evaluate mathematical, verbal and analytical skills, along with attention span. Some of Dani's answers are...well, inconsistent."

"Captain," Seven said. "I am finding it difficult to assimilate this information about our...about Dani."

"I know what you mean," she said, her back to the Borg. "I'm having the same trouble."

"Regardless of the results, the data does not alter my sentiment toward Dani."

The Captain hugged herself with one arm, while resting an elbow on the other, the hand rubbing her prominent chin. "I agree, Seven," she said, watching the child intently. "Not even the devil himself could change it. But..."

Seven stood up, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Captain at the back of the office, overlooking Dani at the table. Seven followed Janeway's gaze, her eyes grew bright.

"While the Doctor was informing us of our child's intellectual...deficiencies, I watched her disassemble a tricorder and then reassemble it," the Captain said.

"Curious," Seven said. "Tests are only as valid as their input."

"Bingo," she said, whirling to look up at the blonde beauty standing next to her. She was never more thankful to have a partner than at this very moment, when it appeared that the odds were stacking up against someone they both cared about.

The Borg stopped mid-turn, bringing her face-to-face with Captain Janeway. She registered the tremulous, crooked smile. The interest in her blue-gray eyes. Seven mirrored the same feelings of admiration and affection. "Captain, I believe you enjoyed your goodnight kiss. Your good morning kiss, as well."

Janeway heard the hint of playfulness, something the Borg was not noted for. The nuance surprised her, as much as drawing her in. "Yes, Dani's gentle trust is overwhelming at times."

A look of confusion danced across Seven's beautiful face, finally replaced by amusement. "You are attempting to be comical."

Janeway's throaty chuckle sent a shudder through the younger woman, drawing the Captain's eyes down her torso. "I certainly try on occasion."

Seven could feel a warmth spread over her face, down her body. "I feel..."

Janeway's eyes caressed back up the gorgeous body in front of her. She laughed again to see Seven's face suffused in pink. "You're blushing, Seven."

"Blush. To redden from embarrassment or shame."

Janeway saw Seven consider her response, waiting patiently for the woman to understand her reaction. And for me to understand mine, she thought ruefully.

"I sensed blood rush to my head, which explains the redness. But I felt aroused."

Seven studied Kathryn's face. Fire and ice, but mostly ice. She had been throwing up hurdles to any relationship, and now this. It was disconcerting and Seven said as much.

"I know my secrets out, Seven," she said carefully, watching Seven's reaction. "I cannot deny the feelings I have for you."

"They are beyond friendship."

The Captain closed her eyes, nodding slightly. "Yes," she whispered.

"It is love then, just as I have come to understand my own."

Kathryn's eyes stared at Seven's mouth and then her eyes. "I can't say that." The other woman's apparent hurt squeezed her heart, but it would be dangerous to say otherwise. She had let her manner appear lustful. Let Seven think it is merely sexual, Kathryn thought.

A small smile spread Seven's lips and she leaned in close. Kathryn closed her eyes to revel in the scent of Seven. It was the lightest hint of a spicy bouquet of roses. It was not a timid aroma, but provocative and lingering. When she felt Seven's breath on her face, Kathryn pulled back abruptly. "I can't, Seven," she said a hint of pleading in her trembling voice. "We can't."

"Why can we not, Kathryn?" She was awash in disappointment for the second time.

Janeway was surprised that Seven would invite a purely sexual relationship. She had not anticipated that. "I'm your commanding officer, Seven of Nine. It simply isn't done."

"And you are Starfleet. You live your life according to its principals, no matter how illogical and inflexible."

Kathryn raised her eyebrows slightly. "You were listening to me in the briefing room."

"Indeed I was. Regretfully, it is you who did not heed me."

Kathryn turned around and scratched her temple. Seven expected this physical action to match her message. Finally, when she was halfway across the room, the Captain faced the woman again. "I'm glad you understand." Her gaze was remorseful.

"I only understand one thing, Kathryn. You freed me from the domination of the Borg but will not allow me to liberate you from the personal oppression of Starfleet ideals."

The shorter woman stared at her for a long moment. Seven had no way of knowing what lay beneath the wall Janeway had quickly and carefully reconstructed. She only knew of her own grief and frustration. Then as quickly as she had dropped her guard, Kathryn took up her mantle again.

Janeway looked back at Dani, who had now partially disassembled a padd. "It's high time we focused on important matters like the Mencari and saving our equipment from a certain inquisitive little hands. Then we will discuss the test with Elizabeth Eridani Janeway before we ask the Doctor reconfigure the exam."

The Captain stopped long enough to chance a detached glance at Seven. "Am I forgetting anything?"

"No, Captain. You are quite efficient."

Chapter 6: Temptation

Captain Kathryn Janeway tugged down her tunic with both hands. It was oh-five-hundred hours and she was standing outside of the VIP suite across from her quarters.

She pushed the nagging thought that she was being a coward out of her mind. She was merely preserving a professional relationship with a crewmember. She most certainly was not avoiding another tantalizing good morning kiss from Seven of Nine.

The Captain used her authority to enter the locked quarters. It was tactical mistake. She knew it the moment she saw the blonde's creamy bare shoulders exposed. She stood still, holding her breath. She considered making a hasty retreat, but then Seven tossed her head back. The slightest curl of Seven's lips and the sensual curve of her neck smacked the Captain around.

"Kathryn," she said smoothly. "How fortunate you are ahead of schedule."

Kathryn looked around the suite, noticing small personal touches. A rubber band-propelled toy boat, an Earth globe and a leather-bound copy of "Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz."

"It seems you're settling in, Seven," she said as casually as she could while her stomach roiled.

Seven stepped to the doorway, peering out. "Yes, those were gifts from the crew. The toy boat from Lt. Paris. The globe from Ensign Kim and the book from Neelix."

Just as Kathryn felt her heart beat pulling into the slow lane, an unexpected hand burned itself into her shoulder. She jumped away in the opposite direction. "I did not mean to startle you, Kathryn." She presented her back to the tense woman. "Could you please provide assistance?"

"I don't see why not." Kathryn stepped closer.

The Captain could see the woman's muscles ripple in a shiver. She spread her fingers, hovering enough to raise the fine blonde down she found. She wondered what it would feel like to caress Seven. Kathryn closed her eyes, allowing the thought to comfort her. To have one night in a thousand where she could feel the warmth of another human being, instead of the simulated heat of a bulkhead.

"Kathryn?" Seven caught the raised eyebrows and the closed eyes, all the look of pure rapture.

Quickly, the Captain brought a hand up, carefully avoiding tender flesh to tug the zipper up. It buzzed up quietly to the accompaniment of Kathryn's heavy breathing.

Seven whirled to face the woman she dreamed about last night. She carefully took Kathryn's face between two hands, brushing her cheeks with her thumbs. Seven smiled at the mixture of fear and desire warring on the beautiful face. Slowly, she lowered her mouth to Kathryn's unyielding lips. This was the beginning of her dream.

When Seven had been severed from the Collective, her deepest longings pervaded her every sleeping moment. For many months, she dreamed of reuniting with the Borg. But as time passed, the unexpected delight she found in her own work, her friends and even her sexuality turned the dreams to nightmares. Bloody drones pursued her relentlessly to strip it from her. "You will be assimilated," the monsters droned. "Gratification is irrelevant."

But last night's dream was the first of its kind for her. The bedroom of the VIP quarters was candlelit. Shadows played upon the naked landscape of Kathryn Janeway's small body. Seven's mouth tasted her peaks and her hand delved the deep waters. When Kathryn cried out her name, Seven felt her own intense quaking build and explode in her own body.

Seven's eyes had snapped open, finding herself sweaty in the VIP quarters at oh-four-hundred hours. Between her legs, Seven felt the aftershocks of a curious trembling. A computer search revealed it for what it truly was. The female orgasm. Seven believed she had felt pleasantries the few times with Chakotay. She had always merely thought that chroniclers exaggerated the intensity of the orgasmic bliss. But this! From a mere dream! Cold, scientific words did it no justice.

How powerful indeed were her feelings for Kathryn that simple nocturnal images could give her what she had been denied as a Borg drone. This was not lust or random musings. It was love. Of that, Seven of Nine was certain.

Seven pulled Kathryn by the hand to seal them into her new quarters, spinning the redhead around when she again lowered her lips to the Captain's. The light union met fierce resistance at first. But Seven relentlessly pulled Kathryn closer, allowing her hands to roam the body of which she dreamed. Seven became lost in the sensations of heat and softness.

Slowly, slowly, Kathryn yielded, her lips becoming pliable and then her mouth opening. Kathryn could almost hear the runaway thudding of Seven's excited heart. It was both hymn and temptation. This was no measured response to stimulus. Seven jumped willingly into the experience with both eyes open. Seven's embrace gently pulling the other woman close was an invitation.

"Oh, Kathryn!" Seven's lips moved against the woman's ear.

For Seven, it was so easy to use hands to gather, rather than drive away. To use lips to worship, rather than sting. To use her body to please, rather than seduce. Even her very breath was an offering of union. What intimacy could be greater than to share life-giving exhalations? She loves me! Kathryn exulted. How could I deserve such a precious gift? It's a gift I can't even accept.

The thought constricted a barbed wire around her heart. Kathryn reluctantly freed Seven's mouth, pushing palms against Seven's shoulders. "No, we can't." She turned her head away, from Seven, from love.

"But why not, Kathryn?" Seven could not yield, not this time. Her hands still clasped around the shorter woman.

Kathryn stared at the small hollow centered at the base of Seven's neck. "Because fraternization is against Starfleet regulations."

Seven dipped her head, her open mouth finding Kathryn's. But it was the older woman who swirled a tongue in Seven's mouth. A sexy, rumble stirred in Kathryn's throat. For a brief moment, her hands strained to draw Seven in. Then just as suddenly, Kathryn wrenched herself back as hard as she could from the Borg's vise-like grip. "I'm ordering you to release me-!"

In one swift move, Seven curled a hand at the back of Kathryn's neck and pulled them together again. She was surprised when Kathryn's resistance dissolved with another small whimper. Seven's lips traveled down along her jaw to find a sweet spot at her throat. Kathryn threw her head back.

Kathryn's hand held the back of Seven's head. "Why must you always defy me, Seven?"

Seven felt the vibrations against her lips and when she laughed, the tremors merged into pure sensation and light. Seven took Kathryn's face between both hands and stared lovingly into the gray-blue depths. "I only defy your voice, Kathryn." As Seven placed a gentle kiss on the older woman's neck, she let a hand meander down to lightly pinch a nipple. Kathryn arched into the touch, a throaty gurgle expressed equal parts dismay and desire. "Your body's response begs me to persist."

Kathryn's arms had snaked up to encircle the taller woman's shoulders, bringing them closer. But her voice was razor sharp. "This is insubordination."

Seven palmed Kathryn's small bosom as her lips once again found Kathryn's. "Then insubordination feels..." Kathryn could see Seven search for the right word and she inhaled sharply when the luscious lips revealed it. "Wondrous."

Kathryn tipped her head, her expressive eyebrows curved down and her lips curved up. "Oh, Seven," she said, part longing and part sorrow. "I'm your commanding officer."

"Then command me," Seven replied evenly. "Command me to make love to you. To never leave you. To make you supremely content."

For one brief moment, as she felt Seven's breasts nudging her own Kathryn considered a future with this woman in her arms. Kathryn's arms tightened around the taller woman for just one moment. Then Janeway's responsibilities crowded her mind, cutting off the pleasurable sensations. It was mere friction, she told herself. Then she loosened her grip. "Oh, Seven," she whispered.

She allowed the Captain to pull away, letting Seven search her face for a long, long moment. "Do not fear, Kathryn," she murmured, still reaching for her. But Kathryn stepped beyond her reach.

Kathryn loved this woman and Seven knew it. Her ruse had failed. Seven never believed her attraction was purely lust. Never. The Captain's only recourse now was the truth.

Janeway reached for Seven's hand, connected but still at arm's length. "Not fear, dear Seven," she said, staring at her without a blink. "But duty."

Janeway dropped the hand that obstinately gripped her own. She turned her back on Seven, but at the bedroom door, Janeway stopped. "I am sorry, love," she whispered without turning.

Seven stood frozen. Even with her eidetic memory, Seven only heard the last word. Love. Yes, that's it. She felt it in her body, aching to strum under Kathryn's nimble fingers. That promise would sustain her until Seven could find a way to keep Kathryn Janeway close.


The Doctor's appearance in the VIP quarters smothered the awkwardness that may have ensued. It was that and his new customized cranial folds and prominent earlobes.

As he indignantly objected to re-testing the girl, the two women stared unashamedly at him. "What is the matter with the both of you?"

The Captain stood up, her eyes never leaving the Doctor's head. Instead of his customary bald pate, the Doctor had Klingon ridges from the bridge of his nose all the way to the top of his head. His wreath of hair was gone in favor of two large Ferengi-like ears. Captain Janeway touched her chin and her voice came out jagged. "Doctor, you seem to, ah-"

"Someone has altered your imaging processors for humorous effect." Seven reached for a hand-held mirror.

"They what? What do I look like?" The Doctor had been somewhat vain for a hologram and this was a particular blow to his developing self-esteem. His horrified look only compounded the ghastly combination.

"I look monstrous!" His face turned grim as he studied his head. "I have been...violated!" He yelled, with an involuntary Klingon grunt. He dropped the mirror from view. "This is an outrage!" Then as if to fuel his rising fury, he looked at himself again. "Who would do such a thing?"

The Captain and Seven shared a knowing look. Then Seven looked up as she spoke. "Computer, who accessed and redefined the EMH image processor?" Despite covering her tracks, Seven was able to isolate the time stamp and the terminal used, eventually narrowing the codes down to one Elizabeth Eridani Janeway.

"Dani did this?" He tried to scratch his head. But the valleys and hills on his head seemed unnatural to him, so he dropped his hand. "I should have known this particular patient would significantly try my long-suffering nature..." He tried to arch a brow, but the weight of his additional flesh made it feel strange. "...given her relationship to my other two most difficult subjects."

Janeway ignored his insult. "Her work is..." The Captain stepped around the Doctor, taking in the entire three-dimensional affect as she searched for an apt description.

"Thorough," Seven supplied. "Precise."

"Fiendish!" the Doctor added. "Pre-meditated!"

Janeway could tell that the emotional sub-routines for the EMH were carrying away the Doctor. She stopped to face him squarely.

"But why? Why would she do this to me?" He shrugged, unable to understand the malice.

"Let's find out."

In the darkened bedroom, the child lay in soft sleep, her eyes moving rapidly under her lids. Her mouth was slightly open and a hand under her ear.

"Dani," Janeway said calmly. "It's time to get up."

Dani turned her back on the three adults.

"Computer, raise ambient lights to full," Seven said.

Dani squinted at the bright lights, pulling the covers over her face.

"Dani," Janeway said. "It's time to get up."

She lifted her head and opened one eye to glance at the chronometer. "Too early." The response was muffled.

Janeway worked her jaw, at a loss to properly motivate a seven-year-old. She wanted to yell that it was an order, but somehow she knew the response would be a long, drawn out yawn. Suddenly, Seven put a hand on her shoulder. "Kathryn, please escort the Doctor to the living area. I shall endeavor to roust her."

She glanced back at the child, who was snoring quietly. "Do it!"


Dani was glowering as she walked out of her bedroom. A white, fluffy towel was flung over one shoulder. On closer inspection, Janeway noticed that the child's hair and collar were more than damp. She gave Seven a look of admiration, as she herded the girl toward a seat.

Dani rubbed an eye with a hand, yawning again. "I want pancakes," she said, her voice rough with sleep.

"Later," Janeway said. "Tell me, Dani..." She crossed a leg, straightening her back. Janeway projected her steeliest stare. "Why did you vandalize the good Doctor?"

Dani stopped abruptly, looking up with large, innocent eyes. "Huh?" She looked at the Doctor, her mouth twitching with a smothering laugh. "I didn't do that." Then Dani turned icy blue eyes on the photonic. "Morons can't do that stuff."

The Doctor pounded his fists onto his hips. "Is that what this is about? Your test results?"

She crossed her arms, her eyebrows bunching together over blistering eyes.

"I demand that you revert me to my former appearance, young lady!"

The girl jumped at the shouting, running to stand behind Seven where she hid her face against her mother.

"Doctor," Seven said in monotone. "Raising the volume of your voice will not compel cooperation."

"Oh, no?" His mouth was a thin line of aggravation. "How about a paddling-?"

Janeway leapt to her feet, raising her hands to calm him down. "Now, Doctor-"

"If my skull!..." The Doctor threw up his arms in frustration. "If my head and ears can be modified then so can my 'first do no harm' restriction." He glared at Dani's shoulder, the only part he could see around Seven. "I've never paddled a child, but I'm willing to...adapt, shall we say."

"Doctor," Janeway said, painfully aware that she hadn't had her morning coffee yet. "I believe you are overreacting."

"Overreacting! I most certainly am not! Do you realize I have dress rehearsals today? I can't go out on stage looking like this. Not to mention the patient appointments I have!"

Dani peaked around and giggled again. "I think you look nice."

"I liked the way I looked before!" He leaned over, trying to catch the girl's gaze, but quickly she hid against Seven's back.

"But you were bald," Dani pointed out, half muffled against her mother's body.

"Yes, I was! And there's nothing wrong with that." He waved a hand in her direction.

"Dani," the Captain said, summoning her vast diplomacy experience. "No one has the right to change someone else's appearance."

"But his can be switched every day, if he wanted."

"That's the point!" The Doctor yelled, frustrated at trying to reason with a seven-year-old. "I don't want! You have red hair!"

As he grew louder, she tried to burrow deeper into her mother's back. "I can't change my red hair," she hissed. It was evident from her prickly tone than Dani wanted to.

Seven put an arm around Dani, keeping her close, but bringing her around. She patted the girl's back, but addressed the EMH. "Doctor, I will see that Eridani resets your original image parameters and I will ensure that she is sufficiently contrite. Is that adequate?"

His glare melted as he looked down at the angelic face with blue eyes the exact color of Seven of Nine's. He'd once loved Seven, perhaps he still did. Because of that, he found he would do anything for the girl.

"Very well," he said, trying to sound only marginally appeased. "I do see your point about the intelligence test, as well. It seems Dani is more advanced than even I anticipated. I will even consider more appropriate test measures."

Just as the Doctor made as if he were ready to leave, Janeway crossed her arms. "Hold on, Doctor."

She tugged on Dani's arm. "I think an explanation and an apology are in order. Don't you, Dani? If you are more intelligent than the tests..." The comment brought a glare upon Janeway, making her hastily add-"and there is no question that you are, why did you deliberately fail the test?"

Dani pursed her lips, casting her eyes out of the large window. Seven and the Captain wondered what she was looking for.

"Captain, how do you know she deliberately sabotaged herself?" The Doctor heard a resentful burble in the girl's throat.

Janeway handed the padd that Seven had used last night to reprocess the answers using multiple algorithms.

"It's a rudimentary picture," he said, flabbergasted. "Of a..." He turned the padd around three-hundred-sixty degrees, trying to make sense of a three-sided shape inside of a circle. "The starfleet insignia?" The Doctor looked up at the Captain, and then Seven. "Why would you do that?"

Seven raised an eyebrow, turning to watch Dani ignore him. "Eridani?"

She stubbornly tightened her mouth, tweaking an unexpected anger in the Captain that she found difficult to stifle. "Eridani, please respond."

"The questions were for babies," Dani finally admitted with an eye roll.

"Babies?" The Doctor was being too literal.

So Janeway boiled it down. "I believe, Doctor, that Dani found your test...tedious."

"To say the least," the Doctor added. "That would certainly explain why she answered the rather simple question about the number of wings a bird has with six." He looked up at the women. "I'm sorry. I should have reviewed the results more closely, especially when..." the hologram glanced down at the padd. "...she answered fairly simple questions with absurdities." He looked between both women. "Again, I apologize. I shocked you both into a Tarelian coma."

The Doctor's face was shifted between consternation and agitation and back again when he looked down at the little redheaded wonder. "Why didn't you just say you thought the questions were too easy? Did you really have to modify my image?"

She shrugged. "It was fun."

The Doctor stared at Dani for a few minutes, remembering her post-traumatic stress disorder. "Perhaps you did need to blow off steam," he conceded. "I will find more difficult tests for you, Dani."

She tipped her head to one side. "You can try," she said with a challenging look. Dani's stomach growled loudly. Then she turned to her mothers. "Am I getting pancakes or not?"

Only after Dani apologized for adulterating his appearance and promising to rectify it was the matter dropped. The Doctor graciously absolved the confession and agreed to re-test her, before dematerializing.


For long moments, the trio ate breakfast in silence, except for the clinking of silverware on ceramic. Finally, Janeway shifted in her chair, pushed her plate forward and brought her coffee cup close.

"The Doctor believed you had countless learning disabilities as a result of your answers."

Dani tucked her chin, but lifted her eyes. She merely chewed and waited.

Seven placed her plate on top of Janeway's. "The Doctor appeared to be on the verge of deleting his emotional subroutines. He thought they were malfunctioning just as he was required to inform us that you were dyslexic. Among other things."

Dani watched a forkful of food with feigned fascination as she brought it to her mouth.

"Have you nothing to say for yourself?"

"I already said I was sorry."

"Your contrition seems contrived, Eridani."

Seven's directness could be a definite asset when dealing with headstrong children, Janeway thought. She admired the way Seven had handled herself and the child this morning.

"I think, Andy," the Captain said calling Seven by her supposed spousal nickname as if she had been doing it for years. "That assisting the Doctor for a week during the our shifts would help Eridani learn some much-needed sympathy."

Dani did not seem to be alarmed or interested in the topic of her volunteer opportunity. She slowly lifted her glass and drank her orange juice. It galled her parents somewhat that the punishment seemed to have little effect on the girl.

When Dani rose from the table, Seven ordered her to bathe and dress. "But I bathed yesterday!" the child protested.

"You will bathe today and every day," Seven informed the child.

"But-" A long whine pounded itself into the eardrums of the adults.

"Please do not debate this small matter, Eridani," Seven warned. "It is an inefficient use of your time."

Only after the grouchy child retreated to her ensuite, did Janeway finally turn to Seven, with a little, sardonic grin. "It seems bathing may be more of a penalty than spending seven days with the Doctor."

"Indeed," Seven said, as she gathered the plates for recycling. She stood up and Janeway watched as the woman swayed past her to the replicator.

"I still believe that Dani has your knack for..." Janeway flourished her hands. "...shaking up the status quo."

Seven laid the dishes inside the replicator and pushed a button. When she turned, her eyes were narrow and her chin lift. "Incorrect, Captain."

Janeway noted the unmitigated arrogance that Seven assumed by default. "What makes you say that, Seven of Nine?"

"On at least three occasions, you knowingly violated the Prime Directive. On Stardate 48315.6, you destroyed the Caretaker's array to prevent the Kazon from acquiring its technology thus stranding your crew and the Maquis in the Delta Quadrant."

Janeway took a sip of coffee, waiting for her to continue. Her eyes said she was more amused that annoyed at Seven. "On Stardate 48832.1, you aided and abetted a known war criminal by allowing him use of Starfleet technology."

Janeway seemed undisturbed by the accusation, as she allowed her eyes to drink in the sight of the entire length of Seven's lanky form.

Seven seemed to enjoy the scrutiny, as she stood in full view. "On another occasion, you authorized the rescue of a Maquis who had already betrayed the crew to the Kazon. As a result, you and your entire crew were stranded on a deserted island while Voyager was commandeered. On-"

"My, Seven," the Captain said, dragging her eyes up to meet Seven's gaze. She gave the tall blonde a fond smile. "I'm flattered that you have followed my career so closely."

"Flattery is irrelevant," she said with more condescension. "I am merely identifying instances where you challenged the most important and cherished Starfleet ideal."

"These were not indifferent acts of mischief, Seven." Janeway studied the Borg, remembering some of their conflicts. Now to tweak an unsuspecting drone, she thought. "Or of defiance for its own sake."

"Explain." Seven's voice was pointed.

"Do you recall defying my direct order to open a singularity for Species 8472 on Stardate 51652.3?"

"I have a eidetic memory, Captain."

Janeway smiled as she let her head bob. Then when the Captain looked up at Seven's curious eyes, she nodded. "Yes, of course." Janeway almost laughed when she said, "You are Borg!"

Seven correctly identified the wry mocking tone, but remained unruffled. She watched as the smile evoked by the gentle taunt remained, making the Captain's face both peaceful and beautiful. A lovely combination and Seven seemed proud to evoke it in such a powerful woman. Without hesitation, she closed her eyes and nodded graciously. "I may concede a minor point that Eridani may have inherited civil disobedience from both lines."

The Captain enjoyed watching Seven lower her guard to reveal a genuine smile, something she was not noted for. She wanted this moment and the one earlier to last. She stood up abruptly. "I am due on the Delta Flyer at twelve hundred hours."

Seven walked Janeway to the door, neither touching except for occasion brushes of elbows. "Please avoid unnecessary risks on this away mission, Captain."

"Aye, aye, Andy!" she said off-handedly as she nearly bolted out of the door. She had been afraid she would have buckled under another goodbye kiss. Seven's lips still burned themselves into her flesh. It was going to be a long day away from her.

Chapter 7: Scattering

A/N: Violence warning. This chapter is very violent, with a reference to sexual violence against females. If you're sensitive, you may want to skip the chapter.

Just as the away party docked on the Mencari Flagship, Eesh'tob, a contingent of Mencari had boarded Voyager from their own shuttle. The Mencari delegation was more diplomacy than information exchange, but still Commander Chakotay had argued against it with the Captain before she left.

Chakotay smiled amiable, though he wondered if the Mencari understood the cordiality of such a small action, since they themselves were incapable of facial gestures. Regardless, he would perform his duty.

The leader of the group presented herself to Chakotay as Captain R'hoth D'goba. She was wearing a black sash with silver medals. Her eye turrets bounced unnaturally around the bridge. In her excited state, Captain D'goba's scale pigments slowly shaded to yellow, drawing stares from the Federation officers. "Marvelousssss," she said stepping out of the turbolift to brush past Chakotay.

When she did, some of her pink saliva spilled onto Chakotay's sleeve. His jaw muscles rippled as he clamped down tightly on his teeth to keep from gagging. D'goba and the three other Mencari circled the bridge watching every detail, almost all at once with their active eyes.

"Commander Chakotay," D'goba said. "Voyager is just marveloussss." She ran a paw down the smooth glass of a workstation. "Just amazzzzing."

Chakotay thanked the Captain. "The Eesh'tob looks like a good ship."

The far eye swiveled to the viewer, where the Flagship moored. Its cannons and phasers were hidden under an overlapping armor. "Aye, she is that, Commander."

Both eyes twisted to look at the Commander, the nictitating membranes moved horizontally across each eye in unison. Despite what appeared to be a blank stare from his perspective, Chakotay got the impression that the careful blinking of the translucent covering of the eyes meant he was being reassessed. "Would you care to visssit the Eesssh'tob?"

He was hoping that the Captain had no intention of hanging around this parsec of space, so he gratefully accepted the invitation. "It is very kind of you, Captain."

She shook her big head, the snout coming within a few inches of Chakotay's nose. "No, Commander, it is Ussssh'maul who is most kind and gracious. We are exxxpectant."

Commander Chakotay waited for an explanation of such an odd comment, but none came. Perhaps, it was odd because of cultural differences, he reasoned. He glanced about to find the other Mencari involved in discussions with other bridge crew. He hoped they remained placid and kept their war paint hidden.

Just then, the red alert klaxon sounded. "Intruder alert." Instantly, five armed Mencari materialized on the bridge with black, spindly rifles strapped to their arms. They spoke in harsh whispers. But Chakotay could not hear what they said over his voice ordering the crew to take cover.

Blue arcs of energy erupted from the spindly barrels. Smoke bled from the consoles and bulkheads. The crackle of untamed electricity could be heard.

Chakotay had taken cover, pulling Ensign Kim and another crewmember down with him. But he only saved one crewmember and a corpse. From his vantage behind the conn station, the pair watched as one of the intruders used long, jointed ebony fingers to grabbed Lt. Howard. The woman screamed as the Mencari waved her head to scrutinize the woman. Then she was hurled against the bulkhead with a loud crack, collapsing to the ground. Empty brown eyes stared out at her attacker.

Squatting beside a console, Chakotay considered a run across the bridge to reunite with the resistance he heard in the back of the ship. Just then D'goba deftly rolled once and twice, narrowly missing several blue arcs before coming to rest in front of Chakotay.

The Commander pointed his phaser at her, drawing the two spinning eyes to the end of it. "They are not Mencari, Commander! They only-"

A blast of blue energy sizzled across Chakotay's shoulder to burrow painfully into D'goba's face and chest. She fell back while Chakotay and Kim blasted the intruder with phasers. Chakotay heard the moans of the crew and the hisses of the damaged ship when he stood. The attackers had been taken out, but at the price of two-thirds of the bridge crew and all of the Mencari, but one. Damn them, he thought.

He issued more orders for security, armory, sickbay and fortifications. Then he knelt one knee beside D'goba, who was gasping, the forked tongue flopping wildly inside the large mouth. Her eyes found Chakotay, her tongue lapping at dust. "Thessse are the Evil Onesss, Commander! They look like Mencari but they are not. We are peaccceful, Commander. Mencari are peaccceful." She coughed and wheezed.

Chakotay glanced at one the carcasses. There were vague similarities that could be and were confused in the heat of battle. But the differences were far more disturbing. Their snouts were elongated down, not out. They used their tails stumps as a third leg. Chakotay shivered when he noticed that the new Mencari pupils were cross-shaped.

"Are they clones or shape shifters?"

She shook her large head, struggling to sit up. Chakotay's arm circled her shoulders to help lift her. The scales were smooth and leathery, he noticed. "No, Commander. They are from Beyond. The Vile Onesss kidnap our people, raping them until..." She coughed up blood, tipping her head away from the Commander to let it dribble out the other side. "...They are the reassson the child-"

Three more Mencari materialized, the blue weapons discharge reflected off of the view screen. But the fortified bridge crew held them off.

"Are there many, D'goba?"

"Yesss!" she hissed. "Hordes-!"

"What are they called?"

"Ket'zzzali! Evil Onesss."

Reports were coming in from all over the ship of the intruders. "They seem determined to capture the bridge," Chakotay said. "They appear to be searching for something, destroying everything as they go."

"Sssomeone, Commander. The Evil Onesss...overwhelm you...dessstroy your ship to dissscover the child...to ssslay her. You mussst..." She began a fit of coughing.

"Why do they want to kill her?" Chakotay ignored his initial disgust at touching her, taking her by the shoulders to shake her. D'goba coughed again, spitting up more blood.

Chakotay firmed his chin, as he heard the fear in Kim's voice. The young Ensign wanted to know what Chakotay was going to do. He wanted to know, too.

Overwhelming numbers. Destroy Voyager. All they want is the child. Decision made, his heart started to pound wildly. If he's wrong, he's doomed them all. "All hands, this is Commander Chakotay." He watched Ensign Kim's face contort to stunned panic, as he issued the order. "Abandon ship! All hands abandon ship!"

"Chakotay to Sickbay."

Chakotay gestured for Kim to help him move D'goba. When no answer came from sickbay, he looked at a still petrified Ensign. "D'goba can't die, Harry. We need her."

Kim nodded once, his expression said he was ready. His large eyes said he was afraid.

Chakotay looked up. "Computer, site-to-site transport. Three to transport."


The sickbay bulkheads bore the charred scars of an ugly battle. Consoles were smashed, with wires leaping from them and sparking with electricity. Three carcasses of Ket'zali were scattered across the floor, their necks at impossible angles.

Chakotay and Ensign Kim carried D'goba to a bio-bed. Their neck muscles and veins bulged under the weight of her ten-foot frame. They heaved her clumsily, dropping her on the bio-bed with a loud thud. D'goba's legs and tail dangled over the end.

"Computer, activate EMH."

"Cannot comply. The holomatrix for the Emergency Medical Hologram has been removed."

"By whom?"

"Seven of Nine."

"What time index?"

"At seventeen hundred hours."

"Just as the lizards attacked," Kim said.

Chakotay looked up, his mind racing. "Computer, is there a back up of the EMH program?"

"Yes, a back up of the Emergency Medical Hologram resides in the memory banks-"

"Transfer the program to sickbay and activate."


Earlier that day, Dani giggled again at the Doctor's appearance, as she and her mother entered sickbay. The Doctor, still sporting a Klingon top with Ferengi wings, was sitting in his office, his hands steepled on his desk, as he peered up talking to the ceiling. Seven assumed he was making a medical log report and waited respectfully outside his office until he finished.

When he looked over, his scowl seemed forced. He laid down one padd and picked up another, as he exited his office. He peered down imperiously at Dani. "The first thing on your chore list is to restore the original image parameters," he said handing her the padd.

Dani frowned as she scrolled down a padd listing long and heinous chores for her sickbay volunteer shift. "I can't do this!" The girl shrieked.

She pressed the padd against Seven's stomach, encountering part of a solid plate of an implant. Seven raised an eyebrow, as she reviewed the list. "You can, Eridani and you shall."

Dani snatched the offered padd back, dangling it precariously between tentative fingertips. Her other hand was at her waist. It was a peculiarly adult pose, Seven thought. But Eridani had shown herself to be advanced intellectually. She may be "older" than her chronological age, Seven reasoned.

"This..." Dani thumped the padd with her middle finger as she waved it dramatically over her head. "This is...insufficient, mom." She thought she had hit on the perfect description to convey her disgust.

Seven searched Dani's face, wondering where the defiance originated. Perhaps she feels comfortable enough to express her feelings, she reasoned. "Explain," she said, more sharply than she intended.

Dani frowned. "It's...It's just...It's just that..." She bounced from one foot to the other, not able to think of a single argument that would hold water with her mother. "This is chippy!" she finally growled.

"Chippy?" The Doctor and her mother said at once.

She folded her arms across her chest. "Chippy!"

"What does 'chippy' mean, Eridani?"

Dani was breathing hard, her mouth pinched. "You know, mom."

Seven felt flutters, as she suspected that her counter-part in the alternate timeline surely knew. "Re-educate me then."

Dani flushed slightly, glancing at the Doctor. Then her eyes darted back. "You know... You said I could say chippy in place of that...word."

Seven still could not fathom what a ridiculous word like chippy could substitute for.

"Mom," Dani said, drawing it out long. Dani tipped her head to one side, watching her mother exchange baffled expressions with the Doctor.

"Can I say it without getting in trouble?"

Seven knew she was being back into a corner, but with a burning curiosity, she agreed.


The enlightenment brightened both her mother and the Doctor's face. "Ah," Seven said. "I understand. Chippy. Yes, your list is quite chippy."

Dani smiled winningly, offering a smug roll of her shoulder to the Doctor. But her victory was short-lived.

"However, I believe that vandalizing the good Doctor was 'chippier.'" Seven raised her eyebrows for emphasis, pursing her lips. It was an expression she had seen Naomi Wildman's mother, Samantha, use to devastating effect.

Dani blew out some air, thinking about other ways to get back at the Doctor.

Seven noted that Dani's emotional age and her physical appearance remained at the appropriate level. "I shall leave you in the capable, albeit holographic, hands of the Doctor," Seven said.

The tall woman had just leaned in to offer a kiss goodbye, when three intruders materialized, firing at once from spindly black rifles. The Mencari-like intruders all aimed at the male, giving Dani and Seven a chance to take cover. Seven hid Dani behind a bio-bed so that she could join the fight. The girl's eyes were wide and she was trembling uncontrollably. She brushed her cheek with the fingertips of her human hand. "I will return, Eridani."

When Seven returned, the Doctor had dispatched two of them. "You have added new subroutines, Doctor."

He blew on the muzzle of his phaser, dropping it level in time to see a blue streak harmlessly pierce his chest. "And modified my ethical parameters."

"Indeed," she said, as her phaser fire severed the eye turrets of both remaining intruders. She calmly walked over to the groping lizards, snapping their necks with a loud, scratchy click one after the other. Seven brushed off her hands and searched for Eridani. "Computer," Seven said as she followed the sound of quiet sobbing. "Have the intruders been repelled?"

"Negative. There are still forty seven unknown life signs on Voyager."

Seven knelt next the child, her eyes red rimmed and her sleeve soaked. "Did I not promise, my Eridani?" She took the child, pulling her close. The girl curled her arms around Seven, trying to mold herself to her clothes.

Seven easily lifted the gangly girl, carrying her next stand next to a crouching Doctor. Dani wrapped her legs around Seven's waist, buried her face in her shoulder and circled her arms around her mother's neck.

"They appear to be Mencari," he said, peering over carcasses. "But look. Here." He pointed to a face, whose snout was flattened and pointed down. "And here." Its skull was latticed like a human spinal column with ribs cresting over back into its skull. The Doctor drew closer, twisting his head to study the creature's eyes. "Its pupils are cross-shaped."

Seven and the Doctor shared an apprehensive look. "I have seen a variations of these features before, Doctor."

"Don't jump to conclusion, Seven," the Doctor said, as he painstakingly went over the creature from head to toe. In the middle of the examination, three more Mencari-like soldiers appeared, shooting once again at the male.

That's when Seven and the Doctor heard the ship-wide order, "All hands, this is Commander Chakotay. Abandon ship! All hands abandon ship!"

When Seven snapped the neck of an intruder after gracelessly climbing its back, another lizard shot its weapon. A blue arc of energy blasted the Doctor's mobile emitter. He dematerialized with a pained look on his face. The lizard hopped around, staring at Seven as she stood.

Seven noticed it used its tail, less as a superfluous appendage as the Mencari had, and more as a completion of a limb tripod.

"Child!" Its voice was a harsh whisper with undertones of bubbling liquid hatred.

"For what purpose?" Seven asked dispassionately as they circled each other.

"Want child." It was able to match Seven's monotone.

Seven repeated her question, adding an unsuitable laugh.

Again, the creature answered with the same two words, adding a mirthless travesty of a chuckle.

The Mencari leveled its rifle-strapped arm to Seven's head. "Want child."

Before the lizard's threat could be carried out, Seven swung a chair at an upward arc. The Borg-propelled blow smashed the larger creature's head, shattering the duranium chair like glass. It was enough of a stun to knock it off balance, letting Seven thrusted the fine, sharp blade of a laser scalpel across its throat. Her assimilation tubules easily pricked the wounded neck. Millions of nanoprobes poured into the soldier's blood stream.

The Mencari fell to her knees. "Borg!" It was a curse.

Seven grabbed the damaged mobile emitter, stuffing it into a hidden pocket, and found Dani cowered in a corner. Arms curled over her face, she was sobbing. "You promised me," she wailed.

Seven knelt beside her. "It is I, Eridani."

Dani continued to cower. "I want my mommy," she keened.

Seven took Dani's shoulders to lift her. "But I am your mother, Eridani. I'm Seven of Nine."

Dani's face was tear-streaked. Her blue eyes were shifty. She appeared to be confused.

Seven quickly pulled the girl to her feet. "We depart now."

Dani looked fearful at the door. "The Ket'zali'll come back."

Seven stopped and looked into Dani's eyes. These were the monsters that tortured her daughter, she realized as the look of raw terror threatened to drown the girl.

Seven brushed her fingers under Dani's chin. "You are extraordinarily brave, Eridani. You must continue to be so. Cappie..." The use of Dani's nickname for her other mother had the desired effect. She snapped her eyes up, a flame of inner strength flickered. "Cappie requires our assistance."

Dani brushed the tears spilling from her eyes. "W-w-where is she?"

Seven stepped over a lizard body, tugging the girl along even as she tried to curl up again. "Cappie is no doubt a prisoner on the Mencari ship."

In the turbolift, Seven finally took the girl in her arms, bringing her close and holding her tight. "Shh," Seven said, stroking the strawberry blonde hair. The girl wept into Seven's chest. "Can you be strong, Eridani?" Seven heard a strangled affirmation, making her squeeze the girl tighter. "Of course, you can."


The pair materialized into a smoky corridor on the Eesh'tob. They immediately began coughing until Seven secured moist triangular cloths over their noses and mouths.

Piles of Mencari and a few Ket'zali stood like decaying hills through which the pair navigated carefully. As they maneuvered by one Ket'zali soldier, its hand fell free brushing Dani's leg. Instinctively, the girl propelled forward, determined to sprint to safety. But on her way past Seven, a Borg hand caught her lacy green blouse.

The child lurched back onto her butt with a hard thud, her mother kneeling beside her. Seven rubbed her back and cheek, trying to calm the girl. "Shh," her mother cooed. "You must calm yourself. Silence is essential." The girl's eyes became misty, as she nodded. Her mournful face made Seven regret the harsh reality. But it could not be altered.

Seven shouldered two compression rifles over a backpack, helping the girl to rise. Before they had even begun to move, they felt the cadence of marching. They both stood immobile, Dani forgetting to breathe. When they heard the vibrations become weaker and then dissolve, they both exhaled audibly.

They resumed a steady course, Dani certain in Seven's leadership. "How're we gonna find her?" Dani held onto the Seven's back, tugging her singlesuit, as they paced themselves at a jog.

"I will interface with a Mencari console station." Seven's blue eyes darted back and forth, looking for something that may appear to be a computer terminal. Seven halted at an entry with the angularity of Mencari script. She touched the control panel, surprised to see it opened easily to an empty room, except for dead Mencari littering the ground.

Seven accessed the Mencari vessel from a workstation, across from the entry, using it to locate the Captain's combadge signal.

Dani pressed into Seven's back. "I hear something," she whispered.

Dani dropped to her haunches, tugging Seven's human hand. Seven's face became hard as she disengaged the computer, raised the rifle and turned. "Everything will be fine, my Eridani."

Dani knew they would both die here. Everything wasted. She tugged at her mother's hand again. "Trust me," she whispered. Seven was dismissive of the girl, until she tapped her head.

"What do you-?" In a split second, Seven realized they had assumed the worst about the device in her daughter's head.

Dani yanked the blonde, who willingly huddled beside the girl. A large contingent of Ket'zali stormed the room, weapons itchy. Their turreted eyes swiveled wildly, dissecting the room in that curious wavering motion of their heads. Every eye had swept past the spot where Seven and the child knotted together. But none registered them.

"Two..." One of them whispered in a raspy voice. "Girl...here."

Dani buried her face at Seven's neck. Her mother could feel tremors thrashing her small body. Seven felt powerless to aid and frustrated by it. So she concentrated on holding the girl tightly.

The Commander angled its head at the subordinate. "Inferior...hatchling!"

Seven watched carefully as their leader flexed its rifled arm. Without any trigger or any other movement from the leader, a blue lightning bolt exploded from the rifle, striking the foolish foot soldier. The soldier shook from the streak of fire, its hide crisping until all that remained was a black, carbonized lump.

Dani swallowed her gasp with a hand, tears soaking Seven's collar and shoulder. Her mother patted the girl, but her eyes remained locked on the Ket'zali until they moved on.


Seven plucked weapons from fallen Mencari as the pair picked their way down another corridor. Dani rubbed her nose over the bandana at the stench of death and lizards. Everywhere they turned, dim emergency lights flickered over tens of hundreds of Mencari lying frozen in unreadable stares.

Seven had killed so many Ket'zali that she became efficient at breaking their necks, regardless of their musculature. First, Seven stunned a group with a Mencari weapon, and then systematically fractured their spinal columns. Dani jerked with the pop of every break.

When they heard a faint explosion and felt the ship rock under them, Seven herded the girl into a Jeffries tube-like work tunnel. Seven allowed the girl to sit down to drink from a canteen, while her mother kept a watchful vigil from either direction.

"Are we there yet?" Dani asked, not for the tenth time.


Dani puckered her brow. It was the same answer for the past three hours. She tapped Seven's thigh with the canteen, her mother reaching for it without losing sight of the tunnels ahead or behind.

The girl watched her mother guzzle the water. Black streaks on her forehead and cheeks contrasted sharply with her porcelain skin. A growing number of stray strands of blonde defied her hair clip. There was a feral gleam in the blue eyes that the girl had never seen before. It seemed to grow with ever snap of a neck or slash of a throat.

Seven's face swept over the girl, doing a double take. "Eridani," she whispered. The Borg mother felt the girl's forehead and neck. Dani was unusually pale, her lips nearly colorless. A trembling hand still clutched Seven's singlesuit at the middle.

"What?" The girl lifted her chin, enjoying the attention, however brief.

Seven could hear the child's fatigue. "You appear to be unwell, Eridani."

"My legs are gonna fall off."

Seven pulled back, dragging her eyes along the girl's lanky legs. She curled her fingers around an ankle and tugged for good measure. When she was satisfied the comment was merely exaggeration, Seven handed her a protein bar. "Nutritional biomatter will alleviate some of your exhaustion."

"Are you gonna eat?" Dani said, her mouth full.

Seven looked up to the service chute they would climb into. Satisfied that it was clear, her mother looked back at the girl. "I do not require sustenance at this time. Did you consume the supplement?"

"Uh huh."

Seven tipped the girl's chin up with her fingertips. This long trek was weakening her further. "The exertion of generating your biogenic field consumes your meager body reserves."

"Correct," the child said in perfect echo of her mother.

A phaser blasted in the corridor, on the other side of the bulkhead. Seven put a finger to her lips. Dani gulped air. She nearly collapsed before Seven's arm came under her. There were murmurs as a large group of Ket'zali marched by. Their footfalls reverberated through the Jeffries tube.

When the marching grew fainter, Dani pushed herself up again. "Sorry," she said. But Seven touched the girl's lips with a finger and then pointed toward the corridor. They sat hunched over in the crowded chute, embracing for so long, Dani's legs began to tingle.

Seven gave the girl two more protein bars and watched her devour the rations. Dani massaged the hinges of her jaw while she chomped earnestly.

Finally, Seven pointed up to the chute. "Cappie is there. Only a little further."


They emerged near an entry guarded by two well-armed Ket'zali. "You remain. I will purge the lizards."

The child reached for Seven's arm. "Be careful," she said, her blue eyes distressed.

Seven caressed Dani's cheek. "I shall."

Seven flung a short, heavy rod across the corridor, sending it sailing high over the lizard heads. It crashed into a bulkhead with a loud, ringing thud, drawing the attention of the two guards. In a matter of moments, Seven fractured one lizard's neck after decapitating the other with a phaser compression rifle.

"Eridani," she said calmly. "Come."

The girl spared a glance at the bodies. Seven felt a tremble ripple again through the little body, as she passed. "I will protect you," she whispered to this child.

With the compression rifle at the ready, Seven skimmed the room, searching for unwanted guests. Dani gasped at the scene before her, when she stepped out from behind her mother. Cappie slumped against a wall, a hypodermic needle still lodged in her bruised neck. Her mother had a black eye, a cut along a cheek and a broken arm, judging from its unnatural bend.

Seven hissed and bared her teeth, as she slid on her knees beside the woman. She flung the needle away, groping with two dirty fingers for her pulse. Only when she found the palpating artery did Seven visibly relax.

"Is she...?" The girl shuddered.

"She lives," Seven said, tugging down her bandana. The girl did the same, all the while staring uncomfortably at the entry.

Seven removed several hyposprays from the backpack. After the third injection hiss, Captain Janeway murmured something. She jerked her head to one side, reaching with a hand to her neck. A grunt spilled from split lips.

Janeway blinked frantically, panicked at the fuzzy world before her. Slowly, she focused on the beautiful face before her. "Seven." Her voice was hoarse, as if she'd been yelling orders for a thousand years. She cupped the woman's cheek, running a thumb over her lips. "My valiant knight."

Without hesitation, Seven kissed the woman, one affectionate smack after another, and twice more. Her surprise came from Janeway's responsive lips. The woman closed her eyes, but her face was filled with adoration when she said, "Knew you'd come for me."

The look of bliss and the words of declaration brought Seven much pleasure, even if she had given Kathryn a narcotic painkiller. But the ex-drone sensed the drug had merely broken down Janeway's inhibitions, not creating the feelings. She anxiously anticipated the day when those words would be uttered by those lips uninfluenced by hypnotic opiates.

Janeway's dry and barking cough jolted the woman out of her musings. The Captain's brightened face quickly gave way to an intense grimace, as she rubbed her chest. "I think..." When she jerked her head to one side, Kathryn caught sight of the girl. "Dani." Her voice was throaty and raw. Janeway dragged her gaze away from the girl to Seven, where the younger woman read reprimand in the face of her Commanding Officer. But if Janeway felt critical, she did not voice it.

The girl flung herself into her mother's body, drawing a moan of pain on impact with the fractured arm lying across her lap. Kathryn rubbed the girl's back, feeling moisture drip onto her sore neck. Soon, she heard small whimpers. "I'm okay, Dani. Really."

"Just...don't...die!" The seven-year-old's voice crumbled into a fit of sobs and hiccups. The word the girl couldn't bring herself to say was "again." She wasn't ready to face that possibility. Dani knew the time index was not correct, not yet.

"Oh, sweetheart," Kathryn rasped. "I'm bruised but I'll live." She tried to peer down, but found only a big mop of reddish blonde locks. Kathryn stroked Dani's soft hair reassuringly. "I'm here."

Her gaze found the girl's other mother again, Seven's head tipped to one side clearly warmed by the observation. Kathryn's intuition deduced that Seven aspired to envelop them both in a fierce, protective embrace and, in that moment, the Captain would have permitted it.

"We are here, darling," Kathryn whispered, offering Seven a tender expression.

After a few more indulgent moments, Seven switched on the tricorder. "Eridani," she said softly.

The girl fell back, letting her hand slide down Kathryn's arm to clasp her hand. Seven arched a brow, as she passed the tricorder over the Captain's body. "There is no internal bleeding. However...you have managed to acquire a broken arm, and abundant lacerations and contusions. Ah, you have also succeeded in contracting streptococcus pneumonia."

Kathryn coughed into a hand. "It's a cry for your attention," she said, giving one of her famous, heartwarmingly crooked smiles.

Seven started to raise the boneknitter, but dropped the hand to her side to study Kathryn's fine, chiseled features. "Crude," she said with a blank face. "But effective."

The Captain leaned her head back against the bulkhead, her lips faintly curled. She felt her forearm tingle as the knitter repaired the breaks to her ulna and radius. The unpleasant sensation was like the tingling of lying on an arm too long.

When Seven returned the device to her backpack, Kathryn captured Dani's gaze, shaking her arm out and beaming her teeth. "Good as new."

Seven stood up, offering her hand down to the Captain. "Antibiotic hypospray will prevent the pneumonia. Your other injuries must wait."

Seven slung the backpack and a rifle over her shoulder, as she tossed another compression rifle to the Captain, who studied hers closely. "You've souped it up," Janeway chuckled. "Against regulations."

Seven's quizzical look nearly made the Captain laugh, if it hadn't been for a single Ket'zali who stepped through the entry with a sinewy rifle leveled at them. Both women roared for Dani to drop to her belly, as Janeway plunged to one knee and Seven sprinted across the room. Feeling threatened by a Borg, the cobalt-colored fire curved through the air, striking behind Seven with every discharge.

With a clear shot of the target, Janeway held her breath, sited the bulky, scale-covered chest and squeezed the trigger. A concentrated, white laser beam sliced across like it was cutting butter. Its upper body fell away from the bottom, ochreous blood spurting like a geyser.

Dark, viscous orange droplets rained down on Janeway and Dani in a brief shower. The Captain wiped her eyes with a shoulder, as she used her own hands to clean Dani's face. "You okay?" she whispered hoarsely.

Dani's eyes darted about the room, and only when she saw Seven did the girl uncoil under Janeway's hands. Dani bolted upright, while Janeway massaged a knee and then slowly brought herself to full height. She looked down at the child, noticing her daughter's ashen complexion for the first time. "Dani?" she husked. "How are you feeling?"

The girl brushed her brow with a sleeve. "I wish we were swimming in Griffy Lake after a huge helping of Gee-gee's lemon meringue pie."

"Hmm. That's my favorite," Kathryn said.

Stopping beside them, Seven monitored the door closely. "It would be preferable to reminisce elsewhere," she said imperiously.

Janeway's features toughened, her jaw muscles rippling. "Quite right. Let's go." Her natural leadership took over, before her logic kicked in. She limped toward the door, suddenly halting and whirling. "How do we get off this ship?"

Seven's eyebrows rose to her hairline. "We will find the Delta Flyer in Hangar Bay Ka'ah."

The Mencari word drenched in Borg arrogance telegraphed an unmistakable message, Janeway realized. Seven of Nine was now in charge of this away team. "I take it you know your way around."

"Such knowledge was acquired during my endeavor to liberate you, yes."

"I'm not liberated yet," she remarked. Janeway raised her arm, gesturing with a hand to the entry. "I'll pull up the six." The Captain laid both hands on Dani's shoulders. "Crewman, are you capable of keeping up with us?"

Dani lifted her chin and eye brows in a gesture of proud determination. Her blue eyes were walls of fortitude. "I will adapt."

The impersonation of Seven was so nearly complete, Janeway stood speechless for a nanosecond too long.

Seven adjusted the rifle on her shoulder. "Eridani, quickly! Cappie, you as well."

The Captain yanked her head to Seven, unleashing a blistering glare that Seven pointedly ignored.

"Delays are inefficient, Captain."

Chapter 8: Promise

Seven felt awkward as she led the trio through the dismal Mencari Jeffries tubes. Though the Mencari were quite large, the chutes were large enough for adult Terrans to stand in, bent over at the waist. As a result, their progress was slow. Their pace was also encumbered by a weary seven-year-old and a starship Captain who was weak but refused to acknowledge it.

Seven was pleased to see that the Captain had allowed her the opportunity to lead, though it was only efficient that she do. Seven held the entire Mencari ship blueprints in her photographic memory, along with the other data she collected merely three hours prior about positions and blockades.

Meanwhile, Dani had surprised both mothers with minimal complaints, until about thirty minutes ago. Since then, she had complained long and loud about being hungry and tired.

They had just turned a corner when Dani stopped, crossed her legs and looked helplessly at her mothers. "I have to go pee," she whispered. Both women fell to their knees and returned the vulnerable expression, with Kathryn squeezing the girl's shoulder and rubbing her arm in sympathy.

"Being on an away mission is tough," the Captain said soothingly.

Seven took the girl's hand around the corner. "I will show you where you may eliminate your bodily excretions."

The girl resisted, tugging back on the hand that Seven held. "I need piracy."

Seven exchanged an amused look with Captain Janeway. "Then you shall have privacy, after I show you the proper location."

Satisfied, Dani walked back around the corner with her mother, while Janeway slid down to rest against the side grating. She massaged her lower back with a hand. I'm too old to crawl around a lizard's lair, she thought.

Meanwhile, Seven led Dani to a spot close enough for safety but far enough for seclusion. She turned, gestured to the ground and began to make her way back.

Dani's voice was alarmed and her large blue eyes were baseballs. "But...?"

Seven stopped, pivoting back with a questioning look in her eye. "Yes?"

"I can't just do it here."

Seven looked around, assessing the grated chute. "It is not optimal, but it will suffice."

"Not for me." The girl crossed her arms and tightened her mouth.

Seven sighed, recognizing a similar stubbornness she had seen often in the Captain. Perhaps that particular trait was on the Irish genome, she thought as the woman returned to the girl.

"You will comply, Eridani."

The girl threw her arms to her side, looked down at the black grate. "I want a toilet seat."

Seven tipped her head. "Toilets do not exist aboard the Eesh'tob, Eridani. The Mencari utilize a sanitary grate for their bodily functions. Their physiology makes the concept of a seated facility quite-."

"I know that!" The girl's eyes shifted away nervously at Seven's surprised expression. "I mean...they're lizards."

"Eridani," Seven said quietly. "What else do you know?"

"That I'm about to wet in my pants." She re-crossed her legs for emphasis.

Seven tipped her head the other way, and added a flick of the eyebrow. Though the Doctor had not confirmed, it was apparent that Dani was a genius. She understood more than she shared, disturbing Seven with the implications. Yet, she was also a seven-year-old who wanted what she wanted. And she wanted it yesterday, Seven sighed. "You must make due."

Dani glared at her mother, a growl in her stomach added to the child's ferocity. Despite the defiance, Seven's eyes softened. "Advise me if you require assistance."

Without any more argument, Seven left the child, realizing fully that biological urges could not be circumvented, regardless of IQ.

When she turned the corner, Seven paused. The Captain was sitting on the grate floor, her eyes closed, her head back and her wrist rested on a bent knee, allowing her hand to dangle. Her lips were slightly parted. Seven felt her respiration increase as she crouched to approach the woman on her hands and knees.

The Captain could feel the small vibrations of someone drawing near. Kathryn could smell a light scent of strawberries, one that Seven had begun wearing only recently. Then she felt nothing, but the faint breeze of proximity. Then the Captain heard the tricorder's faint hum and she frowned. "I hate that thing," she muttered, her eyes still shut. "I really do."

Janeway wasn't surprised when she didn't hear a response. But she was surprised by the petal soft lips on her own and a hot tongue darting in her mouth. Her eyes snapped open. "Seven!"

Janeway glanced back to where Dani had gone and then found the Borg composed and intent on her tricorder readings. "What do you think you're doing?"

Seven looked up casually. "I am attempting to calibrate the tricorder."

"No, I mean before that."

Seven looked back toward the T intersection from where she'd returned. "Eridani was discuss emphatically her need to urinate and the inadequate facilities of the Mencari vessel for such."

Janeway's face softened suddenly, and a small crooked smile faintly touched her lips. "You're toying with me, Seven."

Seven's face became lithe innocence. "How so?"

"You kissed me, Seven." Janeway touched her lips with the pads of her fingers. "Again."

Seven raised an eyebrow, returning her attention to the tricorder. "You are incorrect, Captain Janeway. As I stated, I was calibrating the tricorder."

"You were what?"

Seven allowed her metallic-laced hand holding the tricorder to drop to her lap and she studied Janeway's face. Janeway's look of disbelief was both reprimanding and offended. Seven was reminded of her first assessment of humans as individuals. They were conflicted, she had said about the Borg's new allies as they both prepared to engage Species 8472.

The same was true in this case. Captain Janeway was struggling against her obvious feelings. She had been known for the same steely fortitude to cast those aside, like yesterday's coffee mug. Her fiancé Mark Johnson had left her, believing Kathryn to be lost in the Delta Quadrant. She had seemed grieved and relieved, though still she remained intensely private.

Kashyk and Jaffen. Two other men with whom, it was widely believed on board, that she'd carried on affairs. But none of the men ever had the luxury to remain in front of her, continuing to offer her the love they felt. This was Seven's greatest advantage and, as a Borg, she would take any she could to win the woman she loved. Even if she had to spend the rest of time trying.

"The tricorder said you're body temperature was thirty-six point five degrees. In fact, your body temperature is thirty-six point nine." Once again, Seven resumed her work, but she was distinctly aware of icy gray eyes on her. To Janeway's unspoken query, Seven answered with the truth. "It is vital that I continue to monitor your vital signs, Kathryn. You have been subjected to an ordeal of which I am fairly certain was traumatic..."

But the unspoken truth cost Seven more than she could pay. Her voice quavered. It was subtle, but Janeway heard a small crack in the Borg's armor. "...judging by the syringe protruding from your neck."

A hooked finger brought Seven's chin up where Janeway could see the red rimming her eyes and the shine of unshed tears. Kathryn pursed her mouth and offered the woman a reassuring look, while she stroked her cheek with a thumb. "Oh, Seven," she whispered. "I'm fine. We'll be back where we belong. And you'll be arguing with me in staff meetings like old times."

Seven glared at Janeway. "Do not attempt levity, Captain." She looked back at the corridor where Dani was, wiping a tear as she did. When she turned back to Kathryn, her face was composed and devoid of expression.

Janeway's voice softened. "What would you rather I attem-"

Without warning, Seven rose to her knees, put her palm behind Kathryn's neck and pressed their mouths together. It was a soft touch of lips, dry and unbound by mere passion. It was breathy, meant as life-giving sustenance and not as momentary animalistic urge.

When she finally pulled away, Seven leaned her forehead against Kathryn's, but kept their lips a whisper away. "I was afraid." It was Seven's usual monotone, but the very honesty of it was so vulnerable that Kathryn's heart squeezed tightly with emotion.

Just as the Captain tried to pull herself up to her knees, Seven tore herself away. She was weary of any more of Kathryn's excuses, especially since they each knew that one mistake here aboard the Eesh'tob would mean certain death for the three.

Without turning, Seven announced that she would check on their daughter. In truth she required time to prepare herself for Janeway's unfailing logic for denying herself Seven's embrace. Conflicted, indeed, Seven thought, as she crawled a few feet around the corner.

She stopped abruptly, not expecting to see the child sprawled on the floor. A thumb was in Dani's mouth and her head lay on her arm. She was fast asleep, yielding to the demands her body imposed. To reassure herself, Seven approached quietly with tricorder in hand. She touched the girl's forehead, brushing back thick skeins of red blonde locks. The girl mumbled that she was tired, receiving only a small, reassuring shush from her mother.

Seven lingered over the girl, surprised at the overwhelming urge to protect and nurture her. When she was satisfied that no Mencari or Ket'zali lifesigns for close, Seven stepped the few paces back to the Captain.

Janeway grew alert as Seven approached. "Is she all right?" Janeway asked.

"She is asleep. The device in her brain...," Seven said, finding a place to sit next to Kathryn.

"Do you know what it does?"

"As we suspected, the device produces the biogenic field we detected. The device cloaks her from the Ket'zali."

"Cloaking?" Janeway said in awe. "The Klingons used massive amounts of energy to cloak their ships. But no one has been able to replicate that technology to a personal level. Amazing technology."

"The energy demands it places on her are very high." Seven was methodically rummaging through her backpack, taking inventory.

"Which is why she is asleep."

"And continuously requesting for nutritional biomatter." Seven rose to her knees. "It would be wise to move-"

"Closer to her. Yes, good thinking."

They gathered their few supplies and crawled closer to maintain a watch over the child, until she could re-gather her strength for the continued journey. They sat, leaning against opposite grates, watching the child and each other.

Janeway blinked hard to focus the reclining girl. The throbbing in her temples felt like someone was using an ice pick on her. She knew that the meds were wearing off, but the Captain would keep that information to herself.

Janeway let her eyes meander over her daughter's features that were so familiar and yet so unique. She was a puzzle and the mystery only deepened with every clue. "Do you think she knows anything?"

Janeway's question was stunning on many levels. It showed that the Captain was aware of many nuances, including Seven's strong emotional connection with their daughter and Dani's marked intelligence. After considering the tacit acceptance of the underlying theories, Seven contemplated the girl. She was certain Dani was withholding something, though she had no basis in fact for that hypothesis.

"I have not ascertained the extent of her understanding," Seven replied evenly.

Kathryn turned to watch Seven's hands, unable to meet the blue eyes. The blonde felt herself feeling surprising sympathy for the Captain. Kathryn Janeway stood at a crossroads of everything she knew. She believed a ship could love her in return. But a human being, ah, the risk involved was enormous for someone dedicated to her job as Captain Janeway was. It was easier to avoid personal entanglements.

But Seven had no intention of making it easier for the woman.

Janeway let her eyes slide over Seven's blue singlesuit with the gray sleeves. It was her favorite one. They made the woman's eyes look like two pools of cool, refreshing water where she longed to dip.

Seven noted the longing, along with the arms across Janeway's chest and the shifting eyes. "You are a paradox, Kathryn."

Janeway's eyes met Seven's, giving the woman a mischievous glint. "That I am, Seven." She lifted her chin, a corner of her mouth slightly curled. "I'm a living Kobayashi Maru."

"The no-win scenario?"

Janeway nodded. "That's me. Just ask-"

"Mark Johnson?"

Kathryn was astonished as she could never remember discussing him with her or anyone on Voyager.

"Or Kashyk of Devore."

Gray eyes grew wider.

"Or Jaffen of Quarra."

Janeway's lips parted and her eyebrows shot up. "How did you-?"

Seven of Nine merely raised her Borg implant over her left eye. Since Dani came into their lives and shown Seven the possibilities, she had been determined to find out as much about Kathryn as she could. She was a private woman in a very public position. Everyone knew of her love interests, but no one, until now knew the terrible price she paid. The sympathy Janeway found in Seven's eyes nearly overpowered her.

"I suppose you're going to tell me it's irrelevant how you found out about my personal business."

Seven inclined her head, letting her lashes fall on her cheeks. It was such a graceful move, Janeway was several seconds recovering what she wanted to say. Beholding the face of perfection kept her thoughts jumbled. Instead she reached down and brushed some strands from Dani's freckled face. "She's going to hate me for these, you know," she said, trying to lighten the mood and distract all at once. Lightly, Kathryn let a fingertip touch a few of the strawberry marks that sprinkled her nose and cheeks.

"I revere every one of them..."

Kathryn looked up, finding the composed Borg studying her.

"Because they originated with you, Kathryn."

The Captain's eyes softened and she looked away. This away mission has not been what she expected. It was supposed to be a diplomatic mission and now she is carrying a weapon. It was supposed to be to protect her daughter and Seven rescued her. It was supposed to be all business and now this complication. She shook her head, looking up. Her mother had told her that sometimes fate had a way of intervening at the oddest times. Captain Janeway had a knack for pushing or pulling things her way. But this seemed to be spiraling out of control.

Kathryn rubbed the back of her neck with her hand, closing her eyes.

"You do not feel well, Kathryn."

Her voice was husky, almost sexy if only they weren't hiding for their lives in a lizard ship. "I'm all right," she whispered. Kathryn noted the concern on Seven's face. She quickly responded to distract the woman. "Is it getting colder in her?"

"The ambient temperature has dropped five degrees and it continues to fall a degree every thirty minutes," Seven said.

"I thought it was just me."

They both snapped around to a loud gulp and gasping. Dani tried to scramble up, hitting her head on the ceiling grate. Her eyes were wild and her breathing labored. "Dani!" Janeway said. "You're safe, darling. You're safe." She grabbed the girl's waist and hand.

Seven's hand against the girl's cheek brought her round. "Eridani. You are with your mothers."

The girl rubbed her head, looking around and then at each of them in turn. "I thought...I dreamed the Ket'zali had me again."

"Again?" Both mothers inquired together. They looked at each other, as they tugged the girl down.

Slowly, she relaxed as they sat one on each side of her. "They had me."

Janeway's eyebrows knitted together. "But we found you with the Mencari."

Dani closed her eyes and pursed her lips, shaking her head. "Ket'zali had me first. Then Mencari." Her stomach growled. "I'm hungry."

While Seven rifled through her neoprene backpack, Kathryn adjusted herself against the side grate. Then she pulled Dani to her, laying an arm around her shoulders, pulling her tight and brushing her bangs back with her palm. The Captain tried to keep her tone light. Knowledge was power and she needed all the power she could get from her daughter. "Tell me more, Dani." But she felt the girl tense against her. "It's okay, sweetheart. I won't let them hurt you."

Seven produced three ration bars, handing one to each of them. Dani crinkled her nose and curled her lips. "Not again," she hissed. She poked Seven's thigh with the ration bar.

Seven slowly looked down at the weaponized nutritional supplement and then slowly at Dani. "As before, we are hiding in a strange ship, occupied by two warring races. A selection is not available, Eridani."

"And they may not even be herbivores, without a supply of fresh vegetables or fruits." Janeway knew the Mencari were carnivorous, given their appetite for whole slugs and blind eels. She shuddered. To distract herself, Janeway took Dani's bar and peeled back the silver paper.

Dani sighed gustily when her mother handed it back to her. Finally, she took it and stared at the Captain for several long heartbeats, as if she were considering something. "Ket'zali sometimes eat their young," the girl said, biting into the bar. Her blue eyes darting between the faces of both her mothers.

Both women wondered why she would reveal such a thing now and so casually. Janeway narrowed her eyes on the girl, letting a hand tickle Dani's knee. If she was willing to reveal that detail, then Dani Janeway could say more. "What else do you know, darling?"

Dani stared at the hand holding the bar, watching it approach her mouth and then return to rest against a knee. "Ket'zali are bad," she said in a small voice. She curled herself up, raising both knees to hug herself.

Janeway's arm around her shoulder squeezed tighter. "Do you know what they want with you?"

Dani finished her bar greedily, stuffing her mouth until they were rounded and she could barely close her mouth while she chewed. She carefully avoided Cappie's eyes until she swallowed the last of it. Then suddenly, Dani scrambled away from Janeway's grasp, scooting next to Seven. With puckered lips and a lift of the chin, she pointedly looked away from Kathryn. "I'm thirsty and I have to pee."

Janeway tried to quell the hurt that bubbled up. It was clear Dani preferred Seven, but this rejection stung nonetheless. She wondered what her counterpart in the other parallel universe had done or not done to never have earned a seven-year-old's trust. That Katie probably worked too hard and put her ship above everyone else, including her own flesh and blood, she thought sadly.

Captain Janeway considered issuing an order for Dani to tell her everything she knew about the two races. It was clearly more than she was willing to share voluntarily. But Janeway knew that Dani, like her Borg mother, would very well defy it. Captains Pike, Kirk and Picard never had these problems, she was sure of it. Damn that other Kathryn Janeway anyway, she thought morosely. For putting me in this goddamn situation.

"Maybe another time then, hmm?" Janeway said, tweaking the girl's toe. Dani crossed her legs, effectively hiding her feet from Kathryn's reach.

Kathryn tried to push the renewed hurt down. She's scared, Katie. And she's a child, she thought. Not an ensign, no matter how smart she is.

Seven absent-mindedly stroked Dani's back, after giving her a canteen. But her eyes were pinned on Kathryn, where she could see a corded blue vein in Kathryn's temple throbbing. Captain Janeway loved control and trying to command a seven-year-old was like trying to bottle sunlight. It was unlike Janeway to allow her emotions to control her, especially at a time like this.

"What troubles you, Kathryn?"

Kathryn opened her eyes, her fingertips that had been massaging her forehead fell to her chin. "I've been thinking about our situation."

She felt both blue gazes on her then.

"If we should encounter our own..." Janeway decided to use a Starfleet term, hoping Dani would not grasp the allusion. "...Kobayashi Maru..." The girl turned elsewhere, sipping at a canteen absent-mindedly, seemingly oblivious. "Here on this ship, then I am ordering you, Seven to take..." Kathryn bobbed a chin at the child, who was looking down the chute. "And get to the Delta Flyer."

"Without...?" Seven didn't have to say Kathryn's name or her rank. The sorrow and fear etched in her face was enough for the Captain to interpret.

"Yes." Janeway's whisper was nearly so inaudible it floated down her throat again. Its taste was bitter.

Seven's face hardened and before she could speak, Janeway squared her shoulders. "That's an order, Seven of Nine."

"Orders are irrelevant, Captain, I-"

"Please." The whisper soared high and then its tip pierced Seven's heart, as it was meant to. "Let me do this for you both, Seven."

For several long heartbeats, Seven thought of a universe without Kathryn Janeway. It would be an unacceptable turn of events. But she sensed the futility of arguing with a seasoned Captain, who had, on more than one occasion, offered her life for the crew. That's what she and Dani were to Janeway, she thought miserably. Nothing but crew. Seven nodded once, shiny eyes turning away.

Janeway visibly relaxed, as she rubbed her neck, where the syringe had pierced her. It was throbbing again. She could feel the raised skin around the injection site. It was the poison that the Ket'zali had mentioned in their cruel taunts of her. But she would laugh best if she could save her girls and sidestep their toxins coursing through her veins now.

When the other lizards had attacked and seized the ship, the Voyager delegates and those Mencari in the vicinity were some of the first to be captured. Janeway had been separated from the rest, singled out by rank for a quick, but painful interrogation. Janeway wondered how they had known she was the captain. It was another mystery added to a long list of them that didn't seem to fit any pattern. And it all began with her child.

Janeway heard Dani coughing and followed suit. The haze from the corridors was beginning to seep into the Jeffries tubes. It reeked of melting plastics and decaying lizards.

Then she realized that in their hours-long trek through the ship, not once, had they heard any lizard contingent in the adjacent corridors. It was too easy, Janeway thought with a yawn. Never a good sign, especially when all she wanted was to take this woman in her arms and somehow connect with their daughter.

Finally, Seven heaved to her feet. "It is time for us to move."

"But I have to pee," Dani said in a long, annoying whine.

Seven clenched her jaw. "Did you not urinate before your short regeneration cycle?"

Dani glanced down at the grating below her. "No. I want to sit on a potty."

"Will you urinate now?"

Dani carefully avoided her mothers' gazes. "Not without a potty."

Janeway lurched to her feet, rubbing her lumbar. She slapped Dani's butt lightly. "Then hold it. We've got to keep moving."

Chapter 9: Glimpses

Dani kissed her own palm again. Her hands and knees were raw from crawling on a grate through chutes in a Mencari ship. She promised her mommie that she wouldn't complain so much. But then again, her mommie didn't know that Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway would bring her into the belly of a ship belonging to the "Honored Mothers."

She brushed a tear away and tried to keep from sobbing. She didn't want to cry. How would she explain it to this universe's Seven and Kathryn? How could she tell them that she knew she didn't belong to them? That her own mommie, the tender Annika Hansen, had used the last bit of fading life to open a quantum singularity that brought her to this space and this time. The memory burned.


Ket'zali phaser bursts were bombarding the shield of the small shuttle. Its weapons had long been depleted and systems were failing every millisecond. "Mommie, I'm scared," she had said from the rear of the shuttle.

Seven looked back at her. One eye was closed and purple. Her human arm was useless. There were large patches of her singlesuit that was fused with her skin from plasma burns. Her hair was an unruly heap upon her head. But still, Seven of Nine toiled to find a way out of an untenable position.

"Maybe they won't hurt me," the girl whispered at last. "I can give myself up and they'll...they'll let you go."

Seven turned her head sharply. "That is not accurate, baby," she said, her mouth tugging unnaturally to the left. Her implants were unable to maintain her biological systems any longer because of the heavy damage.

A photon burst hit the ship again, rocking it unmercifully. "Shields at forty-five percent," the computer's feminine voice stated.

"They destroyed a planet to reach you," she said. Without any other sign of the profound pain underneath, Seven held herself still, closing her eyes for just one moment as she imagined being back in Kathryn's arm. She would give anything to feel their warmth.

When another photon burst rocked the ship and the computer announced another drop in the shield and hull integrity, Seven's eyes snapped open. "I know you hardly remember, Eridani," she said. "But Cappie gave her life to save you. I can do no less."

Seven whirled, her hands flashing over the helm and deflector controls.

"What are we gonna do?"

"I am preparing now for a special mission," she said. "You..." Mother lifted her gaze to beloved daughter. "You, my special girl, will travel through a quantum singularity to safety."


The shuttle's deflector began to emit a concentrated chroniton beam, distorting space-time just ahead of the shuttle. The event horizon of the black hole was just large enough for a shuttle.

Seven dashed to the girl, swept her up and, with only her Borg-enhanced arm remaining operational, embraced Dani until she was breathless. "I love you, Eridani," she whispered. "I am certain to love you in every universe."

"Are you coming?"

"I cannot," she said with a sad smile. "I will beam to the Ket'zali ship, where I will ensure your departure from this timeline."

Seven saw tears spill from the mirrored eyes of her daughter. "Yes, Eridani," she said quietly to the shaking head. "It is the only way."

"But where am I going? Cain't you follow me?"

"The correct word is 'can't' and the answer is no, I cannot. You are going through a quantum singularity to another timeline. Another universe, if you will. By virtue of traveling back along another timeline, you will possess information that could prove dangerous. To yourself, others or the timeline. You must never speak of what you know, Eridani. This you must promise me."

She nodded, still blinking as she urgently clutched at her mother's arms.

"One more promise," Seven said, noting the continuing drain on the shields. "Promise me that you will suppress your multi-potentiality in favor of being a seven-year-old girl?"

"But why-"

"It is vital for your continued existence, Eridani. Give me your oath that you will conceal your status as a child prodigy. That you will be true to your chronological age and not the age of your intellect." Seven stroked the girl's cheek lovingly. "I do not want anyone to take advantage of you, love."

Dani Janeway blinked her eyes furiously like a pulsing quasar, though no celestial phenomena could contain the grief of one little girl about to watch a parent sacrifice her life. "Promise," she whispered.

"I love you, Eridani. Forever," she whispered. She leaned over and kissed her forehead, both cheeks and finally the lips that promised a fullness of their own. "Look for me on the other side. I will love you there, as well."

With a heavy sigh, Seven gently pushed the girl away from her and ordered the computer to beam her aboard the Ket'zali bio-ship. In a twinkling of an eye, Seven of Nine was gone, leaving a frightened girl to howl her way alone through the singularity.


The memory unleashed a flood of emotion so strong, Dani began to sob uncontrollably. She wanted her very own mother. She fell to her butt, bringing her hands to her face, in uncontrollable cries.

The cold grate against bare hands brought sharp icicles straight to her heart. The two women stopped, concerned with the sudden bout of tears. They each sat on one side of her, with Seven placing her arms around the girl.

"What troubles you, Eridani?"

What could she say? That she knows they aren't her parents and then watch them painfully withdraw from her and each other? She wiped her tears and took a breath, plunging herself into the emotional maelstrom of a pre-adolescent girl who was much loved and much spoiled.

"My arms are gonna fall off," she whined. "I'm tired of this!"

She saw the mood of her mothers shift to annoyance. But Dani was far from done.

"And I want my...Silly Willy!" The last two words were drawn out in a long, pitiful cry of woe.

Seven's eyes went wide, as she looked to Captain Janeway for support. Kathryn softened her eyes, as she patted Dani's leg sympathetically. She tried to lean over to catch the inclined eyes of the girl, who studied her hands intently. "Seven still sleeps with a stuffed animal," she said sympathetically. The comment earned her a chilly glare and a dubious raise of an eyebrow. Her response was to shrug a shoulder.

Dani eyes lifted. They were shiny and stricken with pain, both mothers noted. "You do?"

"Yes, well, I-" Seven's stammering was painful for Janeway to hear.

"Bobo," Janeway said. "That's the name of her favorite stuffed tribble." She smiled weakly at the girl and impishly at Seven.

"Tribble, huh?"

Seven nodded reluctantly, noticing that the ruse was calming the girl. Dani looked at the Seven's backpack longingly.

"Yes," Seven said pointedly to Janeway, "my particular trouble with tribbles involves willfulness." She gave an almost imperceptible nod to Janeway.


Seven nearly startled to find the girl staring between the two women. She wondered for how long they had lost themselves in that visual embrace. She cleared her throat to clear her mind. "My tribble-"

"What color is her fur?" Dani inquired.

"Red," Seven said sharply to Janeway. "My red-headed tribble jumps out of my backpack incessantly, just as your Silly Willy did."

Dani's eyes widened. "You mean...you didn't forget Silly Willy, just because Cappie likes dogs better?"

Cappie squeezed the girl's knee. "No, of course not, sweetheart. We can like different things and still be a family."

"We can?"

Dani's memories took her back to her original universe, with her original parents as they all sat on the back porch swing at Grandma Gretchen's house.

"Eridani," Seven had said so long ago. "Cappie and I have something to discuss."

"I'm not takin' piano lessons, Mom," she said, sitting forward on the chair while she watched her tiptoes push off the wood flooring.

"It's not about that, Dani," Kathryn said, rubbing her back.

Dani continued as if she hadn't heard. "Because I don't like music."

"Eridani, it is another matter entirely," Seven said, watching the little hand braced against her thigh.

"And I don't like that creepy Mr. Waters," she continued. "I think he is a child molester."

"Dani!" Kathryn shouted while Seven yelled, "Eridani!"

"What?" She said, her eyes wide in alarm.

"You can't just say that so casually!" Janeway's command voice was always sharper with her daughter than she wanted it to be. This time had been no different.

"I didn't say it! Lindy did!"

Kathryn continued as if Dani hadn't spoken. "It's shocking and could ruin his reputation, if untrue." The Captain pulled her back, so she could study her face when she asked the next question. "Is there something you should tell us, Elizabeth Eridani Janeway?"

Dani tightened her mouth at the mention of her whole name. "How should I know? I don't take piano lessons," she reasoned.

"What has Lindy said to you? Exactly, Dani?"

"That he makes her practice her scales and squeals on her to her mom when she screws that up during the lesson."

"We do not use the word 'screws,' Eridani," Seven pointed out sternly.

"Cappie said 'exactly," Mom. I didn't say it-"

"Lindy said it," Janeway offered. "Yes, I think we got it, m'darlin'." Janeway took out a padd and tapped the screens a few times. "I'll call Tessa tomorrow so that she can decide if there is merit or not."

Dani glared at Kathryn. Sometimes she wanted to fling that dumb doohickey into the cow pasture. Cappie loves it more than me, Dani thought wretchedly.

Seven watched a shadow cross Dani's face. She knew exactly what the girl was feeling. She'd felt it herself many times in the last few years of her marriage. Of late, Seven of Nine had contemplated threatening her wife with assimilation. Perhaps a "red alert" could draw Kathryn's attention, Seven mused. At the very least her assimilation tubules could pique Kathryn's waning interest in Seven's neglected body.

Soon, it had become apparent that Janeway was doing more than just putting tapping out a note to call Gretchen Janeway's neighbor and Lindy's mother, Tessa Saberhagen.

Seven sighed, drawing Dani's attention with a tug. "In the future, please refrain from repeating idle gossip, particularly one so malicious," Seven said, also with a chastising look. "I think perhaps your afternoons have been too laissez-faire here at Geegee's house this summer."

Kathryn lifted her eyes, regarding her wife disapprovingly. "Andy," she said, evoking the nickname more of habit than affection. "I don't believe that my mother has had a hand in Dani's poor choice of friends."

Dani felt her Borg mother stiffen. Dani put a leg up and rested a forehead there, encircling her head with both arms.

Seven swiveled her head to look back at Kathryn. She wanted to call Kathryn her special name, but she fought the spiteful urge. She would not use the name unless spoken in love. "Neither for innuendo nor allegation did I refer to your dear mother. Her name was merely an attributive identifier." Janeway winced to hear the bitter edge.

Kathryn watched as the two most important people in her life lined up against her. Her chest tightened at the growing sense of alienation. Over what? A slip of the tongue. She shook her head, raising a pacifistic hand. "Fine, fine," she said. She meant the comments as agreement, but her wife took them as arrogantly dismissive.

"I'm sorry I said anything," the girl muttered, throwing herself back on the swing. Her slouch made her nearly entirely horizontal and, to her mothers, she looked uncomfortable.

"It is not fine, Kathryn," Seven said with more ice in her already frigid monotone. "The topic is clearly something of importance to you to bring it up at this unusual juncture."

Kathryn lifted her head in thought, a hand running down her neck. She leveled a withering glare that could melt the hull of a starship. "You really didn't want to come spend the summer here with my family, did you?"

Seven's face hardened. Kathryn The Explorer, who pushed the limits of a starship, never seemed to know when to stop with her or Dani. It was inefficient. As Seven opened her mouth to respond, Dani interrupted. "I said! I'm sorry I brought it up! Sheesh!"

Kathryn easily recognized Seven's attitude of defiance from subtle nuances in the tension around her eyes and her subtle ship in posture. The ex-Borg was insubordinate from the moment she stepped onto Voyager and she brought the same insolence to their marriage. All Kathryn had to do now was to wait for Seven to say just a few word to start a disagreement. Wait for it...wait for it...

"Dani is correct," Seven said without any variation of tone.

There it is! Kathryn tightened her mouth, looking away while she gathered her composure.

Seven continued to speak to Kathryn's shoulder. "We should not be discussing what is between us now."

"Oh, that's right." The comment was tinged with sarcasm and Kathryn thought her daughter wouldn't register it. But she was wrong.

Dani bolted from the swing. "Lindy said her parents hated each other, too." She stood with her back to the women, wondering how this summer vacation got to be such a bummer.

Seven sat ramrod straight, a hand lying on each knee. She was looking straight at the Janeway barn that housed a cow and her calf, and a few bantam chickens.

With a hand at her chin, Janeway was leaning against the arm of the swing with a leg crossed, watching the leaves on a grove of oak trees sway with the gentle breeze.

Just as she always did, Kathryn absorbed her emotions and was the first to offer armistice. She looked back at Seven, knowing her wife was embroiled in a cascade of emotions that usually made it difficult for her to cope. And Dani was still young, despite the smart mouth on her. "I think we've started this discussion off on the wrong foot. Several, in fact," she said lightly. "I think it's good thing we are only bi-pedal."

Seven allowed her dismay to show. But, to Kathryn's surprise, Dani chuckled, thinking of how she'd ride a bike with an extra pair of legs.

"So," Janeway said, pushing herself up from her knees. "Where were we?"

Dani put her fingers in the back pockets of her faded jeans, as she slowly turned. "You were just about to tell me I could take swimming lessons."

Janeway crossed her arms and looked down at her daughter with a look of simulated impatience. "No, I don't think that was it, Dani."

"Oh," she said breezily, with a casual wave of a hand. "Then it musta been you telling me it was okay to get my ears pierced."

"No!" the both mothers yelled in unison.

Dani's crooked smile slowly blossomed. Seven believed their daughter's impish grin was nearly identical to Kathryn's. But was not about to derail the truce for that observation, no matter how true.

Dani didn't even give the mothers time to recover before she issued another sally. "What about Lindy's aunt's wedding? Next weekend in Indianapolis? Can I go with Lindy?" Dani held her breath on this request, knowing the distance would mean an overnight stay in a hotel.

Both parents realized the other requests had been gimmicks, mere props in a battle of wits.

"We require a more detailed briefing before a decision may be fully rendered."

"Like what?"

"Like who is Lindy's aunt and who is her groom?" Janeway asked.

Seven slowly swiveled her head to Kathryn and then returned it to Dani. "Or her bride."

"Ah," Kathryn chuckled, realizing her error. "Good call, Andy." But her overtures were met with typical Borg indifference.

"Um, Lindy's aunt is Tierna...or something like that...Saberhagen." Dani looked up, squinting as she tried to recall the details. "She's marrying some guy..." The blank look on her parents face told her she needed to keep digging. "I think he's from Betazed."

Kathryn came to full alert, standing tall. "Will their ceremony be traditional Betazoid, by chance?"

Dani grimaced, as her shoulders went up. "Um, yes."

"Then, um, no, you can't go," Kathryn said decisively. "You are six, Dani. You can't traipse around a wedding with nothing but your pretty little smile on."


Seven raised a hand to stop their daughter. "Yes, we realize you are intellectually gifted," she said. "Particularly since you never fail to declare that datum to your advantage."


Seven raised a brow and her eyes narrowed.

"Maybe next time," Dani conceded as she dropped to the space beside Seven on the swing.

Seven patted the girl's knee in sympathy. "I am gratified that we agree."

"Me, too," she said sullenly.

Kathryn joined the pair on the swing. As they swayed, the boards of the authentic wooden slats moaned and the steel hinges creaked. They could hear a dog barking in a field.

Janeway sighed. She and Seven had agreed that she would take the lead on this real reason for this family meeting. Now she wondered if she'd been sucker punched by her wife of seven years.

Janeway let a loose fist fall good-naturedly on Dani's knee. "First off, kiddo, you know we love you, right?"

"Yep," she said, watching her mother's hand curl on her leg.

"We always shall," Seven added.

"I shall, too." She smiled when she heard her mothers chuckle.

But the brief calm, quickly gave way to tension. Dani's eyes flicked up when she heard a small strain in Kathryn's voice. The girl could feel a gaggle of targs bucking in her stomach.

After a few more heartbeats of silence, Dani adjusted herself. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong" Janeway knew she spoke too fast and instantly regretting the lie, but unable to reverse course.

Seven began to caress her daughter's arm. "Cappie has been thinking about taking an extended assignment."

Dani started to hear the crickets chirping, as she tried to absorb this news. "Yes, let's," Dani finally replied. "'Cause there will be no piano teachers in space!" Her triumphant smile was marred by the heart-breaking seriousness of her parents. "We are going, right?"

Janeway offered a cheerless smile, as she shook her head. "I will be taking command of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan."

"What about us?"

The parents shared a meaningful look. Janeway took Dani's hand and kissed the knuckles. "You and your mother will stay planet-side."

She grimaced. It was a distorted expression, equal parts anger, fear and frustration. "Just like Lindy's mom and dad," Dani said. "Lindy said they told her they loved her and then wham-o they divorced."

"Well," Janeway said, with a hint of mockery. "Lindy's lived quite a life already."

"So are you getting a divorce?" Dani's tears fell freely and she made no pretense of hiding them now.

Janeway gave a little gurgle in her throat as she looked at Seven with a plea in her eye. "Dani, Cappie and I merely require sufficient...time to...perform diagnostics on our...connection."

Still Dani couldn't bring herself to look at either parent. She stared down at her hands, threading and unthreading the fingers. "How long will you be gone, Cap?"

Janeway toyed with one of Dani's flower buttons that festooned her blouse. "It's a twelve-month assignment in deep space."

"A whole year," she said, sounding crushed. "So when is the divorce then?"

Seven leaned forward to look into Dani's eyes. "That possibility has not been raised by either of us, Eridani. It is not a consideration."

"I'm not a baby, you know."

"Yes, we remember," Janeway said, lightly tapping Dani's knee. "You used to smile all the time and never, ever talked back."

Dani pulled herself from the chair, crossing her arms and stomping to the other end of the porch.

Janeway scratched her forehead, wondering what her mother would have done. She patted Seven's leg, when the woman made to rise. "Let me," she said. "I'm usually the enemy anyway."

Seven watched Janeway stride confidently to where Dani leaned against a post looking out. She had often tried to tell the Captain how Dani felt about being low priority with her. Kathryn's response was always the same. "My father the admiral did it to me. I got over it. She'll be fine."

Seven had long since come to the conclusion that Admirals and Captains make inefficient partners and should therefore be sterilized. Eight years as a Starfleet captain's wife was like eighteen years as a Borg drone. The cracks in their relationship were inevitable. Now Seven did not know how they would ever live together as a couple. They had no trouble competing against each other. More than once, they'd taken a friendly competition further than sanity prescribed. Seven blushed with shame to remember a Velocity game where they went ten rounds and in the end, Janeway emerged with a bloody nose and a bruised ego.

Seven believed they had allowed their friendship to slowly decompile. With that gone, they were never any good in bed, making the rivalry that much more caustic. She wondered how they could ever redeem what the years had consumed.


Cappie stood next to the girl, as they watched the sun on the waving amber wheat field. She didn't know what to do with her hands, so she shoved them in her pants. "I want you to know something, Dani. I'm not leaving you, sweetheart."

"That's what it feels like."

"I know," she said empathetically. "But it simply isn't true. It's a chance to give your mother space without being suffocated by me, my ship and Starfleet."

Dani just made an angry sound, like bees stuck in her throat.

"You know, we can live different places and still love each other."

"Can we?"

Five months from that day, Seven cried in agony as she learned she would never address her wife by any name. The U.S.S. Ronald Reagan was destroyed and all hands lost, including Captain Kathryn Janeway, defending the Alpha Quadrant against a Ket'zali invasion force heading toward Starfleet Headquarters on Earth. Seven of Nine was never the same again.


Dani remembered the funeral. It was a cold day in Indiana that January. Just like it was right now on this stupid ship. There was nothing left of her Cappie, only a marble statue of the U.S.S. Voyager at the family plot. The stone was cold, too. My Cappie is gone, she thought.

Only when Seven's warm hand touched her forehead did Dani jerk back to the present. "Did I startle you?" Seven asked quietly as she considered the readings on her medical tricorder.

Kathryn misread Dani's expression. "We'll get Silly Willy back," Cappie said with a curl of her lips. "And Little Bobo, too." She nearly laughed out loud at Seven's gleam of amusement.

Dani's unblinking eyes turned to look at her mother. She registered her smile and the playful way her mothers interacted, just as it used to be, long before the Evil Ones.

Janeway stopped abruptly, studying the catatonic state of her daughter. "Dani, are you all right?"

She finally blinked and the reality hit her. She was in another universe where both of her parents were alive. Alive! And they liked each other!

Dani flung herself into Kathryn's arm, clutching her neck tightly. Janeway squeaked when her backside smacked the cold, hard grate. It wasn't graceful or gentle, but Janeway would take what she could get with her daughter. This was the child's first overture since Cappie's attempt to extract information. She returned Dani's hug. "What's the matter?" She and Seven exchanged worried looks.

"I'm sorry, Cap," she whispered. "I love you so much."

"Oh, honey, I know you do. I feel the same way about you." Janeway continued to cling to the girl

"My Cappie," she murmured against Kathryn's neck.

Kathryn wondered at this new development. It was exactly like her first tantrum, after the board games. She exploded and then clung to Kathryn as if they were to be separated forever.

In her mother's embrace, Dani still shuddered. "You know what?" she said to the small ear beside her. "I'd get a hundred cats, if they all came with a warm cup of coffee." Janeway poked the girl's rib, drawing a small giggle and a squirm. "And I'd bet you'd take a hundred baths if you could have a hot chocolate after every one of them."

Dani pulled back. "With marshmallows?"

"It isn't hot chocolate without marshmallows, now is it?" Dani shook her head in earnest agreement. "They'd do just the trick to take the nip out of the air just like that," Kathryn said, though she didn't bother to snap her fingers. They were too numb. Then she stopped for a split second. "Of course, this isn't really cold. Not really, if you're from Indiana."

"I was born in Bloomington," Dani piped in.

"Go Hoosiers." Kathryn playfully tugged the girl's boot.

"Hoo-rah!" Her voice was a little too loud and her mothers quieted her quickly, but Janeway was still elated. It took the edge off of the rejection she felt from a child who shared her own DNA.


About thirty meters beyond, Dani collapsed gustily to the grate, rolling to her stomach. "My arms are gonna fall off and I still have to pee." She thought briefly of the promise she made to her real mother. As far as peeing, she could definitely act like a seven-year-old because she was not about to willingly tinkle in a weird spaceship. Yep, definitely not gonna do it. But her bloated bladder squeezed itself and she crossed her legs against gravity.

Seven stopped her tricorder in mid-air to look over her shoulder at the girl. "We are halfway to our destination," she said, assuming it would be welcome news.

Instead Dani groaned loudly, earning a look of censure from the Borg. Janeway could see the impatience building in Seven's face, much to Kathryn's relief. She hardly wanted to be the only parent with a low tolerance for whining, particularly when Dani already had the power to urinate.

Dani lifted her face to grimace at her mother, her expression turning exasperated when Seven gestured toward a corner of the chute for Dani's private business. The girl shook her head and buried it in the crook of her arm. She uncrossed her legs and recrossed them again. "I don't have to go anymore."

Seven crawled back to sit beside the prone figure. She traced a small circle on Dani's shoulder with a finger as she spoke. "We may not arrive to our destination until much later, Eridani. It is not a difficult thing to relieve yourself in an open forum."

Dani lifted her head, eyeing her Borg mother suspiciously. "Then you pee," she said with a defiant lilt of her dimpled chin.

Janeway, who was seated near Dani's feet, smothered her smirk into her bent knees. She knew she shouldn't be so amused watching a sparring match between these two people. Lord knows she's been on the receiving end of Seven's stubborn-streak on more occasions than she cared to remember. But the Captain could not help the amused satisfaction she received from watching Seven of Nine get a dose of her own insolent medicine.

Seven spied Janeway's shoulder shakes and cleared her throat. Janeway straightened, wiping a few laugh tears and turned to see Seven's frown. The Borg turned her attention once again on her daughter, who was bouncing her leg in an unrelenting attempt to forget how full she felt.

"Eridani, I do not require urination," Seven said matter-of-factly. "It is you who has complained on twelve separate occasions."

Dani glared at her mother, while Seven merely held an even, steady gaze. She noted the circles under the girl's eyes and the corners of her mouth drawn down. Then she saw Dani shiver. "Are you having difficulty maintaining your core temperature, Eridani?"

She rolled over to her back, sitting up to rub her arms and pull her knees close. "I'm a little cold."

Before Dani had even finished responding, Janeway shed her Starfleet tunic, placing it over the girl's small shoulders. "It's a little big. But you'll grow into it," she said with a wink.

Dani smiled shyly as she slipped her arms into the sleeves. She could still feel her mother's heat. Kathryn rolled the sleeves up until they were fat rings around Dani's wrist. "How's that?"

"Better," she mumbled, keeping her chin tucked. Her thanks was nearly inaudible.

"I'm glad," Kathryn said. The older mother tried to infuse her soft grin with all the affection she could, but the girl looked away nervously. There'll be time enough, the woman thought.

"Now, Eridani, please find the privacy you need-"

"But not far so we can't see you," Janeway added with a nod to Seven, who replied with a small dip of her head.

"Yes, remain within visual range..." Seven inhaled deeply at the child's puckered brow. "But you must eliminate your waste."

The girl looked forlornly at the corner her mother had indicated, and then buried her head again.

"You must comply, Eridani." Seven let all of her fingers tap Dani's shoulder rhythmically.

The girl burrowed her head in deeper, covering it with her arms.

"Eridani?" A single finger lightly thumped her once.

She sat up, wiping her tears with a sleeve. "I will comply," Dani said bleakly.

Her defeated crawl was pathetic for her mothers to watch. "My mother always said most girls go through a drama stage at one time or other," Janeway whispered as they heard sniffles from the girl.

Seven watched as Janeway studied their daughter. "Did you also dramatize excessively?"

Janeway flicked her gaze toward the azure one. "Oh, never! My sister Phoebe though..." She clicked her teeth and shook her head.

"Do you find Dani's sensationalism hurtful?" Seven noted the slight tightening around Janeway's eyes. "As when she pulled away from you?"

Janeway watched the girl circle the chosen spot, muttering something inaudible. "Mmm," she finally murmured. "Like a blow to the gut and from a midget."

Seven watched the delicate auburn lashes that lightly brushed the planes of her cheeks. "You yourself indicated that you had bonded with her."

Janeway nodded, watching Dani unbuckle her belt. "Perhaps she feels closer to you..." Her voice began to crack and so she cleared her throat. "Because you...your counterpart in the other universe carried her during pregnancy." When she saw Dani finally prepare to lower her trousers, Janeway adjusted herself. She could still see the child in her periphery, but afforded her a modicum of privacy. "What do you think?"

Seven considered the statement. "If I were Borg in the other universe - and there is nothing to indicate otherwise - then, no, Kathryn, I would not have carried Dani in my uterus."

The liquid gray snapped up, bewilderment dulling her sparkle. For several heartbeats she was unable to form a single coherent thought, though she tried. "Are you suggesting to me that I...that I..." Kathryn lightly touched her chest. "That I was pregnant?"

Seven raised an eyebrow. "Not you, Captain. You're counterpart in the parallel universe, as my counterpart would have had no uterus with which to carry a subunit."

Seven's eyes fluttered once, the Borg composure melted away. "As I cannot become pregnant, though I would if I were better equipped." With the weight of Kathryn's compassion, Seven flushed and closed her eyes.

Kathryn's hand on her knee was warm and comforting. Seven immediately laced their hands together. When she opened her eyes, the Captain was staring their twined hands in awe. "I didn't know you ever wanted children," she said. "As Captain, I mean..." She let anymore words die on her lips because the ones she'd just uttered sounded cold.

"I did not know until I met Eridani."

Kathryn's thumb began to stroke Seven. It was all innocent, but she felt her breathing start to accelerate.

"What of you, Captain?"

Janeway finally lifted her eyes, shrugging a shoulder. It was an oddly naked gesture, open and honest. "I never seem to have much luck with love." There was a humorous lilt to the comment, but Seven surmised it was artifice. She tightened her grip on Kathryn's hand in response.

With a hooked finger under Kathryn's chin, Seven lifted her gaze until they were level. "Perhaps it is not luck that you require," she said softly. "But devotion and fidelity." And availability, Seven pondered to herself. Yes, she could give that to this woman, free and with both hands.

A faint smile touched Kathryn's lips as she let her gaze fall to their hands again. I have the worst timing, she thought. Why this now? "I'm...I'm flattered, Seven." She blushed when she caught a glimpse of desire that Seven had very careful to bridle. "But should we really be having this kind of discussion in the innards of a strange ship flying to God knows where while two races fight over who gets to fricassee us?"

"The situation is rather dramatic, Kathryn, but our opportunities for repose have been negligible in the Delta Quadrant." Seven rushed on, as Kathryn opened her mouth to reply. "That is why the most optimal time to discuss such matters is always now."

Kathryn leaned forward and pressed her lips into a thin line, disquiet dogging her. "Seven," she said softly. "I'm...I'm-"

"You are flattered and flattery is irrelevant."

She nodded, still too shy to look up at the beautiful young woman. "What I'm so ineloquently trying to say, Seven is...I just don't think we can overcome the stress of a... We aren't special enough. I've seen too many captains...and admirals-my own father, for one..."

Seven's persistent gaze finally incinerated the last bit of Kathryn's calculated speech. "You're not buying it, are you?"

"Commander Tuvok has advised me to disregard illogical and emotive ramblings from Terrans. In this particular case, I would wager the opposite of your declarations is true."

She issued the challenge with an arched brow.

Janeway covered half her face with her hand, a blush burning her skin. "The truth is I do want you, Seven. I'm sure you know that with the way I've been acting. But I have a ship that I have to consider first and foremost and always." She brushed her fingertips along the strong jaw line. "But in another lifetime..."

Seven looked back at Dani, who was stooped over with her underwear and trousers pulled to her ankles. "Hey, mom, how'm I supposed to wipe my butt?"

"I will be there shortly, Eridani."

Before she turned her attention to the backpack, Seven abruptly hauled Janeway into her lap. "Seven!"

With a hand on each of Kathryn's cheek, Seven covered her mouth. It was not a tender kiss of promise. It was a full-mouthed union that was possessive and unyielding in its expression of desire. Long when Kathryn thought Seven would pull back, she did not. She surveyed the Captain's mouth, staking a claim that the older woman found exhilarating and alarming. Seven's always-polite hand slipped down to first caress the side of her breast, its softness and curves. Kathryn tried to dislodge the hand, but still their tongues remained intertwined. When Seven lightly brushed Kathryn's nipple with a thumb, she moaned long. Her hand covering Seven's at once to break the circuit of electricity and to bind them together.

"Dani..." Kathryn managed.

Only then did Seven break the spell, but held the redhead against her chest. "One day, Kathryn," she whispered in her ear, "you will love me more than all the coffee in all the galaxy."

Easily, the tall woman disentangled herself to take their daughter what she needed, while a bewildered and wide-eyed Kathryn stared on. She wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her turtle neck, as she watched the woman speaking with Dani. "I already do," she whispered to no one. But coffee is not her rival. The U.S.S. Voyager is.


Dani noted with some satisfaction the relaxed intimacy of Kathryn and Seven. Their caresses seemed welcome from both of them, though she sensed that they had never considered a relationship with each other before her appearance.

She smiled softly when Seven seized Kathryn for a breath-stealing, soulful kiss. It conveyed so much more than a lust or a short-term fling. If nothing else, Dani hoped she could have here what her parents had spoiled there. It was more reason to continue the ruse of acting her age. Besides, it was certainly entertaining sometimes.

With that decision reinforced, Dani yelled for toilet paper.


After conversing quietly with Dani for a few minutes, Seven made her way back to the Captain. Gone were the warmth and fervor. Even in those few minutes, Kathryn felt that she had cheated herself of something precious. With a forceful inner roar, Captain Janeway plunged the feeling so deep that she would forget.

Seven had resumed reviewing her tricorder readings, sparing only a second to notice the Captain. The needle puncture site on her neck was swollen. She wasn't sure whether she was more gaunt or if the contrast with the angry red spot sharpened the contrast. But the Captain did not complain and so she returned her attention to the tricorder.

"Did Dani finally answer nature's call?" Kathryn asked quietly.

"Yes. Let us hope that the many other issues she faces are so easily remedied."

"I have no doubt the answer will be no."

Seven glanced at the girl, earning a hiss from her. "I am fearful that our daughter may be confusing reality with nightmares or her world with ours."

Janeway frowned. "Why do you say that?"

Seven glanced quickly to Dani and then back before she could be chastised. "When she first saw you, Eridani believed you were a phantasm."

Janeway's hand automatically went up to stroke her own chin, a soothing habit that always had allowed her to think. "Then I was probably dead in the alternate universe," she said casually. "Goodness knows there have been plenty of opportunities for that." A careless smile dropped from her face when she noticed Seven's distress. "But here, I'm quite alive."

"Yes, and you will remain so, Captain." To Janeway's questioning look, Seven lifted a brow, inviting debate. But Kathryn wisely yielded the debate to the Astrometrics Officer, with a small nod.

"But then why hasn't she told us something about that? Like why I'm alive? That she knows she's in the wrong universe?" Kathryn scratched her head.

They turned to see Dani crawl back, a little disgusted by her hands as with every step she wiped a hand on her pants.

"Perhaps she does not remember."

The pair shared a meaningful look before a growl from the child refocused their attention. "She is quite the puzzle," she murmured.

"I would not require her any other way," Seven said, with more affection than Janeway had ever seen her display. When the girl reached them, she threw herself to the bottom grate, where Seven's hand lightly squeezed her shoulder. "Do you not feel relief, Eridani?"

The girl didn't want to answer, but reluctantly she did. "Yeah, I guess so. Can I eat?"

Her mothers refrained from eating, allowing her to have their share of ration bars. Her mothers noted once more that the child's color was pallid and she was again sluggish. But Dani was completely unaware, so caught up in stuffing her mouth full.

"Eridani," Seven said, alarmed at the bulging cheeks while she chewed. "Please decelerate your consumption."


Kathryn playfully pinched her thigh, and said, "And don't talk with your mouth fool, sweetheart."

Chapter 10: Choices

Another hour in the tubes seemed to pass slowly. In the adjacent corridors occasional hisses were heard from severed conduits and clicks from Ket'zali or Mencari. But the violence seemed to have defused itself. They had not heard the occasional clashes between the two factions, one marked by deep grunts and the other high-pitched growls and clicks.

"You both may rest while I inspect the grill work." Seven began to run her hands along the grate, her tricorder following along.

Both Kathryn and Dani crouched next to Seven. The Captain smiled at the girl, only receiving a tepid half grin in return. She was growing weaker.

Dani turned to face her other mother, who had ambled half a meter ahead, her hand still sliding along the seams of the grating. "Are we there yet?" Dani asked for the tenth time.

"Presently," Seven answered serenely, also for the tenth time.

"What are you looking for?" the girl asked, feeling Cappie again come to rest beside her.

Seven fell to her haunches, running her hand along the duranium grating. "I am attempting to find...ah," she said triumphantly. She pulled open a hatch door. Warm, smoky air rushed in, making the three cough.

Janeway squatted besides Seven, leaning over to peer outside. She covered her mouth and nose with a hand.

Seven traced the curved outline of Kathryn's face. The smattering of freckles also seemed to draw her eyes and she wondered why the Captain did not have a string of suitors on Voyager. She had a good body, attractive face. Yes, certainly she was a little forceful, but was that not her duty as Captain? Kathryn Janeway was not invincible, though she pretended to be. But Seven recognized that as a mere tactic of leadership. Who would follow a fool into battle?

Kathryn's tender side, hidden from most if not everyone, was evident every moment she was with Dani. It only deepened the attraction the blonde had for her. Not even Kathryn's two black eyes could quash those feelings now.

Stepping into the corridor, Janeway rubbed her lower back with a gratifying moan. Still stretching, she turned to regard their situation. Gray smoke reeking of burned plastic and rotting flesh billowed around the corridors, which was four times as wide as Voyager's and twice as high, no doubt to accommodate the ten-foot hulking frames of the lizards. She gratefully accepted a moist red handkerchief from Seven that she tied behind her neck.

Janeway looked briefly at Seven, who was tying a white handkerchief to cover Dani's nose and mouth. "We are nearly a thousand meters from the shuttlebay," Seven declared.

"Only," Janeway muttered. "Is the smoke poisonous?"

"The smoke is not toxic," she said, studying her tricorder. She snapped it closed, as she unfolded her lanky form ever so gracefully from the tube. "But Mencari and Ket'zali are roaming them."

Janeway considered the information. "How far away is the shuttlebay using the corridors?"

Seven's dismay was blaring, but she answered. "One hundred fifty meters."

"Let's use the corridors." Janeway turned, pointedly dismissing any further discussion.

Seven searched Janeway's eyes before responding. "The Ket'zali appear to be unaware of Jeffries tubes' existence. They are a safer course."

"Ket'zali." Janeway tried the word on, finding it oppressive. Images of the Ket'zali in charge of her torture came to mind, sending a shudder through her body. Janeway's eyes traveled up to study the Mencari ship. "Maybe these Ket'zali know about the chutes, Seven," she said. "Maybe they're tracking us now."

Seven's blonde hair was usually tightly wound into a neat and functional gather behind her head. Now long, insolent blonde strands whirled around her face and a few tendrils spiraled down along her neck. Kathryn lifted her hand. The possessive urge to brush the strands was tempting, especially when Seven looked so absolutely adorable with a black smudge at the tip of her nose that streaked in a broken line down her cheek.

Janeway inhaled deeply, as if fortifying her resistance. She let her hand drop and reluctantly dragged her gaze away, spying both ends of the hazy corridor.

Janeway knew an exhaustive debate between them was most certainly imminent, given the piqued expression on Seven's face. The Captain almost sighed, until a throbbing pain at her temple reminded her that allowing her lungs to catch up meant painful reminders of her injuries.

Once again, Janeway glanced back between both ends of the corridor. The smoke was making it difficult to navigate, but it would also provide. She looked up at Seven. "Have you considered how we will escape those tubes if the Ket'zali happen upon us?"

"They will not." She intoned with the typical Borg arrogance.

"You don't know that," Janeway said.

They both watched Dani crawl out and slid down a bulkhead to land on her butt with a gentle thud. Two loose fists held her baby face. The elbows balanced against bent knees and her feet were angled in.

"It is a small opening, Captain," she said. "They will not know that we are aware of them. The Ket'zali appear to be larger than the Mencari would find the entire network too confining."

Janeway shook her head. "I don't like this, Seven. None of it." She pointed out to Seven how easy it had been for them to escape and walk for a several hours, even converse quietly as if they were having a spot of tea. She found it difficult to believe the Ket'zali did not know their whereabouts. "Maybe they are herding us here."

"The Ket'zali are outnumbered-"

Before she could stop herself, Janeway's hands went to her hips. "You don't know that."

"I interfaced with the ship, Captain. I do know."

"What if more Ket'zali beamed over since your last computer interface?"

Dani rubbed her temples in circles, as she listened to her parents argue. She'd heard them argue countless times, usually more acidly than now. But the disagreement sent a foreboding chill through her and she shuddered.

As their discussion became heated, Seven stepped closer to Janeway to lower her voice. She noticed the burning red on Kathryn's ears and face. "These tubes sufficed to search for you. We have not encountered any hindrance. I do not comprehe-"

Janeway trembled and then her skin prickled to sense Seven standing close. The taller woman's heat felt comforting. With her fingertips, Janeway grazed her forehead above her right eye as an unwelcome dizziness tried to settle in.

She closed her eyes when she felt Seven's plump breast pressed against her shoulder blade. Janeway leaned into the hand at her elbow. "Captain," Seven whispered, as if she were hovering near her ear, the soft buzz of the tricorder lilting up and down. "You appear to be-You are fevered, Kathryn!"

Janeway pressed a palm against the bulkhead to support herself, her head lobbing forward. "So, let me get this straight," she rasped with all the bluster she could manage without toppling over. "If I disagree with you, I'm sick?"

Janeway expected a monotone outburst of anger that only Seven could deliver with a stinging effect. But for several heartbeats, only the hissing of severed conduits around them and the clanking of small devices in a backpack could be heard. Then below her, Janeway heard Seven growl through gritted teeth. "How inefficient! Fever reducers are unattainable in a hypospray."

The Captain blinked down at a palm offering two white tablets. The Captain shook her head. "Save it!" she whispered. Captain Janeway was not about to allow more drugs into her system. She needed her wits.

The palm fisted, turning a ghostly white. "Dor-sho-gha!"

Janeway slowly tipped her head to look at a disheveled and stone-faced Seven. "Did you just swear at me? In Klingon, no less?" Her eyebrows rose to the ceiling, as she pushed herself off the bulkhead.

Seven took two deep breaths, smoothed a hand over her wild strands and replaced the analgesics inside the medkit. She stood, shouldering her backpack. "You are a most frustrating patient, Kathryn."

When Janeway continued to study her, Seven turned away, the scrutiny almost crushing. "Lt. Torres suggested that invectives could be a useful management method." The blonde looked back at Janeway. "For demanding occasions requiring robust techniques."

"Did it work?" The Captain asked innocently, tipping her head. She let her eyes settle on the small hollow at the bottom of her throat.

Seven adjusted the backpack at her shoulder again. "It did not. You remain inflexible and uncooperative."

Janeway made a soundless "ah." "Be wary of advice from an engineer whose only tool is a sledge hammer."

Rubbing the needle puncture, the Captain considered the murky corridors, looking along both directions. She turned to catch a downcast Seven, following her gaze to a sleeping figure on the floor.

Seven's hand followed a decisive, experienced path from the girl's forehead to the pulse at her neck and quickly placed a hypospray to the thin neck. A small hiss announced its activation.

Seven fixed the pale child's collar, waiting for the injection to take effect.

The girl began to taste her mouth. Dani's eyes fluttered open, but they remained lidded. "Thirsty."

Seven opened a canteen and handed it to Kathryn, who tipped it against Dani's lips. "What did you give her?" Kathryn asked.


"Adrenaline? We better get the hell out of here before it wears off!" The Captain looked down each end of the corridor again. Neither direction seemed distinguishable from the other. "We have been sitting here for fifteen minutes without so much as an invitation to dance. Maybe the aliens decided we left."

Captain Janeway squinted slightly at Seven, who was angry with the her, the Captain knew. The ex-drone did not like orders, particularly when she believed she was correct. But they could not very well debate this here and now. "Which corridor leads to the right hangar?"

Seven pointed to her right.

"All right," Janeway said, rising so quickly her bones complained. "I think I'd rather jog than crawl anyway."

"The corridors are dangerous and this is a tactical error," Seven said smoothly, rising to meet the other woman's measuring gaze.

"Objection noted," Janeway said coolly, as her hand flicked forward. "Now let's move."

Without another word, Seven assisted Dani to her feet. The three made their way in single file, running around or hurtling over cadavers.


Captain Kathryn Janeway was infamous for having a sharp retort for every occasion that was neither vulgar nor crude. But she was at a loss just now. Dangling like a morsel with fifty Mencari lolling their tongues, dribbling saliva and humping each other's legs.

It was just the tight spot to make her want to break that rule of decorum. A bevy of coarse swear words were on the tip of her tongue. It wasn't so much her endangerment. It's part of the job of a Starfleet Captain. But Dani's unexpected presence churned up more emotions than expected. Added together with the beatings during interrogations, Janeway was not in fine form.

Of course, the Mencari's warlike tail slams didn't help her concentration. They dangled their disrupter rifles; some letting them drag as if they were afterthoughts, like mere brooms. Their leader was familiar to Janeway and Seven. Councilor Ba'tour's extravagant style of dress among a culture of simplicity made her stand out. Her purple silk pantaloons were billowing, and she displayed none of the baser instincts of her crew.

Her large head swayed back and fourth, taking the trio in. "Ush'maul," she said at last, her lisp more pronounced than before.

Janeway recognized the Mencari honorific and wanted to fire the compression rifle and severe the lizard's jumbo head.

But Ba'tour recognized none of these emotions playing across the face of a usually calm Starfleet Captain. Ba'tour held an open palm upward. "The last enemy of a thousand suns lies in wait for the girl, Ush'maul," she said.

Janeway glanced at Seven, who understood the subtle command. She briefly assessed Dani's position between them as adequate and turned to survey their location. Two corridors, at right angles to each other, spilled out into a large anteroom. Her tricorder began to buzz behind the Captain.

Meanwhile, Ba'tour took a step forward, her long, thick tail slithering behind her. The business end of Janeway's rifle fired a single, concentrated shot, scarring the bulkhead just ahead of the lizard and filling the half moon shaped foyer with the smell of burning plasteel. "Gifts," Ba'tour said. "I bring gifts for the sa'tumi."

Sa'tumi? Oh, dear heavens, did I go and get myself married to some Delta Quadrant native, Janeway thought morosely. She glanced apprehensively at Seven, who met the gaze with a hint of concern.

"Sa'tumi says..." The Councilor's eyes twisted in the opposite direction as guttural growls and clicks flooded from her throat. Then another Mencari stepped beside the Councilor, holding a large bucket filled with objects that Janeway or Seven did not recognize.

"It is I, Councilor Ba'tour..." She raised her arms, as if allowing the women to examine with their own eyes. She slammed a fat, clawed paw into her chest. "Your sa'tumi."

Janeway had long since tugged down her bandana, squinting and coughing at the swirling black smoke that hemorrhaged from the ship. She ran a filthy sleeve over across her face to clear her watery eyes and the profuse sweating. She narrowed her eyes, her rifle at the ready. "I'm afraid I don't know what sa'tumi means, Councilor."

"Brood mates are we."

The Captain Janeway eyed her cynically, alarmed by the casual friendliness. In Janeway's view, the Mencari had lured her to the Eesh'tob on false pretenses and then attacked. Her trust of the Mencari was at zero after the Ket'zali incursion. It was as if they had planned it together. She didn't like being ensnared. It raised her Irish dander and smothered any desire for Starfleet diplomacy. Not a good combination.

Ba'tour tried to take another step, but Janeway waved the rifle barrel menacingly. The action forced the Councilor back once again. One of the Captain's strategy was to keep that long tail out of reach. It could mow them down before they could even blink. Of that, she had no doubt.

The Captain felt Seven behind her, the whisper tickling her ear. "Captain, there are two Starfleet signatures in the hangar bay."

Janeway arched a brow, taking a deep breath. "That's the best news I've heard all day."

"Indeed," she said, stowing her tricorder.

While the two were whispering, Ba'tour issued orders in a guttural draw that the universal translator had difficulty interpreting. Before they had even finished, Ba'tour made room for two more crewmembers, each carrying one side of a large, covered vat.

The lizard turned to another of her crewman, growls, clicks and pops were exchanged between them. Finally, Ba'tour turned, raising her arms triumphantly. "The Ritual of Friendship! Sisters are we, Captain!"

Captain Janeway offered a cautious smile. "How fortunate for us. Okay, sister Ba'tour," she said dryly. "How about you open this hangar bay for us and let us leave peacefully. I believe your Field Marshal was more interested in flopping her tail around than helping the sa'tumi."

Ba'tour's mouth fell open and her tongue flicked out. "Amusing, sa'tumi. But she did not share the ritual with you. And, yes, the Field Marshal is one of our more aggressive do'cali'rah."

"Do'cali'rah?" Janeway shook her head slightly. "I think the universal translator is petering out, Seven," she whispered to the woman next to her. "Tell me, Ba'tour," she raised her voice again. "Did you plan this little ambush with the Ket'zali?"

The question brought another round of clicks and growls, along with rabid tail thumping. Janeway turned her head slightly away. Seven noticed the blush creeping down her face. "I could really lose the disturbing dry sexual grind of lizards over there," she whispered to Seven.

Seven observed the animalistic drive of some of the more aggressive lizards holding more docile ones down or against a bulkhead. The stronger Mencari would grind their pelvis against the groin of their chosen partner. "I believe, Captain, it is less sexual and more a show of dominance over one another."

"I'm sure they would just love to bully our legs," Janeway growled.

"Or perhaps just yours, Kathryn."

Janeway's eyes lifted to Seven, who raised a brow.

"You are the Captain, the Ush'maul and now the sa'tumi. Authority over you would be quite the feat."

Janeway faced the increasingly restless Mencari. "Well, I didn't let my Irish setter hump my leg and I'm not about to let a lizard do it either."

"That is wise," Seven said. "Interspecies copulation is against regulations without prior authorization."

Janeway's eyes again darted to Seven, who was completely devoid of even the faintest smile. With no sign of amusement, Janeway filed that comment away for another, more appropriate time.

Suddenly, Janeway turned toward Ba'tour, sniffing. "Seven, do you smell..." Janeway inhaled deeply again. "Do you smell manure?" Before Seven could answer, Ba'tour began to call to her.

"Sa'tumi," Ba'tour cried. "If you but relinquish the child to us, then you may-"

"Not a chance in three hells, sister." The faint humor in her gray eyes vaporized, replaced by a glacial stare.

Ba'tour resumed wagging her head, a move that Janeway took for dismay. This was her opening. "Sister Ba'tour," she said calmly, letting any scorn wash away. "The child is my daughter." She saw a ripple of movement begin in the Mencari and tails began to twitch.

"Sa'tumi! We were not aware-"

"The Field Marshal knew."

Ba'tour smashed her tail to the ground once, sending a reverberation through the ship's plating. "She failed to mention it! This changes everything, Sa'tumi."

The Captain's eyebrows shot up, incredulous. "What does it change exactly?"

"May I die in hunger and isolation, Ush'maul, if I speak a lie! We did not know when we found her among the Ket'zali." She paused briefly, her eye turrets jumping between the child and Janeway. Then Ba'tour bared her serrated teeth. "How did you come to lose such a little one, Ush'maul?"

Janeway felt Dani's eyes on her, as if she were waiting for the answer, too. But sometimes, the best diplomacy was a tap dance. "You said you bring a gift. The only gift I want is for you to open the shuttlebay door for us," she gestured with a thumb behind her. "I would say that would be the most effective sign of sisterhood yet."

It was then that Ba'tour began to jerk her head and twitch her paws. Neither Starfleet officers understood what her chameleon-like change to green meant.

Janeway nodded diplomatically, Ba'tour gestured to the container, nodding for them to open the lid. A loud sucking sound filled the room, along with a malodorous stench.

Janeway grimaced, while Seven merely parted her lips to breath through her mouth. Dani whined loudly, before clamping her nose down with both hands.

The foul odor appeared not to have affected the Mencari. They all stood unyielding. Ba'tour's continued friendliness was disconcerting.

"Quickly, sa'tumi. Before the Evil Ones come." She gestured to the vat. "We would protect you."

Janeway's wary expression turned adamant. "No, thank you, Councilor Ba'tour. But I think we can take care of ourselves."

Ba'tour's tail finally began to heave, her crew falling back cautiously. She dipped her paw into the vat's chunky, brownish-green soup, drawing a long and loud throaty cry from her crew. She raised her paw. Its stench slapped the trio and nearly floored the girl.

Seven caught her under the arm. Her knees were nearly too wobbly to stand, so Dani wrapped her arms around her mother's waist. A reassuring Borg-gilded hand gently stroked her shoulder.

"Is that...?" Janeway looked down at Dani. She wanted to give in to the word "shit." It was the only word capable of even suggesting her revulsion of the reek. Instead, she darted back to Ba'tour. "Is that feces?"

"Yes, it is our gift we mentioned."

She scratched her forehead, suddenly remembering her gravimetric headache. "Not the one I want, Ba'tour."

"It will save the child, Ush'maul. From the evil ones."

Janeway allowed herself to glimpse the girl, who oddly enough was not stricken in panic. The Captain dismissed the observation because she may be too fatigued to register the danger.

Dani watched wide-eyed and listened intently. She held onto Seven.

"We think of the child, Ush'maul. And the cherished Borg."

Janeway carefully avoided Seven's expression, as she stood next to her. A peculiar, trivial and intrusive thought came to her: "Now there's a worthy title." And then it skittered away as quickly as it came.

The Captain turned to fully face Ba'tour; her demeanor was full command mode. "What exactly are you suggesting?"

Dani knew exactly what they were suggesting. The act had saved her life on a previous occasion. "Ket'zali eat young ones..." Ba'tour gestured with her claws for Dani to come forward.

The Captain worked her mouth, watching the lizard as she held a handful of excrement. Janeway poised the rifle site on Ba'tour's approaching belly. She cocked her head, rubbing the length of the trigger with a finger. "There's going to be a family funeral if you don't back off, Ba'tour."

Ba'tour slammed a paw into her chest, yipping at the pain.

The Captain wasn't sure, but maybe the Councilor was frustrated, too. Their lack of facial expressions made it difficult to read them.

Keeping her eyes on the self-flagellating lizard, Janeway pitched her voice for Seven's ears. "Something's agitating our friends."

Though she had been calm, Dani was showing signs of agitation. Perhaps she is alarmed by the growing unrest of the Mencari, Seven surmised.

Ba'tour was growing increasingly restless and frantic. "Sa'tumi, there is no time!"

"So, Councilor, what are you suggesting?"

Ba'tour tipped her head side to side. "Have I not said?" She gestured with the hand slathered with puce mush.

"Are you telling me that you want us to roll around in shit?" Janeway was so appalled by the idea the word slipped from her lips. She glanced down at Dani, catching a look of surprise.

"Captain," Seven whispered. "Eridani has indicated that is how the Mencari protected her. They saturated her in feces." Seven cast a faint shoulder of disgust their way, as she stood. "It is how they protect their own young from Ket'zali. Eridani was covered in it when the Doctor found her."

Janeway vaguely remembered the smell of manure as she and Seven led Dani in the Doctor's arms to safety. She'd dismissed it as the smell of a poorly kept space station.

"Yes!" Ba'tour waved her arm again. "It is so, sa'tumi!"

"I've handled blind eels, eaten live slugs, held your molted skins and now this?" Janeway's voice was marked with bewilderment. She shook her head, and then realized she may not understand such a gesture. So she painfully enunciated a clear answer. "No."

Ba'tour's eyes twisted frantically in alarm. "We would protect you, sa'tumi, the child and the-"

"Precious Borg. Yes, I understand, Ba'tour." Janeway hoisted the rifle, balancing the stock against her hip. "This will protect us."

Ba'tour swayed her tail. "This is magical." Again she dipped her paw and raised it, renewing the thick odor of putrid rot. "We squeeze it from the large intestines of our prey-"

Janeway groaned, wondering if it would be better to face the Ket'zali instead of these nauseating rituals.

"We've kept it in stasis for this very moment."

Janeway scratched her eyebrow. Sometimes life in the Delta Quadrant was peculiar. No one was ever going to believe this in the Captain's Club on San Francisco.

It was time to exit, gracefully or not. With an eye on the shrewd lizard, Janeway leaned over, a foot falling between Seven's and the Captain's right hand resting on the woman's left hip just under her arm. Seven tipped forward, putting her ear beside Janeway's mouth. It was an intimate near-embrace suited for lovers, not a Captain and her crewmember.

"Seven," Kathryn whispered, her eyes darting quickly between the blonde and Ba'tour. Seven could feel the woman's warm breath on her neck and she closed her eyes for a solitary heartbeat to revel in the passionate sensation. But the Borg was not one to indulge, particularly when duty called.

Kathryn's eyes remained vigilant against a species that would exploit this brief calm. She even caught a brief look of intense inquisitiveness in their child's eyes. But she shoved that thought away. "Listen to me. I want you to-" Kathryn lifted her eyes toward Hangar Bay Ka'ah and back again to Ba'tour. "See if you can contact the Starfleet officers on the other side of that door."

Seven nodded, throwing her backpack to the ground, to hide her lips from the view of their enemies. "Yes, Captain."

They each turned their faces millimeters, their lips a breath away. It was like the trappings of regulations melted away and two women stood together, stripped of rank and age and every other thing that divided them. "Remember, darling," Kathryn whispered. "Remember your promise to me. To get our baby out of here."

Janeway's head snapped toward the line of armed Mencari, when she mistook their fidgeting for an advance. She braced the rifle stock against her shoulder, raising the muzzle to Ba'tour's massive head. She chanced a glance back again, seeing alarm mar Seven's lovely face. "You promised me, Seven."

"We cannot...I cannot leave you, Kathryn. I-"

"You must, Seven of Nine." Janeway felt her chest swell with compassion for this woman. "There is no other way. Consider it an order." Janeway spun toward Ba'tour, watching the Councilor's frenetic exchange with her subordinates. In one swift motion, she caught Seven's lips in a soft but fleeting kiss. "I'll cover you." Janeway patted Seven's hip, and abruptly untangled herself from the woman.

She pulled Dani over in a half embrace. "You and mom are going ahead. Okay, sweetheart?" Janeway brought the girl to her side in one sweep of an arm. She felt the girl stiffen beside her, attributing it to their difficulties relating. She quickly leaned in to give Dani a peck on the lips. "Be good."

"Tell me when, Seven," she whispered as she turned to face Ba'tour again. She was startled to see a white, nearly translucent pigmentation on most of the Mencari, including Ba'tour. When Dani saw the Councilor, she gasped and her eyes began to dart around.

"Ush'maul!" Ba'tour hissed. "They come!"

Chapter 11: Homeless

Dani began to shiver uncontrollably, while trying to climb into Seven's skin. Seven held an arm to the girl, but the rifle took priority.

Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine and their daughter, Dani, were surrounded by Mencari on the right and a growing swell of Ket'zali on the corridor to the left. Their backs were to the locked entry of Hangar Bay Ka'ah, where the Delta Flyer moored.

Janeway ordered Seven to cover Ba'tour with her rifle. She leveled the rifle at the squat, Mencari-like head of the approaching Ket'zali commander. She breathed deeply, trying to calm a growing sense of dread.

When she was captured on Eesh'tob, she witnessed most of her crew sliced or vaporized. Then the commander turned his attention to her. He presided over her interrogation. As he approached, Janeway noticed the use of his tail more as a third leg. He was hulking, larger than the Mencari, lithe and rangy. His latticed head sat over a blunt, slanted snout that was more chin.

Seven fired several shops at the encroaching Mencari. "Captain, your...sisters...are becoming bold."

"Hold them off, dammit!"

"Do you hear Ba'tour's war cries?"

Janeway pitched an ear toward Ba'tour and only then was she able to pick out the universal translations over the saber rattling and whispered taunts of the Ket'zali.

"Ush'maul! Your time has come. Let us serve you."

"Do you understand their comments, Captain?"

Janeway shrugged as best she could with two hands aiming for the neck of the Ket'zali commander, as he continued his advance. Memories began to surface of blue lightning jolting her convulsing body. She remembered her teeth clamping down so hard she thought she'd crush her own teeth. Her jaw still ached, but she resisted the urge to rub it. Her back had bowed so far, she remembered wondering if she could break her own spine. Janeway still star sparkles from the blinding white light behind her eyes.

She blinked furiously, trying to focus on the alien sauntering toward her, cocksure that he would crush under his boot. It was the same overconfidence he levered while she was helplessly tied to a table. In the end, he seemed surprised that all the female would divulge was her name, rank and serial number. Not once, did the female come close to revealing the whereabouts of their Holy Grail.

The only thing Janeway recalled about the lead interrogator was a blood red Starfleet insignia tattooed on his scaly chest.

The same blood red design was marching straight toward her.

"Hold it right there," she finally shouted to the commander.

"Cap...ten!" He hissed.

So he recognizes me, Janeway thought.

"Do you know him?" Seven asked.

Janeway could feel the woman against her back, facing the Mencari. Dani had slipped to the floor, nearly undone by the energy costs of cloaking herself from the Ket'zali.

Janeway and Seven each grasped unsuccessfully for an escape plan. Janeway had no doubt the plans they had for her daughter included more of the same kinds of torture they'd inflicted on her, broken bones and a reprogramming so terrifying Dani had thankfully blocked out its recollection.

"Ush'maul!" The Mencari councilor had called again.

Janeway shook her head, trying to shake off Ba'tour's voice. She needed Seven to understand what they were facing. "He slaughtered Ensign Hite and Crewman Lennox," she growled. "His name's Sa'feer."

At the sound of his name, Dani's trembling resumed. Seven lowered a hand to touch the girl's hair, gently scraping her scalp in comfort. "Calm yourself, Dani. Fear will not save us. Only logic and reason will."

"I know him," she murmured to herself against her mother. Dani had committed to memory the details of the Battle of Gamma Eridon, where her mother gave her life for the Federation.

Sa'feer was not supposed to be here. Not in this time and especially this place. He led the invasion force of Ket'zali through federation space, in a slash and burn campaign. His armada destroyed countless worlds en route to Earth.

The U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and four Federation vessels, along with a fleet of Klingon Warbirds, engaged an overwhelming Ket'zali forces at Gamma Eridon while the Klingon Homeworld prepared itself to face their foe. The Ket'zali lost nearly a third of their ships because they had underestimated Captain Janeway. But in the end, outgunned and out manned, she gone down with the ship, ramming the battered ship to take down as many as she could.

Sa'feer's name was recorded in every data stream to Starfleet Command from every bloody battle between the distant system of Gamma Eridon and Earth. Sa'feer was the Ket'zali who wanted Dani in the other reality, now in this one as well. Dani lightly tapped her head with a fist. She knew him, too.

Dani jerked to the present when she heard Sa'feer's throaty whispers.

The leader raised a paw, his restless squadron halting in Romanesque discipline. Sa'feer began a solo advance on the trio, stopping when Seven's rifle muzzle cut an arc into the bulkhead just shy of his head. Its eye turrets both focused on Janeway.

She blinked slowly, remembering how he had loomed over her, licking her ear with his long forked tongue or running a single bloodied claw down her cheek. He wanted on thing: her child.

Sa'feer's throaty whisper made Janeway's stomach roil, a reaction no one would ever see, least off the lizard. "Cap...ten," he hissed. Sa'feer's words were languidly spoken, in long, elegant vowels. It was as if he were tasting them for the first time, Janeway considered. But he seemed to know enough to suffuse his words with all of the disdain he seemed to feel for the barbarians.

If Janeway didn't know better, he sounded surprised.

"D'shevem are so puny." As nearly as Janeway could tell, D'shevem was their word for all humanoids.

"Yeah," Janeway said, with her own brand of bravado. "But we're tough."

His scales turned violet and his salivation started to spill over. During their hunt, other humanoids had crumbled like dry bones under his boots. But this human had withstood more than any he could recall. He nearly regretted the final ploy, a biological weapon now coursing through her veins. Cap-ten would have been an interesting, albeit essentially flawed, study, he brooded. It was a thought that he allowed the par'sembe "to hear."

Sa'feer leaned back on a tail, as if in repose. The nineteen Ket'zali soldiers began to twitch and shuffle between their legs. Their tails started stir, as if to run, and then pound the ground.

Seven, with her audio acuity, distinctly heard whispers from the restless squad. "Captain," she said. "They are asking for revenge."

"Revenge?" Her brows furrowed deeply. "Has Voyager ever encountered this species?"

Seven tipped her head, wondering when Voyager had ever encountered this species. Since she'd been aboard they'd never done so.

"I do not believe so, Captain. Not even the Borg had a designation for them."

The Mencari seemed to be matching the frothing of the Ket'zali. Their tail thumping grew louder and faster. Their tongues darted out, twisting and writhing before returning to the large, distended mouths. "You will not prevail, Sa'feer."

Seven's eyes grew slightly wide when the Councilor answered the Ket'zali. Despite the saber rattling on both sides, the Ket'zali leader heard his nemesis. He raised a paw and instantly, his squad became deathly still.

The Ket'zali stood to his full height, peering across the corridor edge at the Councilor. "You stole from Ket'zali," he hissed. "After Ket'zali find child..."

A cold, bitter hand squeezed the hearts of Seven and Janeway to hear the alien announce his intentions. But they were both relieved Dani was still able to conceal herself.

"Then...we seize miserable Mencari...everywhere. Take to Homeworld. To breed." Sa'feer stretched the last word out, long and taunting.

"Perhaps," Seven theorized, "Councilor, if this is a feud between distant cousins-"

The women turned back to the Mencari lizards. The Councilor spat a shrill set of words punctuated with clicks. Her warriors raised their rifles. She ordered two of her soldiers to engage them. Janeway and Seven backed up, careful not to appear to regard their young charge.

Four hulking aliens - two Mencari and two Ket'zali - slam into each other at full speed, the melee denting bulkheads and shattering transparent steel. Toothy Mencari snouts crushed down on the exoskeleton limbs of Ket'zali, squirting copper blood across the walls. Blue lightning made short streaks to electrify red scales, sending tremors through the gangly limbs of Mencari. The vicious clash saw two Mencari, stilled by the enemy's brutal weapons. While the Ket'zali soldiers stood slowly to face their leader in triumph, they suddenly collapsed, falling face down before Sa'feer.

"Fascinating," Seven said from a purely scientific background. "Those wounds looked superficial."

Sa'feer slowly twisted his blunt head to Seven. "Borg!" He spat the word. "Wicked!"

Sa'feer's gangling, bifurcated tongue suddenly darted out, flipping about frantically. "I smell she whom we seek!"

He stopped cold, along with his squadron at a small whimper from the girl. She tried to make herself small at the feet of her mother because she could feel her ability ebbing.

The Starfleet officers shared a meaningful look, after noticing the shift in speech. His words were clipped, slurred and frantic.

"D'shevem give girl."

"Now, Cap...ten!" His large head was so like Mencari and yet so different. Unlike the Mencari who used fabric and clothing, the Ket'zali were naked, not that any of the women could make heads or tails of them. Interesting dichotomy, Janeway mused as she considered their options.

Janeway raised her head from the rifle site. "Why? What does she mean to you? What does she have?"

He studied her, amazed that she still stood. Perhaps their field tests on the biological agent were flawed, he noted. Without warning, he raised a paw and a single Ket'zali broke ranks. The Ket'zali subordinate leapt into the air. His leg muscles were tight coils and his teeth bared. He was a collision course with the trio.

"Oh, shit!" Janeway yelled as she aimed at the moving target. Just as the white compression rifle found the attacker, seven other green laser beams found him. At his apogee, he was obliterated from existence, only a shower of bone bits and ocherous blood drops remained.

Janeway quickly wiped the blood from her eyes, leaving a swath of freckled skin next to dappled orange.

"I am gratified that my Velocity prowess has sufficiently prepared you for this mission," Seven noted wryly. But she remained leery of the Mencari troops that had swelled to double the number.

"Arrogant Borg," Kathryn hissed. "You don't get credit for me saving your ass."

"You have used profanity twice, Kathryn. You appear overwrought."

She looked at Seven long enough to wink and then raised her rifle, bracing it against her shoulder. "Damn right I'm stressed. It's not every day I get a bunch of reptiles attacking the woman I-." Janeway swallowed the word. What a disastrous thought to voice at a disastrous time, she realized.

"Kathryn," Seven whispered.

Janeway heard the tenderness in her name. She leaned back, feeling a reciprocal pressure. It was all they could do just now.

"Later," the Captain ordered.

Meanwhile, Sa'feer and Councilor Ba'tour were trading invectives. "I will kill you," Ba'tour hissed, as her saliva began to run over her green, reptilian lips. "Rip out your genitals and feed them to you..."

"You're unworthy to become ny'sembee." Belatedly, the universal translator rendered ny'sembee as "honored mother."

Seven and Janeway understood little of the argument, considering it the origin of the hostilities. "Why is your sister baiting them, Captain?"

After a brief scathing look at Seven, Janeway shrugged. When Janeway turned her attention to Ba'tour she caught a definite gleam. "Seven," she whispered. "Did Ba'tour-"

"Yes," she whispered. "She unlocked the hangar."

Janeway's look of triumph and resignation caught Seven off guard. The Captain jerked her head toward the bay. "Get..." Janeway cleared her throat. "And get the hell out of here, Seven of Nine." When Seven hesitated only a nanosecond, Kathryn gritted her teeth. "Do it!"

Seven brushed her fingertips down the Captain's back, the only gesture she could make without alerting the lizards. She collected Dani, sprinting through the door in record time.

Janeway knew the instant the door was sealed because Ba'tour stopped arguing with Sa'feer. He turned slowly around, his forked tongue slithering and darting out and around. "Cap...ten deceives Sa'feer. Girl was here! Now gone!"

He stared at her for long minutes, his exoskeleton revealing nothing of the turmoil or fury within. Then he shouted a war cry and the Ket'zali poured down the corridor toward her.

She locked her knees, leaning forward to brace for the impact of a wall of Ket'zali. Janeway's only regret was that she'd never made love with Seven of Nine.


Sparkles announced the appearance of Captain Janeway in the Delta Flyer, still braced. She was followed a second later by a splash of reeking greenish-brown feces that splattered on her face, hands and tunic. She gasped, reeling back as much from suddenly materializing as being slapped with putrid spray. The compression rifle thunked hard on the deck.

"Status!" she yelled, catching her balance on a nearby console. The Captain wiped the shit from her lips with a sleeve as she made her way to the cockpit.

"The lizards are walled against the hangar bay. The Delta Flyer is all warmed up and ready to ride," a scruffy Lt. Paris said, characteristically casual, even in the face of danger. He rose from the conn, as he walked toward the ramp. "Oh, Captain! Your new perfume is...lovely."


The Captain noted for the first time the plasma burns both arms, along with several rips in his trousers along the knees. His face was grimy, with split lips and a gash above one eye.

"I'm sorry, Captain," he whispered. There was only one thing Lt. Tom Paris didn't mock and it was losing a crewman. Oh, he'd laugh at Death. Rail against it with a fist and sounds of fury. Satirize Death. But never could he bring himself to be anything but feel humbled by the ultimate surrender of his friends to the darkness of the grave.

As Starfleet brats, Tom and Kathryn had grown up during the Federation Wars with Klingons, Cardassians and the Romulans. Their friends had lost parents and grandparents more times than they cared to remember. They understood the infinite loss better than most.

Pain slowly cascaded across Janeway's face, her eyes moistening. "Samantha Wildman?"

His eyes flicked over to Seven's, who was watching him intently. He pursed his lips, shaking his head. "Not that I know of."

Seven raised her head, pained at the thought that Naomi would lose her mother, just as she had when the Borg had assimilated Erin Hansen.

A brief light flickered as Tom thumbed behind him. "Tuvok and I were the only ones who made it. He's trying to open the shuttle bay."

She inhaled deeply, fortifying herself for the battle to come. "Give me a towel, Lieutenant."

Dani had been trained as a child to read the subtleties of her Starfleet mother. She'd learned quickly to know when a rug-rat under foot was a nuisance or worse, a liability. While she waited, Dani watched the interaction between Cappie and Tom keenly. Remembering every expression and every word the man ever uttered.

Her eyes watched Tom's masculine hand toss a towel to her mother. "So what was up with the flying...ah..." Tom glanced at the child, then back to the Captain. "With the flying lizard waste?"

She shrugged. "All I know is, the Ket'zali were running toward me and Ba'tour ordered someone to toss the contents of the barrel on me." A brush across Janeway's face and the blue-gray eyes found Dani staring at Tom Paris. The girl jerked back. "Cappie!" She grimaced, pinching her nose closed.

"I know," she said softly. Janeway tried to rub her uniform, but it just seemed to smear everywhere, or so she thought judging from the stench. She went to pat the girl's shoulders but withdrew, rubbing her fingers together. "We aren't clear yet, Dani." She indicated a seat for the girl at the aft workstation, as she wiped her eyes clear.

An untidy Commander Tuvok stepped into the Flyer from the ramp. He nodded to the Captain, as way of greeting. Somber obsidian eyes took in Seven of Nine and Dani. A confident Seven walked catlike to the cockpit.

"Are we ready to face the overwhelming odds?" Janeway asked quietly as she keyed in the Flyer's launch sequence.

"Incorrect, Captain," Tuvok said. "Overwhelming odds imply there is a margin for success."

"Easy, Tuvok," she said with a gesture of calm. "I may take you for an optimist." Her intention to be light-hearted at such a crucial time was uncharacteristic, Tuvok thought with an arched brow.

If the others didn't know he was Vulcan, they would have sworn he wore a look of annoyance. The Captain jerked her head toward the child, realization dawning on the Vulcan. He was unaccustomed to the delicacies of parenting in a combat situation. His children had the good sense to remain on the homeworld with his wife, T'Pel.

He turned his un-annoyed expression on Seven of Nine. "It is highly illogical for you to have left Voyager..." He arched a brow at Dani. "With a child in tow at such an inauspicious time."

"Commander Chakotay ordered General Order thirteen," she informed him with a good measure of arrogance. "I merely complied-."

"Chakotay did what?" Janeway had whirled around; sending reeking eddies of air around her. Tuvok fixed his gaze above him on a conduit running down the corridor. This, Seven knew, as a meditation on the go for him.

Seven spoke in even tones, though they could hear the battering of the cargo bay doors. "Commander Chakotay ordered General Order thirteen." Her voice was just as flat as it had been the first time.

"Why the devil would he do that?" Janeway's voice was low and her eyes were clouded with dismay. "Was the ship...?" She glanced down at Dani, as a hand flew to her neck, feeling a small lump at the puncture site. She rubbed it angrily as she thought about the order. Her jaw muscles jumped and twitched with the effort not say "auto self-destruct sequence" in front of the girl. Damn it!

But the others understood. Captain Janeway inclined her head to study Seven's Nordic features. Her long, elegant nose, her luscious lips and her strong chin. "Was Starfleet Order two-thousand-five carried out?"

Seven considered the question. She could see distress etching deep lines along the Captain's forehead, eyes and mouth. "Before I left the ship, it was not."

"Nevertheless," Tuvok said. "You left one besieged ship for another, Seven? Logic dictates-"

"We're going back." Janeway said, sitting down firmly again at the cockpit. Seven noticed that her ailments seemed to have vanished, along with her good sense.

Seven of Nine glanced back at the men. "It is time to depart, before the Ket'zali breach the bulkhead."

"Ket'zali?" Paris intoned, shaking his head. "It sounds like a shoe brand."

"I'm sealing the shuttle," Janeway snapped.

"Captain," Tuvok said calmly. He was the only one capable of reaching her now.

She stopped her hands dancing on the controls and half turned. "Yes." Implicit in the tone was a this-better-be-damned-good.

Tuvok arched his brow and narrowed his lips. "Lt. Paris and I will exit."

"Why?" Her voice was more brittle.

"We've got a date," Tom said, with a small smirk and a gesture to port. "With destiny. There's a little deuce coupe out there. Sleek lines. Sweet engine. Tuvok and I were going to take her for a little spin..." He saw the Captain's face turn crimson so he spat, "We'llholdoffthelizardsCaptain." To her dubious expression, he added, "It's the only way."

She eyed Tuvok with a cold glare. "Do you agree?"


She hesitated, glancing back at the relentless battering of the hangar bay.

"Captain," Tom said, more reasonably. "We know what has to happen here. We'll cover you're launch. Now get the hell outta here. And don't come back. We'll be fine," he said to her raised eyebrow.

Janeway peered out port, seeing a reflective silver bullet-shaped shuttle, sharing the bay with Delta Flyer.

"We'll be right behind you," Tom said, as he caught unexpected fear in Dani's eyes.

Janeway slammed her hand on the controls, the hatch door re-opening. "We'll rendezvous on Voyager."

"Stay out of trouble, squirt," Tom said, tousling the red locks of the girl sprawled uncomfortably on a chair. "Don't forget that soccer game."

She smiled lethargically. "Aye, aye."


As the Captain took the conn, her back remained to Seven, who took up a position at tactical. Suddenly, Janeway whirled. "Where will be the best place to board Voyager, based on your intel?"

Seven noted that Janeway's usually bright eyes were slightly dulled and drooping. She was blinking furiously, though Seven was unacquainted with that particular affectation.

Seven's hands glided over the controls of the tactical console. "Captain," she said coolly. "It would be inefficient to return to Voyager."

"I'm the Captain." She turned back to the console, adjusting the heading. There was a finality to the comment, but Seven failed to grasp the entire substance of it. So she made certain assumptions.

"The idea that you must go down with it is-"

"We're going."

"-Illogical. Furthermore, it is a-"

"That's an order!"

Seven waited silently, letting the silence buoy her crescendo. "Furthermore..." She met Kathryn's level ten glare with unperturbed poise. "It is a violation of Starfleet protocols."

The Captain narrowed her eyes, daring Seven to cite the reference.

She arched a brow, accepting the challenge. "Starfleet Regulation Three...a Starfleet Captain is compelled to preserve the lives of her crew by any justifiable means."

The Captain hit the launch button. The darkness of space consumed some of the artificial ambient light in the cabin of the Delta Flyer. Her hand flew over the controls as the Delta Flyer, as an eddy of exhaust left the bay.

The black of space was littered with wreckage, most of the hull fragments were Starfleet gray not the black mesh of the Ket'zali warships.

Seven seemed puzzled by her readings. "Captain, scanners show no signs of Ket'zali ships. Only debris showing Starfleet signatures."

She heard a series of shallow gasps, followed by a choking cough. "Is it-?"

"There is nothing to indicated it was Voyager. No traces of anti-matter or plasma can be found in the debris."

"But no traces of Voyager?"

Seven's Borg hand jumped energetically over the keys, reading and re-reading the findings. "No, Captain," she said.

"It appears we are alone-I'm picking up Ket'zali warships two light years starboard. They have yet to detect us."

Something fundamental in Janeway shifted at that moment. "Taking warp engine offline. We'll use thrusters. It's a longer ride but we'll blend in with space noise. Find a place for us to hide out, Seven."

Seven had already begun the necessary scans for an "M-class" planet. "Five parsecs port. Heading 090-mark-15. There is a seven-planet system. The second planet is within tolerable thresholds."

Janeway shook her head, feeling strangely displaced. "All beach, no ocean. Sounds sunny. Setting course."


As they descended to an orange-red planet, the shuttle set down on a cliff just east of a small town. The inky sky was awash in twinkling white as the Delta Flyer came to rest atop a high cliff. "Conditions are currently five degrees Celsius," Seven noted. "Zero percent humidity. Light breeze out of the east. Interesting," she said. "The planet's rotation is retrograde. Twenty-six standard hours in a day. Two hundred twenty two days to a year."

Seven had the feeling that she was alone. She looked up to find Dani passed out on the floor and a distant look had overcome Captain Janeway. "Captain, while I prepare biomatter for our consumption, perhaps you should-?"

"Yes, good idea." She rose slowly from the cockpit, making her way to the sonic shower facilities.


Dani remained lost to the world, tucked in a thermal blanket wrap and lying on the main deck. Janeway was seated on the stairs descending to the cockpit and she was staring out at one of the moons as it ascended above the deeply shadowed cliffs. The moon loomed large, but its landscape was all wrong. There was no crater of Tycho that scarred her southern face and there was certainly no Sea of Tranquility.

Janeway had always thought the very idea of a Sea of Tranquility was ridiculous and dull. She'd always chosen bold and exciting adventures. She wasn't Captain because she'd been a model of tranquility. It was the opposite. She pushed the envelope. She never allowed convention to dictate her responses. At Starfleet Academy, she'd been known as Wild Card Kathryn and it wasn't just for her skill with games of chance, though that's where it started. She was unpredictable. It was a tradition among the better captains. Kirk was the original, along with Picard. But they were men. They were expected to be mavericks of a sort. Even her father, Edward, had never displayed the uncanny ability to defy the odds. She believed it was these very qualities that had her posted to command the U.S.S. Voyager, the first in a new sleek, Intrepid-class design. Unfortunately, it was also a part of what got them stranded her. She breathed Starfleet protocols, but there had been a few times when Janeway had to hold her breath. It had gotten her in trouble a time or two. No doubt her decision to destroy the array that stranded them here would be reviewed and scrutinized ad nauseum when she returned to Federation Space. So be it.

But the tempest had its cost. Since coming to the Delta Quadrant, Janeway had been plagued by bouts of depression. It never affected her command. It was fuel to her fire. In fact, she'd used it to propel her through twenty-four hour days. But now to completely lose Voyager, her crew and her command. What was left? Enforced tranquility?

Kathryn Janeway loved boats that rocked. It was the appeal of the storm that attracted her to Starfleet. It sure beat the hell out of solid ground. Staid seas. Boring terra firma. Tranquil space. Bah! Give her a tempest any day.

Kathryn looked down sadly at a steaming, white teacup Seven served her. And she laughed bitterly.

Seven pulled back the steaming teacup, peering into it curiously. "Is the beverage unacceptable?" There were bits of grinds, but she'd always been told it gave the drink body.

"No, it'll do," Kathryn said, holding out both hands for the saucer and cup. "It was my own ridiculous thoughts," she said after a sip. "Hmm. Delicious. Thank you, Seven."

As Seven sat beside her, she handed her another small plate with dark bread and a pungent spread smeared on it, along with orange fruit.

"What is this?"

Seven gave her an annoyed look. "Lt. Paris has a twisted palate," she observed. "Klingon delicacies were the only selections of meat. Like most of Klingon cuisine, bregit lung is an acquired taste."

"That's love," Kathryn said, of Tom's attempts to honor one side of his lover's heritage. She took a bite of the chewy meat in a resigned, indifferent manner.

Seven took a bit, clamping down hard on her jaw to keep from expelling the biomatter. "I believe," she said after forcing the partially chewed food down, "that gelatinous nutritional supplement beta phi is less offensive."

Kathryn shrugged, setting the plate down to cradle the teacup in both hands. Seven watched Kathryn's profile and the distance in her eyes. She glanced back a few times to notice Dani still sound asleep.

Finally, after many long moments of listening to the sound of the ship tick, Seven stood up, taking the soiled plates and left over food to the recycling station. "Would you care for more tea?" she asked the Captain.

Kathryn shook her head, handing her the cup without turning away from the view of a moon-bathed desert valley. "But coffee would hit the spot?"


A cool breeze hit Seven as she stepped outside to hand the Captain a thermos mug of coffee. Kathryn was facing west, where an inky horizon hinted at saffron. Seven adjusted her own internal thermostat, but noticed Kathryn shivering. The woman gratefully accepted the hot liquid, as she kept her gaze on the crowning pinpoints of white.

Kathryn pointed to a blinking star, one of the larger twinkling lights in the sky. "That's Voyager," she declared. "Chakotay and the crew have found her. They're there now." Her voice broke at the end.

Seven put on hand on her shoulder, unsure of what to say or do. Slowly, Kathryn raised a hand, interlacing their fingers. Without breaking the touch, Seven enveloped the Captain in an embrace, wrapping her arms around the woman's midsection. She felt one hand pat her forearms, as she pulled the woman to her chest and kissed her temple.

"Voyager will endure. Our first concern is survival," she whispered. "To allow the crew to find those of us who scattered."

The woman didn't respond, but Seven heard a sniffle. She squeezed Kathryn tighter.

Soon, the couple was rocking from foot to foot, slowly and gently. Softly, Seven pressed her lips to the slope of Kathryn's neck, just under her ear. She leaned over, giving Seven more space. Faintly, Seven heard and felt Kathryn's vocal chords vibrating. "Are you singing?"

"I'm humming."


"A tune is going through my head and well, I...I must-"


"Hum. Hmmm...hmmm."

Seven pressed her lips again to Kathryn's neck, letting the vibrations titillate her. "You are warm, Kathryn."

The Captain ignored the comment and the two proffered pain relievers, as she would even if the Doctor had said it. "Do you know any more Klingon swear words? Or will you start cursing in Tlaxian now?"

"I was not aware that Tlaxian's possessed profanity as they seem such a docile race."

"Just checking," she replied.

Seven could hear a crooked smile in her voice and her response was to nuzzle her hair. She fisted the pills waiting for a better opportunity. If the Captain believed Seven would not continue to press the issue, then she was unaware of Borg tenacity.

Seven again heard the murmured music. "What do you hum, if I may ask?"

"Oh, it's just a silly tune my father used to sing to Phoebs and I."

Seven waited, but Kathryn seemed content to return to the purring song. "Will you not sing for me then?"

She laughed quietly, looking down at her feet awkwardly. Kathryn laid her head back against Seven's neck and peered at the taller woman, one eye closed. "All right, but remember. I'm a Captain, not a lounge act."

"Lounge act?"

"Never mind," she whispered in a half-grin. "Sing ho for a brave and a gallant ship/And a fast and favoring breeze/With a bully crew and a captain too/To carry me over the seas/To carry me over the seas me boys..."

Seven wasn't sure how to judge music or Kathryn's rendition. The tune was proud, yet there was an unmistakable longing.

Kathryn leaned her head back again, watching the blonde again with one eye. "That bad, huh?"

Seven's eyes widened. "Oh, no, Kathryn," she said quietly. "I...I..."

"It's fine, Seven," she replied easily. "Like I said, it was a silly tune that came to mind." Kathryn had deliberately withheld some of the lyrics that spoke of trying to get to one's own true love. She was afraid she'd never see Voyager again and she was afraid that she'd mourn for the rest of her life, even in the arms of the gorgeous creature now holding her.

"I am apprehensive," Seven finally admitted after some time.

"Voyager will find us." Kathryn's echo was sad, almost disbelieving.

"Of that, I have no doubt, Captain," she said. "But you are clearly feverish and you will not allow me to tend to you."

The dark sky was shading to saffron, washing out the twinkling lights. Already, Seven could feel the heat of the planet's sun.

Janeway set the thermos on nearby rocks and turned in her embrace, not wanting to face a world without Voyager under and around her. She glanced up at Seven, who wordlessly adjusted to the Captain. The shadows on her long face were giving way to a beautiful golden. Seven seemed to radiate, making her blonde hair more illuminated. Her impossibly blue eyes were scanning the horizon, looking toward the direction of the town more southerly of their position. She had not expected a direct answer from the smaller woman. The Doctor had commented on more than one occasion Janeway's fits of rage at having to submit to yearly and routine physicals.

"What are you thinking about?" Kathryn's breath blew across Seven's throat in a most pleasant way.

Seven looked down, tracing the deep lines of worry and grief along the strong features of Kathryn Janeway. "My readings show the town sleeps during the day and rises at night."

She was somehow disappointed, wanting the woman's thoughts to be of her. How selfish, Janeway castigated herself. But the ache in her chest would not recede.

"It would be wise for us to regenerate prior to our journey into town."

"Do you think there will be much life there?"

"It will be teeming with life."

"How do you know?"

"I performed a bio-scan as we descended. If the varied life signs are any indication, I would deduce that this planet is warp-capable. Furthermore, in my experience-both personal and Borg Collective-harsh environments tend to elicit an equally fervent survival response."

Kathryn laid her cheek on Seven's chest. The thudding of her heart was calming. She knew what Seven was doing. She was drawing her into a discussion of science. It was a blatant distraction that she would willingly participate in. "Meaning varied and many offspring."

"Correct," she replied. "Reproduction will be a premium activity."

Kathryn was not expecting that reply and she pulled away, eyeing Seven sensuously. "Will that be another of your prescriptions for what ails me?"

Seven heard the playfulness, but the look of candor and intimacy in her expression told the younger woman to proceed carefully. "Perhaps," she replied enigmatically.

Janeway's face fell, as she became clouded in pain. Before she could pull away, physically and otherwise, Seven cupped the back of her head and dropped her lips to Kathryn's ear.

"I did not intend to damage you," she whispered. "My intention was honorable." Seven concentrated on infusing her words with affection. When Kathryn had relaxed again in the embrace, she pulled back to look into her eyes as she ran the backs of her fingers along the fine cheekbones. "Seduction is but one drop of water. What I desire-what I require-is the boundless and complex ocean of you."

Kathryn's face softened, her eyes jumping between Seven's. The vulnerability and brokenness she saw there wounded Seven's heart.

"I'm not sure that I could give you anything, Seven."

"You indicated such on the ship."

Kathryn was perplexed by such an indifferent response, though it was typical. "Will believe me at last then?"

Seven looked down at her own arms that disappeared around Kathryn's waist. Then she considered the feel of the woman's breast on hers and her thighs rubbing Kathryn's. "Belief is irrelevant," she said. "I will not abandon you, Kathryn. Not to your fears of intimacy or your misplaced loyalties to a militaristic organization forty thousand lights years away. Nor to your own flawed theories about what you presume about yourself."

When Kathryn tried to interrupt, Seven leaned in, softly kissing the worrisome lips to silence. "Now that we are clear, let us begin with a simple exercise," she said, raising her eyebrows and a palm holding two white tablets.

To Janeway's curious expression, Seven continued. "Allow me to care for you. Yield to me-"

"I'm fine," Janeway replied, her eyes wandering away discomfited.

Seven pinched the woman's chin between a finger and thumb. "It is plain you are not operating within normal parameters. Your core temperature is elevated. This is an inefficient state for our small collective."

"I'll be fine, Seven." She attempted to infuse her pronouncement with a tinge of command.

The ex-Borg finally allowed her own distress to show.

"If you do not rest, you will not heal," Seven said softly. She reached for Kathryn's hand. Seven wasn't sure if Janeway felt the jolt when they touched but it rendered her still for a moment. She tapped two pills onto her palm, and then folded the fingers back over them. "If you do not heal, you cannot be my 'bully captain.' "

A corner of her mouth quirked up as Janeway put the bitter tablets in her mouth, swallowing them with one gulp. Her eyes never left Seven's.

"Excellent. You are adapting," Seven said in praise, offering a rare smile. "Now I shall cleanse your neck wound. It would be inefficient if you became infected. Then you shall retire for regeneration."

Inside, Seven laid out the medkit on a table in a precise order. The Captain sat, ramrod straight as Seven's hand wiped an alcohol swab along the small, bulging wound at her neck. Kathryn winced slightly from the stinging. Then she closed her eyes to feel Seven's breath on it. The evaporation cooled her skin, but it heated her core.

"As for this ocean you seek, Captain Ahab-"

Seven raised an eyebrow in admonishment. "My pursuit is neither perverse nor insane. It is neither destructive nor all-consuming."

"Figure of speech, professor. May I continue?"

"You may," she said, returning to cover the site with a small piece of skin-toned gauze.

"This ocean you want from me...I require clarification. Does it at least include seduction and other reasonable pleasures?"

Once again, Seven was startled motionless by the question. She tipped a head to one side. "I do not dally in reasonable pleasure, Kathryn. Only irrational, savage and delirious pleasures," she said coolly, returning to her task. Abruptly, Seven lifted her eyes to the Captain's, while a hand holding a strip of tape stopped mid-air. "Before you inquire, I would prefer that particular component sooner rather than later."

"Good to know," she replied, closing her eyes. "I better get my rest."

"That is wise," she said, with an arrogant lift of a dimpled chin.

Kathryn tried to reply and smile, but she was overcome with a wide grin. She finally submitted herself to the gentle, but firm ministration of medical care. The warmth Kathryn felt multiplied when Seven tucked her into a thermal blanket with a soft kiss.


That evening, after a small meal of Klingon qagh and rye bread, the trio gathered their supplies, sealed the Delta Flyer and climbed down to the desert valley. They arrived on the town's outskirts at dusk.

The town's rose-red face was carved into a cliff side. Columns completely cut into the cliff granite rose up to the cliff top in awe-inspiring wonder. At top each of the six columns were carvings of lion-like creatures growling and spitting fire.

The large entrance was set back further into the cliff, leaving a welcoming portico. The gateway was crowned with another of the lion-like creatures. Its wings were spread and there was a curiously flowing script carved below. The city gate was well guarded by four tall, but rail thin humanoids. To the scientists, they appeared to be marine life forms, with large, dark eyes with double, nearly transparent lids that constantly opened and closed.

The trio stepped into a large boulevard, bustling with merchants and thick with varied aliens. Along the cliff walls, there were separate buildings carved into both continuous canyon walls. Each "building" separated by a change in style just as surely as they'd been constructed with brick and mortar.

"This looks somewhat like Petra," Janeway commented. The weariness in her voice was a resounding klaxon.

"The similarities to the ancient Earth city in Jordan is quite remarkable," Seven said. Her ocular implant had calculated the angles of the construct, imposing the relationship of numbers over her visual center as she spoke. "It's right angles and exacting calculations render it quite elegant," Seven replied.

Dani dusted her face, squinting from the harsh sun. She shielded her eyes with a hand and tried to look to see what her parents saw. "I wonder if they have chocolate chip cookies."

Janeway gave the girl a smirk, tugging on her hand. "Let's find out."


Earlier that day, aboard a drifting U.S.S. Voyager, the backup program for the Emergency Medical Hologram came online, materializing as a tall man with a bald pate. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

"Hello Doctor," Chakotay said, as he gestured to D'goba lying on the bio-bed. "Here's your patient."

The EMH glanced down, raising an eyebrow. "I do not have this species in my database."

"The Doctor I know wouldn't care about that."

A tricorder materialized in the EMH hand, as he began to read the findings. "Well, your regular doctor isn't here now, is he?"

Harry Kim rolled his eyes, shifting between his feet. "Glad to know the EMH program is consistent."

"I am not sure what that means..." The EMH glanced up, spied the single pip with a deprecating glare. "Ensign. But I doubt it's relevant to the emergency at hand. It appears she was shot."

Suddenly the lights dimmed and they were standing in sickbay with only running lights along the flooring. "Life support systems are offline," the computer's feminine voice announced.

"Computer, is the life support system damaged?"


"Did someone authorize the systems to go offline?"

"Lieutenant Wildman."

Chakotay gave Harry a weary expression. "Wasn't she on the the away mission?"

"She's back."

"General Order 13 still stands," he announced. "She was supposed to abandon ship, even if she did think to return."

"So were we, Chakotay."

A single dimple deepened on his cheek, but otherwise, he tried to scowl at the insubordinate officer. "Computer, how many Starfleet personnel still aboard?"

"Three Starfleet officers and three civilians remain on Voyager."


"Commander Chakotay. Ensign Harry Kim. Lt. Samantha Wildman. Naomi Wildman and Morale Officer Neelix."

"Well," the Doctor remarked acidly. "I suppose I don't count."

Chakotay began to pace as he reasoned. "How many alien life forms?"

"Eleven alien lifeforms."


"One in sickbay. Five on the bridge. Five in Engineering."

"I'll bet Samantha is trying to flush out the lizards," Harry said.

Chakotay crossed his arms. "Why do you say that?"

"Think about it, Chakotay. On earth, lizards are cold blooded. They need external heat to survive."

"That doesn't mean-"

Harry turned to the EMH. "Doctor, can you tell me if the patient you are treating is capable of sustaining their own core temperature?"

The EMH injected the lizard with a hypospray, after lifting a scale. "No, she is not."

"How do you know it's a she?" Chakotay asked, curious.

The EMH stopped and gazed up at the Commander. "I'm a doctor, Commander. Her estrogen levels also gave her away, as did both ovaries."

"Is she going to be okay?"

"I have sealed the wounds. Unfortunately, I have no plasma for her. But yes, I believe my brilliant understanding of xenobiology has saved yet another being."

Chakotay slapped his shoulders. "Good to know you're still basically you, Doctor."

"What does that mean? Basically me? Who else could I be?"

"Ah, never mind."

"Computer, mask Starfleet and civilian personnel from Voyager sensors. Identify alien life form in sickbay as Mencari D'goba and mask her life sign. Authorization, Chakotay Phi Beta Kappa."

"Now what?" Harry asked.

"Harry, it's simple. We have an infestation problem. What do you do?"

Harry spied him suspiciously. There was no way he was going to say the "e" word. It was too radical. Too politically incorrect. They were Starfleet Officers. Citizens of the Federation. They didn't exterminate.

Chakotay read the war of ideals all over Harry's baby face. He was going to have to learn to hide his feelings a little more, if he wanted to ascend the ranks.

"It's us or them, Harry," he said quietly. Long ago, Chakotay learned that ideals were perfect. In the halls of Starfleet Academy. But in space, phaser-to-phaser with a Cardassian, ideals seemed to lose their footing. Dead men had no ideals.

"What would the captain say?"

He shrugged, thinking about how Seven of Nine looked at Captain Janeway during their last staff meeting. She'd never looked at him that way. Never. Commander Chakotay consoled himself with one thing: He wasn't going to let a bunch of creepy crawlies fondle his new best girl, Voyager.

"She's not here, is she, Harry?"

Chapter 12: In This Rock

The sleek silver bullet Paris and Tuvok had commandeered from the Mencari ship came to rest within Cargo Bay One. They were greeted by a haggard and thinning Commander Chakotay.

"Welcome back," the Commander said, as the two descended the silver ramp. "We're a bit undermanned at the moment and glad to have four more hands."

"Chakotay," Paris drawled. "By way of welcome, I was expecting a brass band, at the very least."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow at his crewmate, whom he'd endured for two solid days.

"Maybe Tuvok can serenade us with the Vulcan flute later," Chakotay said.

Had he not been Vulcan, Tuvok's features would clearly have shouted annoyance. But since he was, the raised eyebrows, the dark liquid eyes and the grim mouth were casual indifference. "Where is the Captain?"

Chakotay's eyes gave a flash of surprise, before he covered it. He looked behind them. "She's not with you?"

Tuvok and Paris exchanged a look. "No, she is not with us, Commander."

"She, Seven and Squirt took the Delta Flyer from the Mencari ship about twelve hours ago."

Chakotay closed his eyes a brief second, fatigue trying to reassert itself in this weak moment. "They never made it."

Tuvok disliked that he could read human emotions like an open book. What would his family say when they learned that? Would it be considered a disease? He could read them plan as day. Paris was dismayed and Chakotay alarmed. "Perhaps they took a detour after learning of General Order 13."

Chakotay nodded, accepting that unlikely scenario. "We'll find them. We are going to find everyone."

"What is the status of the ship?" Tuvok and Paris peered around the Cargo Bay. It seemed to be situation normal.

Chakotay brought them up-to-date. The lizards were flushed out, believing the ship abandoned. The small contingent of Starfleet personnel onboard was working long shifts to get main systems operational, while trying to elude Mencari and Ket'zali ships. He explained that the backup EMH had managed to save D'goba, who was beginning to come to. "She's the key to understanding this mess, I think."


Sickbay's lights were muted, except for lights highlighting the lanky body of a Mencari. Clicking could be heard near the lizard. The only sound absent was the general hum of propulsion, but that's because they were drifting. Chakotay and Tuvok stood looking down at the green scales.

"Why is D'goba not in the brig?" Tuvok inquired.

"Because she's no threat," Chakotay replied evenly.

"How do you know?"

"Because she saved my life. And Harry's."


"Intentional. She told me that the Ket'zali are their enemies, Tuvok. And ours."

"But they appear to be very similar," Tuvok said.

"Incorrect," the backup EMH said, materializing out of their field of vision.

"Doctor," Tuvok said.

"Lieutenant Commander Tuvok. As I was saying...a catalog of their visual similarities may suggest common lineage. But I finally have proof of what we were dealing with." He walked the pair to his office.

"Are your genetic studies complete?"

"Complete, Commander? Oh, no. But I've analyzed the key components, namely mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome. Well, the Ket'zali version of the Y." He indicated for them to sit, as he activated a holoprojector. A three-dimensional image appeared of a two-strand spiral that circled twice. "This is the Mencari DNA. Fifty-four pairs of chromosomes, similar to a Terran sheep. Humans have forty-six, by comparison."

He touched a button and the image morphed into another spiraled strand with three rungs. "Ket'zali DNA."

"Three strands?" Chakotay murmured against his fingers. His elbow braced against his other arm that lay across his broad chest. "That sounds familiar."

"Indeed," Tuvok noted. "Species 8472 has triploid DNA strands."

"I'm working with genetic savants," the Doctor muttered as he pressed another button. Both a single two-strand DNA appeared next to two three-sided strands, with several nucleotide sequences highlighted in each.

"Do you know what these have in common?" The question was a cutting sarcasm, punctuated with a satisfied harrumph when neither Starfleet officers could answer. "Well, in that case, let me explain. This is Mencari DNA. D'goba's to be exact." He indicated the first two-strand image. "The second is Species 8472-he was the prey we tried to save from the Hirogen. Unsuccessfully, as I recall." He pointed to the first of the three-stranded DNA. "This one is from the deceased Ket'zali I've kept in stasis."

The Doctor looked at both men, expectantly waiting for them to grasp the significance. When they did not, he inhaled like an impatient professor. "What we have gentlemen is an interesting view of genetic lineage. The Ket'zali are the descendants of the Mencari and Species 8472."

"Impossible!" Chakotay exclaimed.

The Doctor looked back at the evidence, comparing the sequences in his database before replying. "No," he finally answered. "The evidence is clearly. The mitochondrial DNA from this Ket'zali matches exactly that of D'goba.

"Mother-daughter?" Chakotay inquired.

"No," the Doctor said with irritation. "Mother-son, possibly. But more likely, they shared a common female ancestor."

Tuvok, who had stared at the data, finally turned to the Doctor. "Species 8472 evolved in fluidic space. Their touch upon creatures in our dimension was certain death. How could-"

"Not certain at all," the Doctor replied. "As I recall, I saved Ensign Kim from genetic decompiling."

Tuvok waited for the blow-hard of a hologram to subside before he continued. "How could the two species procreate?"

The Doctor rolled his eyes. "How could paramecium on Earth give rise to a warp-capable civilization millions of years later? These are some of the questions that I can't answer as a scientist. I can only tell you what is. I cannot tell you why."

"Or how, in this case," Tuvok pointed out.

"But I can tell you how long. Based on rates of genetic mutation, I'd say their most recent common maternal ancestor is probably still living today."

"Living today?"

The Doctor nodded, pointing to the mitochondrial sequence. "There isn't much distortion here in the nucleotides in question. That means the Ket'zali are no more than-"

"Five standard years." The familiar lisp was hoarse. The two men and the hologram shifted to see D'goba rise from the bio-bed. She coughed. "The plague began almost five years ago."

Chakotay crossed his arms. "I think you should fill us in, D'goba, now that you've dragged us into your family squabble."

The lizard's tongue darted out. It was a lethargic move. "We were wrong not to tell you sooner, especially when you discovered the child. But it may be too late."


Steady streams of aliens all dressed in muted colors streamed through the crowded canyon-like street. The canyon wall was carved into distinct buildings, each architecture varying significantly from the one next to it, perhaps to indicate a new storefront. But the entire look of the entire city was cohesive.

Beside each entry, torches were lit to illuminate the street as the sun fell.

As the pair walked further into the canyon city, the crowds became impossibly thick. Seven pulled Dani close, placing her between her and Janeway to keep her from being trampled.

"Where are the kids?"

Janeway looked around. "Maybe there's a school."

"Oh," she said, annoyed that she asked that. "I'm thirsty."

They walked a little further before they finally came to a storefront, with a bright yellow awning hanging down from the lintels of the rock carved pillars. Outside of the entrance were several crude tables with squarish rocks for seats and a burly creature standing guard, his arms crossed over his chest. As the man stood, the rolls of fat oozed over one another. His large, dark eyes were lidless, but glistening. His lips were fat and open, with three whiskers protruding from each side of his wide face. He was bellowing at the waiters as they scurried to the tables and back inside.

"I will inquire within that eating establishment," Seven announced. "I request..." She pivoted back to Kathryn and Dani. "That you both remain here. In the event of a misunderstanding."

Janeway didn't like that plan. Seven could plainly see the disapproval on her face, but she wasn't sure if it was because she wanted to be the point on this mission or because Seven had clearly taken command. She was looking around, trying to find the words. Slowly, Janeway began to sway. Before she could topple over, Seven caught her.

"Kathryn," she whispered.

"I just got dizzy, Seven," she said curtly. "It's been a long two days."

Seven released her, dipping her head in assent. "I believe, Captain," she said, emphasizing the woman's title. "That I would be better equipped to deal with unsavory elements-"

"Unsavory elements?" Dani piped in, turning to them. "What does that mean?"

She looked between them. They shared a look of frustration between them. "Are there...Ket'zali here?" She whispered, looking around nervously.

Seven put an arm around the girl's shoulder. "I have see no indications of such, Eridani," she said. "But I would prefer to make first contact to avoid the possibility." She looked over at Janeway, who was shaking out her hands. "Kathryn, are you well?"

Janeway stopped abruptly, staring at the offending hands. "Just a little tingle. I'm fine," she said, softer this time. "We'll wait right here."

Seven nodded, turning to allow a stream of aliens pass by before she headed straight toward the man at the door of the restaurant.

Janeway looked around again, thinking about what she could say to get Dani's mind off of the stress. "This place reminds me of DS Nine," she said.

"Because it's dirty?"

Janeway chuckled. "No, sweetheart, because it's the meeting place of so many races. It's amazing with the vastness of this diversity that there are not more armed personnel on the street."

"How long are we going to have to stay here?"

Janeway looked down at the familiar blue eyes. They were dancing with reflected torches that lined the street. "I'd like to tell you not long," she said honestly. "But I'm not sure. We've got to let ourselves recover, keep our heads down and then try to contact Voyager."

"Why don't they come now?"

Janeway's eyebrows knitted together. "Well," she said, trying to find a reasonable explanation. "During our escape, we were hiding from the Ket'zali and that may make it hard for Voyager to find us." Uh, oh, Janeway thought at seeing the child's eyes go large with that last statement. "But they'll find us, sweetheart."


She thought about what she was about to say. There was no way she could make that guarantee. No one could. But hope was all she could offer. "Yes, absolutely. I promise."

"Do you think Tommy will find us?"

A gurgle in her throat made Janeway seem hesitant, again startling the girl.

"He's okay, right?"

Kathryn heard the hitch in the girl's voice. Geez, I'm making a huge mess here. "I'm sure he's fine."

"But he said he'd be right behind us."

Kathryn scratched her head. Dani was far brighter than she gave her credit for. "Yes, he did. But remember," she said, squeezing the girl's small shoulder. "We were supposed to meet up on Voyager. But we're here now."

"Why didn't we go to Voyager?"

Kathryn inhaled deeply, wondering if Dani was going to be an attorney. She supposed there could be worse delinquencies than being a lawyer. "Change of plans," she said more sharply than she intended.

Dani stared into her mother's eyes, unflinching. She learned long ago not to be intimidated by this Starfleet Captain's scorching glare. "But why?"

Just then, they heard a commotion in the restaurant. They turned to see a large blue alien streak through the air like a bullet and land with a loud thud on some of the empty tables in the patio. He lifted his head and fell back.

"Something tells me that your mother was behind that."

She took the girl's hand as they picked their way to the entrance that was now unoccupied. Inside, were smooth rounded walls, pressing in on a sea of aliens gathered around multiple tables. In one corner, a lithe green-horned female in a shimmering dress that phased transparent was chanting a poignant song as she strummed across strings stretched across a greenish watermelon-like bowl

From what Janeway could tell from dress and demeanor, most of the customers were men. Some listening-or rather watching-the buxom alien spill her soul and her four breasts. Others were chugging some beverage that was no doubt alcoholic if their bawdy manner were to be correctly interpreted. Janeway herself was no stranger to such behavior, given the Irish patina of her genes.

Then she spotted the towering Borg, nodding to the doorman, holding out a hand.

"Next round is on the house," the doorman shouted. "If yer tabs are up to date, ye slackers."

The crowds resumed a low murmur. That's when Janeway noticed no one was eating in this restaurant. "This is a bar," she whispered.

"What did you say, Cappie?"

"Never mind."

Janeway clasped her fingers around Dani's shoulders, leading on. They came up to Seven, just as the man cinched a black velvet bag, jingled it and replaced it in his coat pocket. On closer inspection, Janeway noticed his whiskers were not hair, but long, hardened extensions of his skin. He turned to the pair, about to ask them if they had reservations, when Seven gestured to them.

"This is my..." Seven was going to say Captain, but she was not sure Janeway wanted their identities known. So she skirted it. "Kathryn and our daughter, Dani. This is Mr. Commagees."

"Mr. Commagees, her new boss man," he gruffed, rolling his r's. He took Kathryn's hand, kissing the knuckles delicately. His neck was vented with several long gills at each side. They fluttered up and down while his mouth puckered and stretched. "A beautiful woman... Seven O'Nine is quite the lucky Borgie," he said. Kathryn smiled, tipping her head in gratitude. "Now if ye ever come to yer senses and leave this shifty scallop, Mr. Commagees'd take good care of ye."

Kathryn's smile became forced. "Why, thank you, sir," she said. "How flattering."

"Do not be flattered, Kathryn," Seven said flatly. She raised an eyebrow at the man as he tried to stifle a giggle. "Mr. Commagees first offered me the same...accommodations when I mentioned you were approaching."

"Ah, so the Borgie is honest to her wretched bones and frayed wires, is she? No matter. Me wife doesn't like to share." He turned to tousle Dani's hair, earning a glare from the kid. "You remind me of me own guppies. They've gone off to spawn somewhere far." He sighed.

"Mr. Commagees, you have quite the establishment," the Captain replied. "Do you usually send your customers careening through the air to land on patio furniture?"

"Oh, lovely Kate," he said. "You could almost pass for a native of Gweelee with those sharp eyes. But I must admit, that bit o' magic was the makin's of none other than your very own Seven O'Nine."

Kathryn usual patience had long since evaporated. She studied Seven with that intensity that usually rendered lesser creatures mute. "Is that true?"

"Actually," Commagees replied before Seven could. "T'is quite true. Seven was hired to do just that."

The Captain could hardly hide her skepticism. "Throw your patrons about?"

"No, no, of course not. We'd be out of business in a day. I hired Seven to keep the peace, as it were."


Seven raised a brow, irritated with the derision she heard. "This is a monetary-based economy, Kathryn," she said matter-of-factly. "Compensation will be required to pay for our new apartment in one of Mr. Commagees' buildings."

Kathryn frowned, before smoothing out her features for the man.

"If ever'ting works out," he said. "You'll have a fine place, a skin o' wine and a loaf o' bread by a cozy fire. T'is all anyone can ask for."

Suddenly, Kathryn saw females descend the stairs, all festooned in ornate and brightly colored dresses. The men cheered, shoving each other to make accommodations for the females at their tables. Her eyebrows rose to touch her widow's peak, and she turned steely eyes on her Astrometrics Officer.

Seven pointedly turned toward Mr. Commagees. "I will require time to settle-"

He smiled. "Oh sure, lass. Sure. Just finish out the-" He glanced at a wristwatch. "Shift and then I'll show you to your new home." He saw Kathryn's anger deepen. She was feisty, too, he thought with a chuckle. "I'll see that Mrs. O'Nine and your girl are fed-" To Kathryn and Seven's surprise, he hastily added: "On the house, a'course." He stopped, turning to look at his new employee. "Today only. Find yourselves a table."

He turned and waddled away. Slowly, Kathryn turned fiery eyes at Seven. Her mouth was a harsh line and her jaw was set.

Seven gestured to an clean, empty table in the corner. "This way," she said.

As they sat, Dani harrumphed. "I hope we don't have to stay here all day." She'd crossed her arms across her chest and slumped backward into the rock-hewned chair.

Seven slapped a dirty copper coin on the table, gesturing to a blinking metal box in the corner. "Please choose a song for us," she said.

"But isn't there a live band?"

"She is regenerating," Seven informed them, jerking her head behind her. The singer's horns ranged down her nose, between her large eyes. Her lips were large and she sported the same slits at her neck.

"But I don't know their music," she finally said.

"What a wonderful opportunity to grow," Janeway said with a forced smile, pushing the copper toward the girl. "We'll be right here, darling."

After she trotted off begrudgingly, Janeway slowly turned to Seven. "This is a brothel," she hissed.

"Mr. Commagees said it is a comfort supplier," she replied.

"I'd wager it's the same thing," the Captain said with every hint of dismay. "So what will you be?"

Seven studied her quietly for a moment, understanding dawning. "Ah," she said, understanding jealousy for the first time. "I will not be supplying comfort to anyone here," she replied looking around at the men with a look of disgust. Seven turned back, looking into perturbed eyes. "Except for you."

Janeway opened her mouth to speak, and she forgot what she was going to say. She sat back, scratching her head. "Seven," she finally replied softly. "This is not what I expected."

"You expected a liter of water. But I cannot provide more liters in the future without employment. This is essential to our continued well-being, Kathryn." She looked down at Kathryn's trembling hand. "You must have time to recuperate."

Kathryn pulled the weak hand to her lap, hiding it from sharp eyes. "All right. So what will you be doing here?"

"Mr. Commagees said I would be house security."

"A bouncer would be more accurate."

"But I do not-"

"Don't say it!" Kathryn lifted a hand. "You don't actually bounce. You will cause someone to bounce."

She thought back to the silver man who had been manhandling some of the comforters. "Ah, yes. Bouncer. An apt description."

Janeway leaned forward on her arm, resting her chin on fingers. "And how did I become Mrs. O'Nine?"

Seven had seemed pleased that Mr. Commagees had made the inference on his own, though she did not understand how. But she enjoyed it nonetheless. "He would not rent one apartment unless we were a family," she replied.

"You told him we were married?"

"No," she said evenly. "I merely stated we were a family. Perhaps my indication of Eridani as our daughter implied more than I was aware at the time."

Janeway blew out some air. She'd never been one to lose her temper. Not really. But she felt out of control somehow. The low, grinding headache and the uncontrollable and random shaking made her feel bad and that had her on a short fuse. She scratched her brow just above the eye, blinking furiously. The periodic double vision was helping matters any. "I know you're doing your best. I'm just tired."

"Of course, you are. You've been through a horrific ordeal and you are still recovering from the interrogation. That was the primary reason for assuming employment without consulting you."

Janeway lifted her eyes to Seven's, showing her a generous mix of appreciation and apology.

"I did not know if there would be another opportunity for employment and did not want to squander it."

Dani shuffled back before they could talk anymore. "It sounds like funeral music," she said glumly as she threw herself on the rock chair.

"How do you know what funeral music sounds like?" Janeway asked, studying her face.

Dani caught her mother's intense scrutiny, becoming suddenly nervous. She threw her chin into a hand and mumbled crudely, "'Cause it just does. It's all sad."

Janeway cocked her chin, listening to the faint sounds of what seemed to be string instruments. The girl was right. It did sound like the long whiney moans of a dirge. But how could a child of seven be so aware of death? What was she hiding? Janeway stared at the full lips that seemed to be withholding so much.

Just then, they heard Commagees come up to the table, followed by two waiters carrying steaming platters. "Ah, the Missus O'Nines," he purred. "What a lovely pair indeed." He turned to one of the waiters, clad in all black. "First, I am going to start you off with the best rake and carold in our fair hamlet."

The waiters placed before them bowls filled with white leaves that were limp and steaming. The leaves seemed to be seasoned with little black crumbs of some sort. "Smells lovely," Janeway said diplomatically, even though it lacked any mouth-watering aroma other than the vague smell of cabbage.

Commagees gestured his fin-like fingers for them to eat. Dani looked imploringly at her parents, who both regarded her with a chiding look. She frowned, putting a little to her mouth.

At once, they all took a bite. The adults considered the flavor bland and wondered how impolite it would be to ask after salt.

"Wow," Dani replied. "This is good." She glanced at her mothers. "Well, it is." To Mr. Commagees she asked, "What's it called?"

"Rake and carold."

"So rake is..." She said around another mouthful.

"A rake is a..." he thought. "A rake is a rake. Have you never seen a rake? They're pink and eat truffles? A rake."

"Hmm," Dani said. "Dunno. But they're tasty."

"Suppose that's all that matters now." He continued to stand their watching them eat, making the adults uncomfortable.

"I'm thirsty," Dani said at last.

"Oh, yes, m'girl," he replied. He waved the waiters over, frowning at them for holding the drinks without so much as a reminder. "Your beverages. For the ladies..." he gestured to large mugs with a frothy head and steaming liquid. Our best Gweelee coffee."

"Coffee?" Janeway said, perking up.

"Oh, yes," he replied "The universal beverage."

"That it is," she said inhaling deeply. It had a lightly pungent, earthy smell. She sipped it, humming to herself. "Mr. Commagees," she said, patting his arm. "Pure genius."

He smiled broadly. "T'is my favorite as well."

Seven sampled it, tightening her lips to keep her from frowning. If Earth coffee were a slap, Gweelee coffee would be a body slam. "There is a hint of-"

"Me mum's own secret ingredient," he said. He leaned in. "Kaybayhay. The finest in the land. Brewed it meself."

"Twelve percent alcoholic content," Seven replied to the Captain, who merely nodded.

"It's quite excellent, Mr. Commagees," she replied, feeling better than she had in the last two hours. "You have been most generous."

He clasped his hands, smiling down at Janeway. "Ah, Mrs. O'Nine, you are more than welcome. It is always a pleasure to open ye hearts to good people."

She nodded graciously.

Dani tasted her drink and frowned. "Why does mine taste like-"

Her mothers whispered her name.

She frowned back. "I was gonna say licorice."

Mr. Commagees waited. "Is that good?"

"Um," she said, feeling the blistering stares of her parents on her. "If you liked licorice, yeah."

"It's Gweelee dew. All the lads and mollies beg their parents for it."

"Can I have some Gweelee coffee?"

Janeway laughed. "I don't think so," she replied with a chiding look.

Dani crossed her arms, a single eye narrowed on her mother. "Why can't I?"

"Because you are far too young to drink alcohol?"

Slowly, an impish grin settled on the girl's lips. "Why did you let me have a taste of Guinness at Aunt Phoebe's birthday?"

Seven raised her eyebrows, turning her body slightly toward Kathryn waiting for the reply.

Kathryn got the definite sense of being manipulated and she quickly quashed the smidge of anger that bubbled up. Sometimes she got the sense that she was being deftly maneuvered by the seven-year-old, but had no concrete data to address it.

Dani tipped her head. "Well, Cap?"

Kathryn leaned back, her arms crossed over one another. She had a faint hint of amusement, along with a twinkle in her eye. The Gweelee did wonders to mellow her out, despite the caffeine jolt. "Prove it," she said quietly.

Dani snorted. "You didn't get any pictures of me holding a mug, Cappie. Gee-gee would've had a heart attack."

"No," Kathryn allowed, drawing out the word. She plopped an elbow on the table, her chin fitting into the palm. "What did it taste like? Tell me that."

Dani opened her mouth to speak, but snapped it closed. She looked away, feeling a little burn on her ears. "Can't remember."

"Ah," she said. Janeway considered that most of Dani's outbursts had been directed at her. She was starting to realize her counterpart must have had a tenuous relationship at best with the girl.

She and Seven shared a helpless look. Suddenly, Janeway winked at Seven, turning toward Dani, who still could not meet her gaze. "I'll tell you what, Dani," she said. "I'll make you this deal." When the little redhead hadn't turned, Janeway reached over and rubbed her fingertips on the girl's arm. "Are you listening, baby?"

Janeway started when Dani's big blue eyes revealed a pool of moisture. She didn't want to embarrass the girl, so she plodded on. "Have you ever heard of a guy named Aristotle?"

"Um, he was from Earth."

"Yes," Janeway whispered. "What else?"

"He invented math or something?"

"Close," she said. "He was a Greek philosopher who lived a long time ago and his work laid the foundation for the scientific process."

Dani's eyebrows rose slightly. Remaining motionless otherwise, Dani's eyes rolled up and her mouth frowned. "Oh," she whispered.

"Well," Janeway said, undeterred by the child's disinterest. "His credentials are impeccable. Trust me."

"All right," she said.

Seven smiled at the phrase, being one that Kathryn employed quite often during discussions.

"Aristotle laid out three points of argument that could be used to persuade someone about a certain topic." Kathryn paused watching the girl's eyes begin to glaze. She remembered experiencing the same things when her father lectured her about singularities right before her high school prom. "Are still with me?"

"Uh huh," she said, looking down at her food, wondering if they were going to get dessert.

Janeway braced her elbows on her knees, trying to look into the girl's eyes. "Ethos, pathos and logos."

"Mmm," she replied, looking at her mother through her long reddish lashes.

"Credibility, emotion and logic. The point I'm desperately trying to make, darling," she said, thumping the girl's knee playfully. "Is this: When we-" Kathryn gestured between the two of them. "When we disagree, I want you..." She tapped the girl's knee again. "To persuade me to your way of thinking, using ethos, pathos and logos."

The girl had become fully engaged with Kathryn by the end, watching her mouth and eyes, trying her hardest to understand. "Um, what were they again?"

"Logos means logic. Appeal to me with logical, reasonable arguments. Why should I let you have a taste of Gweelee? You could say, using logic, that it would..." she flourished a hand in the air, "it would broaden your experience."

"Drinking Gweelee in our presence will teach you how to consume alcoholic beverages responsibly," Seven offered.

Janeway smiled gratefully. "Yes, exactly. Good point, Andy. So what other points could you make to prove that you should be allowed a taste?"

"Um," she said, looking up at the ceiling. Dani could see the chisel marks from where someone had carved out the tavern from solid rock. "How about..." she looked at Janeway. "How about this one: How will I know I'll even like it?"

Janeway tried to school her face to approval. It was clearly the wrong argument to foster the chance. But she didn't want to discourage the girl.

Dani read the disappointment on her mother's face, bringing butterflies to violently war in her stomach. She nervously glanced at Seven, who encouraged her with a nod and a smile.

"I think you're doing excellent, Dani," Janeway whispered.

Dani searched her mother's face, studying whether her words matched her feelings. "How about... How will I know what it tastes like if I don't try it?" Janeway's eyes were still expectant, so Dani continued. "Like if someone tried to offer me some and you guys weren't around, how would I know it wouldn't be good for me if I've never tried it before?"

Janeway sat back, beaming. "Excellent point. I never even thought of that one."

Dani smiled, blowing out air.

"That's how logic works. Convince us," Janeway offered. "Or you could try the emotional appeal-"

"Like we just saved you from the Evil Ones," Dani offered in barely an audible whisper. "We should celebrate."

Janeway and Seven's faces lit up together. "Yes, sweetheart, that's it. That's an emotional appeal." She took a drink of the Gweelee, it tingled going down. What a great burn, she thought.

"Finally, ethos is credibility. Do you know what that is?"

She shrugged.

"Well, if you tell me that Lieutenant Paris recommends Gweelee to all seven-year-olds, then I need to understand why his opinion matters?"

"Because I like him," she offered quietly. Dani felt her ears begin to burn and she looked away shyly. Janeway and Seven shared a meaningful expression.

"That's why he has credibility with you, love," Janeway pointed out.

"So with you..." Dani said drawing out the words to allow her time to think. "I could say, Tom took a class about kids in Starfleet Academy."

"If there were such classes-and I really don't see why there are not since we are tending toward crews serving with their families on board-then, yes, that would be an excellent point." Janeway nodded satisfactorily. "So do you think you could do it?"

"Yes," she replied, looking at the almost-empty mug. "So can I have some now?"

Janeway set the mug in front of the girl with a soft thud and chuckle. "Oh, I think you've earned it. Don't you?

Dani smiled, raising the mug to her lips. She inhaled a slightly sweet aroma of coffee, but forced the liquid to her lips. The taste was bitter and as it blazed down her throat, her eyes teared up. She inhaled through her mouth. "That was..." She hesitated at her mother's amused, lifting her dimpled chin. "It was grand," she replied, choking a little.

"Oh, it was?" Janeway and Seven shared a laugh.

"Eridani," Seven chided. "You are being facetious."

"No, I'm not," she replied stubbornly. "It was good."

Janeway nodded at the mug. "Take another then."

"I'm full," she replied.

Just then Mr. Commagees returned with a confection the size of a baseball, covered in darkness and adorned with dark shavings. "Our best dessert. Nothing like it on Gweelee," he said, laying the plate in front of Dani.

"What's it called?" she asked, her spoon poised hesitantly above it.

"I thought you were full," Janeway commented with a maddening half-grin.

Dani shot her mother a frustrated look. "I was saving room for dessert."

"Oh, well, good thing, since it looks delicious."

She put some in her mouth and closed her eyes, humming while she savored. "It's chocolate," Dani said.

"It's Harmdrick," Mr. Commagees replied with a bit of pride.

"It's the bestest ever," Dani said, taking another mouthful.

"Are you going to give us any?" Kathryn asked. Seven noticed that the Captain's words were becoming somewhat slurred.

"Oh," she thought looking down at the large plate. "I thought this was just mine since..."

Mr. Commagees played along. "T'was, m'girl. It certainly t'was. I'll bring the other two out."

As he waddled away, Dani watched him over her shoulder. "Why does he talk in an Irish accent?"

"I think sometimes the Universal Translator conveys meanings by using tone and inflection. Perhaps, the language of the people here can be captured best with an Irish lift." Then affecting a soft brogue, Janeway added: "T'is a fine state with me."

"I think it's weird," she said, digging into her chocolate cake.

"I think it's charming," Janeway added with a gross slur. She laid her warm hand high on Seven's thigh and shook the woman's leg. "Right, Mrs. O'Nine?"

Seven laid a hand on Janeway's. "I believe it is time to retire to our new apartment for lavation and regeneration."

"Aw no," Dani complained, crinkling her nose and dropping her fork on an empty plate. "I just took a bath two night ago."

Seven set her cup down, twisting it in place. "You need another one, Eridani."

Dani looked conspiratorial as replied. "I think we should conserve water by me not bathing."

"That's my girl," Janeway slurred.

Seven turned slowly to regard the inebriated Janeway. Her look of displeasure was greeted by a crooked smile, making the Borg turn away. "Excellent point, Eridani," she said flatly. "But perhaps we shall recycle the bath water instead. You may use it thirdly."

Janeway's bark of laughter was loud and drew startled glances. "You are a quick study, Dani. But your mother's quicker."

Dani trumped her lips, disliking the flavor of defeat.

Chapter 13: Collective of Three

After receiving a detailed map, the trio marched off in search of their new home. They came to a series of dingy storefronts and both of the women regarded each other. They stood at last in front of the address Mr. Commagees had given them. It was the dingiest of the four. The lobby was cluttered with cracked rocks that had once been furniture. It was dark and dusty. Behind a dirty and chipped desk sat a large, unhappy fellow who looked just like Mr. Commagees.

"Excuse me," Seven said to him.

He shook, slammed a fat hand on the table. A long tongue protruded out to cover his eyes with saliva. "What the devil do you want?"

"Is this the Downloe Hotel?"

"Didn't you read the sign?" he asked derisively.

Seven glanced over her shoulder. "Of course not. I am not literate in your language."

The man tisked. "A'course yer not." He pointed to the front door. "It's Downloe Condominiums. Not hotel. What do you want anyway?"

"I will be renting a three-bedroom apartment for twenty Palms a lunar cycle," she said.

The man's eye became twin moons. "Oh, ye will, will ye? And I s'pose ye'll want me to draw yer bath as well? An' scrub yer back?"

"No, that will not be necessary," she said, unaware of the man's sarcasm.

He lubricated his eyes once more with his tongue as they rolled down Seven's body. "What's with all the metal in ye? It's unbecoming, really."

She arched the Borg-implant brow. "Whether you find me attractive is irrelevant."

"What are you then? We don't like trouble here? It costs us money to call security."

Seven noticed, through a scummy window, a small room behind the man. "I am Borg," she said.

"Borg? Holy Tryto King of All Gleewee! How did ye get into our fair hamlet? Assimilation is unlawful, ye realize?"

"I had no intention of assimilating anyone, Mister...?"

"You may call me good-bye, ma'am."

He turned to his paper, waved a fat hand toward the door.

"I am confused."

"Not me problem, lass," he said, his head still down reading.

"Mr. Commagees sent us to this hotel and he agreed to charge us twenty Palms. Is he not the owner?

The man turned around, his face red, his bloated lips touching and then repelling repeatedly while his cheeks rhythmically expanded and contracted. "Mr. Commagees, you say?"

"Yes, Mr. Commagees. You and he could pass for twins, excluding the dispositions."

"Twins! A pox on your hide for that. Me brother Finn is generous to a fault," he eyed her. "With other people's money. That fatherless bottom-feeder!"

"So how much are the rooms, sir?"

"First me name is Gill. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?"

"Seven of Nine."

He spied Janeway half asleep on a rock, with a sun-haired girl helping out. "They are-?"

"My family."

"We like families," he said gratified. "Less trouble. But we don't have three bedrooms. Me brother Finn is a trifle daft when it comes to details like price per moonth."

"So what are the sizes of your apartments and how much do you require?"

"A two bedroom will run ye a fifty Palms, give or take a few Shades."

Seven did the calculations, though her credits from Finn seemed generous, the debits were accumulating quickly for a family of three, but she was determined to allow Kathryn to recuperate. Seven had taken tricorder readings through the day, all seemed normal. Yet she was displaying extraordinary loss of balance and appearing to shake uncontrollably at times. The Gleewee coffee worsened it, but allowed her to sleep. Seven postulated the Ket'zali injection was a drug of some sort, adversely working on the Captain's system. She knew she would require time to fix the Doctor's mobile emitter and bring him online as soon as possible. But to do any of that, Seven needed a safe place for Kathryn and Eridani. Decision made.

"Very well, Mr. Commagees," she said. "We will accept a two-bedroom for twenty-five Palms."

He eyed her suspiciously. "Thirty."

"Done," she said.

"You didn't let me finish. Thirty nine palms and six shades."

Seven of Nine had discreetly inquired on the way of apartment costs and knew that Twenty had been quite a fortunate find. She did not realize that the low price was more a commentary on the neighborhood than any other factor. But she could not bend economics to her will. Seven of Nine would merely retain the proper attitude. This was an experiment in market economic principles in a real world environment. So she threw herself into negotiations with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, being a Borg.

"It is clear you need someone to maintain your facility."

"Are ye offering, lass?"

"Perhaps," she said. "I will repair your..." she was going to say computers but realized that the commodity here was not information. It was temperature control. "misting system." She gestured gracefully with her hand upward. A series of copper tubes criss-crossed the ceiling. She could tell from hard water deposits that it had misted, providing efficient evaporative cooling, something Mr. Commagees seemed to need. He seemed rather desiccated.

"I can repair it for you if you for one hundred Palms?"


Seven realized, even with her negotiation down to the original price, she knew they'd been overcharged. The two-bedroom apartment was small and grimy. The living space was able to hold a stained, sagging couch, a wooden chair and a short table, which unmistakably served as the dining area as well. The kitchen contained a busted replicator and a sink, with running water that smelled of rotten eggs.

The bedrooms were spare, each containing a double bed. The only saving grace was the black sheets had been cleaned and smelled fresh. It would suffice, Seven told herself, making sure to keep her annoyance in check.

Seven pulled back green curtains that bundled on the floor, kicking up a thick cloud of dust. The three coughed until their eyes watered. Seven rubbed the window with her forearm. A greasy streak marred the frosted look of the undisturbed grime. She leaned over, rubbing a small circle until it squeaked under her ministrations.

"Efficient," she said of the view of the main boulevard.

Dani peaked out. "Wow," she said. "We can see the whole world."

The girl felt Kathryn standing behind her.

"Look at the red tents way over there," Dani pointed out. "And look, there must be a swimming pool around. Those women are half-naked. Uh-ho," she said, when one of the men was slapped brutally by a half-naked nymph. "What do you think happened?"

Seven yanked the curtains closed, earning a glare and a cough from the youngster. "It is late, Eridani. Perhaps we should assess the quarters and perform our lavations."


After helping her daughter bathe and telling her a story that she made up about an enterprising and beautiful Captain of a sea ship, Seven tucked Dani in, though she vehemently listed reasons she should be allowed to stay up. "It is almost dawn, mom," she finally managed with a yawn.

"Irrelevant, Eridani. You require ten-point-five hours of sleep per night to function properly. You will not receive the sufficient amount for tomorrow's activities. That in turn will activate the prolonged and vexing use of your vocal chords, stretching single syllables into multiple. This will be done throughout the day, culminating in a temper tantrum at precisely oh-four-hundred."

"I don't whine," she informed with a frown.

Seven kissed her forehead and then her lips. "Sleep well, little one." Seven felt small hands link behind her neck, pulling her down for a constricting embrace.

"Love you."

"I love you, as well." Seven stood, tucking in her covers as she went. "But yes, Eridani, you do whine." She glanced up, contemplating other superlative verbs. Then Seven gave her daughter a pointed look. "You bleat." Seven walked to the door, pivoting there. "You drone." To Dani's teeth click, Seven offered her a soft smile. "But I care for you nonetheless."

"G'night, Borgie."

"No, Eridani," she raising an admonishing finger. "You may call me mother. Mom is also acceptable. Borgie is out of the question."

Chuckling, the girl rose to her elbows, tipping her head and giving her mother an impish grin. "Why don't you ever call Cappie her special name?"

Seven tried to keep a placid face. "Which would be?"

There were parts of this nonsense that Dani appreciated and toying with her mothers was two of them. "You know."

"Tell me again. Perhaps I have forgotten."


Seven was still chuckling softly when she opened the door to their bedroom. Wrapped in a white towel, Kathryn with her Starfleet tunic draped across her lap was sitting on the bed edge. Her brushed hair was still damp. She had been listening to the repeated chirp of an activated comm badge. Her eyes were unseeing and she did not hear as Seven entered the bedroom.

A shadow cast over her closed eyes and she felt someone next to her. Kathryn was not surprised to find the tall blonde looming. "Are you just going to stare at me all night?"

"However pleasant that may prove..." She arched a brow at Kathryn's surprise. "I am..." It was then the Seven noticed the tears running down Kathryn's face.

What could an ex-Borg drone say to a Starfleet Captain who lost her ship? There were no words in any lexicon in any language in two quadrants that could console her, especially one as stubborn as Kathryn Janeway. Instead, Seven pulled Kathryn into a tight embrace. "Voyager will find us."

Kathryn registered the intent, clenched her eyes closed and a single tear fell from an eye.

"Oh, Kathryn," Seven whispered. She kissed the wet trail down until the tear disappeared. Seven pressed her lips lightly, brushing Kathryn's face with soft, feathery kisses. When she reached her mouth, Seven was surprised to be kissed back. "Please let me love you, Kathryn."

Seven felt Kathryn's arms rubbing her back, lightly at first. Her eyes closed and her lips parted. Kathryn had been desperate for her touch since finding her on the Mencari ship and now she damned the indecision inside.

When Kathryn tried to turn away, Seven caught her shoulders, pushing her down against the bed. Her lips locked onto the Captain's, who showed no hesitancy. "Please, Kathryn."

Seven's face hovered expectantly over the Captain's. Images of Seven going back to Chakotay in a huff filled her head. She was a difficult woman to love and everyone that she allowed to love her either left her or died, which amounted to the same thing. Seven would be no different.

Seven watched the yearning war with fear. She had never known the Captain was capable of it, but Kathryn was enslaved to it.

Kathryn was trying to think. She could think her way out of an attraction and consequently an orgasm. Yes, she most certainly could. The Borg Collective, the Vidiians, the Hirogen. She outsmarted them all. These tingling nerve endings and the near painful-pleasurable throbbing between her legs could be managed. If only Seven's lips weren't sizzling their way down her throat. Or if her Borg hand wasn't drawing their hips together.

Seven could feel the tension in Kathryn's body. She was coiled so tightly, Seven was afraid one strum too many and Kathryn'd ricochet around the room until she tired herself out. "Permit me to demonstrate my feelings." It was a throaty whisper and it made Kathryn shudder. "I know you feel the same for me."

She closed her eyes, feeling the scintillation of Seven's lusty gaze prickle over her shoulder. Kathryn tightened her stomach, as it churned from a distinct sensation of falling. Her greatest fear was to fall, an irony of a Starfleet captain. But she knew it was less a fear of heights and more a loss of control. She'd never felt like she was in a tailspin with her other relationships. She was the anchor of every relationship. But with Seven, she could lose herself. Her body was crying out even as Seven continued to favor her body with gentle kisses. Her eyes snapped open when the tall woman's hand fumbled with her towel.

"Self-denial is inefficient." Then gently she cupped Kathryn's breast, the redhead arching into the touch. As she trailed kisses down Kathryn's neck toward a tawny peak, Seven whispered against the lightly freckled skin. "But I find adaptation to be quite provocative."

Kathryn let out a throaty laugh before she cupped the back of Seven's head, while the other threaded under an arm to cup the taller woman's shoulder blade. "How could I resist such sweet talk?"

Seven pulled back and opened her mouth, but before she could say the natural response, Kathryn covered the woman's lips with her own. Seven felt as if the words were stolen from her, lost in the heat and passion of their uncontainable fusion. It was becoming difficult for her to keep her intellect walled off from the demands of her own biological collective of skin and lips and moisture. She tried to focus on Kathryn's observation. "But Kathryn..." Her chin was pointed skyward and her hand cupped the auburn-haired beauty who was accelerating her nerve conduction velocity to distracting speeds and causing her body to produce copious and viscous liquid. She could not even recall how they both had been disrobed nor how Kathryn hovered over her in the creaking bed.

Seven's mind was slipping further away, she found. It was being replaced by frenzied sensations so nearly close to inducing overload and yet, Seven felt there was more, so much more, just beyond her reach. Lips sucking a nipple and a warm hand kneading its twin. An insistent knee parting her thigh. A sigh of pleasure vibrating next to her ear. Lips finding a trail down the center of body toward her navel. "But Kathryn..." Finally, through sheer willpower, Seven lifted her head, bracing herself on her elbows.

Kathryn's lips were swollen and she appeared to be intoxicated, though the Gleewee coffee would have metabolized from her system hours ago. Seeing the expression on Seven's face, Kathryn's arm encircled the woman's head, laying her back gently. She laid on her side, intent on the blonde as a finger stroked one eyebrow. "Yes, darling."

"My words are not intended to unduly distort my feelings for an advantage."

The earnestness in her expression nearly made Kathryn laugh out loud. But she knew that Seven's genuine concerns could not be brushed aside. A crooked smile and a look of complete adoration greeted Seven's raised eyebrows.

Kathryn ran a finger over the single eyebrow and then over the eyepiece. "Oh, my love, it is just an expression," she said quietly. Then, of their own accord, her eyes traveled down the length of the gorgeous landscape with its rounded mountains enticing her and its golden forest guarding the cleft. Between each word, Kathryn punctuated her thought with a kiss, traveling slowly back down. "Now, Seven of Nine, this is most certainly not the time to debate anything."

"My body is in a marked state of excitation," Seven said needlessly.

Kathryn's hand trailed over the delicate planes and curves circling the skin ever so delicately, searching for any overlooked treasure that could yield more sighs and breathy exclamations from the usually terse and imperturbable Borg. Kathryn inhaled Seven's musky scent as a finger stroked along the moist seam of her sex.

Kathryn closed her eyes as a single finger dipped into the pool of heated desire. "Oh, Seven," she murmured.

Seven opened her legs wider and bucked her hips in search of more of Kathryn. "I am...I need..." She fell back, a hand over her eyes. "I cannot...I..." Seven's hand flew to the head between her legs, caressing the auburn locks in encouragement. "Precisely."

Seven quivered with every flick of Kathryn's tongue and she felt herself continue to rush toward something. It was a coalescing of body and soul toward something primal and profound.

When Kathryn inserted another finger, a primitive grunt ripped from Seven's throat over and over as she exploded under Kathryn's mouth. The older woman drew back to watch the moisture gush onto her hand. Her fingers coaxed more vibrations from Seven until finally the blonde blindly reached for Kathryn's shoulders. "I require sexual regeneration at this time."

Kathryn crawled up, leaning her body against the spent Borg.

When Seven opened her eyes, she searched the loving blue-grays that watched her. "I deduce that I have experienced the physiological response to sexual stimulation."

Kathryn allowed a languid hand to trail down the woman's arms. "How was it?"

"Comparison is difficult as it was my first."

Kathryn's lips curled in the corners. "You're joking."

"I do not jest about orgasms, Kathryn."

"No," Kathryn purred as her lidded eyes wandered down the length of the voluptuous body sprawled beside her. "I suppose that would be unwise." She felt like an empty bottle facing a tsunami of wine. "How about another?"

Seven rose to one elbow to meet her eyes. "You were to be the recipient of the first orgasm."

Kathryn smiled, as she rested a possessive hand on an ample breast. "Rank has its privilege, my darling."

Seven turned over, half her body draped over Kathryn's. She studied Kathryn's face with the same intensity and diligence she approached everything. She brushed her thumb across Kathryn's lips and smiled when she was kissed. Seven dragged her fingertips to the Kathryn's small breasts, circling a tip lightly.

"I think you should kiss me when you do that," Kathryn said in a husky voice.

Seven leaned down, watching the woman's face intensely. Kathryn expected a soft peck as prelude. Instead, the ex-Borg lowered her open mouth, demanding and receiving entrance. Kathryn moaned in delirium at Seven's commanding exploration. The kiss was a strange blend of scientific rigor and delicate reverence.

Seven's fingers used the lightest touch to tease Kathryn, drawing a growing number of incomprehensible vocalizations from the woman.

Kathryn could feel herself rising like mercury in the torrid heat of her arousal. Her legs wrapped themselves around Seven, the muscles taut from trying to press the taller woman against her humid center. But Seven's casual resistance finally drew a protest from her. "Seven..." Her mouth went dry when Seven trailed her hands over the soft triangle of hair.

When Seven dipped the smallest tip of a finger into Kathryn, she smiled into the blue-gray eyes. "Yes?" she whispered.

Kathryn opened her mouth to speak. But when Seven added another finger and a rubbing thumb all she could manage was a series of throaty sobs. Kathryn finally managed to slip a hand between them to cup Seven intimately. Despite her incoherence, Kathryn managed a weak, "Together, darling."

Twin strokes and grinds wrenched double responses; Kathryn's throaty cries of release were counterpoint to Seven's staccato whimpers. Kathryn and Seven exchanged breaths, each providing sustenance and fuel for the other. When their undulations had gentled, Seven collapsed on top of Kathryn. Their soaked fingers were still weaved together with the other person.

After several long heartbeats, Kathryn tenderly kissed Seven. "I don't want to move," she confessed.

Seven's lips at the woman's ear sent shivers down her spine. "I do not wish to break our network either."

When Seven felt fingers flexing inside of her, she responded in kind and then found her lover's mouth. It pleased Seven that the Captain's response was ravenous, as if they'd just started this journey. Kathryn felt desired, something she hadn't realized she'd missed.

Only after long, languid moments of connection did Seven finally roll to her back, bringing the other woman with her. Kathryn laid a head on Seven's shoulders, an arm across her middle and a leg across her thigh. Then she affectionately kissed the skin she found beneath her mouth. "You surprised me."

Seven's arm draped around the woman and her hand indolently brushed a freckled shoulder. "How so?"

"I wasn't aware that you knew your way around a woman's body."

Seven remained quiet for so long, Kathryn pulled her head back to look at the woman who held her safely. "What I meant to say was you were wonderful." She searched the woman's face, finding uncertainty. "What's the matter, darling?"

"Nothing is the matter," she said flatly, looking up at the ceiling. "I am finding it difficult to place into words what I feel. This experience..." She met Janeway's gaze. "This experience with you has been beyond anything that I... I feel so many emotions at once that it is difficult to understand them all and to label them. Am I being illogical?"

Kathryn kissed the woman's jaw line. "No, not at all. I think I understand exactly what you mean."

"You do?"

Kathryn's eyes darted away and blush burned its way down her body. "Yes," she whispered.

"But you have had sexual relationships prior. How could this be?"

She shrugged and nestled closer to Seven. "I don't know. I just know that I've never felt what I feel now."

"So it is not a physiological response?"

"No," she whispered again, against Seven's neck. "I know you haven't. But that is what I don't understand, darling. How could this be your first, when...?"

Seven continued to stroke Kathryn's back, reviewing her experiences with Chakotay. "When my relationship with Chakotay progressed, I had researched mating rituals among humans-" Janeway chuckled, as she imagined Seven throwing herself into twenty gigaquads of data. "Including the chemical and physical reactions to arousal and climax."

"You've always been thorough," she said dryly.

"I have realized that the definition of a woman's orgasm has been grossly understated. It is beyond mere contractions following nerve stimulus and endorphin releases. I was unprepared for it, despite my experiences."

"And your experiences would include..."

"First Commander Chakotay... Lt. Paris..." Kathryn's eyes grew golf-sized and her mouth parted slightly.

The Captain's interludes include few and far between, beginning with Paris and that was because she possessed a small reptilian brain at the time. Of course, the other reason was she found them wanting somehow. She never understood how until the possibility of sex with Seven of Nine. 'Wanting' is the wrong word, she thought, tapping a finger to her lips. They had. What they needed was to lack.

"And finally Ensign Kim," Seven added after some time.

Kathryn raised an eyebrow in surprise that Seven mistook for admiration.

"I do not consider it an achievement," Seven pronounced matter-of-factly.

The Captain leaned forward on an elbow, her attention more rapt than she wanted it to appear. "What exactly do you consider it?"

"Thirty minutes wasted on the holodeck," she replied in a monotone.

The Captain studied the Borg's face for hints of humor, but found only an empty slate looking back at her. Surely, I have misunderstood, she thought.

"You mean, the setting was on a holodeck?"

"That, too."

"You are saying the men were-"

"Holograms, yes, Kathryn. Facsimiles. Photonic duplicates. Light and-"

"Thank you, Seven. I think I understand. Forty-point-five minutes for four is-"

"The holograms were not all men. And there were five of us."

"At one time?" Kathryn's voice became shrill. Even in the tensest negotiations she'd never allowed her voice or her expression to betray her personal thoughts. But then again, she also was not talking about sex with someone she wanted to have sex with.

"In succession."

Kathryn lay back, running a hand through disheveled hair. "That's about ten minutes each." She couldn't hide the amusement in her voice and hoped that it was far too subtle for Seven to understand.

"That is incorrect assumption. For Lt. Paris, it was five-point-four-three minutes. Apparently, he considered it a race." Seven did not attempt to hide the disgust in her voice.

Kathryn raised to her elbow again. She knew this was puerile and really the holograms could be so flawed, completely misrepresenting the real individuals. But it was still fascinating.

"Commander Chakotay performed in twelve-point-two minutes. Ensign Kim for nine-point-five minutes."

"And that leaves the balance for-"


"I beg your pardon?" Kathryn sat up, spinning around to look at the calm young woman. "Are you telling me you had sex with a hologram of...me?"

Seven's face crinkled, wondering what the difficulty was. It was common knowledge the hologram technology was utilized for quite a bit of sexual exploration. The cleansing of the holodeck walls had become the most odious task on Voyager, falling to the junior officers. Seven had heard them comment that the scent of sperm and vaginal secretions was like cleaning a dorm room at the Academy after a Vulcan orgy. It was a remark that she found perplexing considering the contained response Vulcans usually displayed. But she made a mental note to ask Tuvok.

"Is there a problem?" Seven finally asked.

Kathryn felt the tension in her facial muscles and willed them to relax. It's a holodeck. Everyone does it. Everyone but the Captain. She could never bring herself to utilize it for that particular type of recreation. Of course, the Doctor, who had noted the stress and the formation of ulcers in her stomach lining had encouraged her to use it for "medicinal" purposes. She had walked out on the Doctor then and there.


Seven was leaning on a propped elbow, concern marking her face. Her hand brushed the woman's thigh tenderly. Kathryn covered the hand, bringing it to her lips for a brush of her lips. "Oh, I'm just surprised. I never imagined anyone could use me...a facsimile of me for...for that purpose."

Seven opened her mouth to explain that the time index for the Kathryn program predated her arrival on Voyager. But she thought better of it, remembering suddenly that the Captain's parents were traditionalists. Perhaps that meant they all prescribed to the puritanical view of sexuality. Or perhaps not, after tonight's writhing display.

Shrugging off the feelings of violation, Kathryn finally smiled, choosing instead to consider it an honor to be subject to Seven's sexual interest for nearly twenty minutes, twice as long as the men. "So how was I?" Kathryn looked down at the hand lying on her thigh. "Did I...please you?"

Seven cocked her head to one side. "Define please."

Kathryn studied Seven's face for long minutes. The ex-Borg was not given to jocularity, that Kathryn knew of, particularly vulgar ones. Kathryn's eyes went wide with the realization. "You didn't climax with any of us," she whispered hoarsely. "Of them, I mean."

"With the three men, I thought I had. It was...pleasant enough. However, I do not believe that I had experienced an orgasm."

Unbelievable, Kathryn thought. "Not with anyone?"

"Holographic Commander Chakotay, Lt. Paris and Ensign Kim are the only ones I have sexual relations with, Kathryn." She lifted her eyes briefly. "The corporeal Commander Chakotay and I did engage in copulation once, however."

Kathryn narrowed her eyes. She wasn't sure she wanted any details about that encounter. She'd surmised that Seven's first orgasm was here tonight with her. That meant zippo for Chakotay. And my hologram, she thought glumly. Then she remembered the irrational sounds she evoked from Seven and smiled smugly.

"What of you, Kathryn?"

The smile slipped from her lips. "What about me?"

"I am interested in your sexual history."

Kathryn's face melted from shy reticence to reluctance. But she couldn't be a coward now. "I've been engaged twice." She shrugged, hoping that explained everything.

"But never married."

She shook her head, lying back down to nestle against the woman. She was hoping Seven was getting as sleepy as she was. She closed her eyes and yawned.

"What of Q?"

"What about him?" The venom on the last word was evident.

"You never shared any-"

"None. Just one forgettable kiss, thank goodness."

"And Kashyk?"

"A kiss," she whispered.

"Unforgettable as well?" Seven asked.

A small sound of reluctance garbled Kathryn's initial response. But then she did a double take, when she noticed the smiling eyes. "You were pulling my leg," she said softly, cupping the woman's cheek tenderly.

Just as Seven opened her mouth to state the obvious, Kathryn dipped hers, capturing the Borg's open mouth. The Captain pressed her back down, pressing her body against the lean one under her. Seven seemed to relax under Kathryn and the older woman sighed, closer her eyes at last.

"Your not jealous," Kathryn said with a hint of relief.

Seven offered a confused expression. "I am with you now," she stated. "They are not. I believe that accords me a significant advantage."

Kathryn nipped Seven's chin. "I'd call it a win-win, darling."


Later that night, Kathryn awoke to an empty bed. She listened in the dark, the torch long gone. She heard faint clinking of ceramic in the kitchen and so she waited. Then she saw the tall shadowed figure return to their room.

"Where were you?" She asked sleepily.

A towel-wrapped Seven held a torch high in one hand and a glass in another. She placed the torch in its holder on the wall and offered the glass to her lover.

"I brought you water."

"How did you know I was thirsty?"

"Because I was." She watched the torch light dance shadows across the contours of Kathryn's classic face. "We will also require additional hydration to continue our lovemaking."

Kathryn handed Seven the cup, and she finished the last bit of water. Kathryn's crooked smile warmed Seven far more than the torch. The mattress groaned under Seven's knee and then gave way to her full weight. Slowly, Seven leaned in to possess the warm, wet lips that waited hers.

The woman gently pushed Kathryn to the bed, without breaking lip contact. When she pulled back, she rested on an elbow to just gaze at the Captain, her auburn hair fanned across the pillow. "I am a most fortunate drone," she whispered before she nuzzled her ear. "You are..." Her throat constricted so tightly around the words.

Kathryn threaded her fingers through Seven's long blonde hair. She could see Seven's face in the torchlight, revealing unmistakable longing. "What, darling? What is it?" Kathryn lifted her head to kiss her eyes, nose, cheek and finally mouth. "I'm right here."

"Yes," Seven whispered as she settled between Kathryn's thighs. "Yes, you are." She was sure that Voyager would find them, but she dreaded the day when Kathryn would become her Captain agai

Until then, Seven made love with Kathryn over and over before morning, filling themselves with light, laughter, soft caresses, hungry kisses and warm embraces.

Chapter 14: Domesticity

Acting Captain's Log.

Voyager's repairs are slow. We are inside an unclassified type of nebula just two parsecs from the Ket'zali attack about a month ago. Their ships, which resemble squids lying horizontal, are nearly entirely black with little onboard lighting. They've circumnavigated the nebula but seem reluctant to enter it. We aren't sure why. But at this stage, the only thing we care about is how to get our girl fully operational and get our people home.

We have about twenty crewman working double shifts to repair major systems. Full life support was restored about a week ago. Weapons and Propulsion are the next priorities.

D'goba remains in coma. The backup EMH, who is just as testy the original, has been working round the clock to determine the cause of her coma and how to wake her from it. We need her. She carries the missing pieces to why the Ket'zali want Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine and the child.


Chakotay's Personal Log.

I ordered a celebration for the restoration of life support. It was a big mistake. I must have had too much Ktarian Merlot because I ended up in bed with someone I never thought I was attracted to. It's been awkward between Lt. Samantha Wildman and myself, but that didn't stop us from seconds or thirds. This isn't like me. Now I sound like Sam. That's what she tells me after every episode. This isn't like me. Then she reminds me why I've never thought about her in that special way before. She said her sex life was never this way with her husband. The man who is now in the Alpha Quadrant, standing vigil for her. I know about her husband, the father of her child.

But I've been dishonest. I've never told her that I still have feelings for Seven. I'd hate to think I'm doing this to make Seven jealous. Maybe it's just the biological imperative to mate, after we were all nearly destroyed in the Ket'zali swarming.

Why isn't Seven of Nine here? Where are you, baby?


Janeway had pulled back the window dressing, letting the double moonbeams fall magically on the long, lithe body beside her. She'd propped up her elbow, letting her eyes travel the voluptuous curves. She'd never spent so much energy exploring another non-celestial body and she'd trusted someone so much to allow it in return. She'd also never come so much or so hard. Despite it all, she was astonished to know she hungered for more.

Seven stirred, mumbling and turning away from the bright window light to nestle into Kathryn's breast. "Mmm," she said, finding a swollen nipple near her mouth that she dutifully kissed.

"Is that Borg stamina?" a hoarse voice said near Seven's ear.

She curled her fingers in auburn hair, pulling her head closely and kissing the parted lips she found. "What of you, Kathryn?"

The older woman moved closer, pushing her small breasts into Seven's arms. A thigh hoisted over the other woman's thigh, feeling prickly soft hairs. As she kissed the woman's neck, moving toward her mouth, Kathryn answered. "I think Gleewee coffee was quite invigorating."

Seven's eyes snapped open. "Your impetus is coffee?"

"No, darling," she said, brushing the blonde strands back from the beautiful face. "I said coffee is the fuel but you are my desire." She closed her eyes and leaned down softly to kiss the lips.

When she pulled back, she found Seven with closed eyes and a small smile on her lips. "Kathryn?"

Even the sound of Seven calling her name was a symphony. You have it bad, she told herself. "Yes?"

"I require more data." Seven's scratchy morning voice sounded absolutely adorable and Janeway could not help but smile.

"Yes, darling."

"You failed to complete this statement as we faced the attacking Mencari and Ket'zali aboard the Eesh'tob..." Then Seven performed a remarkable mimicked of Janeway. "'Damn right I'm stressed. It's not every day I get a bunch of reptiles attacking the woman I-.' Please complete the statement."

Seven heard a reluctant gurgle in the woman's throat, drawing her attention there. Kathryn looked up, giving Seven a view of the taut muscles of her kissable neck. When she didn't answer, Seven bolted up and over, pressing down on Janeway. "I believe," she said in that typical monotone. "That you perceived our situation dire and you were going to declare your love for me." She punctuated the comment with an arch eyebrow and a nod.

Kathryn closed her eyes; her auburn lashes falling like crescents on her classic cheekbones.

Seven waited, her breath tickling the woman beneath her. After some time, Seven realized that Kathryn was reluctant to answer. "You could not fall unconscious so easily, Pips."

Kathryn's eyes snapped open. "What did you call me?"

Seven felt control rush back to her. She rolled to one side, fluffing the pillow and rolling to her back, in a half sitting position. "I called you...Pips." She emphasized the first letter with a firm pinch of her lips. "Pips."

Kathryn narrowed her eyes. "Where did that come from?"

"Evidently, my counterpart in the other universe called you 'Pips' when you were frustrating."

Kathryn pulled back to study Seven's face, sitting up as well.

"It was presumably used quite often, as I understand."


Seven tipped her head. "Yes, Pips," she whispered before pressing her lips to Kathryn's neck, where her Starfleet Uniform presented her rank. "As in one, two, three and four pips." Seven smacked her lips loudly after each number.

"Ridiculous name," she whispered, leaning her neck back to offer Seven more room.

Seven pulled back, licking the skin as she did. "Perhaps, but an appropriate one nonetheless."


"Yes, it denotes an extraordinary need to remain in control..." Seven's hand slid up to cup a small breast. "Even when capitulation has its own reward."

Kathryn's eyes were heavily lidded and her mouth parted. She tried very hard to curb the instinct to arch into the hand. "Hardly a need," she whispered, her gravelly voice shaky from trying to resist the urge for more contact.

Seven let one corner of her mouth curl ever so slightly as she stared into the moonlit blue eyes as she took a fat nipple into her mouth. Kathryn hissed in pleasure, her chest pushed forward ever so slightly. Seven blew on the soaked nipple, drawing more hisses from the woman. "Need is an inaccurate rendering." Then without warning, she bit the nipple, drawing a moan of pleasure-pain. "Fetish would be more-"

Kathryn threw herself to the side, out of the woman's reach. Then she propped her head up, watching Seven peer over the curve of Kathryn's hip. "Fetish? Oh, Seven... you are full of surprises."

Seven leaned back, noting Kathryn's swollen and moist center when the older woman drew her legs up. The younger woman swiped a finger along the cleft once, drawing a shudder out of the woman. Her attention wandered from where the older woman wanted her the most. Seven circled the palm over the curves of her ass and hip. "I do not comprehend what I feel," she said, sliding across the curly hair. "We have made love three times this night and yet, I require..." She pulled back to look deep into Kathryn's shadowed eyes. "I require more."

"Oh, darling," she said, pulling the ex-Borg closer. "Then by all means, indulge yourself."


Acting Captain's Log.

The Doctor succeeded in mending D'goba's extensive wounds and she emerged from coma after six weeks. She pronounced her surprise that the "Ush'maul" had not "vanquished the enemy." I have always been one to respect other people's creation myths, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone deify a living human before.


"Ush'maul is the Mother of the Chosen," D'goba explained. "Our most ancient prophecy says that E'tza Ush'maul Po'pol Vuh will open the heavens. The Mother of the Chosen will destroy and create order all at once."

D'goba, like most Mencari, was expressionless, but judging from the waving of her powerful tail, this was an important moment for her. Chakotay was unsure how to proceed. She's talking about Kathryn Janeway, a good captain and a good person, but not prophetic.

"How is she supposed to accomplish this?" Lt. Commander Tuvok asked.

"The prophecy is ambiguous, declaring only that the Resplendent Cactus, shield of the Sun People will accomplish this with blood and water."

"Resplendent Cactus?" Lt. Paris inquired, his voice nearly riotous with mirth. "That's quite a title."

Chakotay cast a disapproving glare to Tom, who merely shrugged. "Is there nothing more on blood and water? On where they are? Or where they can be?"

"Is this not your home system?" Tuvok asked without missing a beat. "Perhaps you could contact-"

"She is not here?" D'goba jumped down from the bio-bed. Her tail was whipping back denting bulkheads. Her head was swaying to and fro and her eye turrets were swiveling erratically.

"No, she escaped your ship and she never made it back to Voyager," Tuvok said. "Neither she, nor Seven of Nine who boarded your ship during the attack to find her."

"The Precious Borg is gone as well?"

"And the child, Eridani Janeway," Tuvok added.

Her mouth fell open, pink saliva spilled in buckets. Her bifurcated tongue darted out to lubricate her eyes. Then suddenly, she ripped a bio-bed from its support and flung it across the room, using the confusion to dash toward sick bay doors. "We must find them."

They managed to stop her just as she entered the shuttlebay. Her eyes were both pinned on the silver bullet transport vessel that Tuvok and Paris commandeered from her ship.

"The Evil Ones will find them, no matter how long it takes! We must find them first."

Chakotay watched her grow so agitated, she could not control the jerky movements, wounding two security guards before the Doctor subdued her with a tranquilizer. "Hmm, she doesn't have much faith in her prophecy," the Doctor noted.

Chakotay's Personal Log.

Sometimes I wonder if I was right to give the "abandon ship order." Sam said if I hadn't Voyager would be spatial debris. I try not to pace at night while she's sleeping, but the burden of command is heavy. Sam said it's because I'm conscientious. If I were so conscientious I wouldn't be making love to another man's wife. Am I making love or just having sex? I can hear my spirit guide-the timber wolf-howling in my head when I come. Coincidence or wishful thinking? It was silent when Seven and I were intimate.


Kathryn found herself tangled in sheets with her head at the foot of the bed and her feet bouncing on a pillow. The torchlight seemed brighter and she looked up to see a darkened, lanky form sitting stooped over a desk. Wrapped in a sheet, she stood behind Seven and lifted blonde locks from the back of her neck, where she placed her lips in greeting. "Didn't I exhaust you enough?"

Seven leaned back, her head touching the softness of the Captain. Her arm reached around to rub the woman's shoulder. They were close in every way, but one. Seven could not share with Kathryn her fear about her deteriorating health. "I do not require a great deal of sleep, Kathryn. I regenerated sufficiently."

Kathryn tried to stifle a yawn, as she propped herself against the wall to face Seven. She watched the light dance around the lithe fingers that had brought her so much happiness. "Is that the Doctor's mobile emitter?"

Seven pulled back, a soldering tool in her hand. "Yes. It malfunctioned after it was fired upon by a Ket'zali. I am attempting to..." Seven's eyes riveted to Kathryn's shaking hand. "To repair it post haste."

Kathryn shoved her hands behind her. "I'm fine, Seven."

Seven tipped her head. "I require a second opinion."

Kathryn couldn't help but let a corner of her mouth curl up. "Seven, I'm still..." What was she going to say? Still her commanding officer? How could she be if she didn't even have a ship any more? Before she knew it, Kathryn's tears welled up.

Seven bolted to her feet, the stone chair scraping the hewn mountain floor. She pulled Kathryn into a smothering embrace. She looked down sharply to see astonished and still grief-stricken face.

Seven wiped the tears that finally fell against Kathryn's will.

"I don't know why I'm acting this way," the Captain said. "It's like I have no self control."

Seven had been cataloging Kathryn's symptoms. Hand tremors. Unexplained fevers. Imbalances. And now a lack of self-control. She began to wonder if Kathryn's giving herself over to their passion was symptomatic of her illness, rather than an expression of her love. If only she would admit that she loved me, Seven thought.

To wipe those series of logical questions from her mind, Seven leaned in to capture the Captain's soft lips. She answered with hungry abandon, slipping her hands into the blonde strands. Seven was beginning to feel dizzy herself from the warmth of Kathryn's mouth and the avid response she found.

Her lips wandered to hover over the woman's ear. "Oh, Captain. You are my Captain," she whispered. "And I will see on Voyager's bridge yet."

Kathryn Janeway had never lost faith in herself, her crew or her ship until now. Why now at this most desperate of hours? Because it had been so long? Two months, is that really so long? She pulled Seven's body against hers, luxuriating in the friction of the pointed breasts. She felt so good to be in this woman's arms, better than she had felt in years, and better than she felt with anyone. Kathryn recognized this feeling as love. She wanted this to go on forever and she wanted Voyager. She feared they were mutually exclusive.


Acting Captain's Log.

The force field in the brig shimmered and D'goba smoked. She'd probed its weaknesses with her own body. In the end, she'd given up and was standing motionless, even her eyes were uncharacteristically fixed.

Not even when I approached her did D'goba respond. The Doctor considered it catatonia. But not knowing much of Mencari physiology, he was at a loss as well. We've got to reach her.


"The Lone Ranger," I said. Still D'goba was unmoving. "That's what you are."

Her eye turrets pivoted toward me, ever so slightly.

"A myth from my planet. A man who was mortal in everyway would right wrongs and restore justice."

"Noble," she said.

"Still a myth, D'goba. If we are going to save the child, Ush'maul and Seven of Nine, we've got to work together."

"What do you require?"


She finally relented, sitting on a bench, her eyes downcast. "The Ket'zali are part of us, Chakotay," she said. "The accursed children of our women who were taken in battle by Species 8472."

The Doctor shared a meaningful look with Chakotay and Lt. Commander Tuvok.

"Go on," Chakotay said quietly.

"The women are bred..." She pivoted her eyes to the men. "Against their will."

"We call that rape."

"Is it a crime where in your culture?"

"A crime punishable by severe consequences."

"In ours it is the ultimate sin."

"If it is against their will, are they not victims?" Tuvok asked. "Should be punished yet again?"

"Not the sin of the women, Commander," she replied gravely. "The Ket'zali, who perpetuate it, and their male forbearers who started it. The women and their offspring are cutoff from the land of the sun called Twenotlee, our homeworld. Only when Ush'maul the Destroyer and Ush'maul the Creator has fulfilled her destiny can the Mencari walk as freewomen again."

Chakotay scratched his head, trying to set aside the myth portion to concentrate on what they really know. "Let's step back, D'goba," he said. "How could a species from Fluidic Space mate with one of your females from our dimension? One of our ensign's named Harry Kim almost died from a mere touch of theirs."

D'goba tipped her head, regarding the man, but remained mute.

"Another important point is motivation, D'goba," Tuvok pointed out. "Why would Species 8472 cross into our plane of existence when their beliefs suggest they are perfection and we are imperfection. And why now?

"I cannot answer, Commander," she said with a defeated voice. "In five of our years, since the Evil Ones descended on us, we have never known. We know only that our women are taken."

"How did you find the Chosen?" Tuvok asked of Dani.

"We had just acquired her when Voyager rescued us from the pirates," she said. "We found her alive among the wreckage of a Ket'zali transport vessel near the place they breached our space-time." She stood up and ambled as close to the force field as she could. "Mencari rescued the Chosen."

"Why?" Tuvok asked.

"Because she can disappear from the eyes of the Ket'zali and their forefathers. She is the Chosen."

"Why is she your chosen?" He insisted.

"Because she is, Commander," D'goba said with the confidence of a true believer. "I do not know the reasons."

"In any case, the child is not the Ush'maul, D'goba." Chakotay felt compelled to point out the inconsistencies in her beliefs and her actions.

"No," she whispered, turning away. Her head hung low and she returned to slump low on the bench.

"Why did you harm the Chosen?"

"We did no such thing. We love her. We cover her in the sacred secretions that protect. She is Borg."

The comment surprised the men, knowing that the only known mechanical device was in her brain and it did not give off Borg signatures of any kind. But D'goba said she could not elaborate.

D'goba seemed to renew her strength. She stood as straight as the confining size of Voyager's brig would allow. "We must find Eridani before the Ket'zali. If they find her-and they will, Chakotay-then-" She flung herself into the force field. Its reaction was to propel her against the opposite wall. Again and again D'goba tested her confines. The shield held, but D'goba was bloody before the Doctor could sedate her again.

Chakotay's Personal Log.

Four months and that warp engines are still off line. B'Elanna said the damage to the warp core was more extensive than she initially realized. We are butting heads like two billy goats. If it were Kathryn, B'Elanna would have had that warp operational by now. She denies this, but I've always thought she carried a torch for the heterosexual Captain. B'Elanna, like most Klingons, are omni-sexual. Anything goes. She denies it and tells me I'm just jealous. "Get the damn engines online, Torres!" That's what I said to her. I've never referred to her that way or used vulgarities to get my point across. But the tension is getting to me. I think it is all of D'goba's claims about what the Ket'zali do with their enemies. If they took Seven, I'm not sure what I would do.

Personal Logs Supplemental.

No, I know exactly what I'd do. I'd pursue them to damnation itself to get her back.


As they laid sated again in each other's arms, Seven stroked the small of Kathryn's back as the older woman lay nearly on her stomach, a leg hitched over the Borg's waist. "I've been thinking," Kathryn whispered against the pillow as a lazy thumb tip stroked the underside of the woman's large breasts. "The Ket'zali are familiar to me, Seven. It's like I've dealt with them before."

"Before Voyager was commandeered, the Doctor and I hypothesized that the Ket'zali bore a striking resemblance to Species 8472."

Kathryn's eyes went wide and she braced against an arm to push herself up. "Yes, that's it exactly."

"The blunt face, the latticed skull, the atrophied tail that is nearly a third leg-"

"The uneasy voices, as if they were using them for the first time."

"Do you recall Sa'feer's argument with Ba'tour?"

Kathryn laid her head on Seven's shoulders, allowing her hand to cover the younger woman's breast, the point poking her palm. "Ancient Earth history had civilizations stealing women from others to mate."


Kathryn nodded. "Totalitarian regimes like the People's Republic of China. The country covered nearly a quarter of the earth and held nearly a billion people."

"How could a government sustain that many people?"

"They couldn't," she said, inhaling deeply to smell the residue of their lovemaking. "They imposed a harsh one child per couple policy. In a culture where males were prized, there were many sex-selective abortions."

Seven frowned. "They killed the unborn because females...were...insufficient?"

Kathryn looked into Seven's eyes, stroking her lips. "This was a long time ago, darling. But yes, in the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries, parents needing a boy to feel secure aborted their daughters."

"Did this not distort the male-female balance?"

"Oh, yes. For every one hundred female births there were one hundred and eleven males."

"An insufficient number of females were available to mate."

"Chinese families resorted to stealing women along their borders. Innocent girls and women of child-bearing years were taken from their homes, their families, their cultures and everything they knew."

Seven had experienced that wrenching twice. From her parents and then from the Borg. "That is unspeakable."

Kathryn lifted her eyes when she heard the whispered declaration. "Oh, darling," she said. "I am so sorry that I was... I did what I did to right the wrongs the Borg had done to you so long ago...I am-"

Seven touched her fingertips to Kathryn's mouth. "The situations are not comparable, Kathryn. You assimilated me to where I belonged."

Kathryn laid her head on Seven's shoulder, burying her face in her neck. After long minutes of nothing but the sound of the torch hissing, Seven pushed Kathryn on her back to gaze into her violet eyes. A yellow flame jumping in her pupils. "This is why the Mencari worship the Borg, who defeated Species 8472 with the bio-weapon."

"Well, they did have some help," she said sardonically.

"The Mencari did not know this. Eridani's ability to hide from the merging of Mencari and Species 8472 is vital to the continued existence of the Delta Quadrant species."

"That is the reason both sides want our daughter."

Seven stared out for long moments. "We must help the Mencari, Kathryn."

"We have no way to-"

Seven sat up, half turning to look down at the disarray of auburn hair and the sleepy expression. "I will work to recover parts for the emitter and supply us with sustenance."

"What about Dani and I?" Kathryn propped herself up on an elbow, drawing Seven's eyes to the tawny points of her breast.

"You will continue to remain home as a..." she lifted her eyes in thought. "As a home...maker, I believe is the correct term."

To Kathryn's horrified expression, Seven tipped her head. "Is that not the correct term?"

"No, it's not that. It's just..."

"That is currently what you do, is it not?"

"Yes, but I've never labeled it like that." With Seven's boring stare, Janeway softened her expression. "I suppose I never saw myself as a housewife."

"But you have tended us this way for several months."

"It's just I-" She kissed Seven thoroughly. "You, I understand completely." To Seven's dubious smirk, she amended. "Mostly. But Dani...she becomes increasingly restless."

"What did you do at that time index?"

"Apples and oranges, Seven. That was ages ago."

"I believe some work is timeless and mothering is one such. You will continue to do...fine."

Janeway made a noise in her throat. Seven knew it as arousal and frustration. Curious that the same sound could convey two unrelated feelings.

"Don't you think it would be better if I worked also? Now that I feel better."

Seven considered the question. "I know of no ship needing a captain or of any need for a scientist in this society."

"Are you saying I'm overqualified?"

"I do not believe I offered a superlative of your situation, Kathryn."

Kathryn eyed her suspiciously. "I think you like bringing home the bacon and having your little wife warm your bed."

Seven's eyebrows shot up. "You are diminutive of stature, yes. But I did not know we had entered a marital relationship."

"Figure of speech."

Seven ignored her. "However, I accept your proposal, Kathryn." She leaned forward to kiss the woman. Janeway kept her lips slack, but Seven's ended the union with a tug of her bottom lip.

"I find your enjoyment of my predicament quite sadistic, Seven of Nine."

Seven raised an eyebrow, realizing that she appraised their role reversal as stimulating. "I find your dependence on me both curious and quite agreeable, much to my immeasurable surprise, Kathryn O'Nine."

The Captain's eyes were dancing in amusement, her lips half quirked and tremulous. "Hmm, don't get used to it." The comment was accompanied by a playful smack to Seven's thigh.

Seven noted the positive outlook, so different from the previous few months since Voyager continued to remain missing. "I will endeavor to refrain from that."

"Good, because I don't want your ego to inflate any more than necessary."

Seven ran her thumb along Kathryn's jaw. "I believe, Kathryn, that Eridani will ensure that we are both sufficiently humble."

Sighing deeply, Kathryn dropped her head to Seven's shoulder. "That's what I'm afraid of."


As usual, Kathryn prepared a breakfast of steaming eggs and rake strips, hot cakes with sap and fresh squeezed fenork juice. Both of the Captain's girls stared at the spread on the neatly set table. "Kathryn, this looks completely nutritious." It was the daily Seven-type compliment, but meaningful nonetheless.

"Sit, sit," she said. "Before it gets cold."

"This is better than Neelix' food, Cap," Dani said, around a mouthful of hot cakes.

Now she considered that nearly an insult, but Cappie smiled graciously. "Thank you, darling. I'm really glad you liked it."

"I can't remember. Did I know you could cook this good?" Dani asked before stuffing an overloaded fork into her mouth.

Kathryn's smile slowly dimmed, wondering at the curious question. "Well, I don't see why not. I was raised by old-fashioned parents. We didn't have replicators."

"Well, it's good," the girl said, sopping up some sap with hot cake on a fork. "Like always."

"Why don't you eat some eggs, too?"

Dani looked down. The hot cakes and rake were gone, while the eggs were scattered around the plate. "Cap, I..." She was going to say she did eat eggs, but the expression on her mother's face told her she shouldn't even try. "I will."

"Smart girl," Kathryn said.

Seven pushed away from the table, tightening the sash holding her sienna pantaloons and billowy blouse. Kathryn regretted the fashion trends on Gleewee, as she missed Seven's form fitting singlesuit. But their fabric and cut were conducive to the heat and cold of the desert climate.

Seven took Kathryn's hand, squeezing it gently as she rose and laying her napkin across the back of the rock chair. "It is time for me to assume my duties at the restaurant." She glanced at the Dani's strawberry blonde hair, long enough to swing down and cover her downcast face. The plexus of her Borg hand glinted from the torchlights around the room, as she squeezed Dani's shoulder.

Dani looked over at Cappie, who was smiling that crooked smile. She tried hard not to frown.

Last night when Seven tucked her in, Dani had asked begged once again to accompany her to the restaurant. Seven's Borg implant over the eye quirked as she studied her daughter's forlorn face. "You were not given employment. Cappie cares for you."

The corner of Dani's mouth descended. "I need a vacation."

Seven was unsure of the growing discomfort, but knew they would work it out. She took Dani's hand lovingly inside her human one. "Despite your high intelligence quotient and your heightened awareness, you are still a child, Eridani. Cappie remains home with you."

Dani twined her fingers with Seven's. "I wish it was you at home."

"I wish I could remain with you both as well. But I cannot."

Dani swallowed hard, a dread in her expression that Seven was sympathetic with. She had not always been comfortable with Kathryn. In the beginning they had been at odds and sometimes they still were. But the old tensions had given way to newfound respect and admiration.

"You enjoy it on occasion."

Seven had pecked the child's lips and tousled her hair. "You must sleep."

Seven brought Dani out her memories by tapping her shoulder with an index finger. "You must assist your mother."

Dani's eyes were wide as they met Kathryn's weary eyes. "You will adapt," she said, as if to both of them.

Seven gave Dani an affectionate peck, patting her on the shoulder one last time. She stood to her full height and offered a hand to Kathryn, who accepted it. At the front door, Kathryn glanced a Dani, who was punching keys in a padd while sitting lotus style on the couch across the room.

"It hasn't gotten any easier," she admitted. "I'm still scared to death of her, you know."

"As she is of you."

"That doesn't help, Seven."

Seven's hand against Kathryn's neck was warm. Kathryn leaned into the thumb strokes. Seven's whisper tickled Kathryn's ear, arousing her again, as if she hadn't been taken again and again in the last few days by this woman.

"You are sufficient for her needs, Kathryn."

"I think I'd rather face a Dresh warrior...naked...without a phaser than..." Her eyes darted to see the child smile at the padd.

"I would prefer you reserve exposing your pleasing bare form to no one's perusal but mine."

Kathryn pulled back to see nothing but a serious and implacable expression on Seven's lovely face. "I'll try to remember that," she said, a curl of a corner of her mouth told Seven she was being teased.

"See that you do." Seven dipped her head to find a hungry mouth waiting hers. Their lingering kiss was fiery and so overwhelming, that Janeway had to slip her arm around the ex-Borg to steady herself. The response took them both by surprise considering they believed they had quenched the sexual animals within last night and the previous seven nights since arriving.

Only after she closed the door behind Seven, did Kathryn turn to find Dani studying her with a surprisingly mature wry smile on her lips. "What?" Kathryn asked playfully.

Dani looked down at the padd. "Ah, nothin'." The girl shrugged, her pencil falling from behind her ear. "I just..." Dani looked out the window. "Like how my moms like each other."

Kathryn considered the girl for a moment longer, waiting for her to offer more information. She wondered especially at the longing in her voice. Misunderstanding her daughter, Kathryn said: "We love you, too, you know?"

Dani's little grin turned to a megaton smile. "Yeah."

Kathryn's heart began to pound when she considered the wisdom of the child. "My mother would say you're too smart for your own britches."

"That's funny, Cap," she said rising to leave her paper and pencil on the small table. "Geegee always said she had to remind you about that, too."

"It's a well known fact that grandmothers are a lot nicer than mothers." Kathryn held out her hand to the girl. "That's my way to ask you to help me clean up my mess."


Hanging the dishcloth on a hook, Kathryn looked around the kitchen. Everything was clean and in its place, except for Dani, who was sitting on the counter. Kathryn laid her palms on the two knees, squeezing them. "Thank you, Dani. It was much more fun doing it together."

"Can you play with me now?"

Kathryn really had to fight the urge to grimace to the question Dani asked about seven times a day. What did she know about playing with a seven-year-old? "Maybe later, sweetheart," she said mildly. At her daughter's disappointed frown, she hastily added: "How about we go into town?"

The girl brightened instantly. "To see Mom?"

Kathryn struggled to keep her lips curled. "No, I don't think we should. She's very busy."

"Oh," she said, looking down. "So what do you want to do?" Dani was worried that Cappie wanted to shop for tonight's dinner.

"I thought we could just..."

"Explore?" The girl's eyes brightened, as did Kathryn.

"My thoughts exactly!" She was relieved that Dani didn't want to shop for clothes.


In the bazaar, Kathryn delighted that she and Dani were drawn to the same kinds of objects like gizmos and exotic looking carvings. They both spotted a hanging whirligig, shimmering in the torchlight. Its metallic concentric spirals turned in the soft breeze making the silver bells tinkle. Blue orbs and geodesic beads spun inside tight coils of nearly invisible filaments. The wires hung in concentric circles from a silver saucer covered in holes of various sizes through which wind whistled quietly. The effect was a soft and mesmerizing visual and aural feast.

The pair stared at it in silence together. Dani reached up, letting one of the bells touch her palm, stilling the high tinkle. She drew back her hand and instantly the tinkling began low and slowly rose in pitch.

Kathryn smiled, as she took Dani's hand, drawing it to touch one of the wire spirals spinning in place. When their fingertips touched the cold metal, it began to vibrate slowly producing a soft tone that harmonized with the whistles above it. The wire also began to color shift from blue to violet and then yellow.

Both of them cooed with delight. With more confidence, Dani touched another swirl. The tinkle sliding between two notes before its crescendo complimented the other wire. The orbs changed from blue to red and then green.

Dani smiled at her mother, as if she had played the notes and brushed the pigments.

"What do you think would happen if we touched the other two wires?" Kathryn asked softly.

Dani's eyes widened as she turned to study the whirligig. "I don't know."

"Let's find out."

Kathryn urged her daughter to explore. They were both rewarded with a song of such sweet serenity and a light display so spectacular they did not notice the owner beside them.

"T'is a fair whirligig for two fair lasses," he said in a drawl.

Dani nodded, still unblinking as the wind chime intoned its hymn to mother and daughter. Never had she felt so close to Cappie.

Kathryn put an arm around Dani's shoulder, feeling connected to her as well in a way she had not anticipated that morning.

"How does it work?" Both Dani and Kathryn shared a look at their simultaneous question and then dissolved into soft laughter.

The owner was tall and wiry with red orbs for eyes and green speckled skin. One focused on each of them. "If I revealed me secrets, t'would be as good as pushing ye away. Ye would not buy from me." He stretched a finger out. "But I will share something of its riches. These little charms see how they float in the air. Put your palm under them."

Just as Dani reached up, the man shouted, "But don't touch it!"

Dani drew back, looking questioningly at Cap. "It's okay, darling."

She slowly raised her hand.

"Get as close as ye can, without touching it."

Kathryn nodded encouragingly at her daughter. When her palm was a whisper away from the spinning orb, a ring of red burst from the orbs equator. Bright golden rays of light shot out from the ring in all directions. "Wow!" she said, the red and gold deepening the strands of hair falling forward. "Did you see that, mom?"

"Beautiful," she whispered. "Absolutely breath-taking." Kathryn turned to the man. "How much for the whirlygig?"

The man rubbed his double chins. "Each person's color is unique. I have never seen those colors from another person before."

"Really?" Dani felt flattered.

"Perhaps your mother should try-"

"No, no," she tried to say graciously. "I don't think-"

"Oh, come on, Mom!"

Kathryn didn't know if she'd ever been called that before, but she decided she liked it. So she lifted her hand. "All right." The orb slowed its rotation. A blue ring circled the center of the orb and it shown with red rays.

"Ah," the owner said. "That's the one I know. How curious."

"Can we buy it?" Dani was nearly reaching up to take the chime from its hook when Kathryn asked the man again about the cost.

"One Palm and three Shades."

Kathryn wondered if he'd looked at their new native clothes and thought they were sleeping on credits. They should have bought second hand clothes, but Seven would not allow it. She looked to see an expectant Dani watching the chime spin wildly. The whirlygig was shifting to red and its notes sounded as if they were falling over each other in Allegro.

This is going to hurt, Kathryn thought. But she consoled herself with the idea that back in the Alpha Quadrant she had a large number of unspent credits and could indulge the girl there. But here, stranded on a desert planet, it was better to watch every Shade.

She put a hand on her shoulder and offered the girl an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, darling. But that's just too much. That could be-"

"You're not buying it for me?" Dani's look of shock took Kathryn off guard.

"It's simply too much money."

The proprietor leaned over to get the Captain's attention. "How about one Palm?"

She smiled politely. "The gesture is appreciated, but it is entirely too much money."

"But I want it," she whispered.

"And she can have it for eight Shades," the owner said, earning a frown from the Captain.

Anything over one Shade was too much, she thought. The funds she had left would barely be enough to cover meals until Seven's next paycheck. Kathryn shook her head sympathetically. "I know, Dani," she said, running her hand down the girl's hair.

"Not even for-?"

Kathryn pursed her lips, shaking her head nearly imperceptibly. "I'm sorry, Dani."

Dani looked back at the Whirlygig, tears stinging her eyes. Kathryn couldn't quite read her expression, but Dani was confused. Her Cappie never said no. But this Cappie didn't know the rules. The girl brushed at her cheek.

"Are you all righ-?"

"Seven Shades. My final offer."

Captain Janeway whirled on the man. "Thank you," she said curtly. "You are most kind. But we will not be buying the chime." When he lingered, she blasted a patented Janeway glare that had been known to fuse light through black holes.

The man raised his hands. "Fine. Do come again when you want to browse," he said sarcastically.

When Janeway looked back, the whirlygig was re-hung. Dani's arms were crossed across her chest and she was sitting on the floor with her back against a table. Dani could see Cappie's new brown leather shoes. A single tear fell on the tip, darkening the spot.

Cappie bent down, lifted Dani's chin, but she jerked herself away from the touch. "Hey," she said quietly. "What's going on here?"

"You don't love me," she said.

Cappie pulled her head back, watching the girl pout. If this were a petulant crewman or an insubordinate ensign, she'd have chosen the right word with the right inflection to snap them back to yesterday. Then Captain Janeway would have fortified them with a few steely words, just enough to sharpen the edges but not too much to shatter their mettle.

But a seven-year-old girl who was highly intelligent with wild mood swings was another matter entirely. Her lack of experience kept Kathryn off kilter, along with the knowledge that this child knew her in ways her crew did not. She witnessed Janeway's bad hair days, watched her lose her temper, watched her fall on her ass on the stairs and in countless other incidents where the Captain was not in control. I can keep the ensigns and the crewmen distant. I can maintain an illusion of total and complete command. But the child was different.

When Cappie didn't answer right away, Dani looked up at her, hurt there was no denial.

"I know you don't believe that, Dani," Kathryn finally said with a raised eyebrow for emphasis. "Because it isn't true."

She flicked her eyes away, but she felt Cap's fingertips on her knee. "I tell you what. Let me pay for the other stuff and we'll walk by the Plaza and toss a stone or two into the fountain. Then I'll make us some lunch at home. Does that sound good?" Kathryn stood up, offering her hand to the child. But Dani stood up on her own, careful to avoid brushing against her mother or looking her in the eye.

"I guess."

Kathryn was bewildered by the sudden mood change. But thought she'd come around at the fountain or after she'd gotten a bite to eat.

The check out line was long and Kathryn thought Dani was behind her. Ten minutes later, as Kathryn handed over a Palm and two Shades, she heard commotion behind her and then a shriek that sounded like her daughter.

Chapter 15: Fruition

Somewhere in an unclassified nebula, nearly two parsecs away, Voyager remained rudderless with a skeleton crew.

Acting Captain Chakotay was lying in bed, the warm body of a woman next to him. His hands were behind his head as he stared at the stars overhead through the porthole. He wished that the naked body next to him wasn't Samantha Wildman but Seven of Nine. Even if he wasn't thinking about his girlfriend, who'd been lost more than four months now, his responsibilities weighed so much on him the only effective sleeping aid had been sex. He wasn't using Sam and if he was, she was using him just as much.

He sat up, rubbing his eyes as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was hoping to sneak out of her quarters, because there would be unmitigated hell if she woke up. He thought back to the day he and the others found Samantha, along with Neelix and her daughter. To add three more to their small crew had been joy immeasurable to them. Tom and Tuvok had reported that everyone perished on the Mencari ship except the five.

The men reported they'd seen the Ket'zali strap her into a biobed, injecting her with substances. Her blood curdling screams had given Tom a few nightmares. Then they were separated.

The backup EMH had given the three a clean bill of health. But a few weeks later, Neelix had begun to complain to the Doctor about her growing aggression and mood swings. "She's not the same," he had declared to the medical hologram, which had promptly reported to the Acting Captain.

Chakotay had seen some of the aggression Neelix described, but he chalked it up to tension aboard the ship. No one had reported similar behavior from the other two survivors. In general, fuses were short, hours were long and vittles were tasteless. The burden of repairing the ship that had been so damaged was slowly grinding the crew into exhaustion. But they all kept on, because the thought of leaving even just one crewman here seemed to drive them into frenzied fits of rage.

Neelix insisted the Doctor perform another comprehensive medical exam considering how she'd returned from the ship. Only then had Neelix divulged that she'd materialized from the Eesh'tob naked in her quarters. He'd returned there to obtain more supplies for he and Naomi when he found her. He'd kept those circumstances under wraps because he feared they'd quarantine her.

Chakotay had been tempted to throw her in the brig a few times during their arguments about how long he worked, why she couldn't just move in with him, why he still had pictures of Seven in his quarters and why he avoided her when they were on duty. He thought she was just possessive and vaguely wondered if her husband had been happy to find out she'd been marooned in another quadrant of the galaxy altogether.

When the Doctor said her tests all showed normal, Chakotay decided he wasn't really ready to actually decide about their relationship. It suited him and he was willing to put up with her temper tantrums for now.

Just as Chakotay entered his own quarters at oh-five-hundred, a chirp was heard. "Captain Chakotay. This is the Bridge."

"Chakotay here. Go ahead Harry."

"We've found an intermittent beacon."

"One of ours?"

"You might say that. It's got Borg encryption codes."

"Hot damn!"

"One problem. It's nearly two parsecs away. On impulse that's nearly a six week journey."

Chakotay clenched his jaw. "Is there any imbedded message?"

"No. Like I said, it's intermittent. Sensors indicate that there is a lot of interference at the source. It could be the planet or other spatial anomalies."

"Is that it?"

"There's more. We're picking up a lot more beacons, now that the sensor array is back online."

"How many?"

"Two hundred thirty nine to be exact."

Chakotay ran his large, bronzed hands over his dark hair. "This is what we've been waiting for. Now if we only had the warp engines back online."

"Can't help you there, sir."

"No, but I know who can. Thank you, Harry and good work."


Later that day, Chakotay entered Engineering. The warp core looked like a toaster someone had gutted just to see how it worked. Nearly every access panel had been removed, conduits and relays exposed.

Lt. B'Elanna Torres was sitting on the floor next to an access panel, cursing in classical Klingon. She became aware of Chakotay's boots, but refused to look up. She was feeling a little closer to her Klingon half lately. "What do you want?" she growled sharply.

"My warp engine," he retorted.

She gingerly rested the isolinear expander on the counter and then hoisted herself up. Torres brought herself up to her full height, several inches short of Chakotay's. But a bad Klingon attitude closed the gap. "Do you think I'm on a picnic down here?"

"It's been four months." His obsidian eyes were unflinching and he met her angry gaze with one of his own.

"Nearly five," she corrected.

"So why is my damn warp engine offline?"

"Yours? Is this mutiny?"

"Why are you being difficult, B'Elanna?"


He held up his hand, spreading his fingers. "Five crewman were sent to help you-"

"I need trained engineers not suited monkeys!"

"You! You threw them all out on their asses-"

"Did you hear what I just said? I could do the work myself with the time to explain it to them."

"We need teamwork, B'Elanna! Not your goddamned cowboy heroics."

"Cowboy heroics?" Her face was contorted in rage and confusion.

"I've just gotten the news that we have nearly two-hundred fifty beacons. My people want to come home."

"You've got impulse!"

"They're too far away!"

B'Elanna crossed her arms, her tongue stabbing the inside of her cheek. "You know what? Janeway wouldn't've let that stop her."

"You don't know that."

"That's probably why she got Seven in that other universe."

"What did you say?"

B'Elanna raised her eyebrows, a flaming fury coursing through her Klingon veins. "I'll bet this Janeway got..." She wiggled her brows for emphasis. "This Seven, too."

It was too much! Chakotay reared a fist back. It landed on her jaw, while hers landed against his ribs. Then their kerfuffle became an all-out war.


Chakotay braced himself with one arm, as he stood in the entry. His uniform was in tatters, with slashes across his chest. His left eye was already swollen shut and his right eye was beginning to blacken. Small cuts crisscrossed his high cheekbones. His other arm was wrapped around B'Elanna. Her condition looked just as dire. Small starburst cuts were bleeding over each eye. Her hooded eyes were stinging and red from the blood-tinged sweat. She could barely stand.

"Have we been attacked again?" the Doctor asked, as he rushed to the entry to take B'Elanna before Chakotay fell over himself. To his surprise, D'goba reached around and hoisted him over her shoulders.

"Thank you, D'goba," the Doctor said, indicating a second biobed for Chakotay. "You're the best assistant since...well, I'd say since Tom Paris, but then I'd be wrong. And we can't have that."

He began to run a medical tricorder over B'Elanna's prone body. "Fractured ribs, multiple contusions, abrasions, torn ligaments..." The medical hologram snapped the medical tricorder closed.

"What has caused this?" D'goba asked, her tongue darting out nearly licking Chakotay.

B'Elanna caught Chakotay's self-conscious expression. "Ask the Captain," she hissed through split lips.

The Doctor grunted, as he turned to find Chakotay still sitting up. "Lie back, please."

He fell back, grimacing through clamped teeth. When the Doctor scanned up, D'goba scrutinized his body down. Then they shifted, as if they were in a dance.

"Well, you're just as bad as she is. Multiple fractures in the clavicle, black eyes, bruised ribs, cracked knuckles."

The Doctor immediately injected them with a hypospray. "That's for the pain. Though, if my suspicions are correct, you both should just have to be required to live with the pain."

He began to run the boneknitter over B'Elanna's ribs. "Well, Captain," he said. "As Chief Medical Officer, I expect an explanation."

"We had a disagreement," he replied.

"Barbaric," D'goba replied.

"I'd call that an understatement of cosmic proportions," he retorted.

"You hit me!" B'Elanna growled.

"You provoked me!" he replied.

"You hit a woman?" D'goba asked Chakotay, who ignored her.

"I can give you both a sedative," he replied, stopping the instrument in mid-air. "And I'll do it rectally for good measure." When they visibly relaxed, the Doctor nodded. "That's better. Now please give me the blow-by-blow without the histrionics."

Chakotay let his head slam back. His headache was back. "We disagreed about how fast she was working on the warp engine. She said something better left unsaid. I struck her."

D'goba hissed, turning a bright red. Chakotay narrowed his eyes on the unspoken commentary. Since the Mencari had been aboard, she'd not only recovered but had integrated herself into the operations so much that Chakotay had finally restricted her to sick bay.

The Doctor paused, his sarcasm drained. "Hmm," he said. "I've had quite a few cases of late regarding 'disagreements' that came to blows. I think the stress is becoming unmanageable."

"Brilliant deduction!" B'Elanna said.

"Furthermore," he said with a grim look at the ragged Klingon lying down. "I will begin reducing work days to eight hours."

Chakotay scrambled up. "You can't do that, Doctor!"

"Why not?"

"We've picked up the beacons," he said bolting upright. "Of our lost crew members. One has Borg encryption..."

"Borg?" D'goba said, her head swaying and her tongue darting. The pink saliva began to ooze out of her mouth, though no one really noticed unless they stepped into it.

"Two parsecs away," Chakotay replied. The pain reliever was finally taking effect. "Janeway-"

"The Captain!" D'goba shrieked. "And the child! We have found her!"

"It's not that simple, D'goba," he replied. "Warp..." he cast a furious glare to the Chief Engineer. "...Is still offline and by impulse it would take too long. I want her people in place before we..." Chakotay finally noticed D'goba's swaying tail. "What's the problem?"

"If we have picked up the Borg beacon, then so have the Evil Ones." Her lisp became more pronounced. "They will find them. They will slay them. They will not relent!"

"Which is why we need our crew complement," he said. He heard the whirring of the Doctor's tricorder. Then he noticed D'goba pacing. "Dammit, D'goba, I am the Captain now."

She stopped and stared at him. "Not mine, Chakotay. Not mine."

"Your blood pressure is elevated, Chakotay," the Doctor informed him.

"Damn right, it's elevated! I'm trying to patch together a battered ship with-!"

"I'm!" B'Elanna mimicked. "Me, mine, my, I...it's all about Chakotay!"

"With a handful of crewmembers...some more of a handful than others," he snarled, pointedly looking at the Klingon.

The Doctor lifted two hyposprays while the pair argued. After two hisses, they were both knocked unconscious. None were aware that D'goba had left sickbay.


The sound of Dani's shriek seemed to echo in Kathryn's head. Her hands were shaking and she felt like her legs were going to give way. God, it's Justin and Daddy all over again. The thought was automatic. The fear seized her in an icy grip around her heart. She'd watched them die. I'm a Starfleet Captain and my baby needs me!

She whirled about, leaving the purchased groceries bags on the counter with the bug-eyed cashier barking for her to take her stuff.

She darted in and out of people, her eyes panning right and then left methodically looking for her daughter's distinctive red hair. She caught glimpse of the flame and then of a tall, portly figure gripping Dani's arm and pulling her with him as he made his way forward. Dani was ashen complexion and large blue eyes brought Janeway to red alert. "What do you think you're doing with my daughter?" she growled, dropping into the readiness stance.

The man's skin was pale blue with his eyes completely yellow. His ears were long, but pinned to his rhomboid head. He wore a white uniform with a glinting golden four-fingered hand at his left breast. He whipped Dani around so sharply, she nearly stumbled. Her eyes grew larger when she came face to face with Cappie. Janeway's alarm began to give way to confusion when the man raised his finger with the whirligig hanging from it.

The persistent shopkeeper was close behind, his red eyes now impossibly carnelian and his skin mottled brown. He stepped into Janeway's personal space. "Was this your plan all along? Get your daughter to take this without paying for it?"

Janeway slowly lowered her eyes to Dani's. Her stricken look stirred an anger inside Kathryn she found difficult to suppress. "Dani, did you take this?"

Then Dani had the insolence to seem shocked that Janeway would ask that. Her eyes flitted around and then settled on her jittery fingers that were tugging her own blouse down. "Um, I really, really wanted it."

Janeway sighed, scratching her forehead. Then in a snap, she was Captain Janeway, turning to face her daughter's two accusers. "How can we make this right?"

"You can pay for it!" The shopkeeper shrieked.

She pinched a Palm between a finger and thumb. "I believe you said it was seven Shades."

"T'was before I had to involve the law."

She looked at the officer. "Are you a Peace Officer?"

"Aye," he said.

"I'm Kathryn-"

"O'Nine," he nodded. "We've established that mooch. Wit' price and fees, the grand total be three Palms, I'm afraid."

Janeway tried her best not to let the amount suck the air from her. She reached in her purse and gave him the entire contents of her pocketbook.

The officer handed the shopkeeper his single Palm coin, taking two Shades in change. He nodded to him as he walked away. One of the cashiers found Kathryn and shoved the bags into her chest. "These be yours, Mrs. O'Nine," he said in a huff. "We don't make deliveries."

She thanked the man, setting the bags down so she could arrange them for the trek home. As she did so, the Peace Officer grabbed her arm. Captain Janeway glared down at it, letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that it was unwelcome. "Here." The Officer held out the two golden and two copper coins, dropping them into Kathryn's hand. "You can keep these."


"I won't record this incident."

"And that means?"

"You owe the State nothing."

"Why would you do that?"

He glanced down at Dani. "You must be Eridani O'Nine?"

The girl recoiled toward Cappie, unable to meet his eyes. Janeway came to red alert again, ready to put herself between the man and her daughter. "Yes, she's Eridani and I'm her mother. How do you know who we are?"

The Officer held the whirligig out for her. "Then this now be officially yours, young lady. Properly purchased."

Dani's eyes lit up while Janeway frowned.

Janeway's face became stony. "Can you answer my question, Officer?"

He was watching Dani's awe of the gizmo, smiling to himself. "Ahh," he said finally remembering his manners. "I deputized Seven this morning," he said. "For Finn Commagees."


"In Gweelee City, we don't let just anyone wield authority, ye realize." The man rolled his "r's" just as Mr. Commagees had. Another Irish accent was portrayed by the universal translator.

"Well, I suppose not, but how did you know us?"

"Seven described you both to a 'T' and there are not many people here blessed with ruby hair and freckles."

Dani's groan of disapproval for the spots almost brought a smile to Kathryn's. But she was too upset with the girl to appreciate it. "Yes, they are unique."

"It's a good thing t'was me here, since I know ye. Utherwise..." He shrugged.

"Thank you, Mister..."

"Oh, how rude of me. I'm Officer Byth Apoda."

"Officer Apoda. It's a pleasure."

"The pleasure, Mrs. O'Nine, is mine. We are all quite taken with your Seven."

"She is quite brilliant."

"We don't know about that. But Seven is awfully strong. None of us could best her in arm wrestling," he announced. "She earned quite a few Shades today. Only a fool would challenge that one. She'll have to earn money the hard way."

Janeway shook her head, wondering what Seven was thinking. This wasn't a vacation.

He studied her troubled expression. "I hope I haven't gotten Seven in a pickle."

The comment startled her again, hoping that Seven did not reveal their true identities. "No, why would-?"

"You know how wives are," he said with a snort.

"Ah," she finally said. "Yes."

The Officer lightly tapped Dani's shoulder with a fist. "As for you young lady, remember, in Gleewee City, we watch our own. I'd tell you, Dani, m'girl, to stay out of mischief, but I think it runs in your veins. Have a good day now."


On their walk to their apartment, the pair was quiet. The Captain could see Dani admiring her ill-gotten gain while Kathryn carried all four of the heavy grocery bags. She wanted to stop in the Plaza to rest, but she didn't want to reward the girl for her misbehavior today.

Kathryn did have to stop at the ground level of the apartment complex before mounting three flights of stairs. She leaned against the wall, setting the bags on the floor. Not the wisest of moves considering the lack of cleanliness in the foyer, but her arms were numb and she was very fatigued just from the little jaunt.

Dani, oblivious to her mother's plight, was standing at the front door, singing quietly to the whirligig when Kathryn arrived, huffing. The veins on her hands were corded and she felt weak. She guessed her blood sugar was low from skipping lunch.

Inside, she lit the torches, after laying the bags on the kitchen counter. Dani was sitting on a table, looking out the window at the people below and glancing occasionally at the dancing and singing chime. When Kathryn shut the door, she closed the distance between Dani.

"All right," she said harshly. "Hand it over." She flexed her fingers at the chime.

Dani's surprised look was irritating to Kathryn. "But why?"

"Why?" It was times like these that she thought Dani was toying with her, which angered her more. "Because you took something that didn't belong to you. Because-"

"Yeah, but we paid for it-"

"Because you stole it!" Kathryn felt the sting of her own sharp words, but Dani was still holding the chimes back. The circular logic was making her head pound like a Bajoran drum.

"Because you disobeyed. Because-"

"It's not fair!"

Kathryn narrowed her eyes, but bit back a sharp retort. This was a child-her child. She inhaled deeply and asked, "Why is that?"

"It's not my fault we don't have enough money."

That's logos, Kathryn thought.

"Officer Apoda gave it to me."

That's ethos, she mused.

"And I thought you liked them," she whispered. "I thought it would be fun for us both to play music on them. Together."

Oh, shit! That's pathos! She's using me for her emotional plea. Just fantastic. Kathryn frowned and shook her head. "It doesn't work that way, I'm afraid. Under the circumstances you can't have it because it'll only reinforce your poor decision to steal."

"But I gave good reasons like you said, using Arispottle's tools."

"That doesn't mean you'll win the argument. That's probably another lesson today, painful as it is." Kathryn waved her fingers at the whirligig. "Let me have it."

"No," the seven-year-old whispered. "It's mine." She held it close to her chest.

A blast of fury shot up from Kathryn's belly, igniting a flood of images of taking the girl over her knee for a few good whacks on her backside. Then her temple started to throb, making one eye twitch. She reached up and massaged her it. She closed her eyes briefly.

A while later, Kathryn came to herself. She was lying on the floor and someone was weeping over her. "I'm sorry, Cap," Dani pleaded. "Please open your eyes."

Kathryn's violet eyes snapped open and the girl began to wail, filled with relief. Kathryn could feel that her blouse was wet around the neck. The woman sat up. Her head was spinning and still throbbing. "How long was I out?"

"I don't know," she replied. "A long time. I was scared."

Kathryn wrapped her arms around the girl. "I'm sorry, darling," she whispered. "It had nothing to do with you. It was..." She rubbed her neck where Sa'feer had injected her with a biogenic agent. Sometimes it ached, like today.


That incident was the start of a tug of war between Kathryn and her daughter. Kathryn began to demand more of Dani for her homework studies, while Dani naturally resisted it. Kathryn's symptoms became worse, prompting Dani to begin to believe her mother was pretending to be sick to get her daughter to play along. Though Cap hadn't passed out again as she did after the whirligig incident.

To make matters worse for both, Mr. Commagees was now requiring Seven to go into work earlier and to say later. He had discovered that the ex-Borg deputy in his restaurant was a popular attraction. His restaurant now carried reservations two months out and he wasn't going to waste any precious moonlight to make as much Palms as he could.

She'd gotten a raise, but that meant that she rarely got to eat breakfast or dinner with Kathryn and Dani. But at much later when she returned, Kathryn would sob on her shoulder and describing the latest parent-child battle.

After a particularly rough week, Seven informed Mr. Commagees that she would be entering work later, due to obligations at home. Though he'd threatened to cut her wages and cast her sorry metal-riddled carcass in the sun, Seven realized it was all bluster and she got her much-needed down time.

When the alarm beeped in the bedroom, Kathryn smacked it, moaning at the thought of another day of belligerent silence. When she rolled over, she bumped into the lanky curves of her lover. Kathryn pressed her naked body into Seven's, slowly grinding her downy soft triangle into the younger woman's bum. Her hand slid down her body, caressing the curves of her hip and then traveling back up. When she reached around to cupped Seven's munificent breast, the woman finally moaned.

"Surprise," Seven said in monotone into the pillow.

"What a delightful surprise," Kathryn whispered near her ear, creating an aroused ripple down the length of her.

Seven shifted her legs, an invitation for Kathryn's thigh to slip between them. "You are out of uniform and you are 'AWOL,' Seven of Nine," she whispered with a sultry heave punctuating the end.


"All wet without leave," she replied in a serious tone. "I expect a great deal more than that from senior officers."

Seven turned in her embrace, trying to lie as stiffly as possible. "I am guilty as charged," she replied, staring into Kathryn's moon-kissed violet eyes.

"Guilty as charged what?"

Seven tipped her head, unsure of the correct answer.

"God!" Kathryn said with an overdramatic jerk of her head. "What kind of officers is the Academy pushing out these days? The correct answer, O'Nine, is 'I am guilty as charged, Captain.'"

Seven nodded curtly, which was hard to do considering her ear was laying on a pillow. But she endeavored to pass this impromptu inspection. "I am guilty as charged, Captain Pips."

Kathryn's tiny grunt caught in her throat when Seven pulled her on top of the blonde. Kathryn braced herself on both arms, staring down at Seven's insolent expression.

"I am under your authority, Captain. I am also under your mercy and your naked body."

"I am a strict Captain, as you know," she said with a sharp tone. "The disciplinary action I mete out is swift and fitting."

"Yes, Captain." Seven cooed, feeling Kathryn's knee press up against her swollen and wet center.

"But most of all, O'Nine, it is unrelenting."

"I submit myself to your drive for perfection."

Kathryn's laugh was throaty and the vibrations teased the tips of Seven's breasts. "Now open your legs," she ordered.

"I will comply," Seven said. She moved her left aside while Kathryn continued to slide against the other, coating it with her own arousal.

"Good girl," Captain Janeway said. "Maybe I won't have to put you on report after all."

Kathryn trailed two fingers down Seven's body, swirling in the triangle patch before slipping up and down the seam of her sex. "Maybe you aren't completely hopeless," she whispered. Kathryn traced a kiss from her mouth to a pink-tipped nipple. When she sucked it into her mouth, the woman whimpered. In short order, Kathryn could hear Seven's shallow breathing and feel her pulse under the heel of her hand. She knew she was close and more than anything, she wanted them to unite in ecstasy. "Make it last, O'Nine," she whispered against her breast. She felt the woman begin to shake, a telltale sign of climax. But Kathryn yanked her fingers out. Seven's hip bucked up.

"Kathryn," she whispered.

"Make. It. Last." She repeated.

Seven sobbed. "Comply" was the only coherent word she could propel from her throat.

Kathryn's wet fingers slid around her thigh, teasing Seven unmercifully. Her hips jumped and gyrated, searching for those fingers. "Anxious are we?"

"Yes, Captain."

Kathryn lifted her wet fingers to her nose. "You smell wonderful," she replied. Then she slowly closed her lips around them, sucking Seven's moisture from them. "You taste heavenly."

Seven tugged her head side to side. "Please," she pleaded.


"Please, Captain."

Only then did Kathryn finally give in to her own urge. Her fingers parted Seven's slick and red lips and her mouth covered the swollen clit. Seven's long, sensual moans made Kathryn want to stay between her legs forever. She slipped three fingers in, but eased up the suction.

"I'm close." Seven's voice was gravelly.

When the tip of Kathryn's thumb touched the rim of Seven's ass, the younger woman's moans became panting sobs of want. Only then did Kathryn yield to her mercy. As she sucked, Kathryn's tongue played on the little head of Seven's desire. Three sopping fingers drew in and out, while a wet thumb slipped into her backside. A hoarse cry of release rushed out of Seven, her entire body shaking in time with the mind-bending spasms between her legs.

Kathryn swallowed the last of Seven's moans in a passionate kiss and then collapsed beside her. When Seven returned from on high, Kathryn was propped up on an elbow while the tips of her fingers lightly brushed the woman's arm.

She lifted her head and then let it fall back. "I believe," Seven said in her typically confident style, "that you are eager to 'bring home the bacon'."

Kathryn chuckled as she kissed Seven's creamy shoulder. "Oh, darling," she replied breathlessly. "I had no one to bring it home to before this."

The answer pleased Seven immensely so she rewarded her with another passionate and intimate kiss, despite the older woman's objection. "There's not enough time. Your daughter will be pounding on the door for breakfast any-!"

Seven sat up. Seven's lips were curled smugly as she admired the woman, lying naked before her. A single fingertip began to circle a tawny nipple, when Kathryn grabbed it. "No, Seven. I'm-"

There was a single bang at the door followed by a kick. The door crashed open, landing against the wall with a thud. "You're naked," Dani said with a hint of surprise. She looked between them, while Kathryn hurriedly pulled the sheets over them. "Hi, mom," she said to Seven. It wasn't often she saw her mother, especially at breakfast. "What are you doing? Is this a game? Can I-?"

"Good morning, Eridani," Seven said coolly. Kathryn had managed to cover her legs, but Seven kept her back angled toward her daughter, speaking over her shoulder. "We will meet you in the great room post haste."

"But I wanna play," she said, beginning to unbutton her pajamas.

"Eridani," Seven said evenly. "Please step outside the room."

Dani sighed. "All right," she said. "But hurry. I'm starving."

Seven was noting the deep crimson of Kathryn's face and shoulders. "You are scandalized."

Kathryn lifted her weary eyes. "Seven," she said, pointing to the door. "The door is open."

Seven tried to stand up, but Kathryn caught her wrist. "Ask Dani to do it."

"Eridani," she said. "Please close the door."

"Oh, sorry."

Kathryn puckered her lips just in time to welcome Seven's surprise kiss when she lowered the blanket. She brushed the auburn locks aside, admiring how they fanned out from her face like rays.

"You aren't the slightest bit embarrassed that she saw us...compromised."

"No. I doubt she is aware of what form of play we engaged in." Seven yanked the sheet from Kathryn's body, admiring her lover openly. "In any event, your daughter reports that she is malnourished."

Kathryn finally relaxed. "She must be going through a growth spurt or she has a wooden leg."

Seven's eyes snapped to Kathryn's, searching them for an explanation.

"She's always malnourished these days. The summation of my days lately can be found in two questions: 'will you play with now?' and 'when are we gonna eat 'cause I'm starving?'"

Seven raised an eyebrow, smacked Kathryn's ass cheek. "Proceed," she said imperiously.

Kathryn jumped out of bed, but her protest was licked away by an insistent and sizzling tongue.


When Kathryn emerged from the room, Dani shot off the table next to the window, where she had been perched. Kathryn frowned as she made her way to the kitchen, retrieving pans from the cupboards and drawing out food from the pantry. "Good morning, Dani," she said. "You're not supposed to be sitting there."

"It was only for a minute," she replied.

Kathryn shook her head, not wanting to ruin the glorious start to her day with another disagreement with a pint-sized sprite.

Seven was surprised to find breakfast time gloomy and sullen. Kathryn ate in silence, watching Dani the entire time. The girl ate as fast as she could while fixing her eyes on anything but her mother. "What are your plans for today?" Seven asked, wanting to draw them out.

When Dani kept chewing, Kathryn sighed and answered. "Today, we are going to help Mr. Commagees expand his mist system into some bedrooms," she replied. "He said his old bones are too rickety to mount the ladder."

Dani frowned.

"Eridani," Seven said. "You do not want to assist Mr. Commagees?"

"It's not that," she replied, saying no more than that.


That evening, Seven returned for dinner, finding the two she loved most in another tussle.

"Dani," Kathryn said, looking over a padd. "Your answers to the math problems are all wrong."

"Are they?" she said looking out through the window.

Kathryn dropped the padd to her side. "You'll have to redo them."

Dani didn't respond, nor did she hear her other mother walk in.

"Dani," Kathryn said softly, walking toward her. "Unless you want to spend some quiet time in your room tomorrow, you'll have to redo them."

"Okay," she finally said.

Kathryn lifted the padd within the girl's reach, waiting for her to take it. She cleared her throat, making Dani look back at her. Her blue eyes focused on the padd and then Kathryn's eyes. "Okay, I'll spend some quiet time in my room tomorrow."

Kathryn's lips thinned. When Dani turned back to the window, her mother pinched the bridge of her nose. "No," she replied. Kathryn had grown to hate that word. Two letters and it summed up the only conversations they ever had. Dani said one thing and Kathryn replied with the odious two-letter word. Nothing Kathryn tried seemed to unstick them from some stalement. Dani would dig her heels in and Kathryn would turn on her Starfleet training. "Go to your room," she ordered.

Dani ignored her mother and hummed a tune, still looking out the window.

Janeway's face hardened. "That's an order, Elizabeth Eridani Janeway!"

Dani slowly swiveled her face to meet Kathryn's. Her eyes were bloodshot and they caught sight of Seven, but it made no difference in her reaction. She yanked on the window blinds, pulling them down in a crash. She seemed to believe she had made some triumphant stand, but Kathryn didn't fall for the noisy distraction.

She raised her arm and pointed a finger toward her room. "Now!"

"It's not fair," she wailed to Seven on her way to her room.

Kathryn let her head lob forward, after Dani slammed her door. "Where the hell is my ship, Chakotay? It's been four months!"

Seven squeezed Kathryn's shoulder in comfort, as she walked to the window. She peered outside, seeing several children playing a game in the street in front of their apartment complex. She bent down, retrieved the blinds and replaced them above the window.

Then the blonde captured Kathryn in her arms and brought her close. Kathryn melted into the embrace. "I'm sorry you had to witness that."

"I am not," she replied, though Kathryn had given her detailed reports about their confrontations.

Kathryn looked up into Seven's searching eyes. "I'm tired."

Seven kissed the top of her head. "If you like, I will clean up, tuck Eridani in and meet you in the bedroom."


She opened the door noiselessly, stepping into the bedroom she shared with Kathryn. Her lover sat dressed in a nightgown on the edge of the bed, holding her Captain's uniform across her thighs. She was activating the comm badge. Its unanswered chirp was met with agonizing silence.

Seven made an intentional noise, catching the Captain wide eyed. "I have put the Garanian Bolite to bed," she said, unable to generate any other suitable comment.

Kathryn didn't look up, but she shook her head as she refolded her uniform. "I wish her effects were momentary and fleeting."

Kathryn lifted her eyes, but the look in Seven's expression paralyzed her. "Seven..." Her voice was filled with longing and regret. "I don't know what I'm doing..."

Seven knelt beside the woman, a hand soothing her thigh and another cupping her cheek. "Kathryn," she said. "You must not disparage yourself so. Eridani is growing. She is bright and happy-"

"But she wants you and not-"

"She is eight, Kathryn," she said, echoing comments she had heard Samantha Wildman use to explain Naomi's antics.

"But she's so...! Eight?"

"We celebrated her birthday fourteen days ago, Kathryn."

Kathryn pursed her lips, looking away so that Seven could not see the bewilderment. "I must have forgotten. My days blur together."

But they both knew Seven would now record one more symptom of the strange affliction she has no doubt contracted from the Ket'zali interrogation.

Kathryn sighed, pushing aside her growing fears about what lay ahead for them. "In any case, she is quite intelligent for her age," Kathryn said, closing her eyes and leaning into Seven's hand.

"She has experiences from the other universe of which we know nothing about. Her Cappie appears to have been a source of strife. The other Kathryn is not you."

"I wish I weren't me," she replied, hating the alien feelings of inferiority and failure. She felt like she was ten all over again.

"Your timelines differ. That is true," Seven said, still continuing to comfort Kathryn. "But Eridani brings along remains of that relationship."

"She lays it at my feet. And I don't know how to fix it."

Seven took Kathryn's face in both hands. "You are mistaken." Seven kissed her tenderly, her heart aching for the woman, who seemed so lost without her Starship. "She is not a member of your crew to mold, but your daughter to love."

Kathryn's tears were freely flowing and she snorted cynically. "She doesn't want it. We butt heads every day. She will hardly speak to me. She complains if I give her a chore and she fights her school assignments-"

"Kathryn," Seven whispered. "Samantha Wildman says the same of Naomi."

"Does she?"

"Indeed. They are children. Work is not their nature, be it chores or school."

"I made it worse today," she whispered, her hands on Seven's. "I ordered her to her room."

Seven pulled her into an embrace when Kathryn began to weep again. "Shh, Kathryn," she said. "She will survive your orders."

"Oh, darling," she whispered, half in sobs. "Did you see the look on her face? I thought I'd kicked her puppy and divorced you all in one day."

Seven wanted to note that there were no legal ties between them, yet, she enjoyed Kathryn settling into that illusion. That's all it was. When Kathryn was not under the emotional influence of an alien virus, when she was on the bridge of her ship, then she'd extract herself from their relationship. Voyager's approach would be the beginning of the end. Seven's miserable trajectory of musings kept her from hearing Kathryn's last statement.

"It all started with that damn wind chime," she said.

Seven could see the chime lying on a table in their room, deliberately kept from Dani to avoid rewarding delinquency. "My Kathryn," Seven said with the softest voice possibly. She rubbed the woman's back in large circles and cupped the back of her head. "You have made reasonable boundaries for the child."

"Then why is she so moody?" Kathryn sobbed, hating the tears. "And why does she write on the hall walls?"

"Did you not ask her?"

"Yes, of course. She said she thought it would be fun. Mr. Commagees was furious."

Seven closed her eyes. Her boss at work and his brother, their landlord, were a pair of living, breathing conundrums, both generous and stingy. She would deal with them with the only thing they appeared to understand. Money.

Seven sat beside Kathryn on the bed, placing an arm around her shoulders. "The first lesson in parenting we received from Eridani was that her superior intelligence must be channeled into productive endeavors."

Kathryn looked at Seven, staring at her for a long moment. "You think she's bored?"

"I believe that may be a part of it," Seven said, nodding. "Tonight, Eridani revealed that the other children in the building refuse to play with her."

Kathryn went pale. "Why didn't she tell me?"

Seven pulled Kathryn's shoulder close, small sobs renewing. "I do not know, Pips."

For the first time since they arrived on the planet, the couple did not make love before going to sleep. Instead they curled up in each other's arms. Kathryn wept bitterly while Seven tried to console her. Then they both slept.


In bed the next evening, Janeway propped herself up on an elbow and watched Seven stoop over the mobile emitter. She could see sparks fly in the dimly lit room and smell phosphorus. "What are you doing up so early?"

In answer, Seven activated the solder. Orange sparks kicked up and the faint smell of flint reached Kathryn on the bed.

"You're not done with that thing yet?"

Seven raised herself up, setting the solder down in a very precise manner after she'd deactivated it. She arranged the pieces being repaired inside the device and closed it. She stood up, turning to look down at Kathryn, whose creamy shoulders were peaking above the long fur coverlet.

Without breaking eye contact, she unfastened her belt. The blouse fell open to reveal her large endowments. She let the material slip from her shoulders as she shoved her pants and panties down.

Kathryn flipped over the covers and Seven crawled in under them, scooting to press her long, naked body against the Captain's. Seven stroked her hip down her thigh and up, but made no attempts at touching her breasts. "What are you doing, Seven?" Kathryn said in a gravelly voice.

"I believe we usually brainstorm prior to and following making love. I have grown to expect it and appreciate its surprising ability to elicit creative solutions."

Kathryn pulled back. "I like cuddling, too."

"I believe this form of interaction should be introduced at the senior staff-"

"You are being ridiculous," she replied playfully against her neck.

"Perhaps," Seven allowed, stroking Kathryn's shoulder blades with her palms.


That day, Kathryn changed her tack, taking Dani outside with her to tend the garden on the roof and just to get out in the Plaza. The instances of defiance lessened, but it did little to mitigate the growing health problems Kathryn was experiencing.

One morning, Dani came in from the roof garden. Her face was adorably dirty as she stood against Kathryn, peering over the pan, after she'd deposited several ripe red phalanrees on the counter.

"Did you give Mr. Commagees his phalanrees?" Her mother asked.

Dani frowned. "Yes." Her answer was an extended scale of notes that rose and fell several times.

"I'm not the one who added perfume to his misting water," Kathryn said, pointing a big plastic stirring spoon at her daughter.

Dani crinkled her nose. "He smells funny."

"The perfume stung his eyes, darling," she explained.

"I said I was sorry."

Kathryn dropped the spoon. "You're right. I just wanted to know if you gave him the vegetables. And wash your hands, young lady."

Another protracted "yes" ensued, along with an "okay." Scrubbing her hands with soap, she wiped her cheek with a shoulder, smearing dirty there. "But I wish he'd call me Dani and not 'me guppy.'"

"I think it's absolutely adorable," Kathryn said with a warm smile, as she began to chop ofufo.

"Hmm," Dani replied, flicking her hands until they dried. "He calls you Kat."

She whirled around, her eyes a glow with surprise and the corners of her mouth tremulous. "He what?"

"Kat," Dani said again.

"Not Kate?" Which Janeway found would have been infinitely more tolerable than Kat.

"Mee-yow," Dani replied with a smirk, knowing her mother's fondness for canines.

"We'll see about that," she muttered.

"I think it's absolutely adorable," Dani said in perfect mimicry of her mother.

Kathryn turned to smack the girl's butt, but she'd zoomed out of the kitchen. After a few minutes, Dani came back, leaning against a wall separating the kitchen from the living room.

"What're you doing anyway?"

"Warming up the pan for dinner. Your mom should be along any minute."

Dani spied the stobey liver shining red and juicy on the plate. "Um, can we meet mom at the restaurant instead?"

"I don't think that's a good idea, Dani."

"Why not?"

"Because it takes money to feed us. It isn't free."

Dani's eyes became giant moonlike orbs. "We don't go that often and I hardly get to see Mom. This way..."

Janeway looked at the liver, not feeling like eating it either. "All right, let me put this away. Go get finished cleaning up." Dani had already dashed across the room before she was finished talking. "And we're having this tomorrow night," Janeway shouted to a slammed bedroom door.


Kathryn and Dani's journey to understanding started that evening on the way to Mr. Commagees' restaurant with an unfortunate but victimless accident near the Plaza. As they made their way slowly through the crowd, they entered the Grand Square from the south. The night stars were twinkling and, for once, Captain Janeway noticed not a blinking star she believed to be Voyager, but the hand that slipped into hers.

The pair stopped to watch a construction crew loaded a large transport using pulleys and a cantilever to lift on to the transport bed, which looked as big as the Delta Flyer. After loading the vehicle, one of the men shouted for the driver that it was time. Instead of easing the anti-gravity transport slowly into motion, he accelerated so quickly the boxes fell off behind him. The men shouted for him to stop but he barreled through the town gates before they reached him.

A supervisor's shout echoed through the canyon, as he threw some ropes at the men. He was berating the crew with colorful language that the universal translator had difficulty interpreting.

"What'd they say? I didn't understand that?"

"Oh, neither did I, sweetheart," Kathryn lied. A small white lie is a mother's prerogative, she consoled herself.

Dani studied the scene long after the dust had cleared and passersby had gone their way. "Why did the boxes fall off? And why aren't we flattened against the hull of Voyager when it jumps to warp?"

Kathryn thought she heard a choir of angels singing somewhere. Perhaps it was true. Science and mathematics are the universal language. "Actually, darling, questions about motion have baffled philosophers on Earth from the beginning."

"Like Arispottle."

Kathryn laughed, draping an arm around the girl's neck. "Yes, exactly. The Aristotelian theory of motion proposed..."

Dani liked it when Cap didn't talk down to her, so she smiled receiving a brilliant one in return.

"...Everything held a natural attraction to its own kind. Earth to earth. Water to water. Stardust to star dust. Freckles to pretty girls..." Kathryn's fingertip tweaked Dani's nose.

Dani frowned, grabbing her mother's finger. "Freckles are yucky," she intoned.

"Yours aren't," Kathryn declared. "They're absolutely adorable." Dani intoned the same last two word, screwing her face and wrenching the raspy word from her throat.

Kathryn chuckled, remembering how she used to detest her own freckles. "You're really lucky," she said. "I had millions-mega-millions-more than you do. You only have a one or two."

Dani covered her ears with her palms, turning back to watch the crew guide the transport driver back to reload the boxes.

Kathryn lightly tugged the girl's hands down. "All right, Dani. No more freckle talk. Now where was I?"

"Stardust to stardust..."

"Oh, yes. Thank you." As they watched the crew load each box, Kathryn continued. "So boxes-made of wood or earth-went..."

"Down," she said.

"Yes, or so Aristotle thought. And fire went..."


"According to that theory, yes. But it's wrong." Kathryn detailed Newton's breakthroughs. By the time they'd found themselves in front of Mr. Commagees' restaurant, Kathryn had just finished rounding out Newton's Laws of Motion to a rapt audience of one.

The hostess made the pair wait outside while she retrieved Seven, since Kathryn and Dani rarely visited, the other staff usually were unfamiliar with who they were.


As Seven and the hostess threaded through the restaurant toward the door, Seven stopped. She abruptly grabbed the woman's arm before they could be seen.

"What?" The hostess was a young woman, whom Mr. Commagees called "cheeky, but a looker nonetheless."

"Remain here one moment," Seven said in that Borg finality that most beings found grating.

The hostess began a harangue about how annoyed she was and tried uselessly to break free from Seven's grip. But Seven had shut the woman out. She was too enthralled with the scene before her. Kathryn and Dani were talking, both smiling intermittently. They appeared to be enjoying each other's company, for which Seven was wholly grateful.

"Proceed," Seven ordered.

The woman huffed back to Mr. Commagees, who listened and licked his lips. Meanwhile, Seven presented herself to the pair.

Chapter 16: Viral Fear

As Seven and the hostess threaded through the restaurant toward the door, Seven stopped. She abruptly grabbed the woman's arm before they could be seen.

"What?" The hostess was a young woman, whom Mr. Commagees called "cheeky, but a looker nonetheless."

"Remain here one moment," Seven said in that Borg finality that most beings found grating.

The hostess began a harangue about how annoyed she was and tried uselessly to break free from Seven's grip. But Seven had shut the woman out. She was too enthralled with the scene before her. Kathryn and Dani were talking, both smiling intermittently. They appeared to be enjoying each other's company, for which Seven was wholly grateful.

"Proceed," Seven ordered.

The woman huffed back to Mr. Commagees, who listened and licked his lips. Meanwhile, Seven presented herself to the pair.


They were seated in the third best table in the house. It was crescent moon-shaped booth, facing a sand sculpture in the restaurant's pavilion. They ordered their usual. Kathryn was showered with Gweelee coffee from Mr. Commagees himself, while Seven sipped their finest honey mead. Dani alternately blew bubbles with her straw into her Gweelee dew and then slurped it loudly.

Kathryn turned her head, frowning. It had been such a lovely walk over, she wasn't going to break the spell because of a one, okay ten, little breaches of etiquette.

"I am most pleased to see you here," Seven said. "It was unexpected, but pleasantly so."

"My idea," Dani announced with a self-satisfied beam.

"You are very thoughtful," Seven whispered. "Thank you."

"Welcome," she said with the straw still between her teeth. She was about to blow more bubbles when Mr. Commagees appeared with the food.

"Here is the chef's finest rymic avkaris-medium rare-just the way our Mrs. O'Nine likes it," he said, setting the plate down in front of Kathryn. The grill marks were blackened across the grain of the meat. The pantoonie vegetables sported the same feature.

Before he'd serve anyone else, Kathryn had to take a bite of the meat and declare it the best thing she'd ever tasted in her entire life in any quadrant of the galaxy. While she was still chewing, Mr. Commagees patted her back. "Well, Kat?"

Kathryn stopped chewing and glared at him.

"That good, huh?" he said, misinterpreting her glare. "I knew it!" Then in a whisper, he added: "But don't tell Reather, your chef. He'll want a raise."

Dani ordered her usual rake and carold while Seven ordered the chutgris tenderloin with carold.

Dani had hardly touched her food when she declared she was full.

Kathryn sighed heavily but held herself from commenting.

"How can you be sated?" Seven asked her daughter.

"Dunno," she said, watching the bartender, who was cleaning up from the night's take. "Hey, Mom. Is that Partoom?"

Partoom had performed magic tricks at their table once before, a few months ago. He was watching her, smiling and flipping his clear mead mugs in the air and catching them behind his back.

"Yes, that is he." Seven found Partoom's antics tiresome. His repertoire was limited and his comic timing was clumsy. But he seemed to be a natural clown for the still evolving mind, such as Dani's.

"Can I go..." Her question was addressed to Kathryn, who was pointedly looking elsewhere. So Seven answered affirmatively for her.


The couple continued to eat their dinners, while Dani sat at the bar stool, watching Partoom's shell-and-pea game.

As she slowly chewed her food, Kathryn considered Dani, watching her squeal in delight and clap at his antics

Seven's watched the woman intently, gratified to have a moment alone with her outside the bedroom. "What do you puzzle out, Kathryn?"

"Have you noticed that Partoom looks like Tom Paris?"

She turned, laying her arm across the bench back behind Kathryn. "I had not realized the similarities, but it is quite...alarming."

"Yes, that there could be two in the galaxy..." She raised an eyebrow for emphasis.

"At the very least two. Assuming the current ratio of one per quadrant, there may be a total of four."



Kathryn took a sip of coffee, gently cradling the cup with both hands. "I think Dani has a crush."

"A crush? As in...?"

"Puppy love?" she said, emphasizing the first letter of each word. She rested her chin in her hand. "A blooming fascination with the opposite sex."

Seven chewed several bites. "Would she not be homosexual as we are?"

"Not necessarily," Kathryn said, watching as Dani looked under a cup to find a disappearing mark. "Studies show only ten percent of any given population favor same sex interactions. Maybe Dani fits somewhere within the ninety percent."

Seven let her arm slip down, gently running her fingers through the back of Kathryn's hair. "If she were to manifest as heterosexual, would you be disappointed?"

Janeway did not speak for a long while. "I think that if Dani were kind, brilliant, happy and well loved-regardless of whether she loved male, female or Ferengi-I'd be proud of her."

"What if she loved Tom?"

"Seven!" Janeway said with mock seriousness. "That's where I draw the line!"

Seven did not smile as she watched Kathryn's apparent disgust assert itself. Then she turned to study Partoom again, with an adoring eight-year-old drinking in his every move. "He does indeed bear a remarkable resemblance to Lt. Paris. Perhaps they share some genetic makeup."

"Or perhaps the Creator has a twisted sense of humor," Janeway added with a sarcastic snort. "In any event, Dani comes by her taste of blonds honestly."

Seven slowly turned her head, widening her eyes, an invitation for Kathryn to elaborate.

Janeway touched a finger to Seven's dimple, letting it slide along the strong jaw line. Then she kissed the full lips that had parted for her. "Her mother is partial to blondes, too."

Seven arched a brow. "How many blondes are you partial to exactly, Kathryn?"

She made a show of perusing the workers who were closing up the bar. She rested her chin in hand, lifting a single clawed finger with the other. "One. I am only partial to one and her name is Seven of Nine."

She spread her lips in a rare and satisfied full smile. "You shall be magnificently rewarded for answering correctly, Kathryn."

"Will I?" Her voice was already gravelly.

"Yes," she nodded seriously. "I believe it is important to stimulate..." Janeway's moan was suggestive agreement. "The proper respect for learning."

Janeway let a finger circle the lip of her Gweelee coffee mug. "It sounds as if the oral arts...are also promoted, professor." Kathryn's eyes flicked up to Seven's, where she could see desire's conflagration.

"And most vigorously, Kathryn" she added. "We are unerringly strict to the adherence of standards." Janeway raised an eyebrow, as if in genuine interest. "Precision is sought, even if the student must repeat her lessons."

"Sounds like my kinda place."

Seven felt warm at the sight of Kathryn's wickedly smile.

"I am most pleased that you wish to serve under me."

She gathered Seven's hand. "The pleasure is all mine, darling." Kathryn kissed her knuckles. "Thank you."

"For what do you thank me?"

"Everything," Kathryn said, in serious expression. "For the vote of confidence, especially."

Seven watched Kathryn kiss her hand again. "You are very welcome, Pips."

Kathryn frowned, dropping her hand and turning to face forward. "Pips," she mumbled disagreeably. She took a long drag of her Gweelee coffee, smacking her lips as she slammed it on the table. "That's good."

Seven leaned in, nuzzling her ear. "There is a direct correlation between the amount of Gweelee coffee you consume and the level of arousal you express."

Kathryn patted Seven's cheek. "Is that a complaint?" she whispered.

"An observation," she clarified.

Kathryn held Seven's eyes, seeing such adoration reflected there it nearly frightened her. She wasn't sure she deserved it or that she could remain worthy of it. For whatever reason, Kathryn feared losing it and the thought made her chest constrict.

Mr. Commagees intrusion was welcomed by Kathryn, just to sidetrack the frightening thoughts. He set another Gweelee coffee down in front of her.

"Oh, no, Mr. Commagees," she said. "I'm done."

"What? Ye've hardly met your quota!"

"I need my wits!" She explained that she was going to conduct experiments with Dani to explore Newton's three Laws of Motion. Kathryn laughed at Seven's enthralled expression. "What?"

"Does this signal a new era of détente?"

Kathryn's eyes brightened and her lips curled into a soft smile. "I certainly hope so," she replied.

"Were ye having trouble with your lassie?" Mr. Commagees said, turning to watch her giggling with Partoom.

"Oh, it was just your ordinary mother-daughter tussles," she replied, trying to downplay in front of Seven's boss.

"Ah," he said. "Well, here's me advice. Just ask yerself, 'Is this the hill I want to die on?' Me misses and me, we've raised four hundred guppies. All of them, happy and healthy because we pick our battles carefully!"

Kathryn smile was shaky. "Mr. Commagees," she said graciously. "You and your wife must be geniuses. I believe she shared that with me one day and it has made all the difference. Thank you."

He took his mug back, downed it himself and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. "Be right back, lass."

Seven traced over Kathryn's profile, from her twinkling eyes to her glorious smile.

When she felt the heat of Seven's study, she faced her. Seven felt Kathryn's breath on her face when she asked, "What are you looking at?"

"The change in your relationship with Dani has been beneficial," she replied. "Harmony has solved many of our worries."

Kathryn's smile dimmed and she looked away. "Yes, it certainly has," she said, folding her napkin in her plate so she could stand. But Seven caught her arm.

"How are you feeling?"

She thought about lying to her lover. She wasn't always around to catalogue every new symptom or measure the severity of the old ones. Yet, somehow, Kathryn felt comforted that Seven wanted to know about it. "It's worse," she said flatly, unable to look at Seven. "I can't see color anymore. Just black and white. And my clumsiness has increased."

Seven pulled Kathryn close. "I will find a way to repair the mobile emitter," she whispered close to her ear. "I will not allow you to be harmed in any way."

Kathryn pecked her lips, and then leaned her head on her shoulders. "Thank you, darling."

Just then, Mr. Commagees waddled from the back of the restaurant with a small yellow wagon in tow. "Will this help yer science experiments?" he asked, presenting four-wheeled cart.

Kathryn brightened. "Oh, Mr. Commagees, you are too kind!"

"Glad to help out such a beautiful family," he replied. Seven knew that his benevolence was anything but. He would squeeze more hours out of her later, away from Kathryn's hearing. But she was willing to pay if it meant this small gesture. "I recommend that you take this through Arpy's Lane, just off the main square, due west. Go the entire length and when you come to a rusty iron door, keep going. Down four flights of stairs and you'll be in the bedrock of Guadalquiver. Smooth limestone down the gulch for ye to ride in the wagon."

He also explained that the Guadalquiver had been a might river at one point in history, but it was dammed in ancient times to supply Gweelee City with potable water from the mountain peaks twenty kilometers north.


Pushing through the iron-gate, the trio found themselves standing on a mesa where they could see for kilometers in every direction. There were other mesas divided by deep valleys. In the distance, the star-sparkled black night was lightening to pink.

"It's breathtaking," Kathryn said, feeling a chill from the breeze. She wrapped her arms around herself.

Dani turned in a complete circle to behold the scene. "Yeah," she said. "Can we go now?"

"Let's enjoy the view for a bit longer, hmm? We have plenty of time."

Dani frowned, but wasn't about to make a scene. Nothing could be worse than turning back now. So she folded one leg in the wagon and pushed herself with the other, pretending to be the U.S.S. Dauntless on a recon mission.

Seven came up behind Kathryn, who was facing the sunrise. She wrapped her arms around the woman. Kathryn covered Seven's hands with her own. "You're core temperature is falling," Seven said.

Kathryn chuckled. "Oh, Seven. You say the most romantic things!"

"It was not meant to be amorous," she replied matter-of-factly.

"With this view, darling," she whispered, "it should be."

Seven wanted to tell the woman she loved, a feeling she thought she understood until now. Instead, Seven brushed Kathryn's hair from her neck, touching her lips to the corded muscle she found there.

"Much better," the older woman cooed.


Down in the dry riverbed, Cappie gestured for Dani to bring the wagon close. "All right, Dani. We are going to learn about Newton's three laws of motion." She climbed into the wagon, scooting to the back of it. Then she gestured for Dani to join her. Dani climbed in, sitting between Cappie's legs with her back against her mother. She pulled the handle toward her and waited expectantly.

Seven stood to the side with her arms folded, watching them.

"Okay, Cap," she said.

But still they waited. Dani finally managed to turn enough to allow one eye to look at her mother. "Aren't we gonna move?"

"Not yet," she declared.

"Isn't this a 'speriment in motion?"

Kathryn chuckled. "Yes, of course. We are exploring Newton's First Law of Motion."

"But we're not moving!"



Kathryn squeezed the girl's middle. "Newton's First Law is the law of inertia," she explained. "An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by a force."

"Hmm," Dani said dejectedly. "I think the First law is boring."

"Newton's Second Law of Motion is this: acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass."

Dani curled her hands around the wagon handle again.

Kathryn glanced at the tall blonde watching them from the sideline. "Okay, Andy," she called. "I believe you agreed to be the force to act on our mass."

"My pleasure," she said as she bent over to take hold of the back of the wagon. "Brace yourselves." With Borg enhanced thrust, Seven pushed them hard. The wagon began to speed away down the riverbed limestone.

"Weeee!" Dani shouted, her strawberry locks flying backward. "The second law is way more fun!"

"Yeah, it is!" Kathryn agreed.

Seven began to jog after them for several long meters. She reached them just in time to see the wagon hit a rock and the pair go tail over teakettle, with Kathryn falling on Dani, who braced her hands against limestone. But Kathryn took the brunt of the tipped wagon on her back. When Seven arrived to lift the wagon, both of them were giggling in each other's arms. Limestone had generously painted their brown clothes and hair with white dust.

Seven crouched down to watch the pair. "Why do you express amusement?"

"Hello, darling," Kathryn said, opening her eyes and offering her hand for a lift. Seven obliged, helping Kathryn stand. The older woman was still chuckling as she patted the white soot from her rear end. Seven had lifted Dani from the back, bracing her under the arms.

"That was fun!" Dani declared, holding her palms up. Blood drops where she'd skinned her hands contrasted grossly against the white dust.

"You are injured," Seven replied, trying to take the hands in her own.

Dani wiped them on her butt. "I'm ready for another lesson!'

Kathryn reached for the girl's hands. "You're hurt?"

Dani showed her palms, the blood smeared where she'd attempted to wipe them clean. When she saw the persistent red, Dani snatched her hands away from her mother's grasp and licked them clean. She presented them perfectly clean with minor scrapes.

"Oh, sweetheart," Kathryn said distastefully. "Tongues are not for cleaning wounds."

"What wounds?" she replied with a grin. "Let's go again, mom. C'mon."

She slipped her hand into her mother's, trying to tug her toward the upright wagon. Kathryn tugged back. "Hold on, there, Speedy," she teased. "We have to finish with the First Law."

The girl groaned. "Not again," she complained.

"The second half of the first law states: an object already in motion will stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force." Kathryn reached down and picked up the offending pebble. "This is the outside force that stopped our motion."

"But what a ride!" The girl grinned brightly. "Can we do it again?"

Kathryn shook her head. "Not yet. We're still talking about the First Law."

The girl groaned, but Kathryn playfully tugged her arm. "Think, now, Speedy," she said. "The law states that what goes in motion stays in motion. The wagon was stopped by the pebble and by friction. But what happened to us?"

The girl's smile widened. "We fell forward."

"Yes, we had no choice but to obey Newton's first law," she said. "We remained in motion until the planet stopped us."

"It was fun," she reiterated. "Can we do it again now?"

Kathryn glanced at an amused expression to Seven, who responded in kind. "No, not yet. We need to look at the Third Law now."

"How many laws are there?" Dani asked, letting her arms fall straight down and bending over slightly, as if her shoulders were burdened somehow.

"Just three."


Kathryn placed her hands on her hips, reminding Seven of the Captain on her bridge in her element. From the gleam in her eye, Seven knew that her lover was enjoying the day every bit as much as the eight-year-old. "Andy," she said, slipping in so easily to the nickname now without much thought. "Did you bring the balloons?"

Seven produced two balloons from her pocket.

Kathryn took the red balloon, a habit that amused Seven because of its link to the Starfleet Command Structure and uniforms. "What?" Kathryn asked, noting the mirth in Seven's otherwise placid features.

"You chose red," she said. "Pips."

Kathryn glanced at the balloon just as she was about to blow into it. "So I did."

"Can I blow the blue one?" Dani asked her mother.

Seven handed her the deflated rubber orb.

Dani's cheeks puffed out and her face became a beet red as she tried to inflate it. Finally, she looked at it. "It's broken."

"May I, Eridani?"

Dani handed it to her mother and then growled when it blew up.

"Darling, don't tie your balloon," Kathryn instructed. Then she handed Dani the blue balloon. "All right now. We'll let go of both balloons together. Don't throw it, mind you. Just let it go. We'll see what happens."

The red balloon floated down while the blue balloon zipped around them randomly until it landed emptied of air. The red balloon eventually popped as it settled to the ground. Kathryn explained the application and she could see that Dani was enthralled. "Science is neat," she replied with a grin. "Thanks for showing me, Cap."

Kathryn put an arm around the girl and squeezed. "You're very welcome."


The sun was beating down, heating the air and the trio was glad to find their way back to the main square. Most everyone had gone in doors to sleep, but there were a few shops remaining. "I'm thirsty," Dani said, flopping down on a table near the fountain.

"Me, too," Kathryn admitted. "Will you be all right here or do you want to go with-"

Dani put her chin in her hand. "I'm tired."

Kathryn was also feeling the exertions of the day. She felt as if she were going to keel over at any minute, yet, the thought of spending a few minutes alone with Seven would be enticement enough to remain on her feet. So Kathryn grabbed Seven's hand, smiling at her in wonder-delirious, flagrant enchantment.

Seven allowed her hand to be taken, while she spoke to their daughter. "We shall be just..." When she caught sight of Kathryn's unrestrained affection, her words faltered as she fell into the violet eyes. She met Kathryn's transfigured expression of love with one of her own and before she could measure her response, Seven offered a guileless response of her own. She pressed their lips together. It was not a kiss long enough nor deep enough to even begin to quench the fire within Seven. But as an expression of the burn, it did bring a sweet, wistful yearning to both them.

Dani happened to look up when her mother grew silent. She smiled at their simple affection before pain cinched her heart. She wished her own parents had the courage to share more moments like this.

As if the momentary interlude had been a routine chore, Seven resumed talking exactly where she left off. "...A few meters there," Seven pointed to an al fresco shop. But neither her lover nor her daughter believed that Seven thought the exchange was as prosaic as that.

Dani spied the rock-hewn store, with a brown awning stretched in front. "Can I have candy, too?"

"We shall see," Seven said.


Kathryn slipped her arm in Seven's. "What a beautiful day," she replied, inhaling deeply.

"You seem content," she said.

"Oh, I am," she replied. "It's nice to see progress, at last."

"She shares our need to explore."

Kathryn squeezed Seven's arm in affirmation. "And our need to understand why."

"Noble characteristics for a future scientist."

"But damned frustrating in a child," Kathryn replied with humor.

Seven had been scanning the sky as it faded to yellow. The temperature had already risen to twenty-five degrees Celsius. Fat puffs of cotton in the west were churning, being consumed by the yellow giant of the planet's sun. "Look, Kathryn," she whispered, pointing to the clouds.

"Oh," she replied. "I miss rain. And daylight."

"Yet life here is not unlike life aboard a starship."

"Yes, but at least we had a holodeck," Kathryn replied with faint amusement.

Seven pivoted toward Kathryn, taking the woman in her arms and cupping the back of her head. Seven felt the luxurious, silkiness of the auburn hair. "I have lived both in the reality of the natural world and the artificial environs of a Borg cube," she whispered. "Aboard a Starship and now on a desert planet. Heretofore, my existence has been but a mere shadow." Seven's parted lips descended on Kathryn's, capturing them in a tangle of tongues. "Until now."

Kathryn surprised herself by slipping her arms around Seven's neck, abandoning good sense to match Seven's ardor. She closed her eyes, feeling light headed and lost in the senses of Seven's breasts smothering hers, Seven's breath on her cheek, Seven's hot tongue swirling in her mouth and Seven's hand circling her back. Then suddenly there was blackness, followed by Seven pressing her close to her body.

"Kathryn," she whispered. "Are you well?"

Kathryn opened her eyes. The sun was higher and she realized her feet were not supporting her weight. When she finally settled on her own legs, she pulled away. "What happened?"

Seven studied her intently. "You lost consciousness," she said gravely. "Briefly," she added hastily to the worry in her eyes. "Mere minutes."

Kathryn laid her head on Seven's shoulder. "Minutes," she whispered. When she'd steadied herself she gently pushed away from Seven's body. "You see what you do to me, darling?"

Seven's pressed her lips together, fending off her first, and likely accurate, retort that Kathryn's reaction was more symptomatic of disease and not conjugal bliss. "I thirst," she merely replied, settling her hand against the small of Kathryn's back.


Dani watched them walk hand in hand to the store, stopping once to look at a cloud going by and then to kiss. Yes, she really did like these parents better. They were more attentive to each other and to her. She felt her throat constrict to think of her real parents, both gone forever.

Her emotions were so deep and troubled, she did not notice when she was surrounded by five girls from her apartment complex. They were all of the same species, except the alpha female. Four of the girls had green skin with lithe bodies and their voice was rippled in buzzing that irritated Dani's ears. The pack leader, a girl named Nessa, was more humanoid, cinnamon coloring and defined muscles where her tan dress did not cover. Nessa's almond green eyes narrowed on Dani.

"Hey," Nessa said with a nod of her pointy chin.

Dani cupped an eye from the rising sun and tipped her head. She wasn't sure what kind of greeting that was. It was non-standard and she wasn't sure she liked it. "Hello," she replied.

One of the girls behind Nessa-one with a teal dress that draped thin from her shoulders, and flared at the knees-seemed to scoff at her greeting. "Like, are you so literal?" Her words were shrill and punctuated with sarcasm that didn't register with Dani.

Dani's Borg implant kicked in, running green letters across her visual center. The definition of literal was not really clear to her because the girl made it sound like an insult. Yet, the term was neutral. She wasn't sure what to say.

This only encouraged the chorus of green girls to giggle, poke each other and imitate Dani's formal "hello."

Nessa watched Dani's face, an interesting play of innocence and loathing swirling there in the magnificent blue eyes. "How old are you?"


"No wonder," she said. "You're practically a hatchling."

Dani shrugged, not interested in debating her age or her experience.

"Isn't your mother, like, a..." The girl with the teal dress looked around, her nictitating membrane covering her bulging eyes. "Borg," she whispered. This made the other girls gasp, all except Nessa.

"What if she is?"

"Their bad," the girl said, earning nods of assent from two of the other girls.

"Do you know my mother?" Dani asked reasonably.

"Well, no," the girl said. "But all Borg are the worst kind of predator. My mother said so. They take what they don't need and they destroy what they don't want, all without a care about how it affects the rest of us. That's what mom says anyway."

"My mom isn't like that," she replied.

Nessa followed the jerk of Dani's head, watching a tall, blonde Borg with an arm around a shorter, redhead. Both standing in an interminably long line in one of the shoppes. "Why don't you hang with us?" she finally asked.

"Ask your friends," she replied coolly.

Nessa quirked a thin, hairless muscle over her eye. The shadows gave it the definition of an eyebrow. "What is she talking about, Seely?"

Seely, the girl in the Teal dress, rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her flat chest. "We talked a while back," she replied, looking at Dani head to toe. "She's too..." The girl curled her lips. "Too much of a tomboy."

Nessa wanted to shove Seely away from her, but instead she turned back to Dani, touching her hand. Her skin was warm, to Dani's surprise. "Do you want to hang with us?"

Dani's confusion played across her face to openly, a look Nessa found profoundly refreshing. "What do you mean?"

The girls giggled at her until Nessa shot them a look. "You know, hang out with us. Shoot the breeze." Nessa wasn't seeing understanding and she sighed. "You know, be friends."

Just then a morbidly obese boy, whom Dani had observed, waddle methodically across the Plaza to them. His skin was nearly translucent, allowing Dani could make out his circulation along his humanoid body not covered by clothes. His form was segmented crosswise, with a bulbous head topped with two beady black eyes.

He stopped beside Nessa, a sound of frustration echoed from his overlarge, yawning mouth. "Why don't you ever wait for me?" he asked. His words were strange echoes as if he were speaking in a large cave.

Nessa narrowed her eyes, turning to greet the boy. "I told you why, doofus," she replied. "We don't want to kick it wit' you."

Dani wondered if her universal translator were malfunctioning. The words seemed to be Federation standard, but did not seem to make sense in this context.

"Aw, c'mon, girls," he replied. "I thought I earned it."

Nessa held up a perfectly manicured finger, with long red nails. "One day," she replied. "You got it for one day."

Dani couldn't read any expression on the semi-transparent face, but she could see the blood squeezing through veins, around a bumpy gray lump inside. "I got in trouble for lying for you," he replied. "I thought I proved-"

Nessa whirled on him, disgust evident when she considered his body. "Look, Grub," she hissed. "Here's the deal. Get cuter and you're in." Her chorus sniggered.

Grub shook his head. "So you think I'm cute then," he replied. "Hmm?"

"No," Nessa shouted, finally losing her patience. "You're freaky." Nessa shot a finger to Dani. "You know where we hang. Catch us later." She made off quickly, her pace set to leave Grub in the dust.

Dani put her chin in her hand. "Why do you want to...hang with those girls?"

His face, with no facial expression, was impossible to read. He didn't answer, but stared at her for so long, Dani wondered if something was wrong. "So, is Grub really your name?" Dani asked, watching the boy's red blood squirt through his veins.

"Yes, why?"

"It's different is all," she replied.

"How do you know the girls?"

"I live in the same complex where they live."

"You do? How come I've never seen you?"

"Cap makes me sleep during the day because it's so hot."

"And Cap would be?"

"One of my mothers."

"You've got two mothers?"

"Um hmm," she said pointing to them as they made their way back.

He watched them as they approached. Grub thought they were monstrously tall and slender, probably wouldn't survive pupation, he thought grimly. "I only have one parent," he said looking back. He began to stare at Dani's freckles. "What are those ugly spots on your face?"

She tightened her lips and tried to brush them off. "Nothing," she replied sharply. "What's wrong with your skin?"

"What do you mean?" he asked, looking down at himself while he flapped his arms.

"I can see your gizzards."

He shrugged his pudgy shoulders. "Just the way I'm made right now," he said.

"Me, too," she declared.

"I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings," he whispered. "My mom says I should think before I speak. I told her it's because I never get practice when you have fifty brothers and sisters."

Dani was too annoyed to respond to the idea of having that many siblings. It would be pure heaven to her. Instead she just looked away, feigning indifference.

"Well, anyway," he said. "I don't live in your complex." He waited for her to say something else and seemed vaguely disappointed when she didn't. "How come you don't chillax with Nessa and them?"

There goes the translator again, she thought. "What does that mean?"

"Hang, chill, relax," he said patiently.

She shrugged. "They really don't like me."

He leaned in. "I'll let you in on a secret," he whispered. "They don't like me either." He smiled widely when Dani finally looked at him. Dani's narrowed, realizing there was more to Grub than met the eye.

"So why do you follow them?"

"Because it annoys them."

Only then did Dani match his smile.

"There aren't a lot of boys my age, except my brothers."

"I wish I had a brother," she said dreamily.

"You can have mine," he chuckled. "They probably wouldn't gore you. At least I don't think."

"What do you mean?"

"Ahh, never mind," he replied. "Why don't the girls like you?"

Just then, Kathryn and Seven returned, both looking down at the curious creature speaking to their daughter. "Hello," Kathryn said.

Grub smiled, a grotesque caricature that seemed more frightening than friendly. "Hey," he replied with a curious nod of his large head.

"Mom and Cap," Dani finally said. "This is my new friend, Grub."

He pointed his black beady eyes to Dani. "We're friends?"

"If you wanna be," she said haltingly, realizing she should have asked first.

"Totally," he replied.

"This is my mom and Cappie."

When Grub looked at Seven's Borg hand and then got a closer look at her implants, he gasped. "Borg!"

Dani frowned. "She doesn't bite," she said. "Or assimilate."

"She's your mom?"

"Yeah," Dani said, a little bored.

"Does Security know?" he asked in an echoey whisper.

Seven produced her golden badge. "I am deputized," she informed the boy. She realized she could not have impressed him more.

"Oh, wow! A Borg and a deputy," he replied. "You're lucky, Dan."

"Dani," she replied.

"I'm gonna run home and tell my mom," he declared, hobbling around painfully slow. Then he hobbled back to face them. "Nice meeting you, uh, Mom and Cappie-"

"The pleasure was ours," Kathryn said. "But you may call us...Mrs. O'Nine."

He lifted his fat hand. "Cool," Grub said, as he hobbled around to face the direction he needed. "I'll catch you later. How old are you anyway?"

She was whispering "catch," trying the colloquialism on for size. "Oh, eight," she replied when she realized he was waiting for an answer.

"Me, too!" Of course, he meant months while she meant years. "Later."

"Later," Dani said, deciding she liked the way Grub talked.

Kathryn handed Dani an earthen jar of water. The three watched the boy shuffle off toward home. The entire time, both women wondered if they should bring up the difficulties she had because her mother was a Borg. When Dani yawned loud and long, both women decided it was time to go home.


Kathryn's days were eased with the addition of Grub to Dani's routine. They each got their own time: Dani to complete chores, including the weeding of the roof garden; and Kathryn to assist Seven with the mobile emitter. During the late morning, Kathryn would instruct Dani in the basic courses of Earth history, English literature, mathematics and, their favorite subject, science.

After lunch, Kathryn grabbed a padd onto which she'd downloaded a classic book she was planning to read to Dani. While Dani finished picking up the table, Kathryn sat on the couch, with her legs crossed at the ankles propped on the coffee table. She patted the spot next to her. "C'mere, baby. We are going to do something a little different this afternoon."

Dani curled her legs under her, laying her head on Cappie's shoulders in her mother's embrace. "What's this?"

Kathryn held up the padd. "A book I retrieved from the Delta Flyer database," she said. "I thought I could read it to you, since it's been so cold out."

Dani sat up, her eyes big and alarmed. "But I was going to play with Grub today."

"Oh, you still can, closer to sunrise when it's warmer." Kathryn patted the girl hip. "It'll be fun."

"All right," she said.

Kathryn wondered if she sounded like Dani at that age. "'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott. Chapter One-"

"Little Women?"

"It's a classic, Dani! I think you'll like it, especially Jo... She's the one I always identified with in the story."

"Are there are any monsters?"


Dani frowned a little. "Are there any spaceships?"

"No, not if memory serves."

Dani's frown deepened. "Robot dinosaurs? Kid-eating plants? Rabid tribbles?" For every shake of her mother's head, Dani began to unfold herself from the couch. "This isn't a story about dressing up and wearing poofy dresses and stuff, is it?"

"It's the journey of four sisters into womanhood and how they each must face their own flaws."

"Wow," Dani mumbled. "That sounds pretty boring."

"Dani," Kathryn said with her own frown. "Trust me. It'll be fun."

"Why can't I pick the book?"

"Because you don't know what the books are about."

Dani peered over the padd. "What are the other titles?"

Kathryn sighed, as she punched a few keys. A list of titles was displayed. "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland." She flicked her eyes to catch Dani grimace. "What?"

"It would be okay if were Agnon's Adventures. How much adventure could someone named Alice have?"

"Dani," she said. "That's stereotyping."

"What' wrong with that?"

"You don't even know what it is," she replied. "It would be like me saying that children of Starship Captains are spoiled."

Dani considered what the green girls said about her mother, a slander if there ever was one. But still, she wasn't drawn to that story and she said as much.

Kathryn sensed something more there, but decided to wait to see if Dani would bring those strong feelings she saw flash across her face. Besides, Kathryn knew she couldn't possibly win an argument with an eight-year-old and if she did it would be a pyrrhic victory at best. She gave Dani a small smile when she realized it was something she had in common with her Borg mother. "Fine," she replied evenly. "Can I read the other titles for your review?" With Dani's nod, she continued. "Oliver Twist."

"Anything else?"

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."

"That's it," she said, curling back in. "That's the one."

And so, Kathryn began reading "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain, eliciting giggles alternated with sympathy for the wayward orphan boy.


"I think we should stop here," Kathryn declared in a dry throat. "We'll pick up tomorrow with the next chapter."

"Aww, Cap!" she said, remaining still. "I wanna know what happens next."

"Tomorrow," she said, rubbing her eyes. Kathryn's vision had begun to blur halfway through the last chapter and it was all she could do to finish it. "Besides, I thought you were going to go play with Grub."

"Oh yeah," she jumped up. "I'll see you later." She gave her mother a peck on the lips.

"Don't wander off like yesterday," she replied to the creature flashing toward the door.

"I won't."

"And be back by dinner time."

"I will."

"I love you!"

The door slammed, but opened again. "Love you too, Cap!" Then it slammed again.


Grub and Dani wandered out to the dingy shoppes that lined the boulevard to Dani's apartment. The pair looked at odds and ends, neither found anything to buy nor did they have the funds to buy it, until they happened upon a new shoppe.

When they walked in, the acrid smell of urine assault Dani's nose. "Eww! What's that smell?"

"What smell?"

"You can't smell that?"

"I don't smell anything," he said, ambling toward a cage. "Hey, look at this!" Inside was a black catlike creature with yellow eyes. It arched its back when Dani approached.

"It looks like a kitty!"

"It's an acrionyx," he said, raising his hands. It was the sort of expression that Dani thought meant disgust to him.

"Here, kitty, kitty, kitty," she said in a high-pitched voice. She was about to put her hand inside the cage when a portly woman, wearing a long dress covered in orange blossoms shuffled out. The short woman had stubbly black hair and her eyes were perfectly round, with heart shaped lips.

"Ah," the woman purred. "You like little acrionyx?" To Dani's emphatic nod, the woman laughed from the belly, her entire body shaking. "They are rare breed from Gamma Quadrant. I import them myself from loving breeder."

"Can I...can I pet it?"

The woman nodded, gesturing with both hands for her to do so.

Dani allowed just the fingertips inside the cage, resuming a more soothing call for the kitty. The acrionyx hissed and spat.

"He shy," the woman replied. "He need time."

Dani stayed by the cage, trying to coax the frightened kitten to her, while Grub did a brief tour of the pet store. "Hey Dan," he said. "There are really cool federlings at the back of the store."

Dani wasn't sure what why cold federlings were superior, but she wasn't interested. The black cat with yellow eyes had stolen her heart. When Grub shuffled up to her, the cat was pressing itself against the cage. The long black hairs sticking out in every direction. He was raising his head to meet Dani's gentle rub.

When the woman announced it was closing time, Dani wanted to whine. "How much is he?"

"Two palms," she muttered dejectedly.

"That's a lot," Grub said.

"You buy?" the storeowner asked urgently.

She shook her head, shrugging. "Not today."


Dani trudged back to the apartment complex, oblivious to the rising yellow sun. "What would Tom Sawyer do?" she wondered.

"Whose Tom Sawyer?" Grub asked, through several long puffs. Dani was strolling, but to Grub it was tantamount to a job.

"An orphan boy who gets what he wants," she replied.

As they entered the complex, Grub's stomach rumbled, which it did quiet often. "I'm hungry," Grub said.

"Want to stay for dinner?" she asked just as they climbed the steps to the main door.

"Do you think your mom will mind?"

"You eat at our house three of four days," Dani said. "Has she ever complained?"

"No," he replied between pants of exertion. "She's too nice."

"To you, maybe!"

"She's nice to you, Dan," he said in a gently scolding voice.

Dani paused with her hand on the main door. "Why do you call me that? Dan?"

"Dunno," he replied. "I think it's because when I say 'danieeeeee,' I vibrate too much and it hurts my gullet."

"Oh," she said.

"Does it bother you?"


Then she paused again. "Try to sneak by Mr. Commagees, otherwise..." She moved her fingers and thumb like an incessant mouth.

"Gotcha," he replied.

As Dani tiptoed in, she repeated his comment. She tried to commit all of her new words to her own memory.

Mr. Commagees was consorting with a young woman, who was complaining of the price increase in her rent. So Dani broke out in a run, while Grub hobbled behind her.


Dani threw the door opened. The apartment was dark, and there was no dinner on the stove. "Mom!" Dani yelled. "Where are you?" She'd checked the entire apartment by the time Grub arrived.

"Where's Cappie?" he asked. "She always has dinner ready."

"I know," she said. "But maybe we're going to eat at the restaurant today."

"You're lucky," he said. "We never go. My mom can't afford it."

Dani urged a winded Grub to stay behind while she checked the garden.

"Would you mind if I get a snack?"

"Naw, but all we have is healthy stuff."

Dani ran up to the garden, kicking open the stairwell door. The sky was a pink, as the yellow sun touched the horizon in the west. The shadows in the garden were long. She looked around and didn't see anyone, and turned before she whirled back. Her mother's garden tote was sitting on a ledge. She ran over to it, and nearly tripped over the body of her mother.

Kathryn was lying on the cold stone floor in a strange posture. Behind her head was a pool of dried blood. "Mom!" she cried out. She knelt by her, felt her hands and face. "Mom, wake up!"

After a few minutes of unsuccessfully trying to wake her mother, Dani bolted to her feet, wringing her hands and looking around. She wished her other mother could read minds and come home. "I'll be back, mom," she whispered. "Please don't die!"

Chapter 17: Parasite

Just as Seven leaned over the body of her lover, she had a difficult time quelling the fear she felt. She touched her skin, felt her pulse points and checked her pupils. Dani was sobbing beside her. She understood the girl's fears, but she felt distracted by them. She reached down and lifted Kathryn up, hoisting her over her left shoulder.

Both brothers Commagees-Finn and Gill-were waiting inside their apartment to greet her. "I require privacy," she announced sharply.

"We're here to help, lass," Finn, her boss, said.

"Shall we fetch a doctor?" Gill inquired.

She laid Kathryn on their bed, over the coverlets. "No," she said turning on them. "I require privacy." Seven had completed repairs to the mobile emitter and was schedule to test it later in the day. Now there would be no time. She hoped that her repairs, crude as they were, were sufficient and she did not do more damage to the Doctor's processors.

She stopped in front of Finn, looking down at the man. "How did you arrive so quickly?"

"Ah, me own jet sandski," he said proudly. "Top of the line."

"Withdraw from my apartments," she ordered again. She realized they were not going to budge. "Very well. This is what I require." Seven gave them a list of difficult if not nearly impossible (and extremely costly) things to find, such as lye soap, rubbing alcohol and silk.

After they departed, Seven gathered the mobile emitter, explaining to Dani what would transpire. She allowed Grub to stay, only because he seemed to be a comfort to the girl. Then she stopped and faced her daughter's transparent friend. "Master Grub," she said.

"Yes-s-s, ma'am?"

Seven noticed that she seemed to inspire fear, but knew it was the Borg residue. "Please do not speak of what occurs here, if Dani is your friend."

"No-o-o, ma'am."

Seven activated the mobile emitter. The holographic doctor appeared. His image rippled a few times, expired and then snapped on once again.

"Doctor," she said.

"Seven?" he replied. "Where are the Ket'zali? And..." He looked at the rock-hewn apartment and fingered the clear markings of a chisel on the wall.

"Doctor," she said. "Kathryn has fainted." The Doctor's eyes snapped to the figure lying on the bed. Seven offered up a med-kit for him.

He sat down, triaging her case. His expression was grim. His assessment was met with a child's wail and a stoic Borg face. "She appears to be in coma."


Dani sat curled beside Seven when the Doctor emerged from Kathryn's bedroom. His grim face was alarming. If he had been a real doctor, his eyes might have been circled and his face haggard after working non-stop for thirty-six hours.

Seven was sitting on the couch, facing the small window. The sun was rising and the crowds below were thinning out.

The Doctor handed Seven a padd. "Granted my facilities, namely the Delta Flyer, are not state of the art," he said. "But I've managed to develop a working theory."

She perused the padd, raised an eyebrow at the end of the report. Dani tugged on her shirt. "What's it say?"

"Don't you think we should keep the child out in the-?"

"No!" Dani shouted, making Seven jerk. Dani whirled at the Doctor. "She's my mother, you know."

He raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth. "I am quite aware-"

"Doctor," Seven said gently. "Please desist. This has been a traumatic few days for Eridani." She was afraid he was going to point out his understanding of her history and where she was from. And more to the point, he would indicate that neither woman was really her mother.

He tugged down his uniform. "Quite right," he said. "Which is why I believe it would be prudent for her to be outside of this discussion, Seven."

After studying the Doctor for a moment, Seven nodded. Dani jumped off the couch turning a growling expression on to her holographic nemesis. "I don't like you!" she hissed. "Do you know that?"

His raised an eyebrow. He was accustomed to the sedate hostility of the crew, but this was new. "I suppose you don't," the Doctor finally said. "Little Miss Janeway, but-"

"Eridani," Seven finally stood, holding out a hand for her to take. "The Doctor is correct. There are some details that cannot absorb at your age."

"I'll understand it," she announced with the cross of her arms.

"Perhaps so," Seven admitted. "But that does not mean you should hear it."

She stuck her tongue out at the Doctor, running to her room as she bypassed her mother's hand. After about half an hour, Seven returned after closing her daughter's door.

"Remind me never to procreate," he said quietly.

Seven stood before him, as she leaned down to pick up the padd. "You were saying, Doctor."

"Yes, well, the Ket'zali may have been conducting experiments."

"Why would you say such a thing?"

"Because at first, I couldn't isolate any viral proteins in her blood work."

"Does she have a sickness from this world?"

He shook he head, advancing the padd to a certain point for Seven. "In fact, it is an engineered virus, I believe. I deduced its existence after considering her symptoms. Unexplained fever. Numbness and tingling in her extremities. Loss of balance and color vision. Double vision. Difficulty swallowing. Reduction in the field of vision. Weakness-"

"Doctor," she said impatiently. "I do not require nor need a description of Kathryn's symptoms. I have lived with her for four months and know them intimately."

He watched Seven for several long moments and then nodded. "Very well," he replied. "After I considered those and matched them to a likely disease, I was able to isolate a virus with mutagenic properties that phases in and out of the detection range of our instrumentation."

"Phases?" Seven was extremely alarmed by that. "From the Ket'zali?"

"I can only surmise, since I know of no other needle in her neck." He advanced the padd again for her. "We may be correct about the Ket'zali. The virus has several characteristics in common with Species 8472. Perhaps the virus is revenge for our own viral nanoprobes that pushed them out of our space."

"Yes, we had considered revenge as a motive," Seven said. "But considered it too mundane a objective for a higher evolved species."

"Hate is hate, in any dimension, Seven."

"So you found the mutagenic virus?"

"Yes," he replied. "Fortunate for us, they are better at concealing it than actually programming it." He touched a button on the padd, showing the DNA of the mutagenic virus. "Here is its signature."

The virus was spiral with spikes protruding from the length of its body. "What is its purpose?"

"Its aim was to kill," he replied. "And quickly, but it failed miserably, at least in Kathryn's case."

"She will not die?" The words were wrenched from Seven's mouth, a heaviness finally lifting from her chest.

The Doctor seemed startled by the display of emotion. For most people it would have been subtle. But Seven of Nine it was a trumpet blast. "I didn't say that," he replied softly. "I cannot be sure of its original intent, but the virus is attacking the myelin in her nervous system."

"Myelin?" Seven said, considering the uses of the word.

"Humans have had any number of demylenization diseases in their history," the Doctor explained. "Myelin insulates your nervous system cells. With her myelin under attack, the Captain's central nervous system began to lose the ability to regulate her body's function, whether walking, talking, seeing."

"Or breathing?"

"Eventually," he replied with a nod of his head. "The virus has given the Captain a disease similar to Parkinson's or Devic's Disease. But because the virus has been weaponized, it is acting on her system at an alarmingly accelerated rate."

"How long does she have, Doctor?" Her voice was quavering. Seven feared her heart would hammer out of her chest. She registered her respiration rate as abnormally accelerated and wondered why she herself was not on the floor with a myocardial infarction.

The Doctor recorded Seven's voice so small. "If we were in the Alpha Quadrant or even just on Voyager, I'd she would be fine. It would be tantamount a matter of a simple inoculation. But here..." He glanced out around the Spartan apartment in the middle of a desert planet that did not rely on technology, from what he could see.

"How long, Doctor?"

He inhaled deeply, an odd gesture for someone not reliant on respiration to support his body functions. "There is an unusual treatment," he replied. "But I would need her consent and with her being incapacitated-"

"Do it!" Seven said, rising to meet him.

The Doctor blinked at Seven for several long moments, until she repeated herself more emphatically. "Seven," he replied. "You know I am bound by certain rules. Either the patient or her next of kin would have to provide consent. The Federation simply does not allow-"

"Who would be considered her next of kin?"

"Her parents, her siblings or her spouse, but that doesn't help us since-"

"Do it!" Seven startled herself, knowing she sounded exactly like her lover. But that was irrelevant, of course. She would offer any organ, any Borg implant to help Kathryn. Seven knew she would go the lengths of Gweelee City if she had to. She would fire up the Delta Flyer. Go anywhere, even to Fluidic Space itself to find a cure for the Captain.

"Seven, I just said-"

Seven inhaled deeply. She was certain her Pips would prefer to keep their relationship a private matter. But Seven would not sacrifice Kathryn because of a ridiculous notion of privacy or tradition. "For the past four months-since we arrived on this planet-Kathryn and I have been in an intimate relationship..."

The Doctor wasn't sure his definition was the same as Seven's. "Intimate as in..."

"One of a sexual nature," she replied. "We have been partners-"

If the Doctor had a heart, it would be broken. He'd always believed that he and Seven were compatible. But he knew she'd never seen him as a suitor. "Well, that is...fine news," he replied hollowly. "But it simply is not enough to meet the application of the law. She must be-"

"We have presented ourselves as wives here on Gweelee."

"Gweelee...?" His voice trailed off at such an odd sounding planetary name.

"Here she is known as Kathryn O'Nine."

He was about to comment, when Seven interrupted him again. "Kathryn also refers to herself as Mrs. O'Nine."

The Doctor considered the ramifications. "Well, that certainly would fulfill the letter of the law," he said. "I am a doctor, not a lawyer-fortunate for me. So I do not need to know the details of your relationships-"

"If it is necessary to establish a legal relationship between us, then I will elaborate...we engaged in our first sexual union on Stardate-"

"Seven!" The Doctor said. "That is really not necessary."

"I seek to clarify my role in her life."

"As I said, I'm not a lawyer and a nuanced statement is not required. Nor do I understand the full details of Federation Family Law vis-à-vis common law marriages, but it sounds as if the basic criteria for next of kin is met. However..." He crossed his arms, giving a stern look. It was confidence that begged defiance, just so it can be flexed. Seven watched him patiently. "As the Chief Medical Officer I will have to enter that into the log, you realize."

She was becoming impatient. "Do what you must, Doctor, but resuscitate her."


Seven slipped leather gloves on both hands, as a drunken man continued to rail against women in general and Borg in particular. The rotund man had already eaten two meals at Mr. Commagees' restaurant, having vomited the first. He had drunk two vats of mead and now he was acting lewdly. He had grabbed the breasts and asses of several waitresses, but he was paying in cash. It was only when he had squeezed Mr. Commagees, mistaking him for a female that Seven's duties were invoked.

"It's you blasted women nowadays," the man slurred. "If you'd spawn when ye're supposed to, I would have to find another pond. Now would I?"

"I am unaware of your race's mating rituals, sir," Seven said patiently. "Meanwhile, you have violated Gweelee etiquette with your bawdy commentary and your wandering hands have inadvisably compressed the erroneous gluteus maximus."

"What're you going to do, girly?"

Seven had been called girly on numerous occasions. She made a mental note to inquire with Kathryn about the meaning of the remark. The thought caught her off guard. Kathryn had been unconscious for three weeks and life continued. Eridani had to be fed and Seven continued to report to her duties at the restaurant. The thought angered her, which in turn made this encounter that much more infuriating. Without waiting to hear his excuse, Seven grabbed the large man by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his pants. With a mighty heave, the man was airborne. He sailed out the door, narrowing missing a table. Instead he landed on the packed pavement with a loud thud.

She removed her gloves and tossed them in a wastebasket, attempting to ignore what she considered to be inappropriate cheers of the regular clientele. "You totally rock!" a few of the men had shouted.

"You're a bad ass!" A few others whistled.

"You're hot!" Some of the men and women intoned together.

Seven straightened her golden deputy hand at her left breast and then her belt and resumed her station by the cash register. Mr. Commagees brought her a large glass of Gweelee ale. "Here you go, lass," he said. "That makes two today alone."

She had a perfect suds mustache when she drained the glass. "The statistics show an alarming acceleration of unruly customers," she said. "Given all the variables, I cannot identify the one predictor to this behavior."

Mr. Commagees shook his head with a laugh. "Ah, lass," he said, smacking her shoulder. "Since you're new, I'll tell ye. T'is the first sign of the monsoon rains."

"And that would be..."

Mr. Commagees gazed up as if in religious worship, raising his fin-like hands. "Terrible opening of the heavens when King Tryto's evil twin sister, Queen Playedies, pours out her wrath on we poor Gweelee folk. Happens on the Spring Equinox every year."

"Torrential rains cause men to become miscreants?" Seven crossed her arms.

"A'course, lass. T'is the way."

"T'is unscientific," Seven said, turning to look for Dani in the restaurant.

"We are all slaves to the cycles of the planet," he said. "Even the great Seven O'Nine, Borg Deputy of Gweelee City."

Seven had often spoken to Tuvok about the illogical ways of people. She would have so much more fodder for those discussions. She'd tried to get her to stay home with the Doctor. But those two were like matter and anti-matter. The volatile combination was more than she could deal with, so Seven began bringing Dani with her to work.

"Ye know," Mr. Commagees said, following Seven's glance. They watched Dani throw a dart to a target on the wall, right next to the bar. "May the gods help ye when Mrs. O'Nine comes to."

Seven inhaled strongly, dismissing his claim as Gweelee exaggeration.

When she didn't comment, Finn softened his tone. "I say it only for one purpose, lass." Seven glanced at her bulging eyed, fat lipped boss. "Because I know in me heart of hearts that Kat will wake up. After that, Lord Tryto help ye when she sees what you've done to the babe."

Then he did something completely out of character. "So much so, that, Seven m'girl, I'm letting you have the rest of the day off." When Seven's expression softened, his hardened. "And take that hellion of yours with ye. This is a comfort house, not a day care for wee brats!" He rolled his "r" for good measure on that last word.


Dani slipped her hand in Seven's and offered a long yawn, as they strolled home. The double moons of Gweelee were still high in the sky, instead of the pink when they picked their way home. "I miss Cappie," she said suddenly.

"As do I."

"I'm tired of Mr. Commagees' restaurant."

Seven nearly smiled, surprised at such an admission. This was the girl who begged at every meal to dine at the place, though it was no restaurant, but a fancy brothel of sorts.

"Three weeks is a long time to eat institutional fare."

"So what does Cap have again?"

"The Doctor has diagnosed it as Devic's Disease."

Dani stopped, tugging Seven's arm back with her. The tall blonde turned to regard her daughter's troubled eyes. "Why did you decelerate?"


Seven nodded, tipping her head. "Do you understand it?"

Dani's voice became so adult that the transformation startled her mother. "Was it from the injection?"

"Yes, it was." Seven stepped closer, taking her daughter's other hand as well. "Will you tell me what troubles you?"

Seven could see the blue eyes-so like her own-glistening in the twin moonlight. "I'm afraid," she whispered, her voice cracking.

Seven put an arm around Dani's shoulders, drawing her close. "Though she has not regained consciousness, the Doctor indicates her vital signs have stabilized."

Dani rolled her shoulders to wipe her tears. "Um, Sa'feer..."

"The Ket'zali commander?"

"He...he...he..." Dani felt herself tighten and she wanted to curl up into a little ball somewhere, make everything go away.

"Breathe, Eridani," Seven advised.

"Sa'feer...he...killed my Cappie." Dani let go of Seven's hand and watched the woman. She feared this moment above all others. Would Seven send her back to her own timeline?

Seven watched the tears trail down her cheeks and her full lips began to pout. She was always amazed at the girl's bravery and amazed that Eridani did not understand its depth. "Your Cappie?"

"Yes," she whispered, almost inaudible with the bustle of the people that walked by. Some patting Seven's shoulder in greeting, others merely nodding.

"You are aware then that this is not your universe."

Dani closed her eyes, nodding ever so slightly. "Are you mad?" she whispered.

Seven realized that she was not surprised by the revelation. And in a moment borne of pure instinct, Seven tightened her embrace of the girl. She stroked her hair and cooed. "No, Eridani," she whispered. "But I am pleased that you have confided in me."

"I was scared," she said, against her mother's blouse.

"That is a reasonable emotion, considering what you have experienced." Seven looked down as she stroked the girl's cheek. "Would you like to sit down?"

"Can we walk around the Plaza?"

Hand in hand, the pair meandered around the Plaza, like any other mother and daughter. Moon-kissed water bubbled up in continuous spray inside a large marble-like fountain. At the center, stood a large merman figure, riding the waves with a trident in hand.

As they walked in silence, Seven considered her options. Clearly the timelines overlapped, but to what extent, she did not fully understand or appreciate. She was grateful she'd never taken temporal mechanics, lest she recognize the dangers of this conversation. Seven of Nine had also never taken any vow to uphold the Temporal Prime Directive. But when Dani mentioned Sa'feer and his role in her universe, Seven knew she could not allow this moment to pass without digging deeper, even if she must keep the news from her lover.

"Tell me of Sa'feer and Devic's Disease in your universe, Dani."

Dani ran a sleeve across her nose to catch her mucous. "My Cappie died in battle." Her whisper was so small, Seven believed she misunderstood her.

"Please repeat your statement."

Dani closed her eyes, tiny creases fanning from the corners. Her strawberry lashes looked nearly auburn.

"In my space-time, Cappie died." She pulled back, letting her knowledge fill her eyes for the first time. She was relieved to be able to finally let her mother know.

"Your space-time?"

Seven stopped to face the girl. "Dani, do you understand what you are saying or are you mimicking what you have heard on Voyager?"

"A double quantum singularity brought me here."

Seven's eyebrows rose, her lips parting slightly. "Eridani!" Seven whispered in shock. "No one can create a double-"

"Someone did," she said with a shrug. Elizabeth Eridani Janeway felt suddenly alone, like the moment she had stepped through the event horizon that brought her to this universe. Everything had gone black and it was like her eyes ached. They felt as if they were being tugged from the inside out. Her bones felt like they wanted to jump out of her skin. Even her head had throbbed. Her brain had played tug of war with the singularity and it had been the rope. When she had came to, Dani had been strapped to a table and a saw blade was humming close to her head. Yes, someone opened double gravitational singularity at just the right time for the Mencari to invade at that precise moment. They had found her hysterical.

Thinking about her jump here brought a skip to her heart and Dani blushed to remember that she had soiled herself on that table. "The Mencari saved me," she whispered.

Seven had watched the girl's expression melt from honest scientific inquiry to loneliness and then mind-shattering fear. "Tell me," she said.

Dani felt suddenly alone, but she knew couldn't turn back. Data streams began to flow in green text and symbols across her field of vision, superimposed over the luxurious scene of the central Plaza before them.

Her lips hardly moved and her voice was so small. "Someone-my mother-sent me here to escape Species 8472's attack on Sector Zero Zero One."

"Attack on earth?" Seven looked up, trying to get her bearings. Were she awake? They'd been a species strictly known in the Delta Quadrant in this universe. "Are you certain?"

Dani shrugged. "I only know what...what...my mom gave me." Her eyes flicked up to see Seven's reaction. She was completely in analytical mode, not registering the child's insecurity.

"What did she give you, Eridani?"

Dani touched her neck, rubbing it. "She injected nanoprobes to program my Borg neo-cerebral capacitor." The girl's soft palate lisped slightly and slurred some of the words, but Seven understood. She wondered where the Borg implant's enhanced intelligence left off and Dani's own genius picked up.

"You are Borg then."

Dani tipped her head, watching the placid features of her Borg mother's face. "Yes," she said, nodding and lowering her eyes. "But it's not what you think."

"What do I think?"

"I was never assimilated."

"But you claim you are Borg," Seven said. Dani was relieved to see her mother continued to exhibit a passionless expression.

"I am Borg," she said, looking into the azure eyes so like her own. "Because you are Borg."

Seven studied her face, data of previous conversations coming back in fragments. Seven stored some of the data bits into her memory, for future evaluation. At this time index, she needed more details about the other Kathryn.

"So in your universe, Species 8472 was attacking Earth and Starfleet by extension."

Dani shook her head, reading the data streaming across her visual center. "They had already destroyed Earth. The ship we were on was going to blow itself up and Mom activated the deflector dish to open a singularity."

"You indicated a double singularity," Seven said.

Seven watched the girl's eyes dart side to side and her lips moved, all as if she were reading.

"What are you doing, Eridani?"

Dani finally looked at Kathryn, relieved to hear the term of endearment. "I'm reading."

"What do you read?" Seven asked. Seven sat down at a small bistro table beside the fountain, pulling Dani beside her.

"The data stream you put in my implant."

"What does it say?"

Dani began to read the stream verbatim. It was a chilling account of Species 8472's invasion of the Alpha Quadrant and their violent and all-consuming sweep from the furthest outpost beyond the Klingon Empire toward Earth. She described Captain Janeway's heroic stand, along with three other Federation vessels, and the entire fleet of Klingon Birds of Prey. In the Federation's first engagement, Janeway commanded the rag tag fleet against the oncoming armada of grotesque black, squid-like ships at Gamma Eridon.

From captain's logs sent encoded by subspace from the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan before and during the battle, and from space station telemetry, the fighting was fierce. It was clear from battle tactics that Species 8472 underestimated what they considered an inferior and outgunned opponent. But Captain Janeway and the fleet took out nearly a third of the armada before drawing several enemy vessels close and self-destructing, taking out or crippling several other vessels.

Seven absorbed the information, wondering at the heroism of her lover's counterpart. But she was startled when Dani cited the time index.

"That is three years from now."

"I'm from the future of an alternate timeline."

"I did not realize that was possible."

"But I'm here." Dani began to pluck nervously at the hem of her mother's blouse. "My Cappie's last message was that the commander of the armada's name was Sa'feer."


"I knew that name when I heard it on the Mencari ship," Dani finally admitted between sobs. "He killed my Cappie and I was afraid he was going to kill her again."

"Is that the reason you attempted to run to the Mencari? Because you believed they would keep you safe?"

She shook her head. "I thought they could keep my new Cappie safe."

Seven trailed her fingertips along the girl's jaw. Whatever the issues she had with her counterparts, one thing was certain. The girl loved them deeply. As she loves us, she thought.

"But we live," Seven declared. "In this realm, Sa'feer failed."

"Did he?" Dani asked. "What about the poison in Cappie?"

"The Doctor has attempted a treatment that will assist Cappie until Voyager-"

Dani's eyes widened and then she jumped up, one fist in the air. "Whoop!" She danced in a circle, shaking her bottom and shaking her fists. "That's the best news I've heard all day!"

Seven smiled softly, watching her little victory dance and noting how she could revert so easily to her childlike state without the Borg input.

"Eridani, you must heed me," Seven said, trying to clasp the bouncing girl's hand to capture her attention. When Dani stopped, she was panting. "You must never speak of what we have discussed here. Not to anyone, not even Cappie. Do you understand?"

"Yeah, but why?"

Seven stood and brushed the girl's hair. "It must be our secret."

"You're not gonna tell me," she said.

"I do not know the answer," Seven admitted. "But you must tell me everything you know of Devic's Disease. And you must trust me."

"Okay, but I wanna cookie to seal the deal."


The Doctor raised a hypospray. "Are we ready?"

Seven took her place beside Kathryn's bed, taking the unconscious woman's hand. "Yes, I believe I am ready."

"Let's hope so." The hypospray hissed and nearly instantly, Kathryn's eyes began to flutter under her lids. Seven felt the woman squeeze her own hand. Her eyes flew open and her lips parted.

"Kathryn?" The Doctor said quietly. "How do you feel?"

"I'm..." She glanced around, blinking at Seven several times before she looked up at the Doctor. "Am I on Voyager?"

He frowned, hoping that her disorientation wasn't a sign of permanent neurological damage. "No, Kathryn. Do you remember where you are?"

Her eyes widened slightly. "Where's Dani? I must have fallen asleep again." She tried to sit up but the Doctor restrained her with a tap to the shoulder.

"Please, Captain," he said. "Please. Try to lie still."

"What has happened?" She said laying back. She turned to focus on Seven again. Her voice was gravelly, like it usually was first thing in the morning. "Darling, what is wrong?"

Seven leaned forward, trying to shut out the Doctor from her periphery. "You lost consciousness approximately three weeks prior."

"Is Dani all right?" Again she tried to sit up, but Seven put a hand to her shoulder, patting her.

"Yes, Kathryn," she said. "Dani is fine."

"I must have fainted," she said vaguely. "Doctor, what is wrong with me? And how did you get here?"

"Seven completed repairs to my mobile emitter and activated me. I have been working non-stop to determine the extent of your illness."


"It is as you feared, Captain." He allowed her to absorb the words and then proceeded. "The Ket'zali injected you with an engineered mutagenic virus. It is attacking your central nervous system."

Understanding dawned as she correlated her symptoms to his diagnosis. "Will I be okay?"

The Doctor's face tightened and his brow rose. "I've managed to give you approximately ten more months before you begin another spiral-"

"But we will find Voyager by then," Seven said.

Kathryn took Seven's hand, raised her knuckles to her lips. Kathryn bounced Seven's hand against her puckered lips. "It must be really bad because even Seven looks worried."

"Your attempt at levity is inappropriate," Seven replied.

Kathryn rubbed Seven's cheek. "I'm sorry, darling. I just don't like waking up to sulking."

"I apologize if I appear to be sulking," she said.

"May I continue?" The Doctor's voice was piqued.

"Please," Kathryn said, continuing to hold Seven's gaze.

"You have Devic's Disease," he said. "You really have fewer than forty weeks."

"Forty?" Her eyes tracked up, following the shadows made by tools when this room was carved out.

Seven could see a pool of unspent tears filling Kathryn's eyes. She tightened her grip on the woman's hand. "Tell me, Doctor," Seven said. "Can Devic's Disease affect one's emotions?"

The Doctor seemed a little disoriented with the question. "Why do you ask, Seven?"

"Kathryn has displayed unusual emotional states since we left Voyager." Will she stop loving me on Voyager? Will she hate me when we leave? Will she abandon Dani when we return to the ship? All these fears coalesced inside of the ex Borg, simmering just below the surface.

"Any disease can, but my data files show no such link."

Kathryn brushed her eyes with the cuff of her sleeve. She found Seven's eyes and they exchanged an unspoken vibe of peace and protection. "I'll survive," she whispered. Then to the Doctor, Kathryn's voice resumed its sharp whip of command. "You mentioned a treatment?"

"Seven and I disagreed over the particulars of your treatment." He glanced at the Borg, giving her a razor glare. "But I would like my objection noted for the-"

"So noted," Kathryn said curtly with a wave of a hand.

"With Seven's consent-as your..." He glanced at the Borg again. "As your, ahem, partner-we have developed a treatment plan..."

Kathryn kept her eyes level with Seven's, but noticed their meaningful exchange. "Am I going to die regardless?"

Seven moved closer toward Kathryn. "No, Kathryn. You are not."

"But I haven't performed miracles yet," the Doctor said quietly. "The unorthodox treatment will give you exactly 40 weeks, give or take. Hopefully, Voyager will find us by then."

"And if Voyager finds us you can offer a more permanent solution?"

"I believe so, yes," he said. The Doctor's holographic eyes flicked again uncomfortably to Seven. "But in either case, there will be side effects?"

Kathryn had physically relaxed. "What kind?"

The Doctor began to tick off a list with his fingers. "Weight gain, irritability. A parasite..."

"Parasite? You didn't introduce me with any intestinal-"

"Oh, no," he said, sharing another meaningful look with Seven. "Nothing intestinal."

"Your indifference to self-congratulations is worrying me, Doctor," Kathryn admitted as she watched Seven carefully. "Is the cure worse than the disease?"

He crossed his arms, with one hand stroking his chin as he peered up in thought. "I've never heard anyone complain of the cure... Well, never complain and actually mean it."

The Captain noted that Seven's face was stony and she appeared to be anxious. "Spit it out, Doctor! Now!"

"Very well," he said. "But remember my objection... Captain Janeway, you have been impregnated."

Janeway bolted up, her mouth was open. The expression tore at Seven, perceiving it as betrayal and fear.

"As I was saying, we did not have access to inoculations that could instruct your body to repair the myelin loss."

"And pregnancy cures this predicament?" Janeway's sarcasm was biting and she was careful to turn it onto the holographic doctor.

"That's right," he said. "The hormones produced during pregnancy have the same result. You should see some of your functions restored at best or at least the deterioration halted at worst."

Kathryn stared at the wall, completely motionless.

"Kathryn," Seven whispered quietly. "You were close to death."

Kathryn pushed her legs off the bed, forcing Seven to stand up. She bolted to her feet, walking to the Doctor, looking up into his face. "How close?"

"Your breathing was erratic and your pulse was irregular. Your body could not sustain your vital functions, Captain."

Kathryn absorbed the scientific data, but that's all it was. Seven knew she would have to bring it home for her. "Eridani found you unconscious," she said in a monotone that belied the turmoil of facing the consequence.

Kathryn turned, her blue gown swirling with her. "Dani? What did she do?"

"She and Grub ran to the restaurant," Seven said. "I activated the Doctor."

"You were impregnated quickly," the Doctor said. "The myelin repair would take time enough already. Just as I hoped you stabilized. It's a wonder it worked at all here in the Stone Age planet."

Kathryn lifted a brow, nearly relieved to hear the subtle self-applause. "So I'm pregnant," she said, resigned. Then a horrible thought came to her. "Who's the father?" She had visions of giving birth to a child with an aquatic heritage.

The Doctor's body shook, his face animated in excitement. "Well, I was able to use some of Seven's adult stem cells along with my medical genius to induce sperm production-"

Kathryn peered down. "This is Seven's baby?" She covered her abdomen with a hand.

"Yes, both of yours." Encouraged by Kathryn's acceptance of the situation, the Doctor added: "And in some small way I like to think the child is mine as well-"

"Doctor," Kathryn said sharply and closed her eyes. "May we have a moment alone please?"

The Doctor looked around the room. "But we are alone-"

"Seven and I, Doctor."

"Very well. But please, don't thank me," he replied sarcastically. "I was just working in Byzantine conditions to halt a life-threatening disease. All in a day's work." Then he dematerialized.

Janeway finally stared at Seven, unable to form a coherent thought. The weight of the expression bore down on the ex Borg. This wasn't new. They'd disagreed on many occasions. She had, in fact, come to relish the repartee. But this was different. She was different. Seven felt different about Kathryn and pain the Captain felt was the same for her.

"It is shocking," Seven whispered. "But you were nearly terminated. I could not permit that. I threatened to decompile the Doctor's matrix unless he found a cure."

When Kathryn continued to stare, Seven's face began to lose its ironclad composure. "When Voyager finds us and, if you wish to terminate..." She sobbed a half beat and then stilled herself. "I will adapt."

Kathryn touched her scalp with her fingertips, scratching lightly. "Oh, Seven," she said. The Captain closed her eyes, rolling her head around. She nearly moaned in pleasure when her neck cracked. When she opened them, Kathryn was surprised to see a stream of tears falling down the beautiful face. "Please don't cry," she whispered, drawing closer. But they didn't touch. Not yet.

"I regret this decision," she replied.

"Was I really so far gone? I mean, I was fine one minute. Dani went out to play and all I remember after that being overcome by darkness."

"I contemplated assimilating you," Seven responded.

"So my choices were...death...which I don't think I would really care for..."

"I would agree with that assessment," Seven said.

"Assimilation and life as a Borg drone... And I'm going to go out on a limb to say that I probably wouldn't enjoy being a drone."

"Nor would you make a particularly compliant drone," Seven said with a sardonic lilt.

Kathryn stepped closer, looking up into the amused eyes with one of her own. "Hmm, I'll take that as a compliment."

"As it was meant," Seven replied.

"Or pregnancy." Kathryn dropped her eyes, studying her hands.

Seven followed Kathryn's gaze, longing to touch the woman and run her hands over her belly. But something told her not yet. "Kathryn," she said. "I regret the necessity for a unilateral decision. But you were unconscious and..."

Kathryn placed a hand on Seven's hip, pulling her close. Seven closed her eyes to be able to feel the arms wrapped around her waist and the small breasts pressing into hers. Kathryn's mouth hovered to Seven's. "Thank you," Captain Janeway whispered.

Seven smiled, a tender expression that Kathryn had never quite seen before. It warmed and enveloped her so fully, that Kathryn realized for the first time that she truly loved this woman. It was not just lust, but a profound affinity blessed by similarities and spiced with differences. Kathryn placed her hands at the back of Seven's neck, pulling her down for a soul-scorching kiss of open mouths. The brief caress of tongues and the exchange of breath was enough to comfort Seven more than any words Kathryn could have shared.

Kathryn's eyes were brimming with tears, taking Seven's human hand and placing it on her lower abdomen. Then the older woman covered Seven's hand with hers. Kathryn closed her eyes when Seven's lips touched her neck. She tipped her chin back to give Seven more room to lave her throat. Seven's hand slowly circled the woman's belly. "I think," Kathryn whispered. "You are positively feudal, my darling."

"Futile?" Seven pulled back, watching the orange flames of the torch dance in the gray eyes.

"No, feudal," she said, spelling the word. "A period in Earth history when men built castles and knights conducted war from a horse while the women stayed home having babies and tending the hearth."

"Ah," she said, a glint of pleasure in her eyes. "This analogy makes me the knight."

Kathryn smirked. "Yes, darling," she said, rubbing the woman's shoulders. "You've managed to do what no one-man or woman-has ever done."

"The wench will explain," she said tersely. To Kathryn's curious expression, Seven added: "I was indulging in my role as knight-errant."

Kathryn crinkled her nose. "Too much," she whispered.

Seven pulled Kathryn to her, kissing her temple, her cheek and then her lips. "Tell me, Pips."

Kathryn's hand roamed lightly over Seven's back, as her eyes held Seven's. "You've tamed me. I warm your bed. I cook your meals. I care for your child and now I will bear another. It's positively feudal."

Seven cupped the back of Kathryn's head as they began to sway together. "You do not resist this feudal arrangement."

Kathryn's lips curled to a faint smile. "Oh, no," she whispered. She pulled Seven's head down, engulfing her in a molten kiss. "Not yet, anyway," she mumbled against the woman's mouth. "Not until Chakotay brings me my ship."

Kathryn felt Seven stiffen and pull back, though she tried to appear nonchalant. "I will find Eridani," she replied. "I worry."

"Good idea."


When Seven stepped back into the bedroom, all but one of the torches were extinguished. Kathryn lay bare shouldered with the covers up to her chest. Seven stared at her, lust pulsing through her body, even her circuits and implants were pounding in tune to the point between her legs.

"Is Dani okay?" Kathryn asked in a gravelly voice.

"Yes, she was completely unconscious," she replied, as she carefully fastened her belt. "Are ready to..." Seven wasn't sure what to ask. If she asked her to make love after recovering so soon from a cataleptic state, would that make her uncharitable at best or a scoundrel at worst? But if she asked her to sleep, would Kathryn assume she was not interested in touching her in the intimate rhythm they'd mastered together.

Seven's belt fell to the ground, along with her pants to reveal long, creamy legs.

"Am I ready to what?"

Seven reached up to unbutton her blouse. "Ready to-?" She tasted her mouth. It was dry, all of the moisture having migrated south. Had it been only three weeks since they'd made love? It felt like three millennia. With Chakotay, Seven never felt driven to mate and the process required for more time expenditure than the pay off merited. But with Kathryn, it was different. Seven found her thinking of the woman all day, anxious to be in her arms, regardless of whether they made love. Their lovemaking was sometimes sweet, many times rushed, oftentimes voracious but always passionate. Seven had been surprised to find a certain pace that alternated adagio or allegro, depending on who led. If someone had told her that Kathryn would take the submissive role more than half the time during sex, Seven would have found the hypothesis flawed and bereft of data. Yet, Seven was thrill to lead and to be led, just as Kathryn appeared to enjoy switching modes as well.

"Darling?" Kathryn asked again, throwing the covers open to reveal her naked wiry body.

Seven's eyes transfixed on the luscious triangle of auburn hair that was enticing her.

"Seven," Kathryn repeated, verbalizing very precisely.

She jerked her eyes upward. "Yes, Kathryn?"

"Come to bed," she said. "Now."

"Aye, Captain," she said with a touch of humor. Naked, she crawled on all fours, the mattress creaking and groaning under weight. Seven stopped over Kathryn, following the lines of the woman's strong chin along her jaw line to the strands of auburn splayed out on the pillow. "Are you well enough to...?" Seven dropped her eyes, watching the woman she loved through her dark blonde lashes.

"To make love?" Kathryn asked, placing her hands on the large breasts dangled in front of her. Her hands cupped them, squeezing slightly. She heard her own moan echoed in Seven's throat. "The hell I'm not. It's been three weeks."

Seven straddled the woman's hips. "That is the longest deprivation we have experienced."

Kathryn patted Seven's legs and she rose up slightly, while Kathryn scooted up to sitting. "All right, darling," she said. They were sitting face to face, with Seven in her lap. Kathryn tried to rearrange her pillows, but failing, Seven accommodated her. "Much better. Now I have you exactly where I want you."

Kathryn leaned forward taking a fat nipple in her mouth; she bit down and swiped it with her tongue. Seven arched into the touch, as she felt Kathryn's hands roaming her bare back. One of Kathryn's hands caressed down Seven's legs to her hip. She stretched her thumb, allowing it to dance in the short wiry blonde hair as she caressed Seven's thigh. She other hand cupped the full breast, bringing it to her mouth. Seven loved attention on her breasts and Kathryn loved to provide it. A perfect match, she thought.

With every pass of her thumb, Seven would rub her sex against the Captain's thigh, spreading her excitement in a scented line. Her breathing became ragged and her strokes more urgent. Kathryn looked up to watch Seven's face transform when she finally slipped her fingers inside. Seven's mouth dropped open, her eyes tightened and her neck fell back. "Do you like that?" Kathryn asked, knowing it was a ridiculous question.

"No," Seven replied, with a pinch of humor and a generous heaping of desire. "Not at all."

Kathryn slipped her hand out. "Shall I...?"

"No!" Seven snapped her eyes open, seizing her lover's small wrist. "You must proceed along this course. The journey is nearly complete."

Kathryn's lopsided smile told Seven that she wasn't in command in this scenario. "What if I want a detour?" Kathryn looked down, pinching a coral colored nipple as she painted it with her own moisture. "Do a little sight-seeing?"

Seven hissed through her teeth when Kathryn sucked in the turgid and wet nipple. She held onto the headboard as she arched back, raising a knee to offer herself. Kathryn's nose flared when Seven's natural spice reached her. Her scent was heavy and her viscous excitement seeped forth in glorious invitation. Watching her fingers glide across the sopping opening, Kathryn groaned again at every little whimper and sigh that she evoked from Seven. When she touched the swollen center, Seven growled. "Those are the correct coordinates," she whispered.

"Right here?" Kathryn said, lifting her eyes to see an angelic expression overtake her lover. "Or here?"

"The former," Seven said, growing frustrated. "A diagnostic should be performed on your helm. It is off by..." Seven sobbed in pleasure.

"What did you say, darling?" Kathryn asked the enraptured figure hovering over her.

"Perfection!" Seven murmured against Kathryn's temple. "Efficient perfection!" When Kathryn slid a finger inside, Seven's voice dropped a few octaves. "Oh, baby..."

Kathryn lifted her hooded eyes, a corner of her mouth smirking. "I love it when you come for me, Andy," she whispered. Then she covered Seven's mouth with hers, tangling wet tongues and hot breath and lonely souls. "Come for me," Kathryn whispered against her open mouth. The older woman intensified the rigorous gliding of her fingers and she bit down on the woman's shoulders.

Seven exploded in a torrent of fire and lights, bits of herself exploding in her own personal Big Bang. She was hurtling outward in every direction at the speed of light, shattered into a million tiny bits of orgasmic energy. She didn't realize she was screaming Kathryn's name until every atomic sub-particle returned to herself.

"Kathryn! Kathryn!" Seven cried. "Please Kathryn!"

The Captain squeezed her lover tight, running her arms up and down the woman, purring her name. "I'm here, Seven," she whispered, watching the amazing transfiguration of the woman and her slow return to mortality. "Right here, darling."

Seven cupped both of Kathryn's cheeks. "If you ever left me I would become like an Omega molecule," she whispered, drops sliding down her face. "Vanish from existence."

Kathryn kissed her tears until Seven had spent ever last one of them. "I'm not going anywhere you can't," she said in a husky voice. "I promise you." She punctuated each word with a solemn kiss.

Seven allowed Kathryn to continue to caress her. She held the older woman close and sunk deeply into her touch. But soon, her own fire was rekindled and her hand began to wonder. When she touched Kathryn's stomach, her eyes snapped open. "I want to touch you, Pips," she whispered. "Touch you and the baby."

Seven fell beside Kathryn, both lying pressed against each other, breast tips touching, legs intertwined. Seven slide her hands up and down the Captain's hip, dipping to rub just above her belly button. She knew that her lover was already so excited, but accepted the exploration with patience. Finally, Seven pushed the woman on her back and began a slow, light trail of kisses down her chin, across her throat and to her nipples, where she lingered. Seven circled each peak in turn. Her hand brushed lower and Kathryn bent her knees, opening up. With every stroke, she moaned and begged her to go lower. Finally, Seven continued down and began to kiss between the women's hips, carefully outlining her idea of Kathryn's uterus, where their child was being nurtured. "Miraculous," she whispered against the freckled stomach.

"Seven!" Kathryn implored.

Seven tangled her fingers briefly in the short auburn curls before descending to her goal. The moisture so abundant two of Seven's fingers sunk in effortlessly. Kathryn bucked her hips, needing more, so much more.

"I love you," Seven whispered softly to her goal before she took the woman in her mouth.

The contact made Kathryn gasp and plunge into instantaneous pulses of pleasure. The undulations rippled across an ocean taking Kathryn farther and deeper than she had ever known. And even then, they still went on.

When Kathryn returned, she was floating in a place so light that contentment seemed all around her. But it was the circle of Seven's embrace and there the happiness persisted, even when her body had been wrung of every spasm. "You are so amazing," Kathryn said, with her eyes closed.

"That appears to be a programmed response after we have made love." Seven cuddle up to Kathryn, drawing the covers around them.

"It's also true," Kathryn murmured, her mind beginning to fog.

"Thank you," Seven finally allowed. "I believe you are also extraordinary."

"Good thing we found each other." By the end of the comment, Kathryn had lolled off to sleep, her breathing steady.

Seven placed a palm over the woman's heart, taking comfort in its rhythm.

Chapter 18: Short Season

The next morning, Dani flung the apartment door open, dashing inside. "Can I see her now?" She had raced around to finish her chores in the garden, all in record time.

Seven was standing in the kitchen filling a glass of water.

"Can I see Cappie now?"

Seven set the glass down and tugged at a strawberry lock. "Yes, but please complete a minimal cleansing cycle first. I do not wish for Cappie to believe that I was derelict in my parental duties."

Dani splashed water around the counter, dropped the soap several times but finally managed to leave her hands clean, transferring the garden grime to both soap bar and countertop. "Okay," she said, standing at attention. "I'm ready."

Seven grabbed a towel, wiping up the grime from the counter. In the three weeks since Kathryn fell ill, she realized just how much the Captain did for their child. It had been an eye-opening experience. "You do not wish to eat fir-?"

"No! I need my Cappie!"

Dani was nearly out of reach when Seven caught the girl by the shoulder. "No, thank you, mom," Seven corrected.

"No, thank you, mom." The words came out in a tumbled mess, but Seven could not fault her anxiousness to see Kathryn. It had been a long time for the child.

The girl jumped under Seven's hand. "Eridani," Seven chided. "You will be calm when you see your mother?"

Dani nodded. Still the girl shuffled between her feet and wrung her hands.

"You will not argue with the Doctor?"

The girl became perfectly still, except for the corners of her mouth that turned down. "Why does he have to be there?"

"He saved Cappie from the disease, Eridani," she reminded the girl. "He continues to monitor her well-being."

The girl crinkled her nose and her lips curled.

"Eridani, I require you to extend all courtesy to the Doctor."

"Phooey," she hissed and then rolled her eyes.

Seven allowed her eyebrows to slowly rise.

"Can we disable his vocal processor?" A spark of hope was ablaze in the azure eyes.

"That is inefficient," she said. "He assists your mother's convalescence."

Seven watched the child grow increasingly stony. Sometimes it was like looking at someone literally digging in her heels. Clearly, this inflexibility originated on the Janeway genome. Perhaps Eridani will be a Starship captain someday, she mused as she watched the girl fold her arms in front of her.

Seven inhaled deeply, an expression of contrition overtaking her lovely features for the misuse she would make of three infamous little words, all in the name of motherhood. "Resistance is futile."

Dani pursed her lips. Since Seven had assumed the primary caregiver, she'd become increasingly less susceptible to Dani's little flare-ups.

Dani realized she'd taken too long when Seven added three more dread words to the conversation. "You will comply."

"Okay," she finally conceded.

Seven felt as if she'd gone three bare-fisted rounds in a Tsunkatse arena. She had developed a newfound respect with what her lover had achieved with the child. "Very well," Seven said. "Cappie said she..."

Dani ran to the door of the bedroom, rammed it open and zipped through it.

Seven arrived just in time to see Dani dive at Cappie for a full-body, full-contact, full-speed hug. Cappie grimaced and cried "Ooomph" on contact.

"Be careful, Dani," the Doctor said. "Your mother's been sick."

Other than to shoot him a poisonous glare that reminded him of Captain Janeway's, Dani ignored the hologram. He had just taken tricorder readings and was reviewing the data at a nearby portable workstation.

Dani laid her ear on Kathryn's chest, while she rubbed her mother's arm. "Oh, Cappie," she said. "You make me so happy!"

"Oh, my little darling," she cooed in response. "You say the sweetest things."

Dani pulled back. "I missed you soooo much!"

Kathryn cupped the girl's cheek, letting her thumb sweep it gently. "How much?" Kathryn asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

"So much that mom let me sleep in here with you guys!"

Kathryn's eyes lifted to see a crack in the otherwise impenetrable Borg armor of her lover. "Dani," Seven said lightly. "I believe that was classified information."

Dani lifted her head, her mouth dropped. "Oh, yeah. I forgot," she whispered. Then the girl curled up next to Kathryn, trying to have as much contact with the woman as possible. She took her mother's hand and threaded their fingers together. "I wasn't supposed to tell."

Kathryn gently kissed the girl's carrot top. "I missed you too."

"How much?"

"So much that I dreamed you and I were piloting the Delta Flyer together through a wormhole."

"Cooool!" Dani whispered, earning a chuckle from her mother.

"But remember, Dani," the Doctor added, looking up from a padd. "It was a dream. The Delta Flyer is-"

"I know that!" she snapped, frowning at him. When she looked back at Kathryn, Dani's expression transfigured to pure joy. "Will you teach me to fly it one day?"

"When your older," Kathryn replied with a grin. "Much, much older."

Dani let her eyes roam Kathryn's face and then her body. "So are you better now?"

"I feel much better. Thank you."

Dani beamed as if she'd just won a round of chess. "Do you think you could read to me later?"

Kathryn ran a finger along Dani's strong chin. "It would make my day," she said. "But, Andy and I have something to tell you?"

The Doctor looked up. "Who's Andy?"

"I am, Doctor," Seven said, finding a spot on the edge of the bed beside Kathryn.

"But your name isn't Andy."

"No, it is my nickname that Kathryn gave me." She glanced at Kathryn, a hand resting on the woman's thigh. "It is short for Android."

The Captain's expression was curious, but Seven knew she wouldn't ask or risk saying anything that would let Dani know she was in the wrong universe, though the child was well aware of her surroundings. So Seven answered the unspoken question. "Do you remember the time we took that short vacation to the Sulci Resort and Spa on Enceladus?"

"The Saturn moon?" Kathryn asked, a little confounded. She and Seven met in the Delta Quadrant, never having been to the "Sol" System to include the ringed planet visible from Earth. How strange that the alternate Kathryn and Seven had met in Sector Zero Zero One, Kathryn thought.

Seven could almost read the thoughts, as she had the very same when she was told of the incident. "The very one where we quarreled-"

"But Seven," the Doctor said. "You've never-"

Seven turned her head away from him and continued as if he hadn't spoken. "...About your Starfleet assignment?"

Kathryn feigned an intense concentration, while she struggled for a reply. "I try to forget all of our quarrels, darling," she said, frowning slightly at the Doctor for his obvious disapproval of their game.

Seven noted Dani's smile against her mother's chest. She knew they were both playing a game for her benefit. "You called me an Android because you believed my dedication to the University was at the expense of our relationship."

"Ah, yes," Kathryn lied. "I remember now."

"That is also when I referred to you as Pips because of your-"

"Yes, yes," Kathryn lied. "How could I forget?" She shook her head disgustedly and then mumbled. "Pips."

The Doctor turned, lifted a brow as he met Kathryn's eyes. "Pips?"

Kathryn leveled a warning finger at the hologram. "Don't ask, Doctor. And don't tell either. That's an order."

"Fine," he said, turning back to his data.

Dani heard the exchange, knowing that Cappie had engaged in the inane conversation just for her. She looked up, tapping her mother's breast for notice.

Kathryn placed her own hand to still the innocent but knifelike blows of the attention-seeking finger. "Yes, baby?"

Dani lifted her chin, her full lips swept up in an unconditional smile sparkling with shiny, white teeth. "I love you, Cappie," she said, bestowing a kiss on the corner of her mother's mouth.

Her mother gratefully returned the gesture, squeezing her shoulders for good measure. "I love you, too, Dani," she replied. "With my whole heart and soul."

"More than your pips?" Dani asked.

"Way more," Kathryn replied, nodding emphatically.

Dani snuggled closer. "I love you more than chocolate."

Kathryn squeezed the girl in her embrace. "That's quite a lot."

"Yeah, it is," she replied seriously.

Kathryn exchanged a look with Seven, raising her eyes in question. Seven nodded and then gestured with a hand for her to proceed. "Dani," she replied. "Your mother and I have something to tell you."

Dani pinched her eyes closed and covered her ears. "I can only hear good news today."

"Wonderful!" Kathryn tugged teasingly at the girl's wrists and then brushed the girl's strawberry locks with her fingers. "Because that's all I have today."

Dani pushed up on one arm to look at her mother. "Good."

"What have you been wanting for a long time?"

Dani screwed her face in concentration, peering up as she tapped her chin. Then her face lit up. "I know!" She rose to her knees, patting her thigh with her palms. "A real kitty! Did you get me an acrionyx?"

Kathryn cast a questioning glance to Seven, who sat up straight. "We are unaware of an acrionyx, Eridani?"

Dani deflated to half her size. "Oh," she replied, leaning back against Kathryn. "I guess you didn't get me my black kitty."

"No, but I think we'll have something better than a kitty," Kathryn said, her face a study in revulsion at the very idea of a feline sharing living space with her.

"Our own wagon?" The women heard the rise in excitement again, but it was not accompanied by a physical response.

"No," Kathryn said carefully. "What else have you been wanting?"

"Umm," she said in thought. "Hmm. I dunno."

Kathryn spoke carefully. "Dani, haven't you been wanting a baby?"

Dani slowly sat up, looking between her mothers. Her eyes were the twin moons of Gweelee. "A baby?" She jumped from the bed and did a loopy jig with arms akimbo. "We're gonna have a baby?"

Both of her mothers nodded, reaching for each other's hand. Dani pulled their hands apart and hugged them both simultaneously, falling into the middle of them with a happy sigh. "That is so cool!" she said drawing out the last word in musical scales.

"Indeed," Seven replied, tugging down the girl's amber blouse.

She half sat, leaning on an elbow. "Where is it?" Dani asked.

Janeway raised her arms and pointed to her abdomen. "Its home for the next thirty-six weeks."

Dani lowered her lips to Kathryn's stomach, kissing her over her blouse and then rubbing her cheek there. "I hope it's a boy!"

Her mothers' smiles dimmed slightly. "Actually, darling," Janeway said, rubbing her shoulder and looking down at the curled lashes. "It will be a girl."

She sat up, an abrupt sulk marring the girl's features. "Are you sure?"

"100 percent."

"Oh." Dani's entire carriage looked like a marionette whose strings had been cut. "Too bad."

Janeway clucked her teeth. "Too bad? You wanted a baby!" Kathryn shook the girl lightheartedly.

Dani shrugged, as if she'd become suddenly shy. "I shoulda been pacific. I wanted a boy."

"It's specific," the Doctor said, exaggerating the last word. "And girls are perfectly acceptable."

Dani drooped against Kathryn. Her mothers were concerned because she didn't have enough sass to respond to her holographic nemesis. Kathryn lowered her head, trying to catch Dani's eyes. "Dani," she said. "Sweetheart. What's the matter?"

Dani began to pick at non-existent lint on Kathryn's coverlet. "It's just...well...you already have a girl."

Kathryn wrapped her arms around the girl, jostling her playfully about and then falling over to pin her to the bed. "Now we'll have two," she said, as she began to tickle the girl. Dani howled, trying to fend off her mother's twelve hands.

Seven crawled on all four, stalking them both from behind and then pouncing at just the right time to prevent a dog pile.

"I'm squashed!" Dani shrieked through a beaming smile.

"Me, too," Kathryn added with a groan.

Seven rolls over, her hands finding their ribs where she tickles them both mercilessly. "I'm on your side," Kathryn exclaimed, trying to still the relentless Borg hand.

"Very well," Seven said, as she searched for Dani's feet. She tossed the shoes, leaving her soles exposed. Seven leaned her weight against the child's legs as Dani tried in vain to free herself.

"Two feet," Kathryn said, as she rubbed her hands together. "Two ticklish feet waiting for me."

Dani tried to pull them out of Seven's pitiless grip, as Kathryn's onslaught of slight caresses and playful pokes drove the girl to fits of weeping laughter. Her veins were corded along her neck and her eyes were seeping moisture. "Stop! Stop!" she implored.

"We can't," Kathryn replied, with a sinister laugh.

"I'm gonna pee on myself!"

Kathryn stopped abruptly. "What do you think, Andy? Shall we make an eight-year-old girl pee on herself?"

Seven considered the squirming girl. "Perhaps tomorrow as I have just changed the linens," she replied, releasing the child, who scampered up. Dani held her hands up, waiting for the next wrestling move. Her chest was heaving and she was sucking wind.

Seven lay on her side, propping her head on an elbow. Kathryn slumped beside her, breathing hard. "You are a fortunate girl," Seven said, poking the girl's middle to evoke a quiver and a chuckle.

Dani plucked at stray strands caught in her eyelashes. "Why?"

"Because two is a very important number. It is the first prime number," Seven said, as if that explained it all.

Kathryn tapped Dani's knee. "Exactly," she said. "Think about it. It's not only the first prime number but it is also the only even one."

"It's important?" she asked.

"Very," Kathryn replied. "Just like you and your sister."

After a while, Dani tipped her head. "What are you going to name her? My sister, I mean?"

Kathryn smiled, enjoying the idea of two daughters. "Do you have any ideas?"

After a moment of serious thought, Dani smiled. "Can we name her after my friend Grub?"

Kathryn tried hard not to let her eyes twitch, but she managed a tremulous smile. "How about we put it on the list?"

Dani nodded, but Seven appeared to be alarmed. "Grub Janeway?" Seven asked, sitting up. Janeway shook her head just fractionally, earning a non-verbal "ah" of understanding.

"What about Hector Dot Janeway?" the Doctor asked, turning to meet their confusion with a confident smile. "It's an anagram of 'The Doctor.' After me, of course." His head did a little side-to-side jerking motion that Kathryn had come to recognize as a gesture when he was particularly amused with himself.

"To Do Retch Janeway could also be named after you?" Dani said with a giggle.

The Doctor's indignant expression nearly made the Captain laugh out loud.

"I believe we may honor the Doctor if we consider 'Tech Do Rot Janeway,'" Seven said with completely without inflection or any hint of wit.

"Rot!" Dani sniggered again.

Seven's Borg-like effort to keep a straight face was defeated by the silly three-letter word and her daughter's endless amusement with it.

"I wonder what an anagram for appreciation would be?" the Doctor asked, turning to resume his work.

"Captain Roe Pie," Dani ventured.

"Pain Atop Rice" was Seven's entry, earning a convulsing guffaw from the girl. The absurdity of her reaction brought a smile to Seven, who had never really seen Dani act so childlike.

"How about...?" Dani paused, her voice on the edge of uncontrollable snorting. "Crappie Oat In!" She twisted her face, a barking staccato of laughter erupting from her belly. "Crappie!" The word sent her into another tizzy.

Kathryn raised a hand to stop the Doctor's angry intervention. She laid it on Dani's leg. "All right, girls," Kathryn said looking between her lover and her daughter. Seven's arched brow almost made Kathryn chuckle, too. Instead, she remarked with a crooked smile: "That's enough. It's not fair to pick on the Doctor."

After her giggles subsided, Dani still tried to keep a smile from her face by tightening her lips around an open mouth. "So," Kathryn asked, letting a finger draw a circle on the girl's knee. "Did you learn that word from Grub?"

"You mean...crappie?" Again she was plunged into an inexorable fit of snorts and hiccups.

"Yes, the very one, young lady."

"No," she said, panting. "I learned it from Finn. But he says it like 'croppie.'" Dani rolled her "r" in a perfect imitation of the Universal Translator's Irish rendition of Mr. Commagees' language.

"Finn, is it? That's rather familiar." Kathryn tilted her head, looking askance at Seven, but directing her question to her daughter. "Did you spend too much time at the brothel?" Kathryn spoke the last word precisely, narrowing her eyes on her lover.

Dani was still chuckling when she tried to answer. "Every-"

"Eridani!" Seven said, jolting to her feet and offering her hand to the girl. "Perhaps we should allow your mother to dress for breakfast."

"Are you gonna to cook?" Dani asked Seven. The tone implied blackmail and Seven considered the minor for a long moment. Dani sweetly returned the gaze, but Seven knew the girl was far more clever than her chronological age of eight, especially given the Borg implant enhancing her intelligence.

"Negative," Seven replied.

Dani grinned, taking her mother's hand. "Hurry up, Cap."

"I will, darling."

After the door was closed, the Doctor made a sound in his throat that Kathryn took for censure. "Save it, Doctor!" she snapped, as she exited toward the bathroom with a change of clothes in hand. "Don't rain on my parade, not today anyway."


Kathryn was adjusting her collar when she emerged from the bedroom she shared with Seven. She found Dani and Grub standing in the kitchen with Seven. "Come on, Mom," Dani pleaded. "Why can't we?"

Seven's arms were folded across her chest and she was stiff as a column of marble. Finely sculpted marble and carved with loving hands, Kathryn thought, as her eyes made a cursory tour of the Borg's physique.

"Eridani, it is unwise to eat cookies for breakfast." Seven's never-failing logic sometimes could reach an eight-year-old who thought she was always right.

Dani tipped her head, crossing her arms over her chest. "We can call them breakfast cookies, you know," she said. "Like calling candy bars breakfast bars instead."

"Good one," Grub said, providing the cheerleading for the debate.

Seven shook her head. "We will be going to a restaurant as soon as-"

"I'm right here," Kathryn said, stepping into the five meter-by-five-meter kitchen.

Dani fell by her side, leaning into her mother as she spoke. "Mom, since we've waited soooo long for breakfast-"

One of Grub's two stomachs growled right on cue, along with a peel of thunder.

"What was that?" Dani asked, looking to the window.

"My tummy rumbled," Grub admitted sheepishly.

"No, listen," Dani said. They waited and there was nothing but silence. She shrugged. "Anyway, Cap, can we have a little bite to eat just so we can walk to the restaurant without fainting?"

"I'm really hungry," Grub said, looking forlornly at Dani. Kathryn wanted to clap her hands at his performance.

"I'm sure we have some phalant-"

"Breakfast cookies!" Grub shouted, before he covered his grotesque mealy mouth.

Kathryn had heard the entire conversation about "marketing" the sweets as an acceptable daybreak meal. But it was her parade, after all. If they wanted cookies for breakfast, then, by God, they were going to get it!

"Oh," she said with a tremulous smile. "I think breakfast cookies would be a fine way to start the day."

Seven offered Kathryn a forbearing smile as she opened a container. Kathryn blinked, slowly sipping in the image of her lover dispensing the confection, as the fragrant smell of chocolate filled the kitchen. Dani removed two cookies, handing one to her friend.

"Darling," Kathryn said softly. "It's customary for the hostess not to handle your guest's food."

Dani looked at Grub, tipping her head. "I'm sorry I touched your cookie."

Grub stretched his mouth, with its bristles and skin tendrils into a caricature of a smile. It wasn't quite a grin, but it was certainly benign. "I don't mind," he said. "But if it makes you feel better, you can give me another one."

Dani took the container and held it out for her best friend.

He peered in on his tiptoes, looking for the biggest one he could find. He glanced up before a second hand found another large cookie. "Or two."

Before anyone could object, he stuffed both in his greedy mouth. Crumbs tumbled down his fat, segmented body to sprinkle the floor at his bloated feet. "Thank you," he mumbled through a mouthful.

"I think that's enough," Kathryn said, holding out her hand for the container.

"Can I have another one?"

Kathryn knew this was going to ruin her appetite for breakfast, but she'd be too excited to eat anyway. "Just one more, Dani."

Kathryn was still smiling when she caught Seven's expression of disbelief. "What?"

"If I would have allowed such an indulgence it would be unsuitable, but if you do this it is a treat?"

Kathryn flashed an apology in her eyes, offering the blonde a cookie as peace offering. "I didn't mean to send such a message, darling," she whispered. "You are a wonderful mother-"

"Who makes good cookies," Grub added.

Dani nodded in affirmation. "Yeah, and you sure can shovel those drunk blokes out on their-"

"Dani!" "Eridani!" The full volume of her mothers' voices could have broken glass in a fifty-kilometer radius.

She blinked, wondering what she had done wrong. "What?"

"First crappie and now this," Kathryn said, shaking her head in disapproval.

"You said crappie?" Grub asked. He giggled so hard his entire body shook, making him start to whine from the intense vibrations.

"Ya huh," Dani said, smiling proudly at Grub.

Kathryn looked over at Seven, pleading for her to step in to be the bad guy. The ex Borg patted her lover's arm, as she laid another one on the girl's shoulders. "Eridani," she said.

Still beaming a tera-Cochrane smile, Dani looked up.

"This situation is not amusing," she said. Dani's smile vanished instantly. "Furthermore, those words are not acceptable."

"What words?"

Seven blinked. They'd already discussed "crappie" and she really hadn't said anything offensive otherwise. She looked down to find Dani smiling angelically at her, a feeling that gave Seven a shiver. She glanced helplessly at Kathryn, who had quickly grasped their dilemma.

"She never actually said it," Kathryn whispered. "Did she?"

"Said what?" Dani inquired. When her mothers, who were looking at each helplessly, didn't reply, the girl turned to Grub. "What didn't I say?"

He looked between both of the women. "I dunno." Then he chuckled, a gurgling inside his belly that sounded at once repulsive and silly. "Maybe 'cause you were going to say...butt!" Both of them shared a silly laugh only in which innocence could partake.

Kathryn finally sighed, after she'd watched the two pant through three rounds of chuckling, alternating between outright guffaws and snickering. She finally shrugged. "I think we were outmaneuvered."

"Perhaps so," Seven said curtly.

Kathryn shook her head; her contentment was too overwhelming to worry about it. "Let's go, kids," Kathryn said, gesturing for them to the door.

"Yes," Seven replied, putting a hand to the small of Kathryn's back. "I believe the proper reservation time index is upon us."

"Let me call the Doctor," Kathryn said, pivoting toward her door.

Grub was tugging on Dani's sleeve but she was concerned with that bit of data. "The Doctor? Why does he have to go?"

Kathryn frowned. "Because he's..." she glanced at Grub. "Your uncle." A pointed eyebrow told her daughter she better play along.

While her mother had been explaining, Grub had whispered something to his best friend, making her grin. "Can Grub go then?"

Kathryn narrowed her eyes, a crooked smile giving away her amusement. "You are far too clever, my dear," she pronounced. Kathryn didn't have the heart to tell the boy he couldn't go or that he wasn't important enough because she knew it would break her daughter's heart. For whatever reason, the two outcasts in the neighborhood had finally found each other. She patted Grub's shoulder, feeling oily to the touch. "If your mother says you can go, then it will be fine with us."

"She'll be cool," he said.

Dani beamed at him. "Cool." She smiled, feeling a little lighter with the addition of a word to her vocabulary that hadn't been sanitized in Federation political correctness and dressed down and knockered up by techy Starfleet types. That's also why she liked Finn's words.

Janeway had never met Grub's reclusive mother, Vespa Aprocrita, but their friends spoke highly of her. "Grub, why don't you go ask your mom while Dani cleans up."

"Aww, Mom," Dani protested. "Again! I just washed my hands!"

Janeway gently took the child's wrist and turned her hand palm up. Chocolate spotted them. She let it go and then tapped the girl's prominent chin dimple when she said, "Your mouth is chocolatey too." To Dani's groan, Kathryn added: "Oh, come on. It's a quick wash not a bath."

Grub looked at Dani sympathetically. "I don't like grooming either," he admitted. "Especially right after dinner when I'm already full." He rubbed his segmented tummy.

Just as Dani opened her mouth to ask the obvious question, Janeway touched her shoulder, trying to circumnavigate a crass discussion of his race's habits. "Darling, don't you think Grub should leave now so we can go?"

"Be right back, Dan," he said, falling on his underside. His segments slithered forward, painfully slow.

"It's gonna take him a while, Cap," she said, still wondering at his grooming routines. She turned around and ran into her mother before she realized it. "Oh, sorry," Dani replied. "Um, what did Grub mean when he said he was too full to groom?"

Kathryn narrowed her eyes, thinking of the possible answer options and where they would lead, none of them promising. "Maybe we could meet him at his house-"

"Naw," Dani replied. "He knows where the restaurant is."

"Eridani," Seven interrupted. "It is unkind to leave without him, particularly after you invited him." She walked to the window, pulling back the curtain on a darkened window. The usual stars were darkened. In the distance, Seven could see the orange of the rising sun painting the underside of clouds. "It may rain."

"He'll be okay."

"How do you know?"

"That's what he always tell me. I believe him."

Kathryn aimed the girl's shoulders to the bathroom. "All right then. Skidaddle to the bathroom."


With Janeway between Seven and Dani, the three strolled hand-in-hand with the Doctor off to the side. He watched the threesome, wondering how four months could be enough time to bring about such a change. The Kathryn Janeway he knew would have been working round the clock to find a way back to Voyager. Of course, she had been affected emotionally by the mutagenic virus. It had changed her in incalculable ways. The question remained whether she would remain this Kathryn or revert to the workaholic Kathryn who shunned interpersonal relationships for the good of the ship.

He also watched how Seven seemed to be the leader, accepting greetings from passersby with a wave or a clap of a shoulder. What a strange, strange world, he thought.

"Oh, there's Grub!" Dani pointed to him inching his way. The two parties would nearly make the restaurant together.

"How did you travel so fast?" Kathryn asked?

"Oh, my mom gave me a lift," he said, rising to his hind segments.

Kathryn and Seven both snapped their attention to the crowd, looking for her reclusive mother. "Does she own a sandski?" Seven asked, remembering in detail the one owned by Finn.

He chuckled and then mysteriously added: "Naw, we can't afford that."

While they waited as the hostess prepared their table, Grub pulled Dani to one side, his whiskers vibrating as he spoke. "So what's the good news, Dan?"

"Oh, my mom's going to have a baby."

Grub blinked, his milky membrane shuddered his eyes once and twice. "Which mom?"

"The short one."

"I heard that!" Kathryn said over her shoulder.

Dani chuckled, letting her shoulders quake. She sure had missed her mother.

Catching her daughter still giggling, Kathryn winked at the girl and then gave a toothy smile when Dani tried to wink back. All she could do was blink both eyes.

Grub nudged the girl in the ribs. "So how many will she have?"

Dani's laughter stopped instantly, staring at Kathryn who was laughing at one of Seven's remark. "Uh, I dunno," she admitted. "I thought she could only have one at a time."

"My mom had fifty of us," he said calmly.

Dani turned astonished eyes on Grub. "You have fifty brothers?"

"And sisters."

She looked confused. "So a hundred?"

"Oh, no," he replied. "I get it. No, twenty five each."

"And you're...?"

"The youngest," he admitted dejectedly. "But I'll be pupating soon."

Dani didn't understand the term, but shrugged. "I'll be losing my teeth any day," she replied. She stopped to face him, opened her mouth and wiggled a front tooth. "See. It's loothe."

Grub didn't have teeth and didn't understand why Dani had to lose hers, especially since they looked perfectly fine. "Wow," he replied, not knowing what he should say to such a catastrophic loss.

Dani walked on, slowly keeping pace with Grub's wave-like slink. "Well," she finally said to break the silence. "No wonder we never see your mom. You have an entire Starship crew!"

"Have you ever been in a starship?"

She waved her hand. "Oh, yeah. I've lived there. It's really dull. It's way better in Gweelee City."


"Trust me."

Since Grub was never going to get a chance to live in the stars, he just took her word for it.


Mr. Commagees seated the five in the third best table in the house. Kathryn's Gweelee coffee presented to the table as soon as she sat down. "Oh, Mr. Commagees," she replied. "Thank you. You certainly know me well."

She turned to the Doctor. "Mr. Commagees," Kathryn said smoothly. "This is the Doctor..." Her throat gurgled, as Finn waited for a name.


Of course, the holographic being still hadn't decided on a name. It had become a sore spot with Captain Janeway and she even threatened to give him one by entering it into the official Voyager personnel roster.

He smiled uncomfortably. "You may call me Doctor. Everyone does it," he said, extending a hand to shake. Mr. Commagees stared at it as if the hologram were offering his own tongue on a platter. The Doctor pulled it back, making a note update his interpersonal subroutines to include more universal greetings.

"Everyone does what?" Mr. Commagees asked.

"Call me Doctor."

Mr. Commagees turned his head, spying at the hologram from a single cocked eye. "Even me own mother doesn't order me about. That singular pleasure is reserved for me sainted wife."

"Order you about?" The Doctor was confused, as was everyone but Seven and Dani.

Just as Seven was about to intervene, Dani upped the ante with the Doctor. "His name is Doctor Roe Pie," she said with a giggle.

The adults glared at her, worried about contradicting the fact and raising suspicions among a suspicious people.

"Ropehigh?" Mr. Commagees said. "Ye're not frum Highdin, are ye? I'll have Seven throw ye out on your arse with yer Shades and Palms right behind."

The children started to giggle when they heard Finn's reference to the backside, drawing Seven's face to them.

Meanwhile, Janeway was impressed with the Doctor's frowned, a persecuted expression crossing his holographic lips. He had quite the repertoire of emotional play. "No, I'm mostly certainly not from Highdin, where that is-"

"Do ye take me for an ijet?"

"Mr. Commagees," Seven finally said. "You're not an idiot. The Doctor's not a Highdinite. He's..." she looked over at her lover. "He's Kat's brother."

Janeway caught Seven's uses of contractions and her reference to a loathed nickname. It was almost enough to detract from the bald-face lie. But it seemed to work.

Mr. Commagees relaxed. "Ah, now," he said. "If you would have said these things earlier, I'd not have skundered meself." He looked at the adults. "Can I wet the tea for you this fine morning or-"

"Yes," Seven said. "Tea for the group."

"Ah, mom," Dani protested. "We want Gweelee Dew."

"It is not the proper time index," Seven replied.

"But we're celebratin' and Grub's never had Gweelee Dew," she replied. She clasped her hands in front of her, batted her puppy dog eyes and inclined her head toward her Borg mother. "Pretty please."

"Oh, darling," Kathryn said, pleading for her daughter. "She's right. Pretty please."

Seven frowned. "Very well," she replied. "But when you are hungry in one hour-"

"We won't be," she said, turning to Mr. Commagees. "Master Commagees, two Gweelee Dews."

He stroked under her chin with a feather finger of his. "Like me own family, Dani m'girl" he replied. "Are ye coming to work today, lassie?"

She settled a glum chin in her hand. "No, I think I have to go back to learnin' and stuff."

"Ah, you're days of livin' on the hop are over," he said tugging his fat lips into a frown. "But that's good, too." Then he noticed Kathryn hadn't touched her coffee. "Kat? Is the coffee too hot? Not enough Kaybayhay?"

"You're too kind," she replied. "But I'm going to have to pass."

"What?" It was like his restaurant was falling down around his ears.

"I can't drink alcohol," she explained.

He blinked his bulging eyes several times. "But t'is the drink handed down from Tryto Himself."

"May I have just water?"

"Water?" Mr. Commagees was becoming increasingly agitated. Seven had seen this before when he was feeling slighted. "Are ye touched?"

Seven knew that Kathryn was going to get in overhead with Finn's colloquialisms. Sometimes even she had trouble understanding the man. "Mr. Commagees," Seven said calmly. "Kathryn is pregnant."

Finn closed an eye, studying Kathryn. "What means this 'pregnant' business?"

The Doctor folded his menu and laid it over his placemat. "She's about to spawn," he said carefully.

Finn's eyes lit up, his thick lips tugging up. "Oh, what glorious news altogether! We must celebrate!" He raised his arms. "Drinks tonight are half off! We celebrate The Mrs. O'Nines' little addition to their wee school!"

There were cheers from the crowd and more drinks were ordered.

Grub leaned into Dani. "Will she have a boy or a girl?"

"Another girl," she said with a sigh. "I wish we could trade our girl for one of your boys."

"Dani!" Kathryn said, with a shake of her head

"What?" Dani replied.

"She's your sister!"

"I know that!" she replied. "That's why I was looking to trade."

Seven studied her daughter for a moment. Kathryn could almost hear the whirr of a million instructions per second that funneled through her lover's neural processor. Janeway placed her chin in her hand watching Seven's face transform from bewilderment to dismay. She could almost read her lover's thoughts: Dani offered numerous supplications for a sibling. But she declines the one she will receive. Division by zero. Infinite Error. Program terminated. Kathryn nearly laughed when Seven blinked several times and then decided to seek more input. "Eridani, have we not discussed this?"

Dani's eyebrows wrinkled and merged over her nose and her eyes narrowed. "Well, yeah. So?"

Seven inhaled slowly, turning away to soothe the chaos her daughter's contradictions seemed to incite. Kathryn laid a hand on her forearm, her thumb rubbing Seven's arm. "Let it go, darling," she said, shaking her head gravely.

"But we have discussed this matter just a short time ago. We resolved it."

"I know," Kathryn said. "She'll come around."

The Doctor smirked. "Being a hologram has its advantages," he said.

Kathryn turned pointedly to him. "Why is that, Doctor?"

"Simple, really," he said, tasting a bit of the appetizer bread the waitress brought. "As evolved beings, we holograms are not prisoners to the biological imperative." Both of the women were staring at him as if he'd grown two heads. "We do not need or desire children. They may be cute before they learn to speak. But after that..." The Doctor offered a resigned shrug. "It's a wonder any survive into adulthood."

Dani pursed her lips. Grub had been talking to her about pupating again, but she had zeroed in on the Doctor's comment. She leaned forward to look at him full in the face. "Well, it's a wonder someone has unplugged you!"

Her parents chided her for being so rude, while the Doctor pouted. "That was unnecessary, Eridani," Seven chided. "I believe you owe the Doctor an apology."

He lifted his prominent chin, waiting for the contrition. She merely glared at him.

"Dani," Kathryn said. "Please don't do this on our special day. Just give him an apology."

Dani's face softened as Cappie spoke. "I'm sorry," she said sharply. "I meant it but I shouldn't've said it."

"Sounds like a class in manners isn't the only thing you need," he said quietly but not entirely under his breath.

"Doctor, please act your age," Kathryn said, aware of her error only after the words spilled out.

"I am," he finally said. "Little Miss Janeway..." he tweaked his nose at the girl, "...and I are approximately the same age."

That comment made Grub giggle. "You mean your uncle is the same age as you?"

"I guess," she said, turning back to eat her bread.

"You're lucky."

"You always say that," she replied tartly. "But you don't understand."


After dinner, to Dani's irritation the Doctor remained close by. She tried to walk faster, but Grub couldn't keep up. So she ended up walking behind her parents and the acerbic hologram.

The five strolled through the Plaza to the far end of the small town, close to the riverbed down where Cappie and Dani zoomed in the wagon. Dani pointed to the high plateau a short distance away. It was awash in deep shadows as the sun began its ascent. "Cap and I were steered a wagon down the flat gully," she replied. "It's just over that ridge."

Grub nodded his first few segments. "I know the place," he replied. "Guadalquiver."

"What's that?"

"The name of the gulch," he replied. "That's also near where my brothers and sisters are pupating. I'll go there soon. Real soon, Dan."

Dani continued to stare there, reliving the laughs she had with her parents. "Did it ever actually have water?"

"Yes, long before the Unholy Collision," he replied. "The town elders ordered the trickle dammed. It's how we get our water now."

Dani understood public works, but it didn't interest her much. Not like astromechanics or physics. She felt her Borg mother step beside them, no doubt having heard the conversation.

"Master Grub," Seven said. "What is the Unholy Collision?"

"You don't know?"

Seven looked at him for a moment, feeling Kathryn and the Doctor step close. "No, we do not. Please clarify."

Grub related to them, as they all watched the sunrise in the west. A hundred generations ago, there was a cosmic blast in the sky. Concentric rings of fire shot out from so many explosions in the Gweelee sky. "Wave after wave of thermonuclear detonations destroyed the third moon," he said.

"What exploded?" Kathryn asked, fully in Captain mode.

"A bazillion Borg cubes. It rained metallic chunks on the planet for years," he said. The moon slammed into the planet, alter the planet's axial tilt. The oceans evaporated and the rivers dried, leaving the planet's marine population dead or living in a dustbowl.

"That's why the girls and them don't like Dan," Grub said, earning a sharp elbow in his fifth segment. It produced a big, slow yawn followed by a low yowl. "That hurt."

"Shut up," she snapped.

"Wait a minute," Kathryn said. "How do they know she's Borg?"

Grub chuckled, his chunky shoulders shaking like congealed caviar. "Her mother is Borg."

Kathryn looked at Seven, who was ashen. "That is irrelevant," Seven said. "Eridani has never been a drone."

Grub rippled his body, his equivalent to a shrug. "Their nymphs," he mumbled, as if that explained it all. "If you aren't, they don't like you. So it dudn't matter."

"We're even," Dani said, crossing her arms. "I don't like them either."

"Well, it seems there's quite a few people you don't seem to get along with," the Doctor retorted, earning an incendiary glare from the girl's Starfleet mother. "It was an observation."

Kathryn planted fists on her hips and narrowed her eyes on the girl's sitting at a picnic table on their apartment lawn. "I have something to say to them..." She started to walk off, but Dani stood in her way.

"Cappie," she whispered.

Kathryn did not see the small shake of her daughter's head. She was still concentrating on how she was going to crack the whip on those surly nymphs. "When I'm done, they'll be crawling over each other to be your friend."

Dani turned pleading eyes on Seven. "Mom," she whispered. "Please make Cappie stop."

"I believe, Pips," Seven said, settling a hand on her lover's shoulder, "That you will shame your daughter by such a tactic."

Kathryn inhaled deeply. "If you ever want me to step in, say the word, sweetheart," she replied, finally looking at the freckled girl.

"I won't," she replied with a set jaw.

Just then lightening bolted just east of them followed by a peal of thunder that shook the ground. Before they could even look up, the heavens opened, pouring water over Gweelee City as if from a bowl. "The rains!" Grub shouted, trying to get Dani to go inside. "I'll see you in a few weeks!" He was trying to tell her that he'd be pupating and they wouldn't see each for a month. But the drops, the thunder and the shrieks of people getting caught in the downpour drowned out his words.

"Be careful!" Dani yelled to him.

Seven offered to carry him home, but he declined. "I like the rain," he said, but still no one heard.


Captain Chakotay stared at the big hole where Cargo Bay One doors used to be. The ship's shielding crackled as it held the atmosphere inside from rushing out into the vacuum of space. Lt. Commander Tuvok's eyebrow was pointedly arched and then he coughed into his hand.

Chakotay peered at him sideways. The Vulcan's hair was graying, unusual for a man of his age. His eyes seemed glassy and his dark skin was unusually pale. But the backup Doctor gave him a clean bill of health. Since he'd come back from the Eesh'tob, Tuvok hadn't seemed the same. Chakotay was not the only one to notice.

"It appears that D'goba could not wait for our warp engines to go online," Tuvok said. He was ignoring Chakotay's frank stare. Instead, he focused on surveying the damage done when the Mencari cruiser that Tuvok and Paris had commandeered blasted the cargo bay doors to escape. They'd lost supplies with the decompression, not to mention the one Mencari who could help them make sense of the Ket'zali.

"From what Tom tells me," Chakotay said. "The Silver Bullet's engines aren't warp-capable. It will take her at least six weeks to get to the planet where the beacon originated."

"The Silver Bullet?"

"That's what Tom dubbed the Mencari ship."

"Hmm." Tuvok's replies lately seemed almost like grunts to Chakotay. He sensed that Tuvok was beginning to have a difficult time breathing and yet at every medical review he demanded, the Doctor could find no infection, no disease, nothing that could warrant the symptoms other than age. But Vulcans had a long lifespan and Tuvok was barely middle-aged.

"Does that mean the warp engines will be running soon?" Tuvok asked.

If he had been human, Tuvok would have been annoyed to ask such a simple question. Captain Janeway, a consummate professional, had always supplied him the information he needed, when he needed it.

But Captain Chakotay seemed to be more of a rogue, holding vital information to himself, hoarding it as a method of control. It was illogical and disconcerting. And with the rumors flying about the small crew, it was a wonder to Tuvok that Chakotay could keep his eyes opened. It seemed that Chakotay was enjoying the fruits of being Alpha Male, though Tuvok had never put any legitimate stock into gossip. But over the years, Tuvok had found that ship hearsay was always rooted in reality. The stitches above Chakotay's obsidian eyes were new and his swollen lips looked to be shrinking. If one sifted carefully, then the nugget of truth could be unearthed. Tuvok couldn't imagine a woman on board, save B'Elanna Torres, who could inflict that type of punishment.

"Two days," Chakotay finally said. "B'Elanna promised me two days."

"Will that be enough time?"

"At warp, we can be there before the Silver Bullet. I think we'd even have enough time to pick up some of our crew along the way."

Tuvok coughed again. "Very well."

"How are you feeling?"

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "I am well. Thank you."

"What about Tom?" Tom had returned with his own set of symptoms, all quite unique. But once again, the Doctor turned up no cause for his maladies either.

"I do not know," he replied. "Am I now the Chief Medical Officer?"

Chakotay scratched his cheek right next to the corner of his mouth. Then he shook his head. "I suppose I should ask him."

Chakotay watched Tuvok hobble away. He hoped to everything he held dear that Seven was in better shape. His own working theory was there was something on the Eesh'tob that humans may have been allergic to, each of them reacting in their own way.

Tom seemed voracious for food. No matter how much he ate, he continued to drop pounds at an alarming weight. He was now in sickbay connected to a round-the-clock feeding tube. Curiously, he was also exhibiting the same symptoms as Chakotay was: aggression, despite his weakened state.

The Doctor began to give him hourly updates on the number of brawls that broke out on board. The EMH could find no external causes to such behavior. Yet it was not normal. Chakotay wondered if D'goba had released some toxin on board, as part of her mission.


On board the Silver Bullet, D'goba stared at the long-range sensor panels, her face shaded green from a single blinking light. She punched a control to reveal hundreds and hundreds of red blinking lights, all on the same vector intercept. There was no doubt the Ket'zali had picked up on the Borg encryption embedded in the beacon. "The Evil Ones!" D'goba hissed to her console. "They swarm!"

Chapter 19: Into the Fire

Gweelee's yellow sun was breaking through thick, angry clouds in the west, painting the underside a dark orange. The yellow rays bathed the glorious towers of Gweelee City. Its citizens prepared for a long slumber through the heat of the day.

Five dark figures materialized near the Delta Flyer. Armed with strange rifles, the reptilian-like heads swayed about, taking in the scene. Sa'feer ambled forward, using his tail stump as a third leg. His cross-like pupils constricted to an x with the yellow spectrum light still spilling from the energizing sun. He could feel the heat prickle on his scaly hide. "Is this it?"

One of his men swept the Starfleet shuttle with a tricorne instrument. He turned his gaze to his leader and then the capital city that stood proud against the northern plateaus and basins. "The child is there."

Sa'feer lifted his down-turned chin in the breeze, as if sniffing the air. "The child must die."


Officer Byth Apoda propped one leg on the counter, with an elbow settled on his rail-thin knee. He looked around and yawned. "I detest this post," he admitted to his partner.

Officer Kuf Sarfenti glanced at his fin-like fingers. His eyes trailed the veins upward toward his arms. "Aye," he drawled. "Like watching shite dry."

Just then Officer Apoda spotted five dark, eerie creatures ambling from the desert. "Stop the lights," he growled, nodding to the out-of-place figures "Those wankers look to bring a bit o'trouble."

Officer Sarfenti pressed the alarm button and gathered his harpoon, casually resting the barrel on his shoulder.

They watched the five lope toward them, intent on the City's gate. Just as they tried to pass, Officer Apoda dropped his harpoon across the door to block their entrance.

"Now where do ye t'ink ye're going?"

Sa'feer looked down at the harpoon that had descended for him. "We must find someone."

The Gweelee lawmen stiffened at the man's eerie whisper. "Little louder. We can hardly hear ye."

Sa'feer repeated himself. The lawmen watched his hand rest on his weapon holster.

Officer Sarfenti made a big show of lowering his ballista weapon and resting a finger on the trigger. "How fortunate for ye. You found someone. Me," he said as he slowly circled the group. "Do ye really t'ink we'd let you just saunter in our fair hamlet ugly as ye please?"

Sa'feer stared straight ahead at the door, watching others enter with impunity.

"What're your names?"


Both officers knew they shouldn't rattle the man's chain, but the creature was too inviting. "Sa'feer?" Officer Sarfenti asked, stepping to one side to see the man's ugly profile. "Did I hear ye right?"


"Did ye hear that, Officer Apoda?" he asked his partner.

"Aye, sounds like a nasty ailment."

The other officer laughed loudly. His voice became a falsetto of mockery. " 'Oh, doctor, got a sa'feer on me rectum.' "

The men were curiously confounded by the stranger's lack of reaction and his complete lack of emotion. "You must be from Highdin, a humorless lot," Officer Apoda said, stepping closer to Sa'feer and studying as he went.

"As grim as death, they are," Sarfenti agreed.

"Piss-ants, all of them."

Sa'feer remained steady, implacable at least to the officers. "Are we done?"

Officer Apoda returned his gaze to the leader, hoping that their back up was close by. "Aye, we're done all right. And I can tell you, laddies, that your interest in Gweelee City is duly noted but your request to enter is denied."

Sa'feer tipped his head, not really comprehending.

Apoda sighed gustily. "Let me be perfectly blunt. Get your sorry arses on with ye. Go back to Highdin, why donchya?"

"We must find a child."

Officer Apoda's face opened in shock. "Hmm, one of them, are ye?"

"And willing to admit it!" Sarfenti bounced his harpoon on his forearm even as he kept his hand at the trigger in readiness. "Un-feckin'-believable!"

"We've got lots of children and they'll be safe tonight thanks to us." The Officer finally raised his loaded ballista to Sa'feer's head. "You should be running along back to where you came before I scatter me some fool brains on the nice s-"

"We mean you no harm," Sa'feer added.

Officer Sarfenti shared a meaningful glance with Officer Apoda, who raised his eyes quickly in search of their comrades-in-arms. Sarfenti narrowed his eyes on the leader. "Do you t'ink we're daft? When ye hafta say that, it means quite the opposite."

"We are looking for a..." Sa'feer's mind raced for the right word. "A friend."

The officers laughed. "Yeah, you'd have to pay me lots of Shades to be one of yers," Officer Apoda declared.

"Cap...ten Jane Way," he hissed.

"Know any Jane Ways?" The men asked each other simultaneously, and answered in the same rhythm. "Nope."

"No one here by that name, Sa'feer." Officer Apoda's use of the stranger's name was dripping with sarcastic provocation.

"She is here!" He repeated in a quiet whisper. Then in a split second, the five raised their weapons at once. Blue lightning arced from the Ket'zali weapons, finding the hearts of the two men who fell backward.

Bullets and harpoons began to bit into their hides, pummeling their bodies with every round. A few rounds were nothing, but the rain of projectiles began to pour down on them. Orange blood covered their bodies. "Retreat!" Sa'feer called.

As they tried to make their way back, a lone harpoon sailed through the air, striking the last man through his hip. The officer pressed the button. The harpoon hauled its dangling prey back. The other officers, who had been hiding along the upper parapet of the city wall, began to target their weapons on the ensnared creature.

One of the officers found both of the men, placing his fin to their heads. "They're alive! Get a medic." Then he walked over to the creature. "Is it dead?"

"You check, Lieutenant."

"Ugly bastards," he muttered, as he kicked it. It didn't stir.

"There's enough lead to kill a wooly mammoth."

"Cut his bleedin' head off. If he isn't dead, he will be."

The creature came back to life and tried to free itself from the harpoon. The officers hacked at its body, heavy blows nearly severing limbs until finally, his head was separated from his body.

The officers were covered in orange blood. "Good thing those harpoons are a good design."

The Chief came out, kicking the body. "He's definitely not a Highdinite. Too bulky. Wonder why they're here." The Chief scanned the horizon. "Keep sharp, laddies. Me t'inks we're in for a milling."


Seven's eyes snapped open, as she squinted from the moonlight that beamed white onto the bed she shared with Kathryn. She half turned, seeing the red chronometer read fourteen-hundred hours. Plenty of time, she thought. She pressed her long form against the petite one beside her, eliciting a moan. Seven moved lower in the bed and waited. Right on cue, Kathryn turned toward her, placing her nipple within a lick of Seven's mouth. Deep in her throat, Seven murmured a word of triumph.

Without touching any other part of her lover, Seven's tongue flicked out. The red tip lightly touched the tawny nipple taunting her. Kathryn stirred. The tongue retreated. After a few more moments, assured that her prey was again slumbering, Seven's wet tongue grazed the nipple, lingering longer. She felt the tiniest hardening of it before the woman shifted. The tongue withdrew.

Seven counted to five hundred, slowly and methodically. At full tally, the tongue slathered its fluid on the nipple, bringing it to full attention. The woman groaned, settling a thigh over Seven's legs. Before she could count again, Kathryn's hand came up to scratch the nipple, finding it moist. "What was-?" A single gray eye opened to see the blonde locks. "Seven?"

From deep in her throat, Seven laughed. Abandoning all pretenses, she sucked the tip in, laving it with her tongue.

"Good morning, darling!" Kathryn's voice was gravelly with sleep. She curled her fingers into Seven's hair, pulling her tighter. She moaned with pleasure when she felt the warm hands cup her ass cheeks.

Seven pulled back, blowing on the nipple. "I believe, Kathryn, that your mammaries have enlarged."

"Is that good or bad?"

Seven looked up, finding her lover in quiet repose and her lashes still brushing her cheeks. "It is excellent," she said. "They will nourish our child-"

Gray eyes snapped open. "Oh, they will! Will they?"

"Of course," she replied evenly, not understanding the issue. "That is their function."

Kathryn propped herself up on an elbow. "Is that what you're doing now? Feeding?"

An amused expression crossed her Borg face. "I am not feeding as I do not take my nourishment as milk," she replied.

"So what do you think you're doing then?"

"Enjoying them," she replied, kissing each in turn. "They are larger and they...entice me as they swell."

"Are my breasts speaking to you now?"

Seven's eyes flicked up, catching the moonlight playing across the classic face. Her eyes were darkness, shadowed below the brow. But she could see the shadows accentuate the marks of laughter around her eyes and her mouth. Her pearly white teeth were gleaming.

"It is difficult to explain," Seven replied, returning her gaze to the dark points before her. She ran a thumb over one, triggering Kathryn to arch her back to the touch. "You are more sensitive."

"One of the Doctor's side effect, I presume," Kathryn said hoarsely as she threw herself back on the bed.

Seven noted that Kathryn's eyes were closed again, but her body was still arch toward her. "It is as if your breasts-your growing breasts-are iron-"

"Excuse me?" Kathryn covered her nipples with one arm in mock indignation.

Seven tugged gently at the woman's wrist, finally prying it off. Seven licked her lips as she considered her relentless desire. "Iron is a pure metal, Kathryn. It is lustrous, silvery and quite rare." She gazed up from her perusal. "Like you, it is strong and naturally magnetic. My lips and my hands..." Seven kissed one nipple as she kneaded another. "They are drawn to them, as to you."

Kathryn laid back, raising her arms to allow Seven complete access to her chest. "You may have them at your leisure..." She lifted a head, to capture Seven's eyes.

"Is that an order?"

"Direct," she purred. The word lacked its usual sharp edge of command. She threw her head back.

Kathryn hummed her approval of Seven's oral and tactical attentions.

"Your mammaries are indeed swelling," Seven whispered, just before her tongue circled the summit in a languid and moist exploration.

Seven registered Kathryn's mirth as a deep rumble in her throat, followed by a brief mewling. She tugged a tip with her teeth, pulling it up and then descending on it again with an open mouth to vacuum it in.

Kathryn sighed happily. "I believe it's wishful thinking on your part. I'm only four weeks along, after all."

"Four-point-nine-four," Seven said. "Your breasts are exactly 195 cubic centimeters. Prior to that they were-"

"And you would know this how?" Each word was meticulously pronounced in typical Janeway fashion, as she again lifted herself up on her elbows.

"Measurements, of course," Seven said, forcing her eyes up from the enticing points. "The mass of a sphere is density times volume-"

"My breasts are not spheres, darling."

"No, but I-"

Kathryn leaned forward, pressing her lips to the woman and pushing her tongue in the woman's mouth, swirling it around greedily. Only when she could no longer breath did Kathryn pull back, leaving them both panting.

"Made differential calculations-"

"Oh, darling!" Kathryn's head fell back, drawing Seven's eyes to the corded muscles along her lover's neck. Kathryn threw an arm over her eyes and her mouth was curled. "I was trying to distract you from your ridiculous report about my mammary glands."

Seven let a hand slip down to rub Kathryn's abdomen, just below her bellybutton. Seven's eyes slowly watched her hand circle there, dipping lower each time. But the ex Borg was careful not to touch the curly auburn hairs that she knew instinctively would be moist. "Does this mean you do not wish to know how your abdomen has enlarged by exactly-?"

Kathryn took Seven's wrist in her hand, pulling her on top. The friction of Seven's naked breasts against Kathryn's was a pleasant sensation for both and Seven relaxed her arms in her lover's grip. "Will you behave?"

Seven nodded, her eyes crinkled in amusement. Carefully Kathryn released her wrists, ready to return instantly at the sound of a number.

"You informed me on Stardate 54732.3 that you...quote adore unquote...me when I am 'erratic and defiant'."

Kathryn flushed, giving her lover a crooked smile. "I believe what I said, Seven, was that I adore it when you are unpredictable and naughty."

"Is that not what I expressed?"

"No," the Captain said, starting to nuzzle Seven's ear and neck. "Not the same thing. At all."


"Are you sure really want to discuss it?" Then Kathryn's hand wandered down to cup on of Seven's ample bosoms. "Or do you want me to show you?"

"A demonstration would be preferable, Kathryn."

"That's what I thought."


It was still twilight when Kathryn walked out of her bedroom, startled to find her daughter completely dressed sitting in a darkened living room. "Darling?" Kathryn whispered, looking at her room wondering if she'd overheard their early morning romp. If she did, there would be a barrage of questions, no doubt. "Are you all right?" Kathryn asked, as she came down beside the girl.

Dani stared out and only when her mother called her name did she look up, with a wan smile. "Oh, hi Capp," she said. Dani blinked several times, trying to focus on the concerned face before her and not the small green text racing across her visual centers in a loop of information.

"Dani," Kathryn said, sitting beside her and leveraging her arm against the couch. "Are you feeling well?" She put a hand to the girl's forehead.

Dani closed her eyes and smiled at Cappie's touch. "Oh, I'm okay."

"Did you have a bad dream?"

"No, I..." Dani knew she couldn't tell her parents about the messages. It would likely be considered a violation of the Temporal Prime Directive. She couldn't risk them knowing more. But the burden of knowledge felt overwhelming. "Yeah, I had a bad dream."

Kathryn's arm encircled the girl's shoulder, bringing her close. "What, darling? Tell me."

Dani inhaled her mother's scent. Since she'd come to Gweelee, Cappie had adopted the faint tangy citrus of lemon with the warmth of ginger. Dani wasn't sure if it was the homemade cooking or the natural odors of the planet. Either way, she preferred it to the sterile environmental smell on Voyager. Everyone was permeated by an oppressively sanitized smell, neither offensive nor alluring, merely disinfected. It was really an absence of fragrance. Dani nestled her face into the crook of her mother's neck. "Ah, nothin'. What are we gonna do today?"

Kathryn was stroking her daughter's back, feeling her tense as if she were on an adrenaline kick. But slowly she felt her relax under Kathryn's practiced soothing hand. "Well, I was thinking. The rains have finally let up. I thought we could paint outside. What do you say?"

"Paint?" The girl pulled back to see if her mother was serious. She groaned.

Kathryn heard the muffled strangle of dismay in her daughter's voice. "Let's take some paint, our easels and go to the plaza today and see what images speak to us."

Dani screwed her face up, her nose crinkling and her eyes becoming mere slits. "Can't we blow somethin' up instead?"

Kathryn gave her a tight smile. "I think I've neglected your liberal education. There is something to be said about the beauty of art. Geegee and Aunt Phoebe are artists, you know. You could very well have that talent locked deep inside of you, too." She scratched lightly with one nail in the middle of Dani's chest.

"Oh," Dani said, when she didn't want to hurt her mothers' feelings. "Can we blow somethin' up after?"

Kathryn stood and held out her hand. "The last time we blew something up, Officer Apoda had to show up and bail us out of hot water. Again."

Dani smiled in spite of herself. Cappie, Dani and Grub had tried to approximate a volcanic eruption. Since they didn't have baking soda and vinegar to recreate the lava, Kathryn had used the planet's version of acretia and ipher. Unfortunately, the explosion had rained red goo on the other people in central park and scared everyone into thinking that the Borg was attacking. The trio had laughed so hard that Officer Apoda finally had to threaten to call Deputy O'Nine on the scene.

Dani warmed to the memory. It was so much better than anything on the holodeck. Chaos had its own rewards; and its own set of consequences, like a protracted clean up and a goo fight between she and Grub. It was the last time she'd seen her best friend since he disappeared almost two weeks ago. "I miss Grub," she said dismally.

"I know, sweetheart," Kathryn replied with a squeeze. "Maybe we can paint and think of something else. C'mon. Before it gets too cool and starts to rain again."


"Voyager, this is the Doctor. Come in Voyager."

"Doctor! It's good to hear your voice."

"Chakotay!" The first thing the Doctor noticed was the First Officer's longer hair. His uniform was decidedly non-regulation. The pips were replaced by metallic leaves and there were four, instead of three. The Mayan added a tattoo on his jaw, just below his first design. It was dagger-like and it pointed forward.

The observations of the changed man were nearly instantaneous and the Doctor did not have time to ponder their meaning. "The Ket'zali are nearby."

"We're on the second planet of a little system-"

"We have your coordinates, Doctor," he said. "We are on our way. Then we've got a little surprise for them-a little high colonic for fluidic aliens."

The Doctor drew his eyebrows together. Chakotay's voice was belligerent and his derogatory use for new races was uncharacteristic.

"Where is Seven?"

The Doctor raised a brow. "Seven of Nine, Captain Janeway, Eridani Janeway and I are all safe, but we are being pursued by a Ket'zali war party. What is your ETA?"

"Within the half hour."

The Doctor shook his head. "That's too long."

"We're doing the best we can, Doctor."

The Doctor touched the console controls. "I'm sending the coordinates for their likely stand."

"Hold on, Doctor. The cavalry is on the way. Voyager out."

"The Cavalry?"


"Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist and inventor," she said as they strolled hand in hand to the Plaza. Kathryn had slung the easels and paints in a bag over her shoulder while she carried two canvases in a tote.

"Who's he?" Dani slipped a hand into Kathryn's.

Kathryn wondered how she could be so content without Voyager. Never in a million years would she have thought that the domestic simplicity could be this so rewarding. For the first time, she realized now why her mother had abandoned her career in favor of child rearing. "Do you remember that faint picture in my ready room near the window?"

Dani's gaze was caught up in the sights and sounds of Gweelee City and its diversity, but she managed a small nod.

"That's da Vinci. He was a renaissance man of ancient Earth history. Brilliant. He was scientific and artistic. The perfect blend in my opinion."

"He painted the Mona Lisa?"

"Yes! Exactly. That's probably his most famous work." She studied her daughter for a moment. "You have seen the Mona Lisa. What did you think of the painting?"

She shrugged, as she swung her hand, along with her mother's. "S'kay," she replied. "But nothing happens. The girl's just kinda half smiling. Big whooptie-do."

"It's because she has a secret."

Dani stopped, intrigued. "Oh?"

"What do you think it is?"

Dani fidgeted uncomfortably under her mother's gaze. "Dunno," she replied, trying to avoid her mother's incisive study. "She put a garden snake in some snooty girl's desk?"

Janeway laughed and then suddenly furrowed her brow. "You didn't-" She shook her head. "Never mind. Don't tell me a thing." Janeway inhaled deeply, trying to remember her point. "I know! Why don't you write a short story on Mona Lisa's secret for tomorrow?"

Dani groaned, dramatically splaying her fingers across her face. "I'd rather paint a bazillion pictures than write a story, Cap."

Kathryn squeezed her daughter's shoulders. "I know, darling," she replied. "But writing is important, too. How can you be a starship captain if you can't communicate effectively?"

Kathryn's breath hitched and her throat tightened to see the flash of unbridled hatred. "But you know, you don't have to enlist in Starfleet," she whispered, as she brushed the girl's strawberry locks behind an ear. "You can be anything you want to be, you know."

Dani looked away. Kathryn wondered at the girl's faraway expression. Once again, she found herself wondering about her counterpart in the other universe and how that Kathryn Janeway could have turned her daughter against the organization that nurtured Janeways for generations.

"In any case, there will be many opportunities for you in the Alpha Quadrant," she said. "But you'll have to be able to publicly present any of your new inventions, you know?"

Dani looked around as she came to stop near the Plaza fountain. "Here's a good spot," she said. The topic change wasn't very subtle, but her mother chalked it up to being eight and extremely strong willed. So they set up their easels in front of the plaza and began to paint a scene as they discussed da Vinci's own inventions.


Thunder had just begun to streak across the sky when four dark figures approached Gweelee City's walls. None looked in either direction, uncaring who spotted them. The hulking creatures began to scale the wall with their bare claws.

One of the officers didn't take long to spot them, considering they'd been expecting another attempted breach, but nothing this bold. They'd managed to harpoon one of them, severing his head as soon as he hit the ground.

The remaining three sped off into the city. Officers were dispatched to every quarter.


Kathryn was laughing at one of Dani's absurd observations when she noticed Officer Apoda limping over to them. "Officer, how are you?" Kathryn asked concerned.

"Aye, a wee bit too much brawl and not enough soft pillows, I'm afraid," he said.

That comment drew Kathryn's eyebrows together.

"You see, Mrs. O'Nine," he said. His eyes were constantly searching the crowd. "I met with a..." He glanced down at Dani and tousled her hair, earning a glare. Then he turned his attention back to Janeway, as if he had all the time in the world. Yet he could see the odd fellows triangulating their position. "I met with a sorry lot of eejits, maybe Highdinites, though they look to be offworlders of the most bizarre sort. They pointed this crazy blue gun and-"

Kathryn's and Dani's eyes riveted to him. Kathryn fumbled for what Dani thought was a weapon. But it was an eye patch she used to cover her right eye.

"Ah, so you must know them then?"

"Only that they'd like to take my child," Janeway said, searching the crowd. Dani drew close and Janeway's hand circled her shoulder protectively. Now she didn't care who knew who they were. She flipped open her blouse and touched her communicator. It chirped.

"Yes, Pips?"

"Seven! It's time. Operation: Desert Feint."

"Aye, Captain."

Apoda looked at her curiously. "Captain?"

"I'll explain later," she replied. "Right now, those fiends want my daughter-"

"They'll have to kill me to get her!"

A dark, hulking creature descended on them from an awning nearby. "Watch out!" Apoda cried.

Janeway tugged Dani behind her, as they both moved away from the threatening Ket'zali. Apoda stood between them and the assailant.

"Didn't learn yer lesson, now did you?" Apoda said with more bravado than he felt.

"The child is ours," he hissed.

The crowd made a wide clearing, pushing in to see.

Apoda pointed to the crowd. "Every man on this rock will fight to defend our own."

"They are not your own. They are offworlders like us."

"In that, ye bloody cretin, ye are sadly mistaken."

Just as the creature leveled his weapon, Apoda shouted something unintelligible. Janeway and Dani ran through the crowd, who gave them wide berth, like a parting sea. Then they closed tightly behind the pair, sealing them away from the reaches of the creatures.

One of them tried to follow through the crowd, mowing down several women. But the crowd descended on him like fire. He found his body was not immune to the planet's odd assortment of native creatures with their pinchers and poison tails. "Mercy!" he cried, as a thin, hypodermic needle-like stinger burrowed into his torso. He convulsed with every pulse of venom pushed into him.

In Gweelee City no one threatened a child without suffering the most severe punishment of vigilante justice. Officer Apoda saw the creature torn limb from bloody limb. The crowd was in a frenzy and though he was bound by law to rescue the creature, Officer Apoda feigned ignorance of his fate.

The other creatures scaled the buildings quickly, out of reach of the surging crowd of avengers. They raced along the rooftops toward the alley through which they sensed Janeway had taken the child.


The heavy rains had soaked the planet. Kathryn and Dani's progress through the neglected alley was slowed by the suctioning effect of deep mud on their shoes. Kathryn tugged at the girl, pulling her ever forward. "Come on, darling."

Kathryn could see the child's eyes were wide. She stumbled frequently. "You can do it, Elizabeth Eridani Janeway," she whispered.

Dani was nearly blinded by the green text superimposed over her vision. It distorted her depth perception and drove her to nearly catatonic distraction. But there was a part of her that anchored in Kathryn's strong, soothing voice.


Seven shed her brown Gweelee uniform, with its baggy arms and legs. Underneath, she was wearing her blue singlesuit complete with the combadge. Several men looked at her dumbstruck. One tried to reach for her form. His hand was compressed by her Borg appendage until it cracked, he shrieked and fell to his knees.

"Seven! What the devil are you doing to me customers?" Mr. Commagees asked.

"I must leave," she said abruptly. "My family. They require my assistance."

"Operation Desert Feint?" he asked wryly.

"Yes, but how did you know?"

He gave her a knowing look of his bulging eyes. "Me sandskis. Let's use them."


Apoda cleared a spot, ordering his best archers to take aim at the climbing creatures. "C'mon laddies! This is for the Family O'Nine!"

Their bits were too heavy and ballistas fell far too short of the intended assailants as they scaled the walls in their getaway. "All right, then," Apoda said. He commandeered a third rate sandski. "In the name of the Law Enforcement, I'm taking control of this."

"But it isn't paid for!" cried the woman.

"You're lucky I'm a good driver then, lass."

He sped off, the sea of people parting for him.


Kathryn looked back down the long, gloomy alley. She could see strange movements along the upper walls, but none on the ground. She had no illusions that the Ket'zali were closing the distance. "We scouted this out when it was dry," she puffed through exertions. "We should have-"

She heard a thud and looked to see a hulking figure silhouetted against the brightening light of sunrise. "It does not have to be this difficult," he hissed. "Surrender."

Kathryn shook her head once, pushing Dani behind her. In one motion, she pulled out a small weapon.

"You cannot prevail with that."

She raised a brow, squeezing the trigger. The Ket'zali tipped its head. Its mouth dropped open at the ultrasonic sound that neither Dani nor Kathryn could register. The creature tried to cover its ear holes as it fell unconscious to its knees.

"Let's go!" she dragged Dani through a door that was hidden in the rock bed wall.

Inside, the corridor was pitch black. "I can't see," Dani cried.

"Hold on, darling." Kathryn switched the eye patch. Her once-covered eye was perfectly adjusted to the darkness.

"Mother! Don't leave me!"

Kathryn grabbed the girl's hand, tugging her close. "Shh! Dani! I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."

She was sobbing while Kathryn lit a torch that she and Seven had hidden there months earlier.

Once the spark brightened to a tiny flame and then to a blue burning torch, Dani's anxiety eased. "How could you see?"

"I'll explain later. First, let's set this trap."


High above, the U.S. Voyager began to circle the brown planet of Gweelee. Its once pristine hull was marred by streaks of black. Some of its plating was missing, but still it traveled at warp nine to arrive at the origin of the beacon.

"Synchronous orbit established, Chakotay," Ensign Kim said, as his fingers lighted on the control panel. "We are starting to get three combadge signals at the coordinates the Doctor indicated. But they're spotty."

Tuvok coughed into a bloody rag, but still he stood at his post. "Iron ore and various other metals in the soil are interfering with our sensors, Commander."

Captain Chakotay burned at Tuvok's lack of respect for his field rank. If he didn't need the damn Vulcan, he would have thrown him in the brig. "Can we get a lock on the life signs?"

"Negative. The same distortions are interfering with transporters."

"Damn," he said, lunging out of the chair. "Harry, you have the bridge."


The man paused on the lift to regard the ensign.

"Sensors indicate we've got a warship belonging to Species 8472. ETA twenty minutes."

"Chakotay to the Doctor!" he said as he held the lift doors open.

"Doctor here."

"Doctor, get a few doses of the weaponized nanoprobes ready. Species 8472 has left fluidic space."

"What is that?"

He sighed. "Harry? Contact the Doctor on the Delta Flyer and beam him up. I want those nanoprobes yesterday!"

"Aye, Captain," Harry said to the closing lift door.

Tuvok coughed sporadically. Blood was evident in the rag he lowered from his mouth. He gave Ensign Kim a disapproving look.


"I did not say a word, Ensign."

"Yeah, right. One brow lift from you is like seven lectures from Chakotay." Harry turned to his console. "Just look away from me," he muttered.

Tuvok studied the usually compliant and unassuming Ensign. Harry's odd behavior was in lock step with other aggressive males the Vulcan had catalogued. The Ensign was pressing controls at his station and his once boyish face gnarled into a scowl. A saw-toothed scar along Harry's jaw line discolored to white against his olive skin. "Damn," the young Ensign whispered.

Tuvok finally looked down at his own console. Either his own illness was clouding his logic, Tuvok considered; or the symptoms he'd recorded among his crewmates belied a significant contagion aboard Voyager. In either case, Captain Janeway's rightful place at the helm would be most welcome.


Ensign Kim recalibrated his console grid. With nearly every system failing aboard the ship it became routine to reset original parameters on everything from warp core manifolds to station console grids. But the constant repairs were wearing thin after six months in an unclassified nebula. "Voyager to the Delta Flyer."

"Ensign? This is the Doctor."

"Doctor, we need you in sickbay right away."

Ensign Kim explained the need for the engineered nanoprobes.

"But Captain Janeway ordered me to keep to the Delta Flyer, Ensign. She, Seven and Dani will be beaming aboard any minute."

"Captain Chakotay is ordering you to the Delta Flyer."

There was a harshness in Ensign Kim's tone that the Doctor had never heard before. "Captain Chakotay, is it? Did he give himself a field promotion?"

"Janeway's been AWOL for nearly six months, Doctor."

"Let's get our clichés right, Ensign. Captain Janeway's been stranded, not AWOL. To even suggest that-"

"I'm initiating the transporter, Doctor."

"You will do no such thing, Ensign Kim!" The Doctor could feel his holomatrix beginning to destabilize, so he pushed a few keys on the Delta Flyer consoles with his last second of solidity.

"What did you do, Doctor?"

"I've raised my shields, of course. That's a pretty customary protocol response to an invasive transporter."

"Dammit, Doctor!"

The Doctor's brows became craggy peaks over his eyes. "Are you really who you say you are?"

"Of course I am!"

"The Ensign Kim I know would not behave so forcefully."

"The Ensign Kim you know has been working 18 hour days for the last six months, on a half functioning ship inside a pea-soup nebula!"

The Doctor stared at him, considering his symptoms. His face was scruffy, from six days growth. A nick above his left eye bisected his eyebrow. The Ensign also sported a tattoo at his left temple. It was sun-like, with rays shooting in lightning jags across his forehead and down along his cheek.

Ensign Kim finally sighed. "Look, Doc," he said in that youthful voice that reminded the Doctor of happier days. "Chakotay and an away team took a shuttle to the planet's surface. Our sensors are showing Mencari, Ket'zali and now Species 8472 all descending on the coordinates you told us where we'd find Janeway, Seven and the kid."

The Doctor noted his disrespectful reference to Captain Janeway. "Times like these I wish I could replicate myself. More than one me would be very helpful." He deactivated the shield and was beamed directly to sickbay.


Sa'feer jumped from the heights of the stone wall to stand before the door that nearly camouflaged into the wall. "This is where they entered," he said. "Well hidden from us. Clever."

One of them had smashed the sonic gun, freeing their comrade from its crippling effect.

The four gathered, as Sa'feer ordered the youngest one among them to enter the corridor. The young Ket'zali stopped dead at the door. "I cannot sense any-"

One of his comrade shoved him in. He surged forward into the palpable blackness. His screams were ear piercing as he dashed back outside. Tendrils of smoke swirled off of his scales.

"Is he on fire?" Sa'feer asked.

Slowly, they could see orange flesh revealing itself under the foul smelling smoke. "It's consuming his flesh!'

Sa'feer ordered one of his men who had thought to bring a lamp. "Inside!"

Deep shadows revealed a large broken jar, reeking of the same bad-egg smell of their comrade. "Acid!" Sa'feer hissed as he finally recalled the word. "Wicked clever," he noted begrudgingly.


D'goba transmitted her coordinates to a legion of Mencari ships in the sector. She appended a brief message, urging haste for the child. D'goba grimaced at the red blips zeroing in on her coordinates in synchronous orbit. She was having a difficult time triangulating Delta Flyer or even Starfleet life signs.

"I'll boost the targeting scanners," she told herself, sliding a single claw down a long control and then pushing a small button at the end. The distorted flashing blue points on the display panel became solid. "I've got you, Starfleet. I'm on my way."


Sa'feer walked behind his four men. They were slow. Two other shrewd traps had given them pause. A long branch, with four-inch thorns was pulled back against a wall. When one of Sa'feer's men stepped on the trigger, it lashed forward, striking his chins. He cried out in pain, remaining motionless in the narrow corridor. They had to work in cramped quarters to free the man from the thorns. The wounds were not sufficient to justify a mercy kill, but his injuries slowed them down, as did extricating him from the crude trap.

A second trap was a series of ropes hanging from the ceiling. The men pushed away the strings, thinking them irrelevant spider webs. One of them tugged on a cord. A rain of sharp rocks descended on him. While not killing him, it wounded him, effectively slowing them down further.

After another half kilometer, Sa'feer ordered the most severely injured foot soldier back to the ship. The stench of his rotting flesh from acid was filling the corridor.

"Three will be enough to kill the adults and take the child," he said.


The dark corridor seemed to stretch forever as Kathryn and Dani ran along its path. Water was running down the walls, pooling in dark, smooth pockets. Janeway heard the water drips keeping time with their running pace. She heard her own breath, the huff reverberating against the walls. She heard moans from Dani.

"Dani," she heaved. "Baby. Are you...all right?"

"Hmm," the child said. Her respiration was double what Janeway's was, but there was little she could.

"Hold on!"

"Okay," she replied beside her. She squeezed her mother's hand and was rewarded with a gripping reply.

Janeway carried the torch high. Her eyes glided along the rock-hewn wall, looking for the symbol she and Seven had carved for the exit she was supposed to take. She hoped she hadn't missed it when she'd tripped a few meters back.

With her eyes intent on the upper ceiling, it wasn't until she began to loose her footing that she realized the water level had risen a few centimeters. Not life threatening, but the corridor's rock bed flooring began to slip under her. Janeway stretched out an arm to brace herself against the wall. Her right knee buckled. The torch flickered out in the small pool. Kathryn landed in the mud face down. Dani fell on her bottom beside her mother with a thud.

"Are you all right, darling?"

"I can't see," she whimpered.

"I know." Kathryn peeled the eye patch away. The single eye having adjusted to the darkness under the pirate patch was able to make sense of their location from the dim lights that streamed in from the wall seams. She and Seven had placed several torches along the path, but someone must have moved them. "Damn," she whispered, as she rose to her feet.

"What's wrong?"

The girl's voice was dripping in terror.

Before the Captain could answer, a thunderbolt of blue fire streaked across the corridor, illuminating it enough for Janeway to see a new torch just a meter ahead. But the weapon discharge struck her in the shoulder. The tendrils of blue bent and curved around her neck, engulfing her face in a macabre light show.

Dani gasped to see her mother's violet eyes wide as her fists and her lips stretched across her teeth in a grimace. "Cappie!"

By the time Dani's hands found her mother, the shot had dissipated into thin air. "Cappie," she whispered.

Janeway leaned against the wall, coughing. Then she heard another sizzle of weapons fire. "Down!" She held Dani's head down, while all Janeway could do was slide down against the wall.

A lightning flash of blue arced over their heads. Janeway hobbled on her feet as she triangulated the torch, but realized she'd never have time to light it and it would surely give them away. "Come on, Dani," she said in a hoarse voice. "Let's run." She urged her daughter to keep a hand against the wall to help brace them. Water splashed, echoing off the walls to surely give their position away.

"I can hear them, Cappie," she whispered.

"My darling," she huffed. "I need you to focus ahead of you. Your mother is there waiting for us."


D'goba's view of Gweelee unimpressed her, but she touched more controls and the Silver Streak began its descent to the planet's surface. "Captain D'goba, you are hereby ordered to maintain synchronous orbit to rendezvous with the Mencari Fleet, led by Sky Marshal To'nock."

"But there is not enough time. My sensors indicate that a contingent of Evil Ones are on the surface."

Sensors began to blink red, along with a green one. All were within the same spatial grid on the planet's surface. She adjusted her course on a vector to the coordinates.

"Captain, you are endangering the mission."

"No, ma'am. You are endangering the One and her Borg Mother."

"The prophecy says Ush'maul will create order! Not D'goba the Impulsive."

"How do you know it is not D'goba the Impulsive who assists Ush'maul?"

"Because no one prophesied of you, D'goba! No one!"

"Then I prophesy, Great One. I will help her."

"Do not disobey me, D'goba. Or your fate will be worse than the Evil Ones'."

"If I fail, I will deserve it." D'goba slammed her console. "Faster Silver Bullet! Light Speed to Light!"


The Doctor breathed in deeply, though he had no lungs to fill ambient atmosphere of Voyager's sickbay. "It's good to be home," he said, as he crossed the room toward his office.

He was stopped cold by a familiar sight. "Who are you?"

The bald man with a wreath of dark hair stood. His dark brows were veed over his generous nose. He approached his mirror image with a good dose of mistrust. "The question is who are you?"

"I'm the emergency medical hologram. That's who!"

The man's face transformed into angry indignation. "That's who I am, sir! I was activated on Stardate 54163.3." The Voyager Doctor glanced down at the man's tan clothing. "I'm in uniform."

Fresh from the Delta Flyer, the Doctor frowned. "My clothes may not be regulation, but I was activated six years ago. That means I predate you."

The back up EMH opened his mouth to speak and closed it. He leaned back in his office chair. "Well, I'm here now. That means you are superfluous!"

The last word was like a chain-mail gauntlet across the Doctor's face. He actually turned red, drawing the scrutiny of the backup EMH.

"Is that a blushing subroutine?" he asked, drawing closer to his predecessor.

"I'm not-!" The Doctor looked up, ignoring his doppelganger. "Sick Bay to Ensign Kim."

"This is Kim."

"You didn't tell me about the spare, Ensign."

"The what?"

"How dare you call me that!" the younger EMH said.

"That's what you are."

With Kim hearing the exchange, his initial response was strangled in a laugh. "Doctor-"

"Yes?" they both responded, glaring at each other once they realized it.

"Voyager Doctor," Harry clarified. "Delta Flyer Doctor is going to work with you on getting the weaponized nanoprobes ready for disbursal on Chakotay's orders."

"I'm going to work with him?"

The V Doctor gave his colleague a smug shake of his head. The new arrival narrowed his eyes.

"He will be working with me, Ensign, since I'm the only one who knows what you're talking about." That comment wiped the arrogance from the holographic face like a Bolian razor.

"Doctors, work it out. As long as you meet with Captain Chakotay's orders. Kim out."

The Delta Flyer Doctor frowned at his desk. "Captain Chakotay? What is this world coming to?" He roughly began pushing buttons over the shoulder of the other hologram.

"Do you mind?" The younger doctor pulled back, a gravely insulted expression marring his face.

"I'm trying to work, in case you didn't recognize the activity," the older Doctor said. "I need to be in the pilot's seat. You can take up a post in the plasma injectors."

The holo man stood up, tugged his tunic down. "I won't even dignify that with a response," he growled as he stepped aside. "But it was quite inappropriate and completely unbecoming a Starfleet Officer."

"As if you'd know," the Doctor muttered.

"What was that?" the newer holographic doctor enquired.

"I'm working," he said with irritation.


The familiar plateau was covered in three inches of mud. The yellow sun was beginning to break through the dark, angry clouds in the west. In place of rain, a scorching wind was beginning to blow.

Seven could see the Guadalquiver, where she and Kathryn had given Dani a memorable lesson on the Newton's Three Laws of Motion. But instead of a dry riverbed, raging white water swiftly swept between the canyons. Between the furious river and the howling winds, Seven did not hear Mr. Commagees, until he tugged her arm.


She turned worried blue eyes on him.

"Oh, lass! We'll find those two, I promise ye on me own mother's natal stream."

She glanced around, trying to remember the well-concealed hatch. "They should have arrived by now," she said flatly, as she jogged to the hatch.

"Lift it, lass."

The rusty hatch groaned and screeched as she opened it. She stuck her head down. Solid darkness was inside. "I cannot hear anything," Seven said into the void. When she lifted her head, she started to see three Ket'zali pointing their lasers at them.

"Oh, lass," Mr. Commagees whispered. "I'm sorry. I did not hear these bloody bottom feeders!"

"They likely materialized at an inconvenient time," she replied, closing the hatch and locking it.

"The child-!" one of them managed to whisper.

"Is not here," she replied.

"They are ugly groupers," Mr. Commagees snarled. "Bottom feeders of the worst kind."

The insults pinged silently to the ground as the Ket'zali could barely understand the spoken words. "Child," one of them reiterated.

"No child here, you pus sucking scavenger."

The Ket'zali tipped their flattened faces, studying the curiously obese fellow with the fat lips and curious whiskers. They watched his gills open and close in respiration at his neck.

Then just as suddenly, as if they'd come to a uniform decision, they raised their weapons on Finn Commagees.

"Now I've done it!" he whispered.

Seven leveled a compression rifle at them.

"Now, lass," he whispered, trying to keep his great lips from moving. "Don't let 'em shoot first."

Just as he finished his statement, Seven squeezed the trigger. She shot three short bursts in quick succession. One of the bursts took out the lead Ket'zali. He was a black heap of smoldering flesh over which the other two rocketed toward Mr. Commagees.

"Now, gents," he cooed to the two hovering close to him. Their breath felt like stinging insects on his sparkling scales. "Perhaps, I misspoke. I'll give you lunch at me restaurant..."

They studied him again. "You are not the child."

"No, I most certainly am not. You're quite astute."

"Why do you want the child?" Seven asked, lowering her weapon.

They turned their attention back to Seven. "You are Borg." It was a hiss and followed by a spasm of their bodies.

"You don't like Borg?"

"Borg hurt the fathers."

"What fathers?"

The pair uttered a guttural parade of vowels, grunts and clicks. To Seven and Finn, it sounded like "Kithabi" with additional vocal fanfare.

"That is their name and they are our fathers."

Seven studied them, surprised they wanted to talk. "Hurting is bad?"


"Then why do you hurt us and our child and the Mencari?"

"No, we do not hurt them. Mencari are mothers. But they hate us."

"Because you hurt them." She flicked her rifle barrel at them when they tried to step forward. They immediately fell back.

"No, we love them."

"They do not want to be loved by you."

"But we love them nonetheless."

"It is rape."

"What is rape?"

"When a woman does not want to couple with you and you force her, that is rape."

"Why would you not want to make children?"

"Because women wish to love their mates. They want their spouses to be kind and to be present in the lives of their children. They want to continue to enjoy a relationship with their own families after they marry."

"They do not want to live with their husbands?"

"No, that is not what I said. They may not want husbands at all. If they did, they would want loving husbands who do not hurt them. These husbands would understand a woman's needs."

"This is new."

"Why do you want my child?"

"Your child?"

"The child you seek, Dani Janeway. She is my daughter. You want to harm her."

"No, we do not."

"You have harmed her already!"

"It was an error."

"Harm as you have inflicted was not an error. It was malicious."

"We regret the errors."

"But why do you seek her. She is afraid!"

"The mothers! They are the reason! They seek to use her. She will show them how to hide from us. This is wrong! Is it not?"

"They are afraid of you."

"Because we rape them?"


"But we love them."

"They do not see it as such."

"Will you kill my child?"

"No! We merely seek to disengage her ability."

"That will kill her."

The two remained silent, watching Seven and Mr. Commagees. Then, the leader spoke again. "But we need the Mencari. We will die without them."

The Ket'zali raised their weapons. A blinding flash of light blotted out the rising sun for Seven.


"They are getting closer, Cappie!"

The pair continued to slide their aching legs through the rising water. Their arms were braced against the wall, with Dani in front of Kathryn.

"Dani. Focus forward, darling. Please."

They stumbled, slipping so easily on the silt and mud that settled below their soggy shoes. Captain Janeway was groping the walls, sliding her fingers along the edges hoping to find the exit before the Ket'zali behind them reached them.

They heard a thunderous roar, along with sparks.

"What was that?"

"I don't know. But let's keep going."

"Where are we going?"

"Up, Dani. We are going up!"

A faint blue light cracked the darkness and that's when Janeway saw the latch. "Here we are!"

Just as soon as it flashed, the light faded. But it was enough. Janeway's nimble fingers searched for the latch to turn. It would be difficult, she remembered. But Seven had opened it several times and oiled it for good measure. Kathryn heaved up, reaching on her toes. But she was not tall enough. "Dani, I'm going to get on all fours. I need you to open this."

They groped around into position, all the while they heard panting, grunting and the unmistakable three-legged running of Ket'zali. The sound was closing in.

"Hurry, baby!"

Dani stood up, growling as she twisted the latch. Then she heaved it open with a mighty push. The light flooding in was blinding. All she could see was an arm reach in and hoist her up. "Cappie!" she yelled. Her legs kicked as she was foisted up.

Janeway stood so rapidly, she became disoriented from the blood lose and the blow to her head. She steadied herself on the wall, blinking at the porthole. She held herself against the wall as she came to stand under the pool of blinding light. That's when a dark figure hurtled through the corridor, tackling her to the ground.

Reacting on pure survival instinct, Janeway tried to shove the creature off of her. But this only incited his rage that he unleashed readily. He pounded her ribs, drawing grunts. She realized she wasn't going to be able to hold out much longer. "Seven," she whispered. "My love!" The she closed her eyes.

Chapter 20: Anarchy Inside and Out

As she descended the desert planet's atmosphere, D'goba's sensors started to blip wildly. Her animated eyes became still as she trained them on the view screen images. Two Evil Ones appeared to be threatening the Borg female and a third creature.

"Ush'maul!" she prayed, as her paws flew furiously across the Silver Bullet's conn station console. "Arise and scatter our enemies!"

D'goba made a course correction with a slide of one claw.

Just as the Silver Bullet sailed into the planet's troposphere, her communicator began to crackle. "D'goba, return to orbit at once!"

D'goba disengaged her communication grid. Then she skillfully placed her flyer about a kilometer over the cliff where sensors indicated the Borg. Hovering placed a huge drain on her ship's resources but she could think of no other way to deploy the weapon with an element of surprise. Her sensors detected a triangular confinement array with Starfleet signatures. She would use it to transport herself to the surface.

Before she engaged her transporter, she touched her controls. A small deflector dish descended from the belly of the Silver Bullet. It was pointed straight down. Her console beeped once. Then a blinding flash of white light bathed her view screen.

The bodies of two Ket'zali lay crumpled together, she observed. But still D'goba kept her weapon trained on them as she backed herself to the Blessed Borg. She and the other creature were lying on their backs. The Borg's face was frozen in a curious expression, D'goba thought as she neared her position reverently. Since her race was not given to facial expressions, D'goba could not interpret the high eyebrows or the lips pulled back from the teeth.


Ket'zali was sitting on Kathryn's chest, constricting her airways. The blows to her head seemed infinite in the haze they brought. She could feel her lips swelling and her field of vision began to dim. The metallic taste of her own blood kept her from sinking into unconsciousness. But still Captain Kathryn Janeway beat her fists against the creature's head. She kneed his back. She bucked her hips. She wasn't going gently into any damn good night.

His blows were still forceful as hers began to lose their sting. Kathryn thought she would black out any second, when the weight on her chest vanished. In a nanosecond, she only felt a combadge pressing against her left shoulder. Even the weight of silken wool fabric of her Gweelee blouse was painful.

A man's whispers pierced the dank silence of the dark corridor.

"Mrs. O'Nine!" The dulcet Gaelic vowels rolled into the trills of the consonants. She knew this man, she told herself.

It took all of her will power to open her eyes, but a small light burned into her eyes and she shut them again. She covered her face with her forearms and moaned.

"Mrs. O'Nine! T'is I, Officer Apoda!"

Kathryn turned her head, trying to remember that she was getting enough air.

"Kat! I'm Byth. Seven's friend."

"Seven!" She sucked in a long wind and exhaled to a coughing fit.


Kathryn tried to sit up. Suddenly the flood of what happened hit her. In her mind, the Captain scrambled to her feet quickly, but in reality her broken and bruised body slipped and fumbled as it managed to slump against a wall. Officer Apoda's hand on her shoulder and another in her grasp finally helped her rise to her feet. "The Ket'zali?"

He gestured with an arm, his flashlight revealing a scaly cadaver. Its severed head rested beside its still-twitching torso. Janeway grabbed the Officer's arm, directing his light to the body's chest. There was no sign of the red Starfleet tattoo Sa'feer wore. She suddenly became dizzy. "Officer! My daughter...is up there."

The Officer waved a fin-like hand. One of the men hit a hidden panel, pushing several command nodes. The sound of metal rubbing against metal filled the corridor as a ladder rose from the ground and the hatch lifted.

Captain Janeway wiped her arm across her nose and mouth, flinching at the tenderness she felt. Her stomach tightened like a shrinking coil of tritanium when she thought of Seven and Dani.

"Mrs. O'Nine," the officer said with a hand on her shoulder just as she gripped the ladder. "Let me go first."

She studied him, the deep shadows giving him a determined glint.

"Please, Mrs. O'Nine. Seven would gut me alive if I let her wife come to any harm." He glanced down at the creature. "More harm than I've already allowed."

"All right."

He lifted his head through the hatch, surprised to find a triumphant scene. Another creature, similar to the Ket'zali, stood brandishing a weapon over two invaders. Both were wrapped in a tight coil of barbed wires that tightened every time they struggled against the bonds. Seven stood beside the hatch, with the wide-eyed child beside her. Mr. Commagees was studying the two in bonds, while he interrogated them.

"Seven!" Officer Apoda said, crawling out.

"Byth," she said, reaching down to offer her hand.

He slapped her shoulder as he rose to the surface, turning suddenly to grasp a small-boned hand that reached up from the underground passage.

Seven nearly cried out when she saw the auburn-haired woman rise from the corridor. One of Kathryn's legs was still lagging behind when Seven engulfed her in a hug, pulling her out of the underground tunnel. Seven pressed her lips against Janeway's, surprised to hear a moan of pain. "Darling," Kathryn whispered, smiling through swollen black eyes. "Easy. My lips are-."

"You are damaged," Seven said, scanning the woman head to toe.

Seven's look of abject pity made Kathryn wonder of the state of her body. She only knew that even Seven's hug was excruciating. Perhaps her ribs were merely bruised, not broken, as she feared. One eye was swollen shut, giving her a distorted view of the world. Captain Janeway certainly did not want to know what shape the rest of her face was in. She squeezed her thigh, feeling a million stings were the damned lizard had bitten her. But the injuries would all have to wait. She was alive and it was enough. "Nothing a little tender loving care won't cure."

Kathryn had expected a running hug from Dani. When she felt none, she pulled away from Seven, turning to find the girl standing by the side. The girl was looking up through her long, strawberry eyelashes. The sun-blasted wind tangled the red hair of mother and daughter. Dani looked strangely unsettled, as if she expected more turmoil any minute. "Dani," she whispered, opening her arms to the girl. "Darling? Are you all right?"

Dani's sapphire eyes, so like Seven's, shifted side to side, as if she were reading.

Kathryn looked behind her, trying to understand where Dani's focus was. She was staring at the three meter-high towers that formed a triangle. The blinking lights of the targeting scanners that Seven and Kathryn had erected weeks earlier drew her gaze. As part of "Operation: Desert Feint," the plan was to use the towers to compensate for the planet's scattering of transporter matter streams to beam the trio back to the Delta Flyer.

Seven stepped forward. "Eridani?"

Dani opened her mouth to speak, but her throat was dry. Kathryn and Seven noticed the change in Dani the instant it occurred. The girl's face contorted, and she began to back up, shaking her head. "No," she whispered. "Not yet!"

"What do you mean-?" Janeway whirled around.

Captain D'goba leapt forward, crashing into one of three Ket'zali who materialized on the plateau between the targeting towers. The pair growled and rolled in the mud.

Another Ket'zali swung its mighty tail back in an arc that would sweep the frail form of Kathryn Janeway off the cliff. Seven's Borg hand yanked the Captain back. Kathryn flew back, her arms and legs trailing behind her. The tail swiped the air just micro millimeters away from the woman's head. His momentum carried him over the cliff.

A Gweelee harpoon pierced the ground where the third Ket'zali had stood just moments before.

With his well-muscled legs, the third Ket'zali catapulted himself through the air, on a collision course for Eridani Janeway, who stood frozen in fear.

"Dani!" Janeway cried. She stumbled to her feet, as Seven darted past her. Officer Apoda frantically reeled in his harpoon, loading the weapon for another round.

The Ket'zali collided with the child seconds after Mr. Commagees enfolded the girl in his arms. The three tumbled over the high plateau, falling into the cold depths. They were swept away by the rushing rapids of Guadalquiver.


Seven quickly straddled Finn's sandski, revving it. Officer Apoda jumped on the other. D'goba and the third Ket'zali had tumbled over a dune, as they both growled and spit grave insults.

Janeway jumped behind Seven after collecting the targeting towers.

"Officer, how do we get to where the river drains?" Seven asked, as he sped up beside her in his own sandski.

"West a bit and then follow the river to the valley, where it empties. But I know a shortcut," he said over the loud crashing of the whitewater and the winds. Another sound, a single thrum of vibrations caught his attention.

In the distance was a dark, looming cloud circled strangely against the yellow sky.


Dani's ears ached. The pressure of falling into the cold water from so high felt like a thousand needles had pricked her eardrums. When her lungs quivered and threatened to heave, Dani opened her eyes and she inhaled to a sputtering cough. The water was the palest blue crowned with foamy white. The sight of a dark, five-limbed creature thrashing nearby whipped her own arms into a futile frenzy. Green text continued to teletype frantically over her visual centers.

Suddenly, two hands caught her, lifting her head above water. Warm air filled her and she was nearly paralyzed by coughing. Her arms flailed to steady herself on something solid.

"Easy, Dani!"

Dani flopped more until Finn turned her around. She grabbed his shoulders, bringing herself against him.

"Now Dani," Finn said, trying to yell above the roar of the whitewater. "Don't choke me... That's better. Now I want you to hug me from the back. You are going to ride the waves in style, m'girl."

The canyon began to zip by; even the thrashing black creature could not match Mr. Commagees' natural agility in the water. "Hold on, lass," he yelled behind him. "Don't let go for any reason Okay?"

When she saw that Mr. Commagees was swimming effortlessly toward the thrashing creature, Dani tightened her grip around his scaly neck. "Gentle, lass," he husked. "Our only advantage is the blessed water that King Tryto gives. Let us not waste it!"

He eased forward, grabbing one of the spindly legs and tugging the creature down. The water covered him briefly, before it re-emerged. His arms were flapping and his flattened mouth gasping for air.

"Thought ye were a creature of fluidic space!" Mr. Commagees taunted. "Can't get more fluidic than good, old-fashioned water, now can ye? But ye're quite pathetic!"

The creature's eye turrets twisted and swiveled wildly. A second tug of his leg submerged him and Mr. Commagees' hand shoved the creature's head down for good measure. "Not so tough while you take a bath, are ye?"

Dani yelped when she felt something graze her leg.

Mr. Commagees surged upward to show Dani that he was the complete master of their journey down the Guadalquiver. When he splashed down again, the waves rose over the creature and again Seven's boss tugged his leg.


Finn's inner guppy felt so alive in the water. Gliding through the aqua was like heaven, except for the clumsy land creature that wanted to consume his friends. But the creature's lungs required oxygen after all and Finn was able to successfully deprive him of it before the wadi neared its natural completion. The water was gentling and becoming more shallow. The white was disintegrating.

Finn edged toward the sand, just as the black figure washed to the sandy shore.

Dani clung to Fin's neck, but the man tapped her shivering arms. "He's gone, lass," he replied. "We took him out, easy as pie."

"We did?" She disengaged from the man. Her burgundy blouse was dripping and her pants were so heavy with water, they nearly dropped from her slender body. She tugged them upward as the girl turned to look at Mr. Commagees' obese body. He was lounging in the small pool.

"Are you going to stay in the water, Finn?"

"Yes, Dani," he said. "With this heat, I'd look like a dried out pantoonie!" He lifted his scaly heft up on both his arms to looking around. "I'll bet your mothers will be here in no time."

The valley was large, perhaps twenty kilometers in every direction. They were surrounded by high cliffs north and south, from which they'd come. They stood in a vast delta where the monsoon rain runoff emptied.

"But I'll stay here until yer mums arrive," he whispered just before he half submerged his head. "We'll be fine, Dani."

She nodded, wiping her face with her hands. The water was sheeting off of her, evaporating quickly. The cooling effect caused her to shudder, even in the rising heat of the day. Her eyes took her back up the river, where she could see the spraying line of white rapids meander through the canyon.

She gasped, pointing to a spindly, squid-like ship as it streaked across the sky toward them. "Oh, no! No!"


"Hurry, Seven!" Janeway urged into her lover's ear. Her mind raced with a thousand possibilities. A thousand ways she would have planned differently paraded themselves before her. A thousand things she would have told Dani pinged inside of her. All of it was useless chaff now adrift in her frenetic mind.

She had to sharply turn her head to scan the horizon with her good eye. A lone red dot seemed to shimmer and flicker along the line of water she traced in the heat of the Gweelee noonday.

Captain Janeway covered her bloody thigh with a hand. Its throb was relentless and she ground the back of her teeth to keep from crying out. Her brown slacks were a bloody dripping mess. Just a little longer, she told herself. She hauled herself up, straining at the synchronous throb of her entire body. Her brief view failed to locate the creature that had pushed Dani and Mr. Commagees over the cliff.

What would she do if she saw it? Feel more helpless, she thought dismally. Powerlessness was not a place where Kathryn Janeway allowed herself to live. She'd known the edges of it, like any human, especially as a child under parental authority. After her decision to destroy the array and effectively stranding her ship and her crew in the Delta Quadrant seventy-five thousand light years from home, she'd felt many things. Heartache when even one crewman was lost. Anger for the relentless battering they took from hostile natives and usually for no good reason. But never powerlessness. Even when she faced that damned Krenim timeship, Kathryn Janeway still had Voyager. Her ace in the hole was to take that timeship offline, ramming her own into it. She didn't know it would restore the timeline, but she was prepared to live with the consequences.

Janeway snorted morosely at her own oxymoronic absurdity. She was single then. Seven had just come aboard. The Captain never fathomed the woman would come to mean so much to her. A child together with her was not even a thought she ever entertained. Yet now, Kathryn found herself shaking at the very thought of losing either of them. Maybe this is why all of the best Captains are irascible bachelors without progeny to call their own, she thought. Kathryn closed her eyes and shook her head. No, powerlessness was not even an option, she scolded herself.

But when Captain Janeway opened her eyes, a sharp of stab of wretched helplessness came at her in the form of a stygian squid-like ship that defiled the yellow sky.


Seven cursed the friction of the sand under the small transportation ski. The drag coefficient was large enough to limit their speed, regardless of the onboard mass. As a member of the Borg Collective, they were the ultimate achievement in evolution. By extension, only civilizations with useful technology were assimilated. It was the technology that was paramount, not the civilization or the individual components thereof.

Machines made frail humans better. She was much more than Annika Hansen. She was Seven of Nine. Though she did not believe she understood the sum total of Eridani Janeway, Seven was sure that her child was better as Borg.

For these reasons, the sight of the ship belonging to Species 8472 did not alarm Seven. Nor did the five Mencari ships descending to the surface on a course for these coordinates. If they could not defeat Species 8472 and the Ket'zali they could overpower them with sheer force of numbers. It was a reasonable hypothesis given that Mencari outnumbered both alien groups.

But Seven was astounded that the descending Starfleet's insignia did little to comfort her. Instead her mind was assaulted with random images of she and Kathryn returning to Voyager and to their former relationship, as if nothing planet-side had ever changed. The unwanted thoughts bubbled over in guilt for indulging in them at such a perilous time. But the pounding of her temples persisted, along with an unknown and strange roiling in her belly.

She forced her mind away from those troublesome thoughts to more important matters at hand. She could see her daughter and Mr. Commagees in the distance. With her Borg-enhanced visual acuity, Seven knew from the still gangly predator's carcass looming large on the banks that it was dead. Seven of Nine warmed to the idea that the foolish lout with the big mouth and the big heart to match had seen to her daughter's safety. The wind forced her tears across into her wild, blonde hair, erasing their very existence.


Dani hunkered down against a large boulder. She was bracing herself against the ultraviolet rays that were burning her lips and skin. Her lips were cracked and beginning to tingle. Licking them only seemed to make it worse and she had no more spit anyway.

She watched the ship from Species 8472 hover above the ground, a hundred meters to the south. From their trajectory, Dani had no illusions about the ship's goal. "I think they know where we are," she said bleakly to Mr. Commagees.

He was looking desiccated where his body was exposed to the brutal Gweelee sun.

A strange, murky cloud drifted over the pair, blocking the sun. It brought relief to them both, but the Chinook wind kicking down the western slope from snow covered peaks brought its own problems as Dani and Mr. Commagees both began to shiver.


The six members of the away team's phasers were aimed right between the water creature's buggy eyes. "Don't move!" Chakotay growled.

Mr. Commagees' fat lips fell wide and he began to sink slowly below the water's shallow depths.

"I said...!" Chakotay fired a warning shot a meter over his head. "Don't move!" He'd just fired his weapon when he saw the strawberry blonde locks of a young girl dart out from behind a big boulder.

Dani placed herself between the Starfleet Officers and the creature. She was brashly staring up at Chakotay with her jaw lifted. It was the look of utter determination on her that reminded him of Seven. His gun wavered.

"Get out of the way!" he growled.

"You don't understand!"

"We really do!" yelled another officer, Lieutenant Arence Andrews, as he fell to one knee. His weapon was still trained on the creature and by extension on Dani. His hand shook with violent tremors.

Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres holstered her weapon, stepping in front of unpredictable Andrews and another officer, Ensign Lazarotti Jarvin. "I think we should listen to the kid," B'Elanna said and then looked down to smile at her.

"Brilliant strategy," Chakotay snarled. He didn't want B'Elanna on this mission but it was the only way to keep an eye on her. Since their brawl he'd suspected her of mutiny, along with that chickenshit husband of hers.

"Fine," she replied. "I'm just an egghead engineer." B'Elanna stepped beside Dani to stand with the girl. "Then aim at both of us."

Crewman Marla Gilmore frowned at the Chief Engineer, rolling her eyes. "For heaven's sakes," she said and then fell to one knee, smiling at the girl. "Come on, Dani," she cooed, stretching an arm to her. "We want to help you." She wiggled her fingers for the girl.

Ensign Jerry Platt bounded out of the shuttle, startling everyone. "Captain Chakotay!" He ran clumsily up to the First Officer. "Mencari ships are incoming."

"How many?" Chakotay kept his phaser trained on the strange creature bobbing in the water.

"Two at least. But it gets worse."

Chakotay's face grew red. "All of it, Ensign! Not just spoonfuls of information!"

The young Ensign flushed at the man's public reprimand. His ruddy complexion burnished to dark red. Even the red highlights in his hair blushed. "Yes, sir," he yelled, bringing his body to rigid attention as if he were still a cadet. "We've got Ket'zali ships and some with signatures belonging to Species 8472."

"How many, dammit?"


Chakotay tapped his combadge, as he wiped his forehead with the back of his phaser-gripped hand. "Chakotay to Voyager."

"Captain?" Harry's deepened voice sounded distracted.

"Why didn't you tell us about-?" They all heard the characteristic sounds of popping electronics.

"They're riding our ass, Captain," he said. "They came at us suddenly. I think they used the planet's strange atmosphere for sensor cover until they were right on top of us."

Another explosion's reverberation carried through the com signal.

"How many more?"

"We stopped counting at ten."

"Evasive maneuvers, Ensign."

"Aye, Captain."


Kathryn and Seven jumped off the sandski before it came to a stop. Kathryn's mind raced at the scene before her. Commander Chakotay and at least three other Starfleet officers appeared to be threatening her child.

Seven gathered Dani in her arms. Captain Janeway heard the gasps as they realized who stood before them. She turned steely eyes on her First Officer. "What do you think you're doing, Commander?"

It was young Ensign Platt who answered. "We're rescuing you," he replied in a voice that cracked.

"Pointing phasers at an eight-year-old? Is that your idea of a rescue, Ensign?"

Platt's pale face flushed and he lowered his weapon. "It was the creature behind her. We thought-"

"Ensign," Chakotay whispered.

Janeway put her hands on her hips and eyed each of the officers in turn. She managed to give B'Elanna the faintest look of gratitude before she turned a flinty gaze on the rest. Her trained eye quickly assessed her crew, alarmed by what the clues heralded. There was the savagery in their eyes that stole any of the Captain's satisfaction at seeing part of her crew.

"This is my child-" she said with an sharp edge.

"We know, Kathryn," the First Officer replied.

"-And Mr. Commagees is our friend." Captain Janeway studied her First Officer, watching his jaw muscles jump. She softened her voice. "I think we should be more worried about the other aliens, don't you?"

Chakotay lowered his weapon and ordered the others to do the same. "Sorry... Captain."

Janeway noticed the hesitancy with her title, but she really didn't have time to digest what it all meant. She squinted to see a Ket'zali and Species 8472 ship landing to the south and Mencari ships to the north. This was an untenable position to defend against. The enemies on all sides could overrun them with superior numbers. Yet, they appeared to be fortifying themselves. Their battle tactics defied standard Starfleet military theories. It was all so ridiculous, Janeway wondered momentarily if she were dreaming. But the piercing pain in her thigh, the throb of her head and the fury coursing through her veins told her this was no nightmare.

In that brief space of time, Janeway came up with a plan. She was going to adapt Operation: Desert Feint for the collective needs. She tossed the targeting towers to the young Ensign. "Set these up. They don't have much distance, but the Doctor can beam us out of here to the Delta Flyer."

Chakotay's lips pursed and his eyes narrowed. When he cleared his throat, the Captain turned her full attention on him. It was then she finally focused on him completely. Her First Officer was wearing four non-regulation leaf-like pips. His dark hair was nearly shoulder length, falling down in a curtain of black behind his ears. He'd added another tattoo-a small, stylized bird spreading its wings-below his cheekbone. He'd always been self-confident. But he was unfailingly kind. But his air of arrogance seemed untempered now. It was as if he'd given himself over to something. Or someone. The thought chilled her or perhaps it was the fever she could feel setting in. Whatever the case, Janeway perceived that the man was balancing himself on the edge of a blade and submitting to her again could push him the wrong way. Yet, she was Captain and her responsibilities for the crew and the ship meant she had to push, to shove, to cajole, and to use reasonable and necessary force to get them all home alive.

"The targeting towers are useless," he finally said.

"What did you say?" She took a step forward, her head tipped. Janeway stared up at him through one eye.

He met her gaze without a flinch. "The Doctor is on Voyager at my orders."

Months of planning shot to hell with one careless command. The next question came out like a barbed Velocity disk dripping with poison. "Why?"

"He's configuring the nanoprobes to deploy against Species 8472."

Janeway heard the arrogant tinge in his statement, as if Chakotay knew he'd made the right choice and that she'd be unable to find a flaw in his plan.

She cupped an eye against the bright sun, careful not to touch her forehead. Her skin was already feeling tender under the sizzling Gweelee sun. Captain Janeway swayed slightly as her gaze searched the cloudless sky. "Is there enough for the entire Armada?"

He touched his combadge. "Chakotay to the Doctor."

"This is the Doctor and I hope you've found a way to get these nanoprobes down there that doesn't involve a transporter or a shuttle because-"

They all heard an explosion over the signal. While the First Officer prodded and wheedled the holographic doctor, Captain Janeway quickly assessed the other members of his away team.

Crewman Marla Gilmore flanked Chakotay and her glances at the man lingered a bit too long and smoldered a bit too hot to be ordinary professional regard. A red and black tattoo snaked along a muscle cord at Gilmore's neck, down to her chest under the tunic. Her confidence was a far cry from the disgraced lieutenant they'd taken aboard after the U.S.S. Equinox had been destroyed more than a year ago.

The motley group of Starfleet Officers seemed to lack a cohesion they once had. There were definite signs of cliques and dissension. A few things were certain, however: they all were haggard. The "space pallor"-that gaunt coloring most species demonstrated when deprived of natural sunlight for months on end-was in full force. And their uniforms were regulation, except for small deviations. Gilmore's purple undershirt was missing and her tunic was zipped a bit lower than decorum allowed. One of Chakotay's tunic sleeves was embroidered with a design Janeway couldn't quite make out.

All of them except B'Elanna tucked their black slacks into regulation Starfleet boots that were tipped in orange.

Before she could study her Chief Engineer, Janeway heard Chakotay shouting. "Find a way, Doctor! Chakotay out!"

The First Officer and the Captain exchanged soul-searching expressions. "We've got a problem," he whispered. "There is only a fraction of the probes available and we have no access to them at this point."

She arched a brow northward, where the intimidating squid-like ships moored. "We've had our back to the wall before," Janeway said, shaking her head as she walked to the shuttle. She looked back to see her First Officer staring at Seven's back. It wasn't just any look. It was the look of scorched earth for a drop of life-giving rain. Her eyes darted to Gilmore, who watched him with the same intensity. Again, Janeway tamped down these personal thoughts into the most inaccessible recesses of her mind. Pining for Seven was not going to get them out of this mess. "Chakotay!" she said sharply. "You're with me! The rest of you, fortify your positions! I think we're going be here a while."


Seven found Dani in remarkable spirits, considering her ordeal. She'd engulfed the girl in a fierce hug and then offered her boss a hand. "Thank you," she whispered, shaking his fin delicately. "You have given me more than all the Shades and Palms on Gweelee."

"Ah, Seven," he said. "Dani's like me guppy, she is."

When Mr. Commagees eyes turned toward an infuriated Kathryn, Seven followed his gaze. The ex Borg easily took in the changes in the crew, in much the same way that Kathryn had. They seemed altered beyond normal parameters, though toward what unifying goal Seven could not fathom. It was merely data at this stage. The crew had indeed adapted to some unknown force.

What troubled her more was the sight of Kathryn. In an instant, she was the formidable Captain Janeway. A woman so forceful and resolute, that a giant lizard bite and a severe beating had done little to dampen her determination. Seven trembled along with child in her embrace. She feared that Kathryn was slipping out of her arms for the cold, pressed steel of Voyager.

The fact that Kathryn had stomped away to the shuttle, giving little heed to either she or Dani sent a paroxysm of anguish through Seven so excruciating the former Borg drone nearly sobbed aloud. Instead, she leaned down and pressed her lips onto rusty hair.

Both her daughter and Mr. Commagees drew closer to her. "Mom?" Dani asked, tipping her head back. Seven could see the girl's eyes were red-rimmed, matching the shade of her freckled skin. She rubbed her thumb over her cracked lips, feeling the scales of skin peeling away.

"I am... experiencing momentary misalignment of my cortical node," she said, with a raise of the eyebrow.

Mr. Commagees pulled out a small black bottle from his now-dry vest. "Need a swallow of me Kaybayhay?"

Under other circumstances she might have dismissed the offer. To her boss' and daughter's surprise, she put the bottle to her lips and tipped her head back. She closed her eyes as she took a long swallow of the local whiskey. The liquid's hot descent to her churning stomach made her instantly regret the breech. "Thank you," she said anyway, handing the closed bottle back.

Mr. Commagees watched over Seven's shoulders as Kat marched into the shuttle, as he gestured to her with his bottle "So, Seven," he purred in his usual melodic tones, tucking the bottle away. "Kat is the woman in charge of this group?" He looked up at Seven, who was sitting on the big boulder by the pond, holding Eridani close to her. "Kat-she's the Captain? And not you?"

Seven raised a brow. "Why does that surprise you, Finn?"

"She's a slip of a girl! That's why!"

"She's remarkable," she said bleakly.

Mr. Commagees tipped her head, wondering at Seven's flat comment. It was like all of the magic in his friendly Borg just drained away. "Are ye all right, Seven?"

Seven found the gaze of her daughter and Mr. Commagees to be oppressive, so she stood abruptly. "I am preparing to do my duty." For I can do no other, she thought.


Chakotay felt oddly displaced to see Seven of Nine riding on that transport with two arms curled around her lithe body. Two arms that weren't his. When Janeway had stormed over to him in her typical Alpha female routine, he was actually relieved that the two women hadn't regarded each other. For a moment there, all of B'Elanna's theories that Janeway the bitch had bagged Seven just bubbled up. He thought he was going to explode. But then Kathryn had become the Captain. The woman who'd led them for the last six odd years.

Whatever they'd been doing-those two and that damned kid who started this whole mess-whatever they were doing it couldn't have been pleasant. At least not with Janeway looking like she'd gone a few rounds with an oversized Nausicaans.

Chakotay stepped into the shuttle, nodding as Lt. Andrews was asked to leave. He stilled himself for an ugly feud. He was surprised when one of Kathryn's blue eyes was staring up at him helplessly. In her hand, she held a medical tricorder.

"Do you mind doing a little patch up work so I don't have to grind my teeth to nubs with every step?"

The playful lilt in her voice seemed to soothe that rabid jaguar inside of him that Chakotay was finding more challenging to control. "Sure," he said. "Have a seat, Captain. But remember, you get what you pay for?"

She closed her eyes in relief as she fell into the seat. "I'll remember that. In either case, Chakotay," she said in a gravelly voice that projected fatigue, "I won't sue you."

"Thank you," he said, as he passed the device over her for a basic diagnostic.

The Captain opened the good eye to regard him with a crooked smile. "Only because a good lawyer is hard to come by in the Delta Quadrant."

He touched a few buttons and read the results. "I think, Captain, that a good lawyer is scarce anywhere in the galaxy. It would be like looking for a generous Ferengi or a patient Klingon."

"Oxymoron," she whispered. "Sounds like our situation now. Victorious Apocalypse?"

"Hmm, that pretty much describes your wounds, Captain."

She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Spare me the details, Doctor," she ordered. "Just slap on some duct tape and send me back into the ring!"

Chakotay smiled faintly at the reference to the early days of boxing, when that was the order of the day. He waved the tricorder over her bruised, swollen eye first. "You know, Kathryn," he said quietly. "It is good to see you."

"Is my medical situation so dire?" she asked, opening her one good eye. "You tried to chew my ass out there and now you're trying to make up." Kathryn let her eye wander to the man's pips. "Commander."

His smile was abashed, as he reflexively fingered the extra pip at his neck. "You go right for the jugular, Captain," he replied with a light tone.

"Not at all."

Chakotay shifted the tricorder over her lips, as she opened both eyes. He noticed her blinking furiously at his insignia. "Believe me, the self-promotion was a necessity."

"Did you have to desecrate the uniforms? And with orange?"

Chakotay lowered the tricorder to study her. Her tone suggested levity, but there was something else he couldn't quite identify. When the Captain arched her brow at him, he resumed the pass over her wounds.

He noticed that she was now trained on his tunic. "And what about the embroidered leafy pansies on your sleeve?" she asked.

"I can explain-"

"You'll have to, but not now."

"And for the record," he said with a smirk. "They're fire-breathing dragons."

A corner of her mouth curled. "My mistake."

He tried to concentrate on operating the tricorder so that he didn't give in to his rage. She was the only woman who could ever do this to him. And the galling thing was, Janeway knew it. Chakotay wasn't sure what game she was playing, but he didn't like it one damn bit. The irony was, they both knew the rules to this game. The first one to bust a warp coil was the loser.

He finally finished and closed the tricorder. "How do you feel?"

"That's rhetorical, right?" she asked as peered between the tatters of her thigh. The million needle-like stabs appeared to be sealed, but the thigh felt warm to the touch.

He waggled a hypospray at her. "I've heard the Doctor complain endlessly-in fact, I think he has a looping subroutine just for you-that describes just how perverse a patient you are."

"That's a little harsh considering, don't you think?" the Captain said mildly. "I sat here for ten minutes while aliens from the fifth dimension amass in untold numbers a stone's throw away. How is that not anything but the model of cooperation?"

He proffered the hypospray. "May I?"

She tipped her head, exposing the cords of her neck muscle.


Seven stepped into the air-conditioned shuttle to find Kathryn sitting at a workstation with an elbow on a console and her head in her hand. "Captain?"

Seven watched as the Captain's eyes grew large. Her mouth dropped in surprise, but quickly she recovered as Dani bopped into a chair beside her and Mr. Commagees lumbered in.

Seven recognized the brief, but fleeting plea of her lover's eyes, just as Chakotay returned from aft. His eyes softened as he let a trembling hand rise and then fall. "Commander," she said, as she took a medical tricorder to scan her daughter. "My child and Mr. Commagees require medical attention."

"Fine, Seven," the Captain said imperiously. She swiveled her chair to the Commander. "Commander, what exactly are we facing?"

He walked over to console to pull up a topographical map of the region. He tapped one spot, just south of them. "The Ket'zali horde is converging on these coordinates."

"They're cutting off yer retreat," Mr. Commagees said from across the room.

Chakotay half turned to regard the man with a skeptical gaze. "But the nearest city is due west of here."

"Well, ye must be a blooming genius-!"

"Mr. Commagees," Kathryn said with an authoritative edge she'd never used with him. She wondered vaguely why Finn didn't care for Chakotay. "Mr. Chakotay is not from around here."

The Gweelee merchant sniffed. "Quite apparent, Kat. That's quite apparent."

Chakotay crossed his arms, amused at the man's reference to the Captain's nickname. "So why don't you tell us what you know."

Mr. Commagees lumbered over slowly, unhurried by time or Armageddon. He circled the map with his entire arm. "This is the Valley of Shynar." He tapped a southerly point on the screen. "The bloody bastards are here, cutting off yer retreat to Gweelee City," he said. He licked his eyeballs, forcing Chakotay back and then he tapped the north. "More bottom feeders are here, cutting off that escape route. The east and west are blocked from the high mountain ranges. You've got twelve hours until sunset in the east. The Chinook winds will begin to blow down the snow-tipped western slopes. Those winds'll tear yer flesh off, if these...creatures don't attack first."

Kathryn slowly rose, drawing Seven's secret glance. "That's a good assessment, Mr. Commagees. Thank you," she said. She turned to look up at Chakotay. "What kind of shape is Voyager in?"

He pursed his lips. "Not in any shape to take anyone on. I think even a Talaxian transport vessel could take her out. She's operational, but everything is barebones."

The Captain inhaled sharply, placing a hand flat on the console to steady herself.

"It gets worse," Chakotay said, glancing at the child.

"Give it to me," she ordered.

He leaned into whisper into her ear. "Species 8472 is back."


Seven identified nine tactical errors that Chakotay had committed his "rescue" attempt. He was inefficient. On the bridge or in the bed. Now his grim tactical assessment was maddening. Kathryn required alternatives, not a list of difficulties.

Then Seven saw it. She saw Dani's beautiful eyes wide in fear. Ket'zali was a trigger. Then the Borg mother registered her elevated heart rate and her rapt attention to the tactical report.

Seven seized a hypospray and adjusted it. Without warning or preamble, Seven pressed it to her daughter's neck just as Chakotay began discussing the dimensional aliens. Dani's child-like shriek had drowned out any further information about Species 8472.

"That hurt!" The girl glared at her. "You did that on purpose!"

"I apologize, Eridani," Seven said. "However, you are incorrect. I did not arrange for your skin to be damaged from ultraviolet radiation."

Dani rubbed her neck with a pout. "You could have warned me."

Seven was about to herd her daughter and boss to the aft compartments when Janeway's razor sharp question pierced the air. "Seven, where are you taking them?"

She stopped, turning slowly. The swelling of Kathryn's eye was down, but it remained purple and green. Her lips remained distended and cracked. Her nose and cheek were smudged with Gweelee soil. Her thick auburn hair was in sweet disarray. Seven blinked momentarily to regain her focus. "Given the heat of the day, I thought it prudent to take Eridani and Mr. Commagees to convalesce in the aft sections."

Before she had even finished, Janeway was shaking her head no. She raised an eyebrow, waiting for the Captain to explain. "This ship is too big a target for our...friends out there. Take what they need, like a canteen and covering, but I want them away from here."

"Our shields-"

"Won't protect them for long. Not with the fire power out there."

She stared at Kathryn for a long, tense moment. Seven felt suddenly isolated, wondering what was going through Janeway's head. Her distance and manner were hurtful at first, but now they were raising an ire in Seven that she found disconcerting. But something inside of her-that place that loved Kathryn-spoke first. "I will comply."


Seven returned to the shuttle alone, finding Janeway and Chakotay huddled over the screen, which was covered in electronic notations. She noticed the way Kathryn used the console to prop herself up. She also recorded with grim revulsion that Chakotay seemed to cheer at her entrance.

"Captain," she said. "May I speak with you in private?"

Janeway inhaled sharply, scratching her forehead. She turned to smile at her First Officer. "Chakotay, could you please check the group's preparations. Use the time to see if enemy positions have altered and then report back."

He nodded. He let his pinky graze Seven's hand as he passed. She quickly drew her arm in toward her belly, as she watched the man exit.

When the shuttle was sealed, Seven slowly lifted her eyes to Captain Janeway. Her Borg enhanced vision told her that the Captain's fever was back. She stepped close, but just as she neared the woman, Janeway closed her eyes.

"Seven, please."

Seven reached behind the Captain for the tricorder, running it along the woman. "You are feverish. Did whoever treated you earlier not notice the infection setting in on your leg wound?"

"I suppose not," she said. "Maybe I didn't have one then."

Seven lifted her eyes up to meet the Captain's, alarmed at the implications of such a comment. She knew Kathryn had been treated only thirty minutes prior.

"I can wait-?"

Seven snapped the tricorder closed. "No, Pips." Her eyes narrowed slightly, waiting for her lover to speak again.

"Dammit, Seven, I am not Pips here. I am-"

"Incorrect," she stated flatly but in precise intonation as she adjusted a hypospray. "Where my child is in danger, you are Pips."

"But we'll save Dani-"

"Our unborn child," Seven clarified. "My child that you carry." Seven placed her spread hand on the woman's belly, causing Kathryn to close her eyes again.

The Captain placed her own hand over Seven's, squeezed it and gently pulled it away from her. "Listen to me, darling. This has to be quick. Something's not right...among the crew. If Chakotay-"

The bay opened to find the First Officer peering in, as if he were anxious to see them. He came up beside Seven, a breath away to face her. "If Chakotay what?"

Janeway pushed off the console, mumbling an apology as she walked between them. "I was saying depending on their tactical changes, we might try to use the shuttle as a decoy."

Captain Janeway met the cold stare her comment elicited. "Do you have a better idea, Commander?"

"It depends," he said mysteriously. "But I think something's a foot."


A glistening, threadlike tower was rising above the southern plain of Shynar amidst the Ket'zali ships. It shimmered in the Gweelee heat, making the spindling, silver girders look like looms of spider webs. Ket'zali warriors stood on platforms around the rising obelisk. The faraway sound echoed the rat-tat-tapping of thousands of hammers that glinted and flashed in the valley.

"What the hell is that?" Janeway asked, cupping her eye against the butterscotch swelter.

"A tower," replied one of the ensigns.

"Seven!" Janeway yelled to the back of the group. "What do you think it is?"

Seven stepped away from B'Elanna, where she had left Dani and Mr. Commagees. She walked slowly forward, careful to avoid the Captain's gaze. Her eyes traced the outline of the escalating riser. "It appears to be the beginning of a colossal deflector," she replied, turning on her heels to face the Captain.

"A deflector-but what would they-?"

"Perhaps they intend to open a singularity to Fluidic Space," Seven said flatly.

"Captain!" Chakotay yelled, pointing to a line of Ket'zali warriors forming at the base. "

"Janeway to Voyager!" Kathryn said, slapping her combadge.

"Cap... Captain! Janeway! This is-" An explosion boomed over the comlink, along with Harry's shout. "Incoming!"

"Report, Ensign!"

"Captain! We're under heavy attack by Ket'zali ships!"

Janeway hadn't planned on stepping into that crisis. She'd wanted Voyager to blast that damn deflector into oblivion and stall any plans the aliens had from opening a singularity to Fluidic Space.

Her eyes locked gazes with Chakotay, accepting the faint rise of his eyebrows as the invitation it was. She brushed the back of her hand against her forehead, surprised to find perspiration dripping into her eyes. "Mister Kim," she said. "Take Voyager into the planet's corona!"


"Do it!"

"What...what...what-" Another explosion reverberated through the comlink. "What does Chakotay say?"

Janeway ground down hard on her back teeth. The muscles rippled along her jaw line. This crew was not the same. That was for damned sure. It was her turn to glare archly at her First Officer.

"Harry! This is Chakotay. You have your orders."

"Aye...Captain!" Before the comlink cut out, they heard Harry order the ship hard to starboard on an intercept to the G-type star.

Janeway's gaze leveled on the tower again. It had grown about ten meters in that brief time. "Now what?"

Chakotay half turned to look at the shuttle.

Janeway gave a grim smile, clapping his shoulder as she marched toward the shuttle.


The shuttle's phasers fired twice. The tower scaffolding crashed to the ground, along with an untold number of Ket'zali. Water splashed up, as the pieces fell into the Guadalquiver.

Blue spiky lightning arced across the yellow sky, descending on the Voyager shuttle in an electrical rage. Dani plastered herself against a boulder between her parents. Captain Janeway's arm covered her shoulder, while Seven's Borg appendage covered her head. Other crewmembers were scattered, taking cover from the raining down of shuttle bits. A chunk struck Ensign Jarvin's leg, bringing a sailor's tumble of swear words.

"Hold on, Jarvin!" Chakotay yelled. "We'll take care of you! Just wait until-"


The acrid smell of plasma burned their noses. The smoke assaulted their eyes. The younger crewmembers stared at the charred hole where the shuttle had stood. "We're toast!" Ensign Platt muttered in a Midwestern American drawl.

Chakotay descended on him like a sack of hammers. "Stop it! All of you! We've faced odds a lot worse than this!"

Ensign Jarvin hobbled upright, holding his leg. "We've lost our only means of escape! Voyager has burned up in that fucking sun! We're cut off! We're surrounded. Those bastards are going to drag us all to hell..." He limped close to Chakotay, stabbing the man with a finger. "And you have the balls to stand there and-"

"Ensign Jarvin!" Janeway shouted, stepping away from Dani. "Stand down! I said stand down, man."

Jarvin mumbled something under his breath and shuffled back to a bit of shade beside a rock, sliding down to find a seat in the dust.

"It looks bleak!" Janeway said. "You do not have to tell us! Chakotay's faced Cardassians in a bucket of bolts!"

The First Officer looked at her with a touch of amusement on his lips. "And the Captain's been assimilated more times than I remember."

"Once," she said dryly. "I was assimilated once. But it was enough."

"This doesn't help!" Jarvin grumbled from the ground. "Chumming about how bad we had it last year or four years ago! Or even six damn years ago! It don't mean a thing!"

Janeway carefully squatted beside the man. Her sympathetic expression nearly faltered when her thigh began to sting. "My point, Lazarotti, is we aren't dead." She stood up, looking around and trying desperately not to linger on Seven and Dani. She could see plainly the bleakness on all their faces. She tamped down ruthlessly on her own despair.

"Even if the sky were to open and we all fell into the grip of Species 8472 and all the odious apparatus of Ket'zali rule, we shall not flag or fail!"

Captain Janeway limped among them, meeting each of their gazes. "We'll go on to the end. We'll fight in the sand and the mud." Captain Janeway gestured up. "We'll fight in the air! We'll defend ourselves, our children and our ship-whatever the cost may be! If this day finds us subjugated and starving-and I don't for a moment believe-then Voyager beyond the stars, armed and free, will carry on! She will find her way home, to the safe harbor of the Federation in God's good time. But we, my friends-we shall never surrender!"

The howling wind whistled in their ears. The clank of Ket'zali hammers renewed their clamor. The smoldering sizzle of plasteel buzzed around them from the chunks of the shuttle.

A hundred thousand footfalls from south of them brought them out of the courageous moment. Row upon row of Ket'zali marched forward. Their weapons gleaming shards of death in the sun as the marching rumbled the ground where Captain Janeway and her crew stood in the middle of the desolate Valley of Shynar.

Chakotay raised his small phaser. "Form up, people!" With his heel, he dug a line in the drying mud. "One line. Ready your weapons. Take aim, but hold your fire!"

As the small contingent began to gather themselves, Chakotay walked over to Captain Janeway. He rubbed her shoulder with his own, hoping the gesture was lost to everyone in the shuffle. "Great speech," he whispered.

"You think so?" she said dryly. "Winston Churchill might be rolling over in his grave after I sliced and diced his most famous address."

"It did what it had to do," he said, gesturing toward the sea of Ket'zali.

She inhaled deeply, as she surveyed the vast plain full of aliens. Then she looked to see a gleam in her First Officer's eyes. He was enjoying the conflict. That was not like him. He was not himself. She wondered belatedly if he had been altered by the aliens, if he was a spy or a clone of some sort. She shook her head as she turned to gaze instead at the murderous throng. No, she would know if Chakotay was not himself. He was definitely her old friend. Now he was something more and she hoped to everything holy that he was on their side.

"I wonder what the Mencari behind us are waiting for?" East and west, a vast army of Mencari lizards vacillated like a murky sea. Janeway could see bright ribbons of color adorning spears in their legionary-like formation. But they held their station.

"They're probably waiting on Ush'maul for a sign," he said slyly.

Janeway met his gaze. Her First Officer hadn't looked directly at the line of advancing enemies, but she could see him trembling. It wasn't fear, she told herself. It's anticipation! She shuddered at the thought.

The Captain had enlisted in Starfleet to explore, see the quadrant. She didn't sign up for war, but sometimes it was part of the job. Janeway detested the military history she was forced to consume at the Academy and the military strategy that she was required to memorize. But it was part and parcel of defense. She never thought she'd face her own Waterloo.


Her stomach dropped to see the shimmering Ket'zali army stomping in place. The line of soldiers had to be a kilometer long and that deep. The vibrations shook the pebbles at her feet. A low eerie, glottal note sounded from a brassy bugle with a long cylinder that curled up to a flaring bell. Each subsequent note was lower in pitch, until a great boom like the crack of thunder rang in the valley.

Captain Janeway brushed her forearm across her brow. Still the sweat stung her eyes. Her tongue was cotton. Her leg began to throb again. She pressed into her quad muscles to try to dull the pain. She withdrew her hand to find it drenched in blood.

When the ground began to quake, Captain Janeway looked up to see the army begin its advance. "Damn," she whispered to herself.

Chapter 21: Solving for X

Waves of shimmering heat rose from the red and brown rocks in the distance. The mirage was distorted by thousands of Ket'zali troops stomping the ground toward the small band of Starfleet officers who were stranded in the middle of the Valley of Shynar on the desert planet of Gweelee.

Chakotay ground his back teeth at the awesome sight. Ket'zali formed row after row as far back at the canyon, all marching in perfect time. His jaw muscles began to jump. "Be ready, people. We've got to play this smart."

He heard Ensign Platt start to sob.

Chakotay bellowed in a deep voice. "Quiet on the line! We're not out yet, people. Steady yourselves!"

Janeway admired Chakotay's handling of the crew. He'd faced fierce fighting when he was with the Maquis and his terrible experiences were coming to the fore now.

Captain Janeway turned slightly to see Seven standing in front of Dani, her assimilation tubules swaying in the searing breeze. Her daughter was also flanked by a weary but determined Mr. Commagees and a battle-hardened Officer Apoda. To her surprise, Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres had closed ranks around the girl, teaching Finn to swear in Klingon. The other crewmembers were assembled in a line. She pursed her lips and turned away when she unwanted realized they were standing as if they as the condemned before a firing squad.

"The hell we will!" Janeway growled when she told herself they weren't going to die here. She felt Chakotay at her elbow and she squinted to look up. "Have I ever told you I don't believe in luck?"

"Yes," Chakotay said with a hint of astonishment. "I believe you have. But I was hoping you'd tell me you believe in lizard prophecies."

She gave him a puzzled look, as she turned to see the army advancing on them meter-by-blessed meter.

"When D'goba-you remember her, right? You're sister of the-"

"I remember, Commander," she replied curtly.

"Anyway, she related to us a prophecy about the Ush'maul."

Janeway whispered the word under her breath in furious derision.

Chakotay lifted her bloodstained hand. "Ush'maul...I mean, the Resplendent Cactus, shield of the Sun People-" He shrugged at her poisonous stare. "It's their belief system and I was thinking it could help us, Captain."

She inhaled, gritting her teeth at the sharp stabs in her thigh. "Fine, we have a few minutes to..." Janeway locked gazes with Chakotay. "To kill."

"The Resplendent Cactus-"

"Cut to the chase, Commander. We don't have that long."

" 'Will open the heavens. She will destroy and create order all at once.'"

"Hmm," Janeway said quietly. "Like all prophecies, it's sufficiently vague."

"D'goba said you will accomplish this with blood and water."

"I think I've got enough for the first part," she said dryly, wiping her bloodied hand against her dry shirt. "The Ket'zali army is marching straight toward us. I'd estimate for every one of us, there are fifty thousand of them." Just as she was about to determine the likelihood of rain from a cloudless sky, the army stopped.

At that point, a single Ket'zali continued to march toward them. He was carrying a white flag over his shoulder.

"Truce?" the Captain wondered.

"Or trap?" Chakotay amended, and then added sardonically: "He does have a white flag."

"Worn as a scarf, it appears," Ensign Gilmore replied in kind with a smirk.

Janeway turned to see who could possibly be interrupting at a time like this. Gilmore was standing at Chakotay's elbow, like an appendage. While she was studying the ensign, Chakotay strode past her.

"I'll go meet him." His comment was so matter-of-fact that it took the Captain a second longer to digest that he'd just assumed command.

"Commander," she called to him.

He half turned.

"I'll go," she said, walking past him. "You stay. That's an order."

She caught the scowl as she limped passed him. But she was still the Captain, dammit. Janeway nearly cried out with every step. She wasn't sure if it was the agony of the wound or facing death without so much as a slingshot to call your own. She slowed down as she approached the Ket'zali. A red Starfleet emblem tattooed to his chest told her it was none other than Sa'feer.

"Cap ten," he whispered gravely.

"Sa'feer," she replied, raising her arms in bravura she didn't feel. "I'm still standing."

"Not for long," he hissed.

She inhaled, knowing that baiting him wouldn't protect Dani or satisfy her growing aggression. So Captain Janeway adopted the voice of the consummate diplomat. "Isn't there some agreement we can come to? My people will help you any way they could, if you would just tell us-"

"My army will demolish your puny little resistance."

"Do you need medicine? Replicator technology?" All these had been powerful trading tools in the past.

"What we need we will take. The child we will possess and your dead body we will crush under our feet."

Janeway smiled crookedly, even knowing he wouldn't understand her brashness as anything other than the last struggle of a desperate race. "I don't like threats."

Before she could even blink, the alien sprinted so fast. It was like a person hurtling at warp speed. He rammed a shoulder against the Captain as he passed. She slammed to ground with a grunt. Janeway rolled to her belly, fixing her phaser on the creature. The others had sited him and phasers were blasting away uselessly at his tough hide. Still he sprinted forward on a straight line to Eridani Janeway.

The Captain's breath hitched when he leapt effortlessly over the first line of officers. When he took the second leap to put him within the reach of Janeway's daughter, the Captain heard a faint buzzing that grew louder.

She scrambled to her feet to see the dark cloud descend like an arrow at Sa'feer. The black column was not a cloud, noting its intentional flight deviation toward the menace. Sa'feer was airborne for a split second, only a half-meter away from his goal, when hundreds of insects swarmed him in a seemingly mindless frenzy.

The iridescent wings beat almost invisibly fast as they encircled their prey. Their fluttering was a high whine that seemed to set her teeth on edge. Not a single centimeter of Sa'feer was now visible. Then in harmony, the insects began to oscillate together. The vibrations traveled through the air toward the assembled Starfleet crew, making their own teeth chatter. The rocks around them began to jump. Sand began to kick up, making the humans cough.

Just as quickly as it had started, the half-meter insects whizzed back up, to join the growing cloud of darkness in the sky. When the prey was relinquished, the carcass fell two meters at Dani's feet. Sa'feer's mouth was frozen open. His lips pulled back from his sharpened rows of teeth. His eyes looked upward, in a ghoulish gaze of prayer.

His limbs lay twisted at odd angles. Small wisps of smoke rose from his body and Dani smelled the characteristic odor of burnt flesh.

Dani's wide eyes turned to see the murky nebula circle overhead.

Then the vibrations ceased. The insects drew away from Sa'feer and all but one had departed in a single file column.

Their attention was quickly drawn to the line of Mencari forming behind them. The reptilian race had been in a holding pattern until that moment.

"Captain," Chakotay said. "The Mencari are forming military columns."

Janeway rubbed her backside. "One of their prophecies was fulfilled."

He turned to look at her.

"Think about it, Commander. The heavens will open up."

He gestured to her festering wound that continued to leak vital fluids. The Captain's thigh was glistening from the flowing red that would not stop. Her pant leg, once a light tan, was now dark red. Where she walked, Janeway dripped her own blood.

"I'd say two prophecies," he replied. Then the Commander squinted his eyes at the buzzing nimbus of insects above them. "But who are they?"

Dani turned her head to face a single insect that appeared to be smaller than the rest. "Maybe he knows," Dani said, pointing to it. Its wings shimmering, the insect hovered just above the ground, placing it at Dani's eye level.

Phasers were leveled. Seven pulled Dani back behind her. But even behind her Borg mother, she could see the insect had two very large eyes, surrounded by smaller ones, eight in all. Dani watched the reflection of herself in the eyes, and then she noted the broad head and a white down covering the entire length of the sleek, black body. Dani focused on the humanoid hands that were clasped together along its thorax. The fingers were tiny and nearly translucent. When it flexed its hands, Dani's eyes shot up.

"Who are you?" Captain Janeway asked.

The insect's wings beat faster. The body undulated frenetically side-to-side.

The change forced Janeway to level her own gun.

"Don't!" Its voice was a reverberating buzz. The word was halting and appeared to be spoken with great effort. "Don't. Be. Afraid."

"Who are you?" Janeway asked again.

She noticed the insect stilled its wings and the body became still again. It turned to face the child, hovering behind her mother.


Dani's eyes widened. Her mouth dropped. "Grub?"

"Yes!" His wings flickered, making him rise off the ground. Dani could only see a pale curtain where reason told her his wings were. His body began to pitch side to side again.

She startled when he lurched toward her. But then Grub zipped upward, in a move that appeared to be precisely a ninety-degree angle, seeming to defy aerodynamics. He flew into the air in a wide loop, stopping nearly instantaneously in front of her again.

"Sorry." His wings nearly stilled, just enough to maintain his hover. "Happy!"

The earth began to shake again, as if quaking. From the corner of her eye, Dani saw Grub's ascent. "Come back!" Dani yelled, looking up. All she could see was a shimmering black mass of insects circling above them. She could not tell where Grub had gone.

The line of Ket'zali began another slow advance. Row after row of the warlike species were minutes from overpowering and doing exactly what Sa'feer had predicted, taking Dani.


Dani saw the black cloud descend, just as the green text predicted. Before the enemy army advanced one more step, it was swarmed in a fury by millions and millions and millions of insects. Some Ket'zali were able to swap a few of the insects away, but killing one in a sea of so many was like spooning out an ocean. The insects sent wave after wave of attacks on the Ket'zali front line. The insects blotted out the sun in the valley from their sheer numbers.

Janeway cupped an eye to behold as insects defended them to the death. She felt someone come up behind her and was relieved to hear Seven's voice.

"By Federation classification, they are hymenoptera apocrita," Seven said. "Wasps."

"Wasps," Janeway whispered gratefully. "Grub was a wasp larva."

"Who pupated, just as he predicted," she said.

"But they didn't sting Sa'feer," she said, still gazing at the stunning battle scene as a helpless bystander.

"He was cooked," Seven finally said.

"Cooked? How?"

"The creatures..." she indicated the swirling in front of them, attacking the Ket'zali in droves. "They excited his molecules to the point of overheating him."

"Vibrations," Janeway clarified.

"More precisely," Seven said. "Radio waves of two thousand five hundred megahertz. Water, fats and carbohydrates absorb the radio waves and it is converted into atomic motion or what we know as heat."

"Oldest trick in the book," Janeway replied.

Seven looked behind her, seeing pockets of groups among the crew. B'Elanna remained with Eridani, along with Officer Apoda and Finn. When she was assured they were out of range, Seven turned back again to face the unbelievable scene. "Your injury persists," she whispered.

Janeway squeezed her thigh involuntarily. "It has to wait."

Seven heard the sharp edge of command. Her lover was fully Captain Janeway and no amount of cajoling or logic would she allow to weaken her, especially at this most urgent of hours. "I fear for you." With each word, Seven's voice receded until the last word was just movement on her full lips.

Janeway turned to look at Seven. She did not appear to be sunburned like the rest of them, but perhaps Borg implants were providing a measure of protection from the intense ultraviolet rays. "I know, darling," she whispered back.

For a brief second, Seven saw the woman Kathryn. Thoughts of losing her began to crowd her mind and she had to will them back. "How can we destroy the array?"

Just as Janeway turned back to the scene, a series of loud explosions were heard in the distance. And then nothing, until seconds later, an angry wall of white water began to roar toward them from between the canyon in a wall. Streams of water shot out of the canyon wall. The sheer hydraulic force of so much water hit the Ket'zali tower like a megaton torpedo. It came crashing down in a rain of mere splinters.

"So much technology wasted by a simple force of nature," Janeway said, shaking her head at the wonder.

She heard footsteps and then the dulcet tones of Officer Apoda. "That was Gweelee City, Kat," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"Our entire water supply," he said with a hitch in his voice. "'Ppears the Council voted to blow the damn dam sky high to unleash its lethal force."

Janeway half turned to see Dani holding Finn's hand. His eyes looked parched and his lips cracked but he stood proud. "'Bout time!" Finn hissed. "I'll bet me brother Gill couldn't stand for me to be the hero!"

Officer Apoda gave a belly laugh. "That's right! I forgot Gill was a Council member."

"Why would they do that?" Seven asked, confused by the gesture.

Officer Apoda slapped her shoulder blade good-naturedly. "Because, Dep'ty Seven, m'girl. We in Gweelee City take care of our own. How many times have I told you that?"

"Exactly forty-seven times," Seven replied. "First you mentioned it the day I was deputized on Stardate-"

"Seven," Janeway whispered, giving a slight head shake.

"Very well. But it was forty-seven times that phrase was uttered."

"Don't ever doubt we love the dirty lot of ye," Finn said acerbically.

"We shall not," Seven replied flatly.


Captain's Log. Stardate: 54250.34

Voyager is preparing to leave orbit from the Delta Quadrant planet of Gweelee, after conducting an extensive peace summit between the Mencari and the Ket'zali races over the last few days. After an unsuccessful attack on a coalition of Starfleet and Gweelee personnel, the Ket'zali ranks were devastated to the point of near extinction. So much so, that even the Ket'zali Grand Marshal-himself a member of Species 8472-disembarked from his craft and presented himself. He explained that he and his brothers-in-arms, other members of his race, were exiled from Fluidic Space because of a disease they took home with them. Examination by the EMH showed the tumors and lesions were not, in fact, a disease but a symptom of radiation exposure they suffered while in our realm. The tumors and lesions were removed in exchange for a peaceful settlement with the Mencari.

Despite the medical assistance, the Grand Marshal declared that he and his brothers no longer belonged in Fluidic Space. They wanted to remain with the Ket'zali offspring. And so they consented to an alliance, only after Mencari Captain D'goba and a Ket'zali whom she had fought in the desert returned with news that they were mates. The news had unsettled the Mencari, but D'goba already declared she was with child.

The Ket'zali have no word for "consensual" and so D'goba and her spouse G'ar will have their hands full changing Ket'zali culture and offering Mencari an opportunity for sexual reproduction.

The Grand Marshal, whose name is unpronounceable, promised that they would never hunt Elizabeth Eridani Janeway again. But he admitted they sought to neutralize her cloaking powers so the Mencari could not hide from them.

The needed repairs will keep Voyager operating at impulse for quite some time. But we will have a full complement of crew once again, for the first time in six months. Of those who survived the attack, everyone was miraculously found.

In addition, Voyager has helped the citizens of Gweelee City mine more ice in the south polar region to replace the quadrillion of deciliters of water they freed to destroy the Ket'zali interdimensional array. It is still unclear what they had planned to do with it and neither the Grand Marshal nor his subordinates would answer questions about it. The senior staff believe it may have been their final revenge on Voyager for interceding in their war with the Borg. They would have stranded us in Fluidic Space, at the mercy of their vicious brethren. Whatever the case, the array was destroyed by new friends we acquired.

Personal Log. Supplemental.

My own personal regret is the short farewells I was able to offer our new friends. Between negotiating the peace summit and overseeing mining operations, I was only able to offer a goodbye to our friends in Gweelee City via our communication system. Seven and Dani have been planet-side collecting our things and offering their farewells. I have not spoken to Seven in a personal manner since assuming command. I hope she is not angry with me.

The crew remains divided, and loyalties split. There have been several brawls already about the best captain for the Voyager. All the years we've managed to stick together have gone by the wayside in only a matter of six months. It's going to be a long haul back to the unified crew we were and to our home in the Alpha Quadrant.

I remain on guard with Commander Chakotay, as he is with me. I hope we can all put this behind us soon.


Captain Janeway looked around the ready room. It felt strange to still see some of Chakotay's personal effects. A wall hanging of a traditional Mayan design hung where her portrait of Da Vinci used to hang. An earthen jar sat at the coffee table by the sofa. She knew why he had left them.

"He wants this job back," she whispered.

She wasn't sure what had gotten into the crew, but she was going to get to the bottom of it. But not today.

"Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

"Seven of Nine is in her quarters."

As she walked off the bridge, the Captain hoped Dani was in bed because the thought of finding Seven alone warmed her from head to toe. And since returning to space, she'd felt so cold. The Doctor had warned her that her system would still be fighting the Ket'zali toxins in her system. At least my fever's finally gone, she thought.


In the lift, her combadge chirped.

"Doctor to Captain Janeway."

She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Yes, Doctor."

"It is urgent that I speak with you in sickbay."


"Yes, that's what urgent means."

She grimaced. "I'll be right there." She diverted the lift from Deck 3 to Deck 5.

Janeway stepped into the familiar surroundings of sickbay. Its antiseptic smell akin to alcohol actually calmed her more than nearly anything. But the visible signs of war were still there: black streaks still marred the bulkheads while a bio bed lay mangled on its side. Her head began to throb when she heard two identical voices shouting at each other in the medical office.

"You didn't look for a phase shift for alien proteins?" That was her Doctor. She noticed because, along with his arrogance, was a genuine giftedness.

"How was I supposed to know that?" The backup EMH was identical to Janeway's doctor in every respect, except his knowledge was lacking somehow, though no one could explain it since he had access to the same databases.

"You're right," the Doctor conceded. "It's not like you're me. Not really."

"What are you saying?"

Just then, her Doctor noticed her. "Captain, it's time to shut down the backup EMH."

"You can't do that!" he shrieked.

"Why not?" the original hologram inquired, looking at the other hologram askance.

"Because I'm a person!"

The Doctor gave him a little smirk. "What's your favorite ice cream?"

The backup doctor looked puzzled. "I don't have a favorite ice cream. I don't even have taste buds. You don't even have taste buds!"

"Mine is pistachio," he said smugly. "And do you know why?"

"You don't even have a stomach!"

"I like the brilliant color and I like the idea of pistachios."

"That's ludicrous! What does it have to do with medicine?"

"My point exactly."

Captain Janeway put up both of her weary hands. "All right, gentlemen-"

"May I speak with you, Captain?" he asked.

Captain Janeway sighed, placing her hands on her hips. "That's what I'm here for. Could you please excuse us, Doctor?"

The other Doctor appeared at a loss about what to do, until her doctor instructed the computer to deactivate the backup EMH. "This is an outrage, Captain!" he said, pacing in his office.

"What do you want me to do, exactly?"

He frowned at the Captain. "I want him shut down!"

She briefly considered the definition of sentience: intelligence, self-awareness and consciousness. The backup EMH had demonstrated these on a surface level, enough to stay an order to take him offline-a death sentence temporarily, if not permanently. She wondered if one EMH could become sentient, could two? She couldn't just dismiss the possibility without further investigation. "He stays."

Her Doctor's features contorted from a smile to a look of incredulity. "You aren't serious?" the original EMH asked.

But Janeway flashed a sardonic grin. "Live with it," she said, pronouncing each word precisely. Then she reactivated the backup doctor and broke the news to a holographic sigh of relief.

Then a perversity arose in the Captain she found difficult to suppress. She remembered the Doctor's morbid sense of humor telling her for the entire bridge to hear that she was a mother. "Payback's a bitch," she muttered.

"What did you say?" both holograms asked.

She smiled smugly at her holographic Doctor. "I said...congratulations, Doctor. You have a bouncing baby hologram."

"I have?"

The newer hologram appeared to be mortified at the thought of the acerbic doctor as his father.

Janeway shrugged, both palms up. "Yes, Doctor. He's one of your own kind." She looked between the two. "And in your own image. I am putting his education in your capable hands." Then, in characteristic Janeway fashion, she quirked a half smile. "Daddy."

The Doctor stood ramrod straight, a horrified expression directed to his counterpart. "But I'm not a father," he sputtered. "I didn't... I didn't want to reproduce. Remember, I warned..."

Janeway gave him a sad look. "Do I have to make it an order?"

The Doctor scratched his pate, looking down at his shoes. "How do I explain this?" After a brief moment that Janeway indulged him in, he looked up. "Did I ever tell you about my time on that planet that existed in a space-time differential?"

"The planet where you lived for three years and it was only about twenty minutes for us?"

"Yes, that's the one," he said.

"You only told me what was pertinent to the mission, as I would have expected. I don't like to pry into the lives of my officers, Doctor."

"I had a son," he said. He cast a disparaging look at his holographic colleague.

"You had a what?"

"Well, I was with a woman, Maritza."

"A woman?" the other hologram asked.

He ignored the other doctor. "It was her son, but he needed a father and I loved his mother."

"You had a family then." Janeway's expression softened, fascinated by a glimpse into a hologram's interior life.

"Yes. I think of them often, though I know they've been dead for what amounts to millennia now." He turned his back on the Captain, resting his chin on his fingers. "I've distanced myself from children because...of the pain."

"Doctor, I had no idea."

He turned on his heels. "I hope never to know what it feels like to lose a child, Kathryn."

She watched him for a moment. "I hope I don't either," she said thoughtfully. "But that can't keep us from doing our duty."

"I've done my duty, Captain. I've cared for Naomi. I've provided assistance to Icheb, the twins and Mezoti."

She watched him fidget again. "About Dani..."

His expression became forlorn, the strain of the feelings tugging his mouth corners down. "It would be easy to..." How could he tell Captain Janeway it would be easy to love Dani because he's never gotten over Seven of Nine? He can't. "I've kept myself contained from those types of affections."

"I see," she said with a lift of the eyebrow. "Cool detachment."

"Yes, exactly. It worked for human doctors." He saw the other hologram listening avidly and loathed the idea of him hearing these personal concerns.

The Captain looked into his eyes, seeing something there she'd never seen before. She'd granted him sentience and yet, he was more human than she realized. The thought brought a profound sadness to her. That his family had been stripped away by duty. Well, dammit all! It will be duty that brings it all back, too. "I am very sorry for your unspeakable loss, Doctor," she said quietly, a tremor in her voice. "But the fact remains a person of your kind needs your help. Whether you choose to treat him as a colleague in need of mentoring or as a child in need of parenting-the process is all irrelevant to me. But what I expect as your Captain is for Junior to become a full member of this crew and I can't think of a better hologram for that task than you."

The speech was both moving and exasperating. "Well, what's his name?"

"That sounds like the first item on your agenda. Names," she said, stepping closer to the office exit. "For the both of you."

"Why can't he be deactivated?" the younger hologram inquired, as if the idea were completely workable.

She stopped dead in her tracks, turning on her heels. The older Doctor recognized the incendiary Janeway stare and school his holographic features to sufficient contrition. The other remained ignorantly defiant.

"There's an old Earth expression," Janeway said. "Two heads are better than one."

The two men look at each other horrified. Her Doctor began to sputter. "Captain, I really don't see how integrating our image matrix to produce a horrid two-headed-"

Janeway chuckled in spite of herself. "Don't like that one? How about 'there's strength in numbers.'"

Her Doctor arched a brow. "Aphorisms are irrelevant."

He sounded just like Seven. She'd definitely had an influence on the hologram. It was all Janeway could do not to give that silly smile of hers when her lover made a lame joke, which was often. She shrugged and turned around. "The order stands as is," she said blandly.

"But it's highly irregular!" The older hologram muttered. "We share the same database. He could read my personal, private thoughts."

"Don't flatter yourself," the newer Doctor said, crossing his arms.

Janeway shook her head as she neared the exit. "Logistics, doctors," she said to the door. Then Janeway pivoted toward the two holograms. "You each have a stake. Like I used to tell Dani and Grub-work it out, kids."

"Kids?" the younger Doctor replied with a puzzled expression.


Kathryn was surprised to find the VIP Quarters locked, but she dutifully inquired within. When the door swished open, she caught her breath to see Seven, with her blonde hair cascading down in generous, bold ripples. A thin strap of her turquoise gown fell from a creamy shoulder to hang down, distorting the neckline to skew to hint at her delights. With great effort, Kathryn dragged her eyes upward to meet an astonished Seven.

"Seven." Kathryn blinked several times. "I'm not interrupting anything?"

Seven moved aside to allow Kathryn entry. "No, I have just put Eridani down for the night."

Kathryn saw the VIP quarters decorated with many of the same effects they'd had on Gweelee. The light and music wind chime hung in the living room by the window, stars distorted behind it. An orange Gweelee ball that was frustratingly unpredictable in its trajectories sat on the coffee table beside a hardbound copy of "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." This perusal took mere seconds.

She glanced at the chronometer that read nine hundred hours. "It's pretty late for her," Kathryn commented.

"She was having great difficulty with coming to terms with leaving Spiro," Seven said, walking toward the replicator. "Would you like coffee?"

Kathryn didn't want coffee. She wanted Seven in her arms, but there was something about Seven's demeanor that told her to back off. So coffee it was. "Yes, please." Kathryn sat on the sofa, facing the wind chimes. A small, tight smile curled her lips in memory of the thing. As Seven handed her the cup, she murmured her thanks. "Who is Spiro, by the way?" she said just before taking a sip.

Seven sat across from her on the sofa chair, her legs demurely closed as the gown covered to mid-thigh. "Grub," she said with her usual economy of words. "Spiro is his flight name."

"Hmm. I like that. Spiro."

Seven continued to study Kathryn, who was beginning to feel as if her lover were waiting for some sign from her. Maybe I should have taken her in my arms, she mused.

Seven played with the fabric on the armrest before she spoke. "Eridani is distraught. She stated she will never-followed by 'ever' three consecutive times-have another friend again."

Kathryn offered a sympathetic smile. "She was on board so little the first time, she didn't get a chance to meet the other children."

"I have scheduled such a meeting tomorrow at nine hundred hours."

Kathryn gave a soundless "ah." Then she adjusted herself. When her fidgeting became distracting, she stood with her back against the window. Her hip was leaning on the sill.

"How do you feel?" Seven said, lifting a brow at Kathryn's belly that she rubbed absentmindedly.

She shrugged. "Tired, which the Doctor said is to be expected." Kathryn wanted to add that she felt homesick for Seven's arms, but still the awkward feeling with Seven persisted.

"Are you firmly at Voyager's helm once again?"

Kathryn saw the flash of panic cross Seven's beautiful features and in the instant it took to recognize it, it vanished. She knit her eyes together, wondering at the ex Borg's intense emotion. "I would say that my First Officer would have it no other way, but I think I'd be mistaken."

"How so?"

"I think he'd rather be Captain," she said. With you at his side, she added mentally. "He seems...different."

Seven nodded. "That is true of more than the Commander."

"Ship repairs and crew morale will be my first priorities."

Seven accepted the comment without one of her own. She let her eyes take another assessment of the Captain. "I see the Doctor repaired your damage," Seven finally said.

Kathryn shook out her formerly injured leg, rolling her ankle around in demonstration. "Good as new," she said.

"You retain hematomas around your eyes," she stated.

Kathryn touched her cheek with a finger, and then laughed. "Some things have to heal naturally, I suppose. In the meantime, Mr. Paris is calling me 'Champ'."

"What does Chakotay call you?"

"Chakotay calls me Captain, mostly."

At the mention of her ex-lover, Seven adjusted herself, placing an elbow on the armrest. Kathryn knew the two had spoken, but neither had offered any details. That was her worst fear, Seven returning to the arms of the First Officer. Better that she face it. "Seven," Kathryn said quietly. "I think we need to talk about us."

Seven stood up, edging toward Kathryn stopping centimeters from the woman. "Then I would like to commence the topic, Kathryn."

"All right," she said cautiously. "I'm listening." Here it comes, Katie, she told herself. She's returning to Chakotay.


Seven's eyes shifted to look out of the window, the stars distorting into streams of light. How could she explain such complex feelings she had for Kathryn? Should she even try? Seven's proximity to her lover was overwhelming her senses, so she stepped away from the window and from her. She stood beside the chimes, letting her eyes dance along the alternating colors.

Slowly, Seven faced Kathryn, noting that the Starfleet tunic was fitting the woman snuggly around the top and middle. She would have to replicate a larger size soon.

"I have always respected you, even admiring you as a Captain," Seven began.

Kathryn tipped her head, looking into the fathomless blue eyes. Seven could not read into the bland expression. It was disconcerting not to find encouragement reflected there, but she managed to plod ahead.

"But our relationship grew," she said. "We became friends."

Kathryn smiled quickly in acknowledgement of something that was mutual. "Yes, I am fortunate to have you as a friend."

"And as someone who continues to play Velocity, despite your penchant for cheating."

Kathryn's lips almost curled into another small grin. "I don't cheat."

"You win consistently."

The redhead shrugged. "A talent for agility and intuition."

Seven looked away, crinkling her nose subtly at the last word. She was Borg. Intuition is a fallacy. But she did not wish to antagonize at this time index. "In any event, I have come to know you as a fiercely loyal captain who is utterly and completely devoted to the crew."

"Thank you, Seven," she said, leaning her shoulders back. She was starting to become uncomfortable with the direction. It was like a damn eulogy at her own funeral.

"Your undying devotion to the ship and your willingness to lay down your life for any member of the crew," she said. "It is profoundly humbling to work along side of someone of your excellence."

"My," she said. "Is this make 'Captain Janeway' feel good day?"

Seven regarded her curiously before choosing to ignore the comment. "Your singular wit and your tenderness had served to confuse me," she said.

Kathryn became deathly still. Gone was the sparkle from her eyes. The mischief from her lips. "I had felt many things for you. Friendship. Admiration. But my feelings added up to more than what I could identify," she said, waiting for the Captain to return her focus from behind her. "There was a variable missing. Only when Eridani showed me the possibility of us, only then did I understand."

Kathryn's respiration quickened and her heart rate sped up. These were easily discernible to the Borg. What they heralded however was another matter entirely.

Seven waited for some response from Kathryn, unsure what that would be.

Kathryn dipped her chin finally. "So what did you come to understand, Seven?"

Seven stepped closer to the woman. She could feel the heat licking off her. Seven moved closer to lightly caress Kathryn's cheek with the back of her fingers. Kathryn closed her eyes, waiting for her to be told they were done.

"To solve the mathematical expression of my life, I have employed an erroneous method to find the missing variable in my life."

Seven felt Kathryn tremble so she lightly rubbed the woman's shoulders up and down. She leaned in, her lips hovering close. "You are my mathematical constant, Kathryn," she whispered. "The missing variable was easy to solve after this revelation. X equals love."

Kathryn's eyes opened wide and her lips parted. "Oh, darling," Kathryn said in a cracking whisper. "I love you, too!"

Seven's eyes widened and her eyebrows shot up. Before either could say another word, Seven's lips descended on Kathryn's in an urgency they had not known. It was at once a soft expression of sweet claim and a torrid, possessive staking of territory. "You love me!" Seven whispered against Kathryn's hair, after she'd pulled the woman closer. It was a triumphant declaration.

Seven could see the unspent moisture in Kathryn's eyes when she pulled back. "Of course! My darling," Kathryn said, taking her Borg hand and kissing the backs of those fingers. "I love the sum of you, Borg and human!"

"And you feel this for me here? On the ship?"

The question was so small; it broke Kathryn's heart. "Oh, yes," she said. "Besides, did you really think I was going to let you go after you knocked me up?"

"Knocked you up?"

"Impregnated me with your child," she said, enunciating every word.

Seven looked down, tentatively drawing her hand on Kathryn's stomach. "You will continue gestation?"

Kathryn covered her hand. "How could I not? She belongs to both of us." When Seven looked up, she recognized the patented Janeway crooked grin. "And you're stuck with me now, even when I'm crabby."

"Oh, Pips," Seven whispered, drawing closer to Kathryn again. She let her lips hover near Kathryn's expectant lips. She felt the woman surge forward in her arms, searching for their union of breath, but Seven continued to tease close, flying over the lips, but not allowing them to touch. Her lips drifted lightly over each of Kathryn's eyelids and kissed the shell of each ear. Her arms rubbed the woman's back in large circles.

Kathryn lifted her chin. Seven accepted the invitation with gentle caresses and gliding her lips along the woman's chiseled chin.

"Seven!" Kathryn finally pleaded. "I want you."

Seven abruptly pulled Kathryn's arm into their bedroom, locking the door behind them. She circled Kathryn to stand in front of the bed. Seven resumed the teasing nips along Kathryn's neck and face, while a hand tugged down the zipper of her lover's tunic.

Kathryn moaned when she felt Seven's warm hand under her turtleneck, stroking the soft, warm skin. "You're teasing me," Kathryn accused with a light, affectionate tone.

"I believe I am savoring," she clarified, as her fingertips dipped below the other woman's waistband. "We have not made love for three days."

Seven recognized Kathryn's throaty moan was both yearning and frustration.

"I know, darling!" she whispered, trying to work Seven's singlesuit off. But Seven's deft arms blocked every effort by the Captain to assert dominance. "I'm so...so-"

"Aroused?" Seven asked as she unzipped Kathryn's pants in one swift tug.

"Horny as hell!" Kathryn admitted. "God! I feel like a raging torrent of hormones are flooding every cell."

Seven continued to lightly brush Kathryn's body under and over her clothes, but she was always careful to avoid the most sensitive points at the apex of the woman's legs.

"Kiss me, dammit!" Kathryn growled.

When Seven complied, she felt Kathryn's arms thread around to cup her shoulder blades and to press their bodies together tightly. Seven's tongue was sucked into Kathryn's mouth, taking it inside deeply with a long, soft cry of desire. "Please, Andy!"

Seven slipped her hand into her pants and under her cotton panties. When she slipped a finger along the sopping crease, Kathryn sobbed. "Don't make me beg, Seven!" she whispered.

Seven kissed Kathryn sweetly before whispering against the woman's lips: "Never."

Kathryn cried, trying to thrust upward to impale Seven's finger inside. "Oh, that's it, baby!" But it was followed by a growl of protest when Seven withdrew her hand.

"Shh," Seven said, as she tugged down the woman's pants and panties.

In short order, Captain Janeway was naked and lying on the bed. A knee was bent, giving Seven a lurid view of Kathryn's sex, as she undressed herself. Seven nearly came undone to see another let down of moisture from between the secret cleft. Without even having to move the lips aside, Seven could see Kathryn's prominent swell.

As Seven began to crawl up Kathryn's body, the other woman threw her head back, scrunching her eyes in anticipation. She situated her hips between Kathryn's welcoming legs, allowing her to grind the hungry woman's center. Seven braced her arms, keeping her upper body floating above the woman.

Kathryn's eyes snapped open, while her pelvis met Seven's grinding motions in perfect synchronicity. "Darling!"

Her eyes were so desperate that Seven smiled faintly. She slowly bent her arms to bring them nipple to nipple.

Kathryn's hands frantically rubbed Seven from shoulders to ass and back.

Before she claimed the woman's mouth once more, Seven whispered, "Tell me."

"Seven!" Kathryn shrieked in agonizing desire. "Fuck me! Is that what you want to hear?"

Seven shook her head, earning a frustrating rumble from her lover. Kathryn bit into her hand in frustration, while her lower body arched, swung and ground into Seven's body.

Seven reached up, cupping the woman's chin. "Tell me, love," she said. "Tell me..."

"What, Seven? I'll tell you anything you want, just take me."

Seven smiled sadly, shaking her head. "I will not take you," she said. "You must give yourself. Tell me who do you belong-"

"You!" she cried, the cords of her neck veins stood out in stark relief. "I belong to you!"

"Yes," Seven replied. "You are mine." Kathryn was rewarded with a kiss that was wet and consuming. Each tongue slid against the other in a frenzied climb toward sensuous perfection.

Just as Seven's hand neared her goal, she felt Kathryn reaching for the same. She rose on her knees, offering herself. One single touch to their swollen centers sent them both hurtling over the edge in waves of such profound pleasure. Light splintered into rainbows of colors under their eyelids. Sound fused into symphony. But touch concentrated to one single point where they held each the other in orgiastic bliss. They cried out in unison. The exhalation for one was the inhalation for the other.

Their dextrous fingers continued to coax convulsion from each other long after they'd recollected themselves from the shattering effects of orgasm. Until finally, Seven collapsed on top of Kathryn, kissing the skin near her lips.

Kathryn hooked a leg around Seven's thigh, stroking her back gently. "I needed you," she said in a gravelly voice at Seven's ear.

Seven looked up, finding sweet surrender on Kathryn's lovely features. "I shall always need you."

Kathryn pecked the woman's lips quickly without opening her eyes. "Aww," she said. "If I'm you're mathematical constant, darling. Then you..." she said, trailing a finger from her shoulder to her side. "Are...my...gyroscope." She poked Seven's side playfully with the last word.

Seven raised a dubious eyebrow. "Gyroscope. A device with two concentric spinning wheels utilized in navigation systems? That device?"

"Yes, that's you."

When she heard no sound, Kathryn propped herself up on a pillow to look down at her lover. She chuckled at the puzzled expression, as she traced Seven's single feathery eyebrow with a fingertip.

"I'm a starship captain, darling. Not a poet."

Seven rolled toward the woman, taking her hand and kissing each finger, tasting and smelling herself on it. "Explain."

Kathryn firmed her lips and looked up in thought.

Seven's breath hitched to see Kathryn completely unmasked, revealing such love and affection, it nearly decompiled her on the spot.

"On earth, gyroscopes..." Kathryn said as she smoothed Seven's forehead with her fingertips. "...have been used for hundreds of years to help ships navigate the endless expanse of the ocean and space. They're amazing little devices. If the axis of the inside flywheel is set pointing toward a star, it remain fixed in that direction, regardless of what happens around it."

The Captain added hastily that she realized that Seven was aware of the devices. "But you are my personal gyroscope because without you, my lovely Borg, I would be so inconsolably lost."

Seven kissed Kathryn's breast, just above the nipple. It was a chaste kiss of appreciation and not meant to excite. "You are a poet, Kathryn. And furthermore, you are my poet."

Kathryn cupped Seven's jaw tenderly. "I wouldn't have it any other way," she said, leaning in to offer her own kiss of affirmation.


They made love all night long, surprised at their own insatiability. Only after they were spent, panting for breath, did Kathryn pull back from the six-foot length of gorgeous Borg next to her. Kathryn tucked wild blonde strands behind Seven's ears, earning a nonsensical mumble in reply. She watched the eyes flutter under her lids. Kathryn studied the parted lips as a pink tongue slowly slid across them to then return to its home.

Kathryn circled the woman's chin cleft with a fingertip. "Darling?" she whispered, a throaty murmur her only reply. "Before you drift off, there's one little thing."

"Anything, Pips," the Borg mumbled uncharacteristically.

Kathryn clenched her stomach, fearful about how Seven would react. "I haven't told anyone," she whispered.

When the woman's sapphire blues snapped open, Kathryn smiled nervously. "About us, I mean."

The hurt and dismay registered instantly and Seven bolted up to sitting. Kathryn followed suit, balancing her body on a braced arm, while she held Seven's hand tightly. "It's not because I'm ashamed, Seven," she tried to explain. "You are so beautiful, so desirable. I will be the envy of every man and woman on board when they find out."

Kathryn lifted her brows in confirmation to counter Seven's dubious expression. "I love you, Seven. I've said it. And I've shown you. But what I need is a little time to figure out where we fit together and with the crew. And then I'll tell them all. I'll reveal everything."

"How long?"

Kathryn grimaced slightly. "I'm not sure, but it will only be as long as it absolutely necessary," she said. "Can you help me with this, Seven? Can you gift me with your patience?"

Seven drew her legs up, resting her chin on top. "So what exactly do you require from me?"

"I want us to be discreet. I would prefer not to let anyone know we are lovers. Just yet."

"What does that mean for living together?"

"We must keep up appearances, Seven."

"So you will remain in the Captain's Quarters."

Kathryn nodded reluctantly.

"What about Eridani?"

"I didn't say it would be easy."

"What about making love?"

A pained gurgle caught in Kathryn's throat. "It will be limited," she admitted.

"That will be most difficult of all," Seven replied.

"I know, darling. Believe me."

Seven leaned in to kiss the sweet spot under Kathryn's ear. "Do not delay your announcement too long, Pips."

Kathryn cupped the back of Seven's head. "Let's start tomorrow," she said, pushing Seven down to climb on top. She suddenly pulled away, becoming serious. "But I promise you, Seven, when everything is out in the open, we will have time enough for it all."


A/N: This is only the first of a five-part series. The second story, "Quantum of Chaos," is being written and can be found at http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1436187/

Once Quantum is complete, I'll cross post here. Thanks for reading.

Quantum of Chaos summary: Janeway finds a divided, mutinous crew on a ship with strained resources. Bizarre aliens harass them. Seven grows fractious with their closeted relationship. Voyager's children are morphing. Can she bring the crew together? Can she be both a Captain and a lover? Can she ever get the crew home?

Part 3 title: "Living Daylights"

Part 4 title = "Rip in Time"

Part 5 title (aka Grand Finale) = "Yesterday Never Dies"

Isobel Rowan's Scrolls
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