~ The Brig ~
by romansilence

Disclaimer: You all know it, the characters and background story don't belong to me but to Paramount, unfortunately. No copyright infringement is intended, no profit will be made.

Language Disclaimer: English is not my first language. So, please be lenient.

Sexual Disclaimer: This is an alt story, in other words there's a consensual sexual relationship between two adult women that at one points get pretty hands-on.

Timeline: Follows the show up to season five "The Dark Frontier".


Chapter One

"Lieutenant Torres, do you understand the charges brought against you?" Captain Janeway asked.

Her face was set in an unreadable mask but inside her heart was bleeding. She didn't want to do what she was about to do. It just couldn't be true, B'Elanna could not have done it, not in a million years; it was not who she was. The Human-Klingon Hybrid was one of the few people she trusted completely. She had earned that trust and developed into a great officer, and though she never would tell her, without her they never would have come this far. Without B'Elanna Voyager would have been destroyed dozens of times already.

And that's why she still couldn't believe it but neither Commander Tuvok nor Seven of Nine had been able to find evidence that contradicted B'Elanna's confession or at least offered extenuating circumstances, even the gossip mill on board was conspicuously silent.

"Yes, Ma'am, I understand the charges. I killed Commander Chakotay and I am responsible for the deaths of Lieutenant Carey and Crewman Merian. I plead guilty. Please, Captain, let's just get this over with."

Under different circumstances Kathryn would have smiled at B'Elanna's impatience and no-nonsense-attitude, but they were talking about the rest of the young woman's life, and lately she began to feel more anger than anything else at B'Elanna's stubborn refusal to explain her actions.

"This is your last chance to explain yourself, Lieutenant Torres. Explain at least why Commander Chakotay had been carrying a phaser set to kill. Give me a chance not to incarcerate you for life."

"There is nothing to say, Ma'am." B'Elanna said and looked her captain directly in the eyes.

"Then you leave me no other choice. Attention, everyone!"

The court-martial had followed Starfleet's war time protocol which basically stated that the decision would not be made by a jury of the defendant's peers but by the highest ranking Starfleet officer available. The rules also recommended that the trial should be held without public, but Captain Janeway had decided against that. After everything her crew had been through in the last five years they deserved to know what was going on. So, she had allowed public attendance and the mess hall was filled to capacity with every off-duty crewmember on board and if she was not mistaken a few who should have been at their duty stations.

"Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, for murder in the first degree in one case and involuntary homicide in two cases you are hereby sentenced to life-imprisonment. However, this ship can ill afford to lose its best engineer. So, I'm giving you a choice, B'Elanna Torres. Crewman Suder's former cell has been repaired and is waiting for you. It would afford you privacy and twenty-four hours a day to think about your actions. Your other choice is to be imprisoned in the brig, without much privacy but with the chance to continue to work in Engineering as a crewman."

"The brig, Captain." B'Elanna answered without hesitation. Then she removed the bronze bar indicating her rank from her collar and put it on the desk in front of Janeway.

"So, be it. Security, escort Crewman Torres to the brig. Everyone else, dismissed!"

Her crew quickly left the room without a single word even before the two security officers had reached B'Elanna. There were no protests, no groups lingering to speak among themselves; they just left silently. When Kathryn finally stepped out of the mess hall come courtroom she saw that they obviously had formed some sort of honour guard to the left and the right of the corridor leading to the turbolift, and later she learned that on the whole way to the brig her crew had lined the corridors and stood at attention for the prisoner.

If nothing else this was ample proof that there was something about the whole thing she still missed. It kept nagging at her, and it had ever since she had come back from Unimatrix One after rescuing Seven of Nine.

B'Elanna had been on the bridge when the Delta Flyer had dropped out of the transwarp corridor. She had been the one to fire the torpedoes that had collapsed the corridor and destroyed the Borg ship chasing them. But when they had docked a few minutes later Harry had been in charge and B'Elanna had already been in the brig.

She remembered the conversation in the shuttle bay...

- - -

"Welcome home, Captain, Commander, Tom," Harry said after snapping to the most rigid parade attention Janeway had ever seen, even from him.

"It's good to be home, Ensign. Where are Lieutenant Torres and Commander Chakotay? I expect a status report and I want the transwarp coil fitted to Voyager's engines ASAP. We should get out of here before they'll send another cube to get us."

"The transfer of the transwarp coil has already been prepared. Nicoletti and Vorik know what to do, Captain," Harry answered with his eyes slightly to the left of his captain's head.

"That's good to hear but it does not explain Commander Chakotay's absence," Janeway said and gave Harry a force five glare.

Harry swallowed hard but then squared his shoulders and said, "There have been two incidents while you were gone, Captain. Two days after you left there was an accident in Engineering. Commander Chakotay had ordered an exercise, an emergency shut-down and restart of the warp core. Something went wrong and the shut-down process created an energy surge. A few systems in the engine room exploded but it also migrated to other systems. Holodeck One exploded and six former Maquis and two Starfleet officers who had been in the holodeck to play volleyball were killed. The energy surge also fried all of our surveillance cameras, video and audio. We only were able to get everything back up to work the day before yesterday. The reports are already waiting on your desk."

Now it was Janeway's turn to swallow hard. Eight dead! "What caused the accident?"

"We don't know for sure, Captain. Without the surveillance footage it's hard to tell where it started. We were busy with repairing the damage and didn't have the time to investigate the reason," Harry answered.

"You said there were two incidents, Ensign Kim," Tuvok asked from behind.

"Yes Commander. Two days after the accident there was an altercation between Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Torres in Engineering. As far as I know the commander was complaining that the repairs were not going fast enough and that we needed to be battle ready at a moment's notice and Lieutenant Torres told him that it would take as long as it would take. They came to blows. Chakotay pulled his phaser but Lieutenant Torres still attacked him. Shots were fired and Lieutenant Carey and Crewman Merian who had tried to separate the fighters were killed by phaser fire. Lieutenant Torres wrestled Chakotay down and broke his neck. She is in the brig to await her court-martial, Ma'am."

- - -

Replaying the conversation with Harry in her mind on her way back to the bridge Kathryn suddenly became aware that the young man had not once looked at her then. She also realised that ever since he tried to avoid looking her in the eyes. And once again her mind ran rampant with other possible scenarios.

In moments she felt especially paranoid she was certain that her crew, her whole crew was keeping something from her, something important, but most of the time her mind came back to the one thing she really couldn't wrap her mind around.

Yes, B'Elanna had a volatile temper but she kept it under a tight lid. She shouted and cursed, she threw things and sometimes she dented an unsuspecting wall panel with her bare fist; but ever since she had broken Lieutenant Carey's nose right at the beginning of their journey she not once had raised her hand against another sentient being. Yes, she had threatened them, but she never had really done anything.

The closest B'Elanna had ever come to come to blows with someone had been in the early days of Seven's presence on board when the tall blonde had still been learning about social behaviour - and that soon had turned out to be sexual tension more than anything else.

Kathryn stepped into the turbolift. She couldn't help the smile that spread over her face when she thought about the day her surrogate daughters had shared their first kiss.

About eight months after she had severed Seven from the Borg Collective she had been called down to Engineering to end yet another of the numerous confrontations between the two women. She had been able to hear the shouting from the moment she stepped off the turbolift, and from what she heard it had been nothing special, just a variation of the average 'This is my engine room and you have to respect the rules' from B'Elanna and Seven's 'The rules are inefficient and obsolete'. But then there suddenly had been silence, utter and complete silence, and she had broken into a run. When she had rounded the corner to the main entrance of Engineering she had seen B'Elanna and Seven locked in a passionate kiss, and to this day she didn't know who had been kissing whom.

It had, of course, not completely stopped their arguments; sometimes she thought that nothing ever would, but she never again had been called down to Deck Eleven to end a confrontation. And with the help of the relationship with B'Elanna, the crew had started to accept Seven as one of their own...

No, she still didn't get it. What could Chakotay possibly have said to make B'Elanna fly off the handle this completely? The only thing she had come up with was that he might have insulted Seven or B'Elanna's honour as a Klingon warrior, but both had happened before and then B'Elanna had not lost control then. What had been different this time?

Had it been the stress of losing Seven to the Borg just when the young women had had moved in together and not being allowed to go on the rescue? Had it been her fault that three people, including her First Officer, now were dead?

The lift arriving at the bridge brought Kathryn out of her musings. Tuvok immediately rose from the command chair and Harry left his post behind the operations' console.

"It can't be over just yet. She must have taken more time to explain," he said.

"Crewman Torres was sentenced to life imprisonment for one count of murder and two counts of involuntary homicide, Ensign Kim," the captain answered neutrally but with a flat undertone in her voice.

"But... but she... she prom..." He fell silent, straightened his posture and asked, "Permission to go on an early lunch break, Captain?"

"Permission granted, Ensign." Harry was gone before she even had a chance to say, 'Dismissed'.

"Report Commander Tuvok."

"No planets, no nebulas or other stellar phenomena at all for the next sector, and according to Astrometrics for the next three sectors," Tuvok reported in his neutral voice. "Repairs are progressing according to plan and should be finished in the next forty-eight to sixty hours. Captain, would you like to discuss the upcoming changes in personnel in your Ready Room?"

Kathryn translated his last words to 'What I have to say is not for the ears of the crew, not even the bridge crew'. So, she just nodded and led the way.

Janeway took a seat behind her desk and Tuvok stood comfortably in front of it. Even after almost a week he looked strange to her in the red uniform, and if he were prone to such illogical Human feelings he probably also would feel uncomfortable.

She came straight to the point, "So, my friend, which changes do you object to?"

"Personally, none, Captain, in my opinion you made the logical choice."

"And as my first officer?" She cautiously asked.

"As your first officer I'm curious why you chose to disregard Lieutenant Torres' recommendation to put Lieutenants Nicoletti and Vorik in joint charge on Engineering?" Tuvok asked.

"One day Susan Nicoletti will be a good chief. At the moment she might have B'Elanna's intuition but she does not have her intimate knowledge of Voyager's systems. Vorik knows Voyager's systems but he doesn't feel them. None of them is ready to take over as Chief and despite Crewman Torres' recommendation Engineering can not be run by committee, not even a committee by two. Seven on the other hand is ready to step in for B'Elanna. She has the knowledge and she follows her intuition more often than she would ever admit. Seven of Nine is the better choice. During the last week I spent more time in Engineering than in any of the years before. The Engine Room needs a real Chief, not some people who are still learning the ropes." Janeway answered.

"As I said, Captain, your reasoning is logical, but in recent years Astrometrics has become almost as important to Voyager's survival as Engineering, and no one pays as much attention to detail as Seven of Nine, not even me." Tuvok replied.

"My decision stands, Commander, Seven of Nine will take over as Chief of Engineering and will oversee the Astrometrics' lab." The captain answered. "Dismissed Commander."

Tuvok inclined his head and left.

-x-x-x-

"B'Elanna, please, talk to me. You promised that you would set it right during the trial. Pleading guilty won't do that," Harry said.

The young Human-Klingon Hybrid sat on the bunk that would be her new bed and smiled at her friend.

"I'll be alright, Starfleet," she said.

"Don't call me Starfleet, B'Elanna. Two people I considered my friends betrayed everything Starfleet stands for."

"Yes, Harry, they did, but you didn't. You are the embodiment of a Starfleet officer. You have nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that the Maquis no longer exist and the fact that Chakotay and his cronies betrayed not only us and our Captain but also everything the Maquis ever believed in does not make me ashamed of being Maquis. Your honour is your own, Starfleet. And pleading guilty was the only thing I could do, Harry. I killed Chakotay, and Carey and Merian are dead because I didn't do it when I should have, when I challenged him for leadership. Everyone on board of this ship has to understand that what happened can not go unpunished. Someone has to pay the price, and that's me. Seven understood, why don't you?" B'Elanna said.

"Seven has the same exaggerated sense of responsibility and guilt as you do, Lanna. Did it ever occur to you that the best thing to do would be to tell the truth?" Harry retorted.

"Harry, you promised me you wouldn't, and I count on you to keep your word. Kath... The captain is not to know, not now, not ever. It would damage her ability to command if she were to know. She would start to second-guess herself, and that's something she, and we can not afford."

"I'll keep my promise, Lanna, but I don't have to like it."

Naomi Wildman hid in a doorway when Harry left the brig. While the captain and the doctor had been gone to bring Seven back, her mother and Neelix had basically kept her in their quarters, even her lessons took place there. The only explanation they had given her was that there had been an accident and that it would be safer for her to stay in. They even had changed the door's encryption code. But after what she had just overheard she was determined to find out what had really been going on.

So, instead of going to sickbay and meet with the doctor for her biology lesson, the girl returned to her own quarters and began to check Voyager's logs, and when she didn't find what she had been looking for she started to check the back-ups. Sometimes having two of the best engineers in the Quadrant as her teachers did pay off, Naomi thought but it still took her more than two weeks to piece together what had happened. She even spoke to her friend B'Elanna in the brig who convinced her not to tell the captain. During her next shift in Engineering B'Elanna erased the brig logs of Naomi's visit.

-x-x-x-

Captain Kathryn Janeway sat in her Ready Room, ostensibly reading personal reports. Though Tuvok would never admit it, he felt uncomfortable having to deal with the personal problems of the crew; so, Kathryn had taken over some of the duties usually relegated to the first officer - and if she was honest going over those records with Chakotay had taken longer than she needed now doing it by herself. Her mind, however, was not really on the task.

It was with B'Elanna and what could have happened to make her lose control that completely, to make her lose control to the point of killing a friend, but she was not closer to an answer than she was two weeks ago after the trial.

Kathryn also had tried to speak to Seven of Nine. If there was one person on board to whom B'Elanna would have told the whole truth, it was Seven, her lover, her benal. Seven, however, avoided her as best as she could. The few times they had had to interact in a professional capacity Seven had reverted to her old Borg mannerisms and speech pattern.

There had even been moments when she had contemplated to simply go down to the lower desks, grab a passing crewmember and order them to tell her what really happened, moments during which she was utterly convinced that the whole crew was keeping the truth from her. Of course she knew perfectly well that she never would do it and that those thoughts bordered on paranoia.

She also had tried to get B'Elanna to talk, of course, more than once, but to no avail. The last time, only two days prior, had been utterly frustrating. It had been halfway through Beta Shift and she had found the security officer on duty standing guard outside of the cell block.

- - -

"Does the prisoner have a visitor, Ensign?" Janeway asked.

"No, Captain, but Commander Tuvok told us that it was alright to give Lieu... Crewman Torres some private time, especially after a long shift. She only returned from Engineering half an hour ago," he answered.

Janeway only nodded and stepped in. B'Elanna had been doing some sit-ups but immediately jumped to her feet when she saw her commanding officer.

"At ease, crewman," Kathryn ordered. "How are you, B'Elanna?"

B'Elanna's at-ease-stance was only slight less stiff than Harry's attention-posture but her voice sounded perfectly normal, almost relaxed, "I'm fine, Captain, thank you. What can I do for you, Captain Janeway?"

"I heard you just returned from a long shift. Is there anything wrong in Engineering?" The captain asked.

"I was just busy with some maintenance in Jeffries tube forty-six, Captain. You'll have to ask Lieutenant Nicoletti, Ensign Vorik or Seven of Nine for specifics about Engineering as a whole." There was a distinct note of resignation in her voice.

"It's hard being out of the loop, isn't it, Lanna?" Kathryn asked.

"The hardest part is not to be the one who is giving the orders. It hurts, Kathryn, but I brought this upon myself. You don't know how much I appreciate it to be allowed to still be useful for this ship. I would have gone crazy, locked up with nothing to do. Thank you."

"You're welcome, but it was a selfish decision. Why did you do it, Lanna? Why did you attack Commander Chakotay?"

"I killed him, Captain, that's all there is to say, and I don't regret it. I only regret that Merian and Carey also had to pay the price." B'Elanna answered.

"What did he say to you, Lanna? Why did you lose control?"

"There is nothing to tell, Captain. I'm sorry."

- - -

B'Elanna had held her eyes but had not responded to any further questions, and after a few more minutes Kathryn had left. The only thing that visit had done was to reaffirm her belief that her former Chief Engineer had not told the whole truth during her trail. She was now sure that B'Elanna wanted to be punished, and that it was not for killing Commander Chakotay. Sooner or later she would find out what was behind B'Elanna's stubborn refusal to tell her the truth.

She would find out what drove her to basically punish herself. She would get her to talk. Her gut feeling told Kathryn that on Qo'nos B'Elanna's actions would not have been prosecuted but applauded, and if she got her to admit to that she would have a justification to change the sentence, if not even declare the whole trial void. Lieutenant Worf's career on the Enterprise was proof enough that Starfleet and the Federation respected a Klingon's right to defend or revenge their mate, and B'Elanna was a daughter of the Klingon Empire. She just had to get her to swallow her pride and admit to it.

So, the next morning she ordered Lieutenant Ayala who had taken over as Chief of Security for Commander Tuvok to her Ready Room.

"Lieutenant, it has come to my attention that the regulations governing the treatment of prisoners, especially prisoners found guilty of a violent crime are not respected. From now on there will be no more guarding from a distance, no unsupervised visits, a security officer will be with Crewman Torres at all time during work. Conversation is to be limited to work related topics alone. I also saw that she is still wearing an engineering uniform instead of a prisoner's jumpsuit. See to it that all of those regulations are followed to the letter."

"With all due respect, Captain, but so far B'El... Crewman Torres has been a model prisoner. There is no reason to treat her like a common convict," Ayala said carefully.

"Lieutenant Ayala, one day you might earn it but at the moment you don't have the right to question my orders. I expect my orders to be followed. Dismissed."

"Yes Ma'am."

As soon as he was gone Kathryn took a deep breath and went to her replicator for a cup of coffee. She quietly admitted to herself that she could have handled the whole situation better. She could have trusted Ayala and told him why she insisted on this change in treatment. She could have told him that she was convinced that the only way to get B'Elanna to open up, to get her to talk was to break her first, or at least to soften her up.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Chapter Two

Two months passed, two months during which Kathryn's plan didn't seem to bear fruit; two months during which B'Elanna's quick thinking and taking charge at a critical moment had saved the ship from destruction; two month during which the Human-Klingon Hybrid stubbornly refused to answer the question she asked every week with anything else than "There is nothing to say, Captain." But it also were two months during which she more than once had had the distinct impression that not only Harry Kim but also Seven of Nine and Tom Paris had been on the brink of talking to her, of telling her. None of them had, however.

And then there was the day when Naomi Wildman asked to speak with Captain Janeway.

"What can I do for you, Miss Wildman?"

"Captain, I wanted to give this back to you." The girl stood at attention in front of the desk. She took a step forward and put the pip the captain had given to her on the desk.

"I no longer want to be your Captain's Assistant," she said and started to leave.

"One moment, young lady, the least I expect is an explanation. I know that I didn't spend enough time with you during the last couple of months and that your position is more honorary than anything else, but I still thought that your sense of duty was more developed." Kathryn said in an effort to get the girl to really tell her the truth.

The girl looked angrily at her but then her back straightened even more and she said calmly, "The polite thing to do would be to tell you that I no longer want to be your assistant because my schoolwork takes up too much of my time, but that would not be honourable. It would be a lie. The truth is that I don't want to be your assistant because you are not the captain I thought you are. The way you have everyone treat B'Elanna is petty and not honourable. She did nothing wrong. Captain, may I be dismissed now?"

Kathryn only nodded. Of all the things she had expected this had not been it. Over the last two months she had received petitions for a more lenient treatment of Crewman B'Elanna Torres from almost every single crewmember, including Neelix and the Doctor, but nothing had been able to change her mind. If the only way to get the stubborn engineer to talk to her was to break her first than that's what she would do. She would out-stubborn her.

Now, for the first time, her eyes on Naomi's pip, she began to question her decision and her determination to see it through. Kathryn felt the deep need to break open her last bottle of whiskey but she knew that getting drunk wouldn't change the girl's words and it wouldn't change how much they had hurt.

The door chimed and she automatically invited whoever was waiting outside in.

"Captain, are you alright?"

"Not really, old friend. Is something wrong? Why do you ask?"

"When Naomi Wildman just left your Ready Room she was crying, I had expected you to follow her to calm her down again," Tuvok said.

"It seems that I no longer have a Captain's Assistant. Miss Wildman basically told me that I was an honourless p'taq for the way I treat B'Elanna," Kathryn answered, "the way I ordered everyone to treat her."

"You ensured that Starfleet regulations are adhered to, Captain. I know that Crewman Torres understands that." Tuvok answered.

"Yes, but they are regulations even you did not seem necessary to enforce when you gave your parting orders to Lieutenant Ayala."

"Those regulations were written with regard to prisoners who are liable to destroy equipment or injure other crewmembers, and they never were meant for long-term confinement," he said.

"Then why didn't you come to me and questioned my motifs? I told you once that you are my moral compass; that still stands, now more than ever," Kathryn said almost plaintively.

"I only would have had the right to interfere if the prisoner had filed an official complaint or if Crewman Torres would have otherwise indicated that she feels treated unjustly. Though I admit that I'm curious as to why you were so adamant about this."

"I'm afraid that my reasoning is not very logical, though at the time it made perfect sense." Kathryn answered.

She was well aware that they had fallen back into their roles of old, when she still had been a wet-behind-the-ears science officer doing her first tentative steps at command school, and he had been teaching advanced tactical strategies at the Academy. He had become her mentor but they had not spoken like this for years.

"So, why does your reasoning not make sense anymore?"

"Would you believe that it's because a young girl just told me that I'm not the captain she thought I was and because she gave me something back of which she once had been very proud? She also told me that B'Elanna did nothing wrong."

"Yes, Captain, I would believe that, but I also know that it will not change your course of action if you're convinced that it's the right thing to do," Tuvok answered.

"And herein lies the crux, my friend. The least I can say is that it's not working. I didn't give those orders just to uphold Starfleet regulations. She has done enough for this ship to warrant leniency. Only three weeks ago it was only her presence in Engineering that kept us from losing our warp core and being destroyed. I gave those orders because I want to get her to talk. She admitted that she doesn't feel remorse for killing Chakotay but she refuses to tell me why she did it. I'm sure that if I know the why I could come up with extenuating circumstances and would maybe even be able to revoke the sentence."

"Were you not bound by Starfleet regulations and Federation law, Kathryn, would you have given her a free pass?" Tuvok suddenly asked, and proved once again how well he knew her.

"I'm looking for a reason to do exactly that, Tuvok, within Starfleet regulations and Federation law." Kathryn rose and began to pace the length of the Ready Room. "I know it sounds as if I give little weight to the violent death of three crewmembers but deep down I know that regardless of the provocation B'Elanna would never kill anyone without a damned good reason. So, I thought if I put enough pressure on her she sooner or later would break down and tell me the truth, but at the moment it seems as if all the good it does is to bring up the crew against me."

"If you want to put pressure on Crewman Torres you'd need to do more than Starfleet would allow. Cut down on the number of visitors and the length of the visits, reduce her time to exercise in the gym to an hour once a week and most importantly, don't let her work, and in another month or three you might see some results, though I sincerely doubt that," Tuvok said.

"I want to get her to talk, not destroy her personality, Tuvok. Why do you think that would not work? What you propose is liable to destroy anyone, much more someone with Klingon blood in their veins."

"Did Crewman Torres ever tell you how she met Commander Chakotay?"

"She only said that he saved her life and Chakotay also never spoke about it. Why?" Kathryn asked.

"Crewman Suder told me about it when he asked me to keep an eye on her and protect her should it become necessary. He said that the commander had always been jealous of B'Elanna Torres and that they only got along because of her total lack of interest in command.

"Commander Chakotay saved her life when he killed a Cardassian prison guard aiming a disruptor at her. He was the last one of the guards still alive after the prisoners had rebelled under her command. Miss Torres had been held there for almost six months and they tried their best to break her. They tortured her, put her in solitary in an icy, dark cell, whipped her in front of the other prisoners, raped her, but in the end her perseverance inspired the other prisoners.

"Suder was one of them, a new arrival then. B'Elanna created a diversion and managed to kill the commander and his guards. The other Cardassians fell quickly after that. Chakotay and his crew had initially only come there to steal supplies, but suddenly had to deal with three thousand prisoners."

"The labour camp on Caessik III?" Kathryn asked. "Chakotay told me that he and his crew infiltrated it and freed the prisoners. He told me he killed Ghul Canak."

"No, Captain, he only tried to reap the benefits, but the former prisoners made sure that everyone knew who really did it."

"That makes me even more convinced that B'Elanna acted out of self-defence. Ever since our disagreement over the Borg he feared that he was losing my trust, and he knew that in case of an emergency I would count one hundred percent on B'Elanna and Seven. With you, me and Seven gone, he might have seen his chance to get rid of a rival."

"It's one of the theories that crossed my mind, but without Crewman Torres' statement all we have is conjecture. We lack evidence."

"Did you find anything in Chakotay's files?" Janeway asked.

"No, Captain, his logs were strictly professional, and since he was not suspected of any wrong-doings by regulation I had no right to go through his personal belongings, and since no one of the command staff made a claim to it everything is still as he left it," Tuvok answered.

"Then do it now," Janeway ordered.

"We still have no legal concourse to search his personal belongings, Captain. There's not even a single shred of evidence or a witness statement to cast doubt on Commander Chakotay or his actions."

"That would have been too easy, wouldn't it?" Janeway said with a resigned shrug of her shoulders. "I want this done by the book. So, for now, I want you to give me all the information you have about the labour camp on Caessik III and the Ghul commanding it as soon as possible. I think it's time to do some investigating of my..."

A sudden jolt ran through the ship, strong enough to throw Tuvok off his feet and Janeway out of her chair. They had just come back up to their feet when the ship rocked again. Janeway hit her head at the edge of her desk but didn't lose consciousness. Tuvok helped her up again and they staggered over to the bridge where everyone was still picking themselves up from the floor.

"Report!" She barked.

Harry had a deep gash on his forehead but still tried to obey. He pulled himself back to his console. "Emergency energy only, life support and inertial dampeners are holding. We have no warp, no impulse and no thrusters. Shields and weapons are also down, as well as the environmental controls. Readings are intermittent but indicate that there has been an explosion in Engineering, a series of explosions it seems. The comm. system is down too."

"Tuvok, you have the bridge, see what you can repair from here; priority is the defence system, then internal communication. Tom, Harry, get down to sickbay. The doctor might need your help, Tom. And Harry, have him patch you up, then join me in Engineering."

-x-x-x-

The turbolifts were also not working; so, it took Captain Janeway more than fifteen minutes to get down to deck eleven via the Jeffries tubes and ladders. The big double doors to Engineering were closed and in front of it was utter chaos. There were crewmembers treating each other with dermal regenerators; others were just sitting on the floor and stared at the closed doors and two engineers were trying to open them. Susan Nicoletti leaned heavily on Vorik while directing their work. Her face was ashen and she had a gash at her temple and an obviously just healed wound in her thigh.

No one paid her any attention.

"Report! What happened?"

"Captain, I'm so glad that you're here. We can't get the doors to open and we have to get in. If we find B'Elanna in time she still stands a chance. Our authorisation codes don't work."

"What are you talking about, Lieutenant? What happened?" The captain insisted.

"Captain," Vorik answered.

He kept his arm around Nicoletti's waist and held her right hand with his left. As touch telepaths Vulcans were usually very careful about touching other people, especially if they were as emotional as Susan undoubtedly was at the moment. So, in Kathryn's eyes, this uncharacteristic behaviour was either an indicator of the gravity of the situation or the young Vulcan and Susan Nicoletti were closer than she had thought.

"There was a series of explosions in the engine room. We had four serious injuries after the first set, but we still thought that we could get it under control. The second explosion occurred just when Lieu... Crewman Torres returned from sickbay. She had carried Seven there. She was among the first injured. After the second round of explosions we had plasma and radiation leaks and had to evacuate. The warp core started to overheat and Crewman Torres stayed behind to do a controlled shut-down, but the emergency procedures for the plasma leaks and those for radiation poisoning had already been activated and the doors were sealed."

"And B'Elanna? What's the status on Seven?" Kathryn Janeway's command mask was firmly in place, inside, however, she was praying: 'Let them be alright!'

"Seven is in sickbay. We'll get word as soon as the doctor knows how serious it really it, but she looked very bad. We don't know what happened to B'Elanna. Sensors indicate that the leaks are under control, but that's about all the information we can get. We read a breathable atmosphere inside, so the cleaning procedure must have been successful but the other readings are intermittent at best, and there are no life signs. That's why we have to get in there, and your command override should do it," Susan answered. She was still holding on to Ensign Vorik.

"Computer, open main doors to Engineering on deck eleven. Authorisation: Janeway-Alpha-Phi-One-Omega."

The computer beeped but nothing happened. She typed in her code manually, but the doors stayed shut. Taking a closer look she found that the door mechanism was blocked with Borg encryption codes, no, those were Borg encryption codes with a twist.

"Mister Vorik, what are the chances that Crewman Torres is still alive?"

"Considering her physiology I estimate 1:100,000. However, experience has taught me never to bet against Lieu... Crewman Torres," he answered.

"Captain, you can't just give up on her, regardless of how angry you are at her about this... about Chakotay," Susan burst out.

"Lieutenant Nicoletti, watch what you're insinuating. Keep two men here, but with the way the door mechanism has been encrypted it would take hours to break it down, at best. Susan, I want you and a team over at the entrance to the lab. Try to get in there. Vorik, you are with me. We'll try the Jeffries' tube accesses on deck ten. Bring your tools and a medkit. The rest of you... Go to sickbay to get treated or split into teams. I want the whole ship checked for hull breaches, manually. And send someone to the bridge to tell Commander Tuvok what's going on."

Vorik and Susan exchanged a glance in which profound relief warred with surprise, but Kathryn didn't see it. Her mind was already running through ship's schematics to find the best access route.

They went up to deck ten and checked the entry points there, but their tricorder readings warned them of a still existing plasma contamination. It was one of the security features she had found lacking from the beginning but the ship designers at Utopia Planetia had assured her that there was no way to include the Jeffries tubes into the decontamination protocols, and ever since being stranded in the Delta Quadrant they had not had the time or the opportunity to think about improving Voyager's design. Not that she did not have a whole drawer filled with padds proposing one improvement or the other, mainly from B'Elanna or Seven or both of them.

Janeway groaned internally; that left her only one other option, "Come, Mister Vorik, if we can't get in from the side, then we'll come from above."

"Captain?" He asked.

"Follow me."

Kathryn led Vorik two more levels up. The tricorder found no indication of danger. They followed it through two hatches that had to be opened manually. Janeway stopped in the middle of the third segment and removed two of the floor panels. The space underneath was filthy and barely big enough for Naomi Wildman to wriggle through. She swiped the dust and grime away and uncovered a hatch Vorik had not even known existed.

He always had thought that next to the Chief he was the one who knew this ship best.

"The hatch has been sealed completely shut. There's no easy way to open it up. I hope you have something in your tool box to do that, otherwise we have a problem. Even your Vulcan strength wouldn't move it," Janeway said.

Vorik looked down, checked something in his toolbox and answered, "I can get it opened in twenty seconds, provided you don't care for the damage."

"Do it," Kathryn ordered neutrally, but inside she was screaming, 'I don't care for the damage. I care for B'Elanna.'

Vorik pulled a small container out of his tool box and unscrewed the cap. He removed the small vial inside of it and opened it. With the help of the pipette he let single drops fall into the seams of the hatch and cautioned her to turn her face to the side.

A few seconds later there was an explosion which resulted in both sides of the hatch hanging half open. Vorik kicked them in completely and looked down into some sort of tunnel.

"I'll take point. Be careful what you touch, Vorik. There are open wires all through this area, and I don't know how many of them are still live. It would not kill you but could possibly do some temporary damage to our nervous systems." Janeway said.

"Then it would be logical for me to take point. That way you would know what not to touch," he answered.

"Nice try, Ensign, but you would not know where to go, and I won't get one of my people unnecessarily injured. There are a few tight spots and it'll take us at least ten minutes. So, let's go."

They made it to the exit they needed in eight minutes.

"Give me your tetrazine drops, Ensign," Janeway ordered.

"Starfleet regulations forbid the use of tetrazine. We use modified nitro-glycerine, Captain," Vorik answered and handed over the vial.

"Nitro-glycerine?" Janeway asked while she selected the appropriate spots where to drop the liquid explosive.

"The Chief came up with it while watching one of Ensign Paris' old movies. It's an explosive from the 20th Century, highly unstable but very effective. The Chief took the basic chemical composition and made it stable, but we are only to use it in emergencies, like last year when you were stuck in the turbolift with your leg broken."

Janeway's answer was cut off by the detonation and Vorik heard the sound of metal hitting metal.

His tricorder beeped a warning. "Captain, there's still some low level radiation."

"How much time before it gets dangerous?" She asked.

"About two hours." He answered.

"Good, keep an eye on the time and our bio-readings. We're right above the second level of Engineering."

Janeway let herself glide through the opening and steadied herself at the railing running all around the inner side of the second level of the engine room after landing with a hard thump. Vorik's landing was much less noisy, but Janeway was already too busy assessing the situation to muse about it. And it looked like a war zone.

"Vorik, find out if the radiation is residual or if there is still a radiation source around. I'm looking for B'Elanna."

With her eyes firmly on her tricorder readings Kathryn stalked off towards the ladder leading down to the ground level of Engineering.

Vorik noted the ease with which his captain slid down the ladder, an ease speaking of long familiarity. He filed it away with all the other incongruous facts he had learned about his captain in the last two months, but especially in the last hour.

The radiation readings led him down to the ground floor. He passed the warp core and ended on the far left side of the engine room. Captain Janeway was kneeling on the floor next to the prone body of B'Elanna Torres. The radiation leak was right behind them, and B'Elanna's left hand was still holding the hyper spanner needed to seal it, one not usually found in a tool kit.

"The radiation is residual. It was coming from over there. It looks as if B'Elanna had fixed the leak before she lost consciousness."

"Thank you, Vorik. Get the transporters back on-line. We'll need a site-to-site transport. She needs to go to sickbay." Janeway ordered and pressed a hypo-spray in B'Elanna's neck while her other hand gently pushed a strand of hair out of her face.

Vorik hurried off to one of the few consoles that didn't look completely fried. It was only about three yards away, not far enough for his Vulcan hearing not to pick up the captain's whispered words. "Don't you dare die on me, B'Elanna Torres. We need you. Damn it, I need you."

B'Elanna's eyes fluttered open. "Captain... get out... radiation... dangerous... protect you."

It was evident that it hurt her to speak. Her eyes closed again.

"Look at me, Lana," Kathryn ordered.

Brown eyes opened and she tried to speak again but Kathryn put her finger on B'Elanna's lips.

"Listen, Lana, listen well. I know your lungs are damaged, Lana. I want you to take small breaths, slow, small breaths. Focus on your breathing. We'll get you to sickbay in time. I, we all need you to stay alive. Don't die on me. The ship needs you, Seven needs you, I need you."

B'Elanna's eyes had closed again, but her breathing was less laboured and her vital signs had stabilised. Still, Kathryn didn't stop talking and despite his best intentions Vorik didn't stop listening.

"You're a pain in the neck, B'Elanna Isabella Torres. You have been from the first day we met, but without you this ship would have been lost dozens of times already. Without you I would have drowned in the guilt of stranding us here. Even when you left the Academy you did it for a purpose; so, despite of what you may think you never were a quitter. So, don't give up now. Don't you dare. That's an order; and as soon as you're back on your feet, we'll sit down and get to the bottom of this whole mess. I'll find out what has really happened and then I'll get you out of that cell. I know you care for this ship and its crew. You never would have killed Chakotay just because you were angry. You must have had a damned good reason, and I'll find out what that was."

Kathryn was aware that she was babbling, but she didn't care. She put her hands on B'Elanna's cheeks, surreptitiously checking the pulse at her throat to make sure that she really was still alive. For a moment she closed her eyes and when she opened them again her command mask was firmly back in place.

"Status report on the transporters, Ensign Vorik."

"The main control panel is fried. I'm trying to divert energy to the cargo transporters and tie them into the internal targeting system. It's a highly irregular procedure and even if it works it'll take at least an hour," he answered.

"I see. Keep working. I'm going to the lab and try to give Lieutenant Nicoletti and her team a hand from the inside."

When Kathryn stepped into the lab she heard the distinct sound of a plasma torch coming from the door. A heartbeat later she saw a first spark and then a continuous stream in the upper left corner of the door. At the same time she saw a plasma puddle right in front of the door. Should the beam from the torch hit the puddle they could call themselves lucky if only the lab was destroyed. Then another stream of plasma light appeared in the upper right corner of the door. In contrast to the first one which was slowly moving downwards this one moved to the side, and another few moments later a third plasma light indicated that Lieutenant Nicoletti was really pulling out all the stops to get this door opened. Working with three plasma torches in such close proximity in and of itself was a high risk procedure, with most of the systems out of order it bordered on suicidal, but Kathryn also knew that the young engineer did not have much of a choice.

Janeway looked around the lab and finally located the drawer with the emergency supplies or where the emergency supplies should have been. The packet that should have contained a plasma absorbing blanket only held some sort of gauze. The plasma soaked through it in moments and the two plasma torches were already halfway down. She hastily rummaged through the supply cabinet and came up with a mixture of ingredients her teachers at Starfleet Academy would have outlawed as too unstable and thus too dangerous. For once her chemistry lessons, not one of her stronger subjects, by the way, paid off, and when the first torch reached the floor level nothing happened.

It took another ten minutes for the rest of the door to be welded open. Someone kicked it in. Two volunteers were already waiting with a stretcher and Susan Nicoletti snapped to attention, "Captain, we were able to get one of the turbolifts to work. It doesn't yet go all the way up to the bridge but we can reach sickbay."

"Finally some good news then. We found Crewman Torres; for the moment she's stable but she needs urgent medical attention. Your first priority will be internal communications; I'll need a damage report as soon as possible, then the transporters, turbolifts, and the rest."

"I understand, Captain, emergency protocol Torres-Alpha-Four. We know what to do. Where can we find you?"

"Via my comm. link, I hope, if not, start in sickbay."

-x-x-x-x-x-

Chapter Three

If the scene in front of the engine room had been chaos, sickbay was pandemonium. It looked as if half of her crew was there to get patched up. The doctor was in the surgical bay behind a force field, operating on Seven of Nine. Occasionally he looked up and barked an order to anyone who happened to make eye contact with him. Tom was completely out of his league with too many people demanding his attention at the same time. He definitively needed help.

Kathryn had promised herself never to get into such a situation ever again, but it seemed as if she had no choice. So, Captain Janeway did what she did best: she started to give orders.

"Tom, come here and stabilise B'Elanna, put her behind a force field until the doctor can care for her, there has been radiation poisoning. Ensign Crespax, Crewman Peterson, grab a medical tricorder each. We have to get some semblance of order in here. Do what you can for the wounded who can still walk. We need everyone who's able to help with the repairs out their working. Check for concussions, broken bones, internal bleeding and any signs of plasma burns or radiation, these have priority. Send them to me and use the dermal regenerators on everyone else."

"But, Ma'am, we're botanists, not medics." Ensign Crespax protested.

Janeway cast him one of her force-ten glances, known among the crew as her glare-of-death, and he quickly found an injured crewmember to treat.

Half an hour later the stream of crewmembers coming in to be treated had started to trickle out, most of them with injuries from a fall or from a panel or console exploding close by. They only needed a few passes with the dermal regenerator to get back on their feet. There also had been a few more challenging cases but her half-forgotten training had kicked in, and knowledge gained from experience she really didn't care to remember.

By then Janeway had reached the other side of the room where she found Samantha Wildman lying on a bio-bed. On a chair next to her sat Harry Kim with a worried looking Naomi on his lap. His right arm hung down at an odd angle, but he did not seem to be in pain.

Samantha was conscious and she also seemed to be on painkillers. She tried to sit up when she saw her commanding officer, "Captain!"

"Stay put, Ensign. I'm reading multiple fractures. What happened?"

"We were in the hydroponics bay when the attack happened. One of the etageres toppled over and fell on me," Samantha answered.

"Mom pushed me aside or it would have hit me," Naomi whispered.

Janeway knelt in front of the girl. "Your mom will be alright, Naomi. She has a few broken bones, but they are clean breaks. She'll be back on her feet in no time."

"That's for me to decide, Captain," the Doctor said with his usual acerbic charm.

Janeway stood up and ordered, "Go and care for Crewman Torres, then I want a report on Seven of Nine. Get going, Doctor."

"I'm the CMO here, Captain. It's for me to decide who's the most in need of medical care, and Starfleet regulations state that prisoners are not a priority," he said calmly.

"This prisoner is, Doctor. Without her your photons would by now be scattered through half of the sector," Janeway pulled a medical tricorder from behind her back and opened it. "Those are the initial readings I took of B'Elanna about forty or forty-five minutes ago."

"Damn!" He said and stormed off to where Tom was still busy treating B'Elanna.

Janeway smiled a smile that didn't reach her eyes and turned her attention back to Ensign Wildman, "Alright, Samantha, I want you to relax. We'll start with your bruised ribs. That should make it easier to breathe."

The captain pushed the uniform tunic and tank-top up and traced the injured ribs with her fingers before she programmed the bone knitter, "Let me know if you need more painkillers, Samantha."

"I'm fine, Captain. Tom dosed me up good. I even slept for a while. Captain, our attackers why didn't they destroy us or try to board us?"

"There was no attack, Ensign, just a series of explosions in Engineering, but at the moment we're dead in the water, so to speak, and as soon as the doctor is ready to take over again, I'll go back there to help out. Here you go. Your ribs are as good as new. Try to take a deep breath, Samantha."

"Thank you, Captain, that feels much better," Samantha answered.

"Good, and now for your arms. Do you want to help me, Naomi?"

The girl nodded and Kathryn lifted her out of Harry's lap and sat her down at the side of the bed. She held the medical tricorder for Naomi to see the broken bone just four inches above the wrist and told her how to move the boneknitter to its best effect. With every slow pass the tricorder showed her progress and Naomi's tense body started to relax. The second arm was treated the same way and Kathryn put Naomi back on Harry's lap.

"You'll have to let me do the rest, Naomi. Healing a thigh is more difficult than healing an arm because of the muscles all around it. Samantha, I need you to relax as best as you can, or would you like a muscle relaxant?"

"No, Captain, they put me out like a light. I'll be fine," Samantha answered.

"Then let's get started," Janeway cut off the trousers and first checked the breaks manually. It would help her to better direct the boneknitter, but it still took her half an hour to heal both legs.

"You'll feel full of energy for the next few hours. It's a residual effect of the healing process. Your bones are healed now, but you shouldn't put any pressure on them. In other words, you'll not be allowed to lift heavy objects or move around other than with the help of a hover chair and later on crutches. Your bones are healed but your arms and legs still sustained some trauma and need time to recuperate. You'll need to give your body a chance to finish healing on its own. In other words, Ensign, you're on desk duty, and you can use the time to come up with ideas on how to secure the growing banks in the hydroponics bay. I don't want what happened to you ever happen again."

"Aye, Captain, and thank you for taking care of me. I appreciate that very much," Samantha said.

"You're welcome, Samantha. And now, it's your turn, Ensign Kim. What happened to your arm?" Janeway asked.

"I slipped off the ladder when we climbed down from the bridge. I might have broken my neck or back had Tom not been able to hold on to me. Now, I just have a dislocated shoulder," Harry answered.

"A dislocated shoulder, a bone bruise at the hip and a concussion. Do you feel nauseous or dizzy?" The captain asked.

He vigorously shock his head, but the captain didn't find him very convincing.

"I sincerely doubt that, Harry. Close your eyes for a moment. I need to see for myself how bad your concussion is, and sometimes the old methods are the best. Keep your eyes closed and in the meantime I'll check your shoulder."

Naomi climbed down from Harry's lap and Kathryn whispered in her ear and told her to keep an eye on his face and to tell her if his pupils were of the same size should he open his eyes again. The girl nodded solemnly.

Captain Janeway checked the angle of the dislocation and acted quickly. She put her knee against his side, grabbed his elbow, stabilised his shoulder and pulled the arm upwards and back. Harry groaned and opened his eyes in reflex.

"Harry's eyes are almost the same, Captain. His left eye is slightly bigger, but not by much," Naomi said.

"Thank you, Naomi. Harry, you're all set. I'll give you a painkiller and put your arm in a sling and you're ready to go. I want you to go to the Astrometrics lab and check it out. Try to reprogram the external sensors and focus them on Voyager's hull. We need to find every single hull breach or weakness. I already sent teams to check the ship level by level, but we can't afford something being overlooked," Janeway ordered.

"Aye Captain, but I'll need two hands for that. So, the sling won't be necessary," Harry said.

"You'll wear the sling, Ensign Kim, and I'll better not see you without it until the doctor gives you the all-clear. Your tendons and muscles need time to heal, that's not something that can be rushed. Take someone with you to serve as your hands," Janeway said while putting on the sling.

"I can go with Ensign Kim, Captain. Seven of Nine has taught me a lot about Astrometrics and the lab," Naomi said. "Please, Captain. I want to help."

"That's for your mother to decide, Naomi," Janeway answered.

"At the moment Astrometrics is as safe as any other place on board and I know that Harry will take good care of her. You can go with him, Naomi, but I want you to stay with Ensign Kim the whole time and you have to promise to do everything he says," Samantha said.

"I promise, Mom. Thanks," Naomi pulled Harry out of his seat and out of sickbay. At the door she suddenly let go of his hand and ran back to the captain. "Thank you for healing my Mom. I'm sorry for what I said in your Ready Room, Captain."

"It's alright, Naomi, you were not entirely wrong, but this particular problem will have to wait until Voyager is back on her feet. Now go, Miss Wildman," Kathryn answered.

"If you help me up and into a hover chair I can help you, Captain," Samantha offered as soon as her daughter was gone. "I'm not as good a field medic as you are but I know my way around a medkit."

"I'll take any help I can get, Ensign, though I really hope that the worst is over. I'm needed in Engineering."

As if to mock her the double doors to sickbay opened and Ensign Vorik carried in an unconscious Susan Nicoletti. Janeway helped Samantha off the bio-bed and Vorik put Susan gently down.

Janeway stared at the tricorder readings and blanched. That was not good, not good at all.

"Doctor, Lieutenant Nicoletti needs your help," she said.

"I can't leave Torres at the moment. In addition to the radiation poisoning, for reasons I can't fathom she has internal plasma burns. I already replaced one of her lungs but I haven't found all of it, yet. What's Nicoletti's status?"

"Multiple fractures of the right arm, including a shattered elbow, three broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and her intra-cranial pressure is up by forty-five percent," Janeway said.

"Mister Paris, get over there and care for Lieutenant Nicoletti's brain. Captain, you will have to re-inflate her lung. It's beyond Starfleet's First Aid training, but you already showed more advanced skills today. Do you know what to do?" The Doctor asked.

Janeway sighed, "I know what to do, Doctor. Samantha, I'll need a surgical kit."

Tom Paris and the captain worked in tandem, and twenty minutes later Susan Nicoletti's vitals were stable and her intra-cranial pressure almost back to normal. Before they started on her arm they made sure that she still was sufficiently sedated.

Vorik looked extremely pale but didn't let go of her uninjured hand. To distract him and herself from the gruesome sight of broken bone fragments sticking out of bleeding flesh Janeway asked, "What happened, Ensign?"

"We were able to restore energy to the engine room, and were trying to re-initialise the warp drive but it kept on collapsing. It's protected by an encoded shield we're not able to break. Su... Lieutenant Nicoletti went to the diagnostic console on the upper level. She slipped on a plasma puddle that had not yet been cleaned up, toppled over the railing and landed on her arm and head."

"Susan will make a full recovery," the captain said to Ensign Vorik who had still not moved from Susan's side, "but she will be out of commission for some time. Her injuries need time and physical therapy to heal. She will sleep for at least the next ten to twelve hours. We have to get back to Engineering."

-x-x-x-

The chaos in front of Engineering had transformed into ordered activity inside of the cavernous room. Every console was occupied, and they all were busy either studying the read-outs or repairing the consoles. Access points, panels, and burst open conduits were all over the place. It really looked like a war-zone, and yet... not.

Kathryn didn't have a chance to really think about that incongruity, since a young ensign reported that they were close to re-establish internal communications but that every diagnostic they had run to re-start the warp drive had come up negative.

Ten hours later they still were without warp but had made some leeway in breaking the encoded shield, but it was slowly degrading. Another twelve hours and they should be able to reinitialise the warp drive. However, they had been able to restore main energy to the whole ship, repair internal communications and the external sensors' array, get shields and weapons back on line, make all of the turbolifts work and repair all of the hull breaches Harry's search has found.

Janeway had coordinated the repair teams and had found herself in more than one Jeffries' tube, checking out the readings. She was bone tired and every single of her muscles protested its abuse. Commander Tuvok had let her know that there was something she should see for herself, but first she wanted to check on B'Elanna and Seven, especially since she had had to leave for Engineering before the doctor had finished with her former chief engineer.

Sickbay was quiet when the captain entered. There was no sign of the doctor, Tom was sleeping in his office, and she knew that Samantha Wildman and Naomi had returned to their quarters a few hours earlier.

Seven and B'Elanna were lying next to each other, close enough to touch, and Kathryn stepped between their bio-beds. They looked so peaceful. Kathryn was marginally relieved that the force field holding them apart from the other patients had been disengaged.

Kathryn stepped back and called for the doctor. "What is the nature of the medical emergency?"

"Give me a status report on Seven of Nine and B'Elanna Torres," she ordered.

The doctor hesitated for a moment, studying her face, then he answered, "Seven of Nine was hit by an energy discharge that almost fried her Borg systems. Had she not been brought here in time, not even my superior medical knowledge would have been able to save her."

"Prognosis?"

"Seven of Nine will make a full recovery, provided she rests here for the next twenty-four hours and regenerates for at least two days after that."

"And B'Elanna?"

"She'll need more time to recover. I don't know what she did in that engine room but she ended up with numerous broken bones, radiation poisoning and plasma burns. And I still don't know how she got plasma into her lungs and her stomach. I predict at least seven to ten days of recovery in sickbay, and after that at least a week of light duty. And I'm not looking forward to have her here for the coming week or more. She's an even worse patient than you are, Captain."

"ETA on them regaining consciousness?"

"About ten hours for Seven of Nine and forty to forty-eight hours for B'Elanna," the doctor answered.

"Notify me as soon as one of them begins to regain consciousness."

"Of course, Captain. If you don't mind... The knowledge you displayed today, it's way beyond the standards, even for Starfleet command school..."

The captain smiled at him but he did not see that it didn't reach her eyes. "Let's just say that Admiral Pulaski was a very demanding teacher. I expect your report as soon as possible, Doctor."

"Kate Pulaski who wrote the manual on triage and emergency treatments?" He asked, but Captain Janeway was already gone.

It was in the middle of Gamma shift, the light in the corridor had been dimmed and no one was around to see Kathryn slump against the wall as soon as the door had closed. All those years she had tried to stay clear of sickbay during emergencies, today, however, there had been no other choice, and it had brought back the memories she had tried not to revive. As a rule she was no coward, but when she had learned the skills that had aroused the doctor's curiosity it had cost her too much, it had cost her the last remnants of her innocence. No, she would not think about that, not now, not ever.

Kathryn Janeway took a deep breath and walked towards the turbolift, her captain's mask firmly back in place.

-x-x-x-

Tuvok had been waiting for her on the bridge and they immediately retired to her Ready Room where she replicated a coffee for herself and some tea for Tuvok.

"You said that there was something I needed to see, Commander?"

"Yes Captain." Tuvok activated the view screen on her desk. "I found it after communications had been re-established. It played on the small view screen in your chair. At the time it was the only one active on the bridge, otherwise it probably would have played on the main screen."

Commander Chakotay's face appeared on the view screen and judging from the background the recording had been taken in his quarters.

"This is the prize you all have to pay for betraying me and the Maquis. You want to submit to Starfleet regulations and be tyrannised by Kathryn Janeway and her pet-Borg, and their whore, B'Elanna, the traitor, fine, but you'll have to do it on a crippled ship, forced to find a planet and give up your unreasonable dream of returning home to a Federation that has betrayed us all. See it as my last greeting from the afterlife."

The screen went blank but Janeway continued to stare at it, then she turned her head towards Tuvok, "What is your take on this, Tuvok?"

"I think that we just got the first proof to our suspicions on what really has happened while we were gone, Captain. It's still conjecture but I think Commander Chakotay tried to take over the ship and leave us to our fate. I also think that the crew objected to his plans, and that blowing up the engine room is his form of revenge. However, I regret having to inform you that it's not enough to exonerate Lieutenant Torres," Tuvok answered.

"No, it's not, but the message alone is more than enough justification to have a closer look at his personal logs and other belongings. I want you to make this your highest priority. I'll see to the safety of the ship. And find out how he was able to embed this message in our comm. data without warning signs coming up."

"Understood, Captain. Here's the report about Caessik III for which you asked. It's a compilation of what Crewman Suder told me and what I could find in our database. You'll also find the names of two of our crew who can give you an eyewitness account on what happened. Captain..." Tuvok suddenly fell silent.

Kathryn looked at her old friend, and that was all they needed between them. "I thanked the wrong person for killing him, Tuvok, and that's something I can set right now."

"Read the files, and you will know that she didn't do it to be praised or thanked," Tuvok answered.

"Dismissed, Commander, and thank you." Kathryn answered, knowing well that most other first officers would have cautioned her to get some sleep after the long day she already had had - and for once she was thankful for his Vulcan restraint.

-x-x-x-

Kathryn Janeway spent the next four hours reading Tuvok's report about Caessik III while checking in on the progress in Engineering from time to time. It wasn't going as fast as she would have wanted and also not as fast as she was used to but the engineers and scientists recruited from other departments were doing their best.

It was not as good as it would have been with B'Elanna in charge. From the first moment on the young woman had impressed her immensely..., Kathryn thought, but forbid herself to pursue that strain of thought.

Janeway had read quite a number of Tuvok's reports, not only here in the Delta Quadrant. They always were detailed without being verbose, terse and rational, surpassing even the exacting standards of Vulcan bureaucracy; and in the past she might not have given them all the attention they deserved, merely skimming over the content and instead concentrating on his usually exhaustive summary.

The report she just had pulled up on her desk screen was different, and not only because there was no summary. Indeed the whole report read like a summary, just as if Tuvok had wanted to distance himself from what he was writing down. It still was extremely detailed, and what his words didn't say, Kathryn's memories supplied. Despite her best intentions it took her in, and brought her back to a time she had promised herself to erase from her memory.

Kathryn fell asleep on her desk and only woke from the doctor calling her down to sickbay. She remembered all too vividly what her dreams had been about, and though she would never admit to it, she was thankful that he had ended that particular nightmare.

"I'll be down in ten minutes, Doctor."

-x-x-x-

The Captain strode into sickbay, right in the middle of the classical 'irresistible force meets unmoving object' conundrum; with the force being Seven of Nine and the object being Voyager's CMO.

"Nothing you say will get me to leave her before I'm sure that she'll be alright," Seven said.

"You need to regenerate, now," the EMH answered.

"Report, Doctor!" Janeway said.

The Doctor and Seven started talking at the same time, but knowing the former Drone as she did, Janeway had a pretty good idea about what was going on.

"Seven of Nine refuses....."

"I can go without regene...."

"Stop it, both of you," Janeway ordered. "Doctor, is there any way to wake B'Elanna up without impeding her healing process?"

"We could chance a couple of minutes, three at most, Captain, but I don't think that now would be the best time to question Crewman Torres."

"Do it, Doctor. Seven, you have three minutes, max; and then I want you on a regeneration cycle for the next forty-eight hours," Janeway ordered.

The Doctor looked puzzled, but Seven's thankful smile was almost enough to make Kathryn forget about her nightmares.

Janeway's next stop was at Engineering to check on the progress of the repairs. Warp drive was still about two hours away but all the other systems worked within specifications, or as it once would have been called 'nominal'. From B'Elanna's perspective, however, it worked at a substandard level, like everything worked substandard that didn't function at least at a hundred percent.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Chapter Four

Back in her Ready Room Kathryn decided to call in the two crewmembers whose names had been listed in Tuvok's report. For both of them it was the first time in the captain's sanctuary, and they had a hard time to hide their curiosity. The fact that the captain was over by the replicator and as introduction asked them if they wanted anything to drink, didn't help matters any. Bewildered as they were they refused; the expression on their faces only topped by the next when she asked them to take a seat on the couch.

Kathryn didn't bother with small talk, "Tell me about the death camp on Caessik III and its commander!"

They stared at her with wide eyes. Crewman Kalor, a young Bajoran, was the first to recover but there still was a considerable amount of mistrust in his posture and voice, "What do you want to know, Captain Janeway?"

"The truth," she simply answered.

The other crewmember, a young woman of, according to her files, Human-Romulan descent, jumped up from her seat, "The truth, as if you ever were interested in the truth, Captain Janeway of the Federation!"

Before she had a chance to say anything else Kalor put his hand over her mouth and silenced her. He looked at her and said, "Remember our promise, Hama."

"Tell me about the death camp and Gul Canak." Kathryn repeated. Her command mask was still in place but the informed listener would have sensed a certain urgency in her voice.

"Now," she ordered. "Tell me about the death camp."

"The Federation tends to call them relocation camps, labour camps if they have a bout of honesty," Hama Xeltek spat out.

"Tell me about the death camp on Caessik III," Janeway repeated her order. Her voice had dropped at least an octave which made it sound more than just dangerous. It made it sound lethal.

"You want to know about Caessik III?! I'll tell you about Caessik III. I'll tell you about hell, a place the Cardies brought us to after they had killed our parents and family and friends. I fought them and they locked me away, and when they let me out again my little brother had died of hunger. He was just a boy, but the prisoners, we, we were fighting amongst each other. There never was enough food or water, and we killed each other for the little there was. Is that what you want to know about Caessik III, Captain?" Hama Xeltek said with a calm, icy voice, a voice betraying the unspoken emotions behind them.

"If you were fighting each other, how could you have staged a successful rebellion?" Janeway asked.

The two former Maquis, however, seemed not inclined to answer, so she added, "Commander Chakotay told me that he freed the camp and I believed him. Recently I got proof of the contrary. I need to hear what really happened from someone who saw it first hand."

"Why?" Crewman Kalor asked.

"As a Federation captain I could just order you to tell me, but I want the whole truth, and if you insist I will not make a log about it. I have personal reasons to ask, reasons I won't get into," Kathryn answered, though the captain in her feared that with that simple admission she already had divulged too much.

The two crewmembers exchanged another look and finally Kalor answered, "Hama is right, we killed each other for food and clothing and bedding, as if working in the mines the whole day had not been hard enough. It was, what do you Humans call it, 'survival of the fittest' and too many of us had to pay the price."

"What changed? What happened?" Kathryn asked.

"What happened? B'Elanna Torres happened," Hama said with definite growl.

"I need to know more," Kathryn said.

"The arrival of new prisoners was nothing new or exciting for us, and that one or more of them were fighting the Cardies was also nothing new. One day they brought five prisoners. The Cardies told us that they were Maquis and would learn how to behave and how to respect their betters. That also was nothing new. The Cardies had broken more than one group of them. There were two women in that group, and as usual the two women were stripped in front of everyone and shackled," Katar said.

"One of them cried out and grabbed the weapon of a guard and shot herself. The other one attacked the guards and killed one of them with her bare hands. In the past I saw prisoners killed who had done nothing more than to raise their fists against a guard, but the Commandant stopped them. Gul Canak told us that he would make her an example, that he would get her to crawl at his feet..." Hama continued.

Kalor looked uncomfortable but that didn't keep him from taking over, "Usually rebellious newcomers were brought back from the main building after about a fortnight, broken and only a shadow of what they had been before, especially the women. B'Elanna was different. She walked out of the holding area with her head held high. She was limping but she didn't give in."

They once again fell silent. Janeway rose and walked over to the replicator. She ordered three shots of Andorian Ale and brought them back to the couch table.

"I need an answer."

Finally Hama Xeltek answered and her voice was almost inaudible, "After they brought me out of the main building I was broken. Finding out that my kid brother had been killed in the meantime didn't change that. I was nothing more than a machine doing what I had been ordered to do."

Kathryn gave the woman the time she needed to continue.

"B'Elanna was different. At first she provoked the guards every chance she got, and they either flogged her on the spot or dragged her off to the main building. The third time she came back she no longer provoked the guards, but all of us who had seen other cases knew that they had not broken her, not as they thought they had. She started to talk to us, one at a time. She told us that if we didn't act we would die at Caessik III but if we did at least some of us had a chance to survive."

Kathryn respected the woman's silence.

"They broke me -- and though they did the same things to her, repeatedly, and worse, they never succeeded. She gave us something we never had had before, a sense of unity, of belonging together. She convinced us that it was better to die fighting than to die being beaten."

Hama Xeltex fell silent. She swallowed hard and looked up to the captain as if she didn't know what to say next.

"What do you think would have happened if Chakotay's Maquis had not arrived when they did or not at all?" Janeway asked.

"B'Elanna would have been killed. We still would have been free, but it also would have been much harder to get transportation for over three thousand people," Hama answered.

"Tell me about the death of Gul Canak." Janeway asked.

This time both of the crewmembers picked up on the sense of urgency emanating from their captain.

"We had everything set up," Kalor said. "We were ready to go. All we needed was a diversion. B'Elanna provided that diversion by accosting the guards, and since it was her it brought the commander down fast. Gul Canak seemed to be angry. He told us that he would make an example of her. They set up the whipping poles and dragged her towards them. She managed to take down the two Cardies holding her arms and challenged Canak. She called him a coward hiding behind his guards, not male enough to fight his own fights. He took the bait, convinced that it would be over in less than a minute. He told her that she was weak like the rest of the Federation and that he would make her pay right in front of everyone.

"B'Elanna was still wearing chains and he attacked her with a long dagger. She was faster. She brought her hands together and used the length of the chain to hit him in the face. It made him angry. He tried to overpower her, but her next swing of the chain hit the sensitive ridges at his neck. He cried out and attacked again. The tip of his dagger sliced her arm. She later told me that he had been dead the moment she had first smelled her own blood, but she had to play for time to get us all in position. She dragged it out for another five minutes and when she heard the signal she got under his defences, pushed some sort of pressure point on his hand and killed him with his own dagger.

"His personal guards attacked her, and we started to take out the rest of the Cardies. We initially had wanted to detail a group of us to have her back, so to speak, but she refused. She said that we all would be needed elsewhere, and she had been right. She was taking heavy hits but in the end there was only one of them left, and that was when Chakotay and his men beamed down. He shot the sole survivor of Gul Canak's personal guard, and afterwards tried to make everyone believe that he alone was responsible for the liberation of Caessik III," Hama said.

Kathryn studied the expressions on the faces of her crewmembers. "Thank you. You are dismissed."

"Yes, Captain." They echoed. Kalor and Hama rose and turned to leave the Ready Room as bewildered as they had entered it.

"One last question." Janeway said. "Did Commander Chakotay try to take over Voyager while I was gone?"

For the fraction of a second they both looked as if they had just been run over by a shuttle and quickly fled the room without giving her an answer, but for the captain that was answer enough.

-x-x-x-

Kathryn spent another night waking time and again soaked in sweat. The pictures of the past still vivid in her mind even as she stood in the shower to wash the sweat away. She pulled a Vulcan meditation lamp out of a box in her closet as well as a small pillow. It had been years since she had felt the need to use it, but she knew that this was the only way for her to get a semblance of rest.

The next morning Tuvok reported that his search of Chakotay's personal belongings and logs had yielded no results. It seemed as if he had never made a personal log of any kind, not electronic, not hand-written. His investigation of Chakotay's message had been more successful. It had been stored in the filter that usually weeded out sensor shadows and spacial background noises.

"I apologise, Captain. That should have turned up during my regular security checks."

"How could it have, Tuvok? I'm sure that it was only installed after we left to get Seven back."

"It also could be much older, Captain. The way this message speaks about Miss Torres and Seven of Nine make it logical to assume that it has been composed as soon as it became clear the crew at large was starting to accept Seven of Nine as one of their own. There was no time stamp on the message or its coding," Tuvok said.

"No time stamp? That's practically impossible," Janeway replied.

"No, Captain, it is not. There's a relatively simple Maquis procedure used to hide the point of origin of a message. It has the side effect to erase the time stamp. To make sure that Mister Chakotay left us no other surprises I ran a search to look for other manipulations of the logs. I didn't find the same thing but I found something else. The official report we were given after our return stated that the communications and the surveillance systems were down for more than three days. My first check didn't reveal anything and I left the in-depth check to Seven of Nine.

"Last night I found evidence that the whole breakdown was not due to system failure but rather has been artificially manufactured after the fact. I was able to restore seventy-two percent of the files. The rest are protected by encryption codes I have not been able to break yet. However, I now have an idea what really happened. It still does not constitute evidence. For the most part it consists of conversations between crewmembers in the various departments and corridors."

"Shouldn't that have been overwritten long ago?" Janeway asked.

"Yes, usually it would, but by overwriting them with unspecific noise those three days have been taken out of the regular cycle and thus preserved," Tuvok answered.

"I understand. I'm listening, Tuvok."

For the next thirty minutes Tuvok told Janeway what he had pieced together and illustrated it with part of the restored security footage. Her eyes went wide at the picture he painted and for the first time B'Elanna's stubborn refusal to talk began to really make sense. B'Elanna wanted to protect her feelings.

"How high is the probability that this is what really happened?" She asked right after Tuvok had finished speaking.

"I'm confident that what I just told you comes very close to the real events, though it still essentially is pure guess work based on hearsay. There still is no hard evidence," Tuvok answered.

"I know, my friend, but I have a feeling that we'll find all the evidence we'll need in the twenty-eight remaining percent," she said.

"Then I'll double my efforts to break the encryption, Captain, but I can't promise any immediate success. The encryption code is very complex, on a level by far outclassing standard Borg codes. Apart from you and me there are only three, maybe four people aboard with the knowledge to do something like that, B'Elanna Torres, Seven of Nine, Vorik and Harry Kim," Tuvok said.

"Hmm... Harry... it might be worth a shot. I could simply order him to decrypt the remaining files," Janeway said.

"I would caution against that, Captain. Enlisting the help of Mister Kim or Seven of Nine is not advisable. Harry Kim is Miss Torres friend; whatever he finds could be called into question at a later date," he answered.

"You have a point, Tuvok. In order to declare a court-martial sentencing void everything has to be above suspicion. From now on your priority is to decrypt those files. Give everything else to me," Janeway ordered.

"A wise precaution, Captain. This way no one can accuse you of favouritism."

Before the captain had a chance to reply her comm. chirped. The doctor wanted her to know that Crewman Torres was about to regain consciousness.

"I'm on my way, Doctor. Janeway out."

-x-x-x-

When Captain Janeway entered sickbay Lieutenant Ayala was busy putting a cuff on B'Elanna's left ankle to shackle her to the bio-bed.

"Stop it, Lieutenant, restraints will not be necessary. From now on Crewman Torres is to be treated as a low risk prisoner."

Ayala looked at her with wide eyes, his expression changing between surprise and relief, "Thank you, Captain. I hated having to treat her that way. But may I ask why you changed your mind?"

Janeway smiled at his question. "Officially, because her recent actions in Engineering saved Voyager and her crew, again."

"An unofficially?" The Doctor asked.

For a moment Janeway studied the faces of both men. She was tempted to tell them the truth but decided against it, and not only because of Starfleet's ideas about the ideal relationship between captains and their crew. If Tuvok's theory was indeed correct then her whole crew had tried to keep the truth from her in a misguided attempt to protect her.

"There is no unofficial answer, Doctor. Lieutenant Ayala, you are dismissed. Doctor, give me a status report. Start with the least serious injuries. I know you already sent in your report, but I didn't have the chance to read it just yet," Janeway said.

"You looked tired, Captain."

"I had trouble sleeping last night, and before you say anything, should it not get better, I'll come and ask for your help."

"Thank you, Captain, for not trying to fool me. All in all there were only sixteen crewmember completely uninjured, close to a hundred with minor injuries, most of which you treated, by the way. Twenty-five suffered serious injuries. Twenty of them are still on light duty, including Ensign Wildman. Crewman Garbo, Ensign Niven and Lieutenant Nicoletti are on bed rest in their quarters and should be back on duty in five to six days at the most. Seven of Nine will be fit to return to duty after the end of her regeneration cycle. And Crewman Torres... is waking up right about now," the Doctor said with a grin.

Janeway turned towards the upper end of the bio-bed and saw how B'Elanna opened her eyes and tried to sit up. The Doctor put his hand on her shoulder and told her to relax. He ran a few scans and seemed very satisfied with the readings. Due to form he started to fill both of them in on the ingenious way he had saved her life against impossible odds, but Captain Janeway stopped him.

"I'd like a few minutes alone with the patient, Doctor."

"She won't stay awake for long, Captain, and try to keep her calm. If she moves around too much I'll have to restrain her to keep her from destroying my hard work," he grumbled.

"Understood, Doctor. Computer, end the emergency medical hologram."

"You know, Captain, you're the only one he doesn't bitch about when they do that," B'Elanna said, her voice still heavy from sleep, painkillers and sedatives.

"I'm sure he would also complain about me if there were someone to whom he could address his complaints," Janeway answered with an easy smile. "First things first, B'Elanna; Seven is alright. She's regenerating at the moment and will be fine at the end of the cycle, and Voyager is almost back to normal working order. We had to wait 'til your encrypted shield around the warp core had degraded before we could reinitialise the drive. The doctor told me yesterday that you'll need about two weeks recovery time in sickbay, but I'm sure you'll cut it down some."

"Don't you want to know what happened?" B'Elanna asked hoarsely.

Janeway gave her some ice chips to suck on before she answered, "I know what happened. The security cameras in Engineering are very sturdy, they gave me every detail. You saved Seven's life and then you returned to save the lives of the rest of the crew. From the message Chakotay sent to the bridge he only wanted to cripple the ship to force us to settle on the next inhabitable planet, but his charges were too strong. The first round of explosions damaged the release mechanism for the warp core. We would not have been able to eject it had it been necessary. You saved us all and nearly killed yourself in the process. Why did you block the door, B'Elanna?"

"So, it was Chakotay, that rat bastard. I should have known. I should have expected something like that," B'Elanna said with an underlying growl.

"Yes, it was sabotage, and according to that message Chakotay was responsible. So, why did you block the door?"

"The sensors were fried. I couldn't get any clear readings, didn't know if the radiation was really gone. I didn't want to risk anyone else," B'Elanna answered.

"You closed off the last radiation leak before you passed out. Never do something like that again," Kathryn said.

"I'll try my best. Captain, can't I be released to the brig? It at least would be quieter than sickbay. The Doctor practises his operas. The last time he even tried to get me to help him work on a Klingon opera. It was pure torture, and I know you don't condone of torture."

"There are some of your crewmates who think otherwise. They think that the way I treated you is torture." Kathryn said.

"You only followed Starfleet protocol."

"Starfleet protocol would have left me other options, B'Elanna," Kathryn answered after she had made contact with the younger woman's eyes.

"I know," B'Elanna said softly. "I know you want to force me to tell you what you want to hear."

Kathryn smiled. Even pumped up to the gills with painkillers B'Elanna chose her words very carefully to keep her from outright lying to her captain.

"I wanted to encourage you to tell me the truth. Chakotay's message made it clear that he had tried to take over the ship but had failed. I have a pretty good idea what happened, B'Elanna, all I lack is proof, but as soon as I've found that ..."

"You won't find anything, Captain, so, even if I told you what happened, who would believe a convicted murderer?" B'Elanna asked.

"I would believe you, B'Elanna, and as for evidence... Tuvok found the main security logs under the layer of random signals you created. It would have been more efficient if you had just created a real malfunction."

"That's what Seven said, but I couldn't bring myself to sabotage even a small part of my ship, not after Chakotay and the others tried to tear it apart with their damned phasers," B'Elanna's voice was slurred during the last words and before she even became aware of what she had just said the sedative once again took over and she fell asleep.

Janeway reactivated the Doctor who huffed indignantly and asked him for the time when Seven's regeneration would end. She ordered him to appraise her when Crewman Torres would wake up again. She returned to the bridge to free her first officer for his decryption duties. Since it was a rather empty area of space, except for a small solar system with only five planets four light years away, bordering their course, she spent the time reading the doctor's report and immersing herself in other paperwork.

Alpha Shift ended quickly and she retired to her Ready Room. Seven's regeneration cycle ended in another three hours and she didn't want to arrive in Cargo Bay Two with the images of her nightmares fresh in her mind. To her own surprise she found herself out of reasonable work after only an hour. Kathryn knew that the sensible thing to do would be to go to the mess hall, get something to eat and socialise with her crew.

However, she couldn't bring herself to do that. If Tuvok was right, and deep down she had no doubt that he was, then her whole crew had been lying to her, if only by omission, and she didn't really know what to think or do about that. In the strictest sense of the word that could be regarded as mutiny, but their intention had not been to rebel against her command but to preserve it, and to preserve her confidence in her command decisions.

Did they, did B'Elanna really think that she was that fragile? It would have made her angry if not for the fact that the young Human-Klingon Hybrid had sacrificed her whole life, her whole future to spare her that, among other more personal reasons, she presumed.

So, Captain Kathryn Janeway stayed in her Ready Room and treated herself to a sandwich and another cup of coffee. There still was about an hour to go before Seven would leave her alcove. She sat on the couch and stared out to the distorted star field swishing by. It was, as always, a mesmerising sight, one of which she had not gotten tired since the first time she had travelled at warp speed; and she probably never would. It had a soothing effect on her, even in her darkest hours of depression and self-depreciation. Perhaps that was why she had fallen that deep during their time in the void, no stars, no sense of going anywhere, no progress.

-x-x-x-

"Regeneration cycle complete."

Seven of Nine stepped out of her alcove. She didn't seem surprised to see the captain waiting for her.

"How do you feel, Seven?"

"I'm functioning within normal parameters, Captain. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"First thing tomorrow morning I want you to check out the M-class planet in that solar system we're passing by. I want you to find out if it's suitable for shore leave."

"Shore leave?"

"Yes, I think this crew deserves some leisure time," Janeway answered with a shrug of her shoulders.

"There's no need to wait until morning, Captain. I can run the analysis now," Seven replied.

"No, you can't, Seven. There's something else I want you to do first. The Doctor just advised me that B'Elanna is waking up again. I want you to sit with her, keep her from getting bored. She still has some healing to do."

"Isn't that against Starfleet regulations, Captain?"

"It isn't, Seven. I revoked my orders concerning Crewman Torres' treatment. Go and stay with her. She'll be happy to see you."

"Thank you, Captain."

"You're welcome, Seven."

The cargo bay doors closed behind Seven as she hurried out, walking as fast humanly possible without outright running. Kathryn smiled at the thought of the reunion of the lovers in sickbay, hampered as it would be by B'Elanna's physical state and the presence of the doctor.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Chapter Five

Kathryn took a deep breath and went to her quarters. She dreaded going to sleep, dreaded the dreams, the memories that would undoubtedly haunt her dreams, but she needed the rest. Two hours was all she got before the images woke her up. She was covered in sweat, her breathing was ragged, and she was shivering. So, Kathryn went into the bathroom to shower. Her eyes fell on the half moon-shaped scar at her left hip, the only physical reminder of that part of her past. She touched its rough surface. Her sister had once asked her why she insisted on keeping this particular scar while she had had all the others removed. And she remembered her answer, "To prove to myself that I survived."

Yes, I survived. He tried his best to break me but I survived. And this night I didn't see him, I saw the time after he and his guards had fled the planet, after the disdained prisoners had overwhelmed their jailers. If only Starfleet would have gotten to us faster, then more of us would have survived.

She stepped under the water and gradually increased the temperature until it was as hot as she could stand it. Kathryn remembered the cries of the dying, the cries of pain. She still could hear them, after more than eighteen years she still could hear them. She shut her eyes and tried to replace the sounds of her memory by the sound of water hitting her skin and running down the drain. On her family's farm in Indiana the hot water would have long run out and her mother would have scolded her for wasting resources. The thought brought a smile on her face and she quickly switched to cold water. The difference in temperature made her gasp but it also made her feel alive. She stayed under the cold spray until even her goosebumps had goosebumps.

-x-x-x-

Seven's extremely thorough preliminary report arrived at midmorning. The M-class planet Janeway had had in mind for shore leave had turned out to be too seismically unstable; it only barely qualified as an M-class planet. It was, however, rich in minerals, especially deuterium and dilithium. That alone would be worth the detour of almost ten light years. The larger of the two moons orbiting that planet, however, seemed to be exactly what her crew would need. Eighty percent of it was water. There was only one continent, a tropical climate, beaches, sun, and as far as Seven could tell from the distance no sentient life forms and no serious predators. Voyager's sensors and Seven's uncanny ability to draw correct conclusion from minute details would soon tell them more. It seemed to be perfect and Janeway ordered Tom to change course.

Shortly before lunch Tuvok sent a short note telling her that he was not the first person to try and access the hidden and scrambled logs.

During lunch she read Ensign Wildman's ideas on how to make the growing banks in the hydroponics bay more secure. The first part of her report described additional security measures which were easy to implement and would keep an accident like the one that had injured her from happening. The second part contained a more ambitious plan and earned her an invitation to the captain's Ready Room.

Janeway was standing at the replicator when Samantha entered. She was still on crutches but she moved with an ease that hinted to long practice. "Take a seat over there, Ensign. I was just about to get myself some coffee. Can I offer you something to drink?"

"Raspberry tea would be nice, Captain."

Janeway returned with two steaming mugs and took a seat on her couch. "I read your proposal, Ensign. It's very detailed and very enterprising. You must have put many hours into that proposal."

"Sometimes work in the bio-sciences is a bit slow, Captain, so we started to play. At first our ideas were pretty outlandish; it was just a way to pass the time, but between Neelix' cooking and the times we had been reduced to emergency rations we modified the plans and came up with something that really could be done. I know it's ambitious..." Samantha said.

"Bio-sciences never were my forte but as far as I've understood this park you're planning will produce more energy than it needs and it would by far surpass the yield of the growing banks. That's a definite plus, but to actually build it would take a lot of energy we can't spare and keep the ship going at peek efficiency," Janeway said.

"I knew it was a long shot, Captain. We knew that it was a long shot and that it would probably end up with all the other proposals you keep in your desk drawer," Samantha said.

Janeway studied Ensign Wildman's face. Her voice had been neutral but there was an undercurrent of disappointment.

"How long would it take you to draw up a detailed implementation plan, complete with resources, energy requirements and a time table?" Janeway asked.

"If I can put the whole department to work, you can have it by the end of Alpha shift, Captain. May I ask why?"

"See it as an exercise for now. I want your schedule tomorrow at the end of Alpha shift, by then we will be in close range to a planet with considerable mineral deposits and a moon suitable for shore leave, pending the report of an away team, of course. With a bit of luck that planet will give us all we'll need, and in my opinion we're entitled for some luck. For now that's privileged information. No need to get our hopes up should it not work out," Janeway answered.

She was surprised at herself that she had offered that much information to a junior officer. Ever since she had returned from maternity leave Ensign Wildman had been the de facto leader of the department of bio sciences, and next to Harry Kim she was at the top of the comparatively long list of promotions she intended to file the next time they made contact with Starfleet Command. The one time contact they had had via the Hirogen array, there just had been enough time to send over her current records and to receive a few mostly garbled messages...

Kathryn, now definitively is not the time to think about that damned 'Dear Jane...' letter Marc sent you. You have far better things to do.

"I understand, Captain. If I may ask, how probable is shore leave? I'm looking forward to have Naomi experience some fresh air and real trees. It's what prompted the idea of a park in the first place, to be honest."

"Regardless if it'll work out or not, Samantha, the proposal is good work. Dismissed. Oh, would you ask Naomi if she could help me with a project, a bit of holo-programming?"

"Of course, Captain. You know, she's really sorry for what she said to you the other day," Samantha answered.

"She has no need to be. She was right; what I did to B'Elanna was not right, but that's also restricted knowledge," Janeway said.

Samantha nodded and left the Ready Room. Her mind was buzzing. From what the captain just said there was a real chance to get their park-idea realised. And then she admitted to having made an error. That was not like the captain to which they all had gotten used. It was not like their larger than life commanding officer. B'Elanna might have been right, after all.

As soon as Ensign Wildman was gone Captain Janeway ordered Seven of Nine to perform a long range scan of the surrounding sectors to make sure that they would not run into some kind of territorial dispute or anything else of the sort. They were in a rather quiet sector of space at the moment, but it never hurt to make sure.

-x-x-x-

Kathryn's next night was not less disturbed than the ones before. She got about three hours of sleep and woke up from a nightmare. The difference to the nights before was that this time it really was an irrational, only half remembered nightmare and not the nightmarish images of her past. Since her paperwork was done to the last crossed 't'; she tried to read, but the lines kept melting into each other. So, she took a shower, dressed and went to her Ready Room.

Two cups of coffee later she opened the desk drawer Ensign Wildman had mentioned and upended it on her desk. She was surprised by the number of padds. Had there really been that many?

Kathryn started to sort them by topic, and when she was finished she had the inklings of a much bigger plan, a plan that not only would allow communication with the Alpha Quadrant on a regular basis but would also increase the power of their warp drive, of the shields, the deflectors. Yes, it would take some time to construct a dry dock and gather all of the raw material needed, but it not only was feasible; it was worth the risk. - At least if Seven's long range scan would not come up with any anomalies or potential danger zones.

-x-x-x-

The away-team the captain had sent down when they reached the moon two days later reported that Seven's preliminary readings had not only been correct but right to the point. There even was a landing site perfect for Voyager. For now, however, Janeway ordered the ship to stay in orbit. She wanted a more thorough analysis of the planet and its natural resources, and at this distance Voyager's sensors were more accurate than those of the Delta Flyer even at close range.

For once everything worked out as she had hoped; the planet was perfect for mining. It would not completely be without danger but most of the minerals they needed they simply could beam up. The away team also confirmed Seven's initial report on the moon. So, Captain Janeway ordered fourteen days of shore leave for the whole crew and put the ship in condition blue.

-x-x-x-

Three days into the stay on the moon her crew had named 'TS', for temporary sanctuary, B'Elanna was discharged from sickbay, and with only a bit of prompting from Janeway the doctor decreed that it would be best for her health to spend that time on the planet.

The next day she found Seven and B'Elanna sitting on a blanket on the beach of a secluded cove. A security guard was standing close enough to keep an eye on them but still out of hearing range. B'Elanna tried to get up and stand at attention when she saw her captain, but Janeway stopped her with the simple command, "As you were. I'm not here as your captain."

"I need to thank you for something you did while you were with the Maquis, but in order for you to understand I need to tell you a story," Janeway said.

"I'll go back to the ship and check on the progress of the repairs," Seven replied.

"You don't have to go, Seven. I don't mind you hearing what I have to say. Make yourself comfortable. I have to go way back to make you understand. I guess you both know how my father died, right?"

"You told me that it was a shuttle accident on Tau Ceti Prime," B'Elanna answered.

"That is not correct. The official Starfleet logs list it as an accident but in truth the shuttle craft Terra Nova was sabotaged by Section 31."

"Impossible, Admiral Paris told me that the Cardassians were responsible," Kathryn said.

"Admiral Paris might not have known better, Captain. Section 31 is very secretive," Seven said.

"Section 31? What's that? And why would anyone want to kill the captain's father?" B'Elanna asked.

"Section 31 is a clandestine organisation that exists almost since the inauguration of Starfleet. They see it as their duty to protect the Federation at all cost, even if that means to go against the principles of the Federation itself. At the time of the Cardassian war Section 31 was of the opinion that the war would be bad for the Federation and opted for a solution at the negotiation table. Admiral Janeway was convinced that from a strategic point of view in the long run it would be a bad idea to take anything but a position of strength towards the Cardassians and their demands."

"Wait a minute, Seven. Do you really want to tell me that my father was killed by someone associated with Starfleet? That's absurd," Janeway burst out.

"You are in error, Captain. If you want to I can give you a comprehensive history of Section 31 and all the times they interfered and manipulated things to achieve their goals, and all the times their interference had turned out to having been the wrong decision for the safety and future of the Federation," Seven answered.

"The wrong decision! Killing their own people! You can bet that was the wrong decision. If I had known that nothing could have kept me from resigning," Kathryn fumed.

"Resigning from Starfleet? You? That's inconceivable! Without you we all would have been dead many times over," B'Elanna said.

"You probably would have been pulled in by the Caretaker array even with someone else in the command chair, and that someone might not have destroyed the array and would have stranded you at the other side of the galaxy," Kathryn answered.

"Your thinking is faulty, Captain," Seven said in her usual calm voice that used to drive B'Elanna into a blind rage. Today she was glad that her lover intended to quench their captain's self recriminations with a dose of Borg logic.

Before Janeway had a chance to reply Seven continued, "What you say is pure conjecture, Captain. Following the same logic I could say that had things not happened as they did, the Delta Quadrant and possibly the rest of the galaxy would have been destroyed by Species 8472. I would be dead or still a drone. B'Elanna and the other former Maquis on board would have been killed by the Cardassians and the Dominion...."

Kathryn stopped her with an impatient gesture, "You're right, Seven, what-ifs will get us nowhere. Let's rather get back to the topic at hand. I want a padd with all the information you can find in the Borg's collective memory on Section 31. It's not urgent but I want it done before we leave this moon."

She closed her eyes for a moment as if to centre herself and began to talk, "After Justin and my father had died I became almost catatonic. I returned from Tau Ceti Prime on medical leave. I went straight to bed and didn't leave it for weeks. I felt sorry for myself, but more than that I felt guilty. I blamed myself for their deaths on more than one level. I had been instrumental in the design of the drive we were testing that day on the Terra Nova. After the crash it took me too long to repair the transporter to beam them out in time. I couldn't decide which one of them to safe. My father would never have been in the shuttle with us had he not wanted to spend time with me.

"After about three weeks my leave was up and I received orders to report to Admiral Paris' staff as his technical advisor. I sent my resignation instead. The next morning Owen Paris flew out to Indiana and literally dragged me out of bed. We had a huge argument during which he told me to get my head out of my ass and make my father proud. I retorted that I had killed my father and my fiancÚ and that I would not risk killing anyone else. He looked at me with wide eyes and told me that the crash had not been an accident at all and that my drive worked as I had envisioned. He told me that it had been sabotage, committed by Cardassian agents.

"My guilt changed into anger and I accepted the position and spent most of my time analysing Cardassian technology. The months passed and one day, on the way to a conference, the ship we were on was attacked by a Cardassian Galor class ship. The Al Batani had a relatively inexperienced crew and the captain was intimidated by the presence of not only one but three admirals on board. Either way, we were seriously outgunned and were boarded after only a few minutes. We surrendered.

"The Cardassians brought us to a planetoid just on their side of the border, a mining operation combined with a prison. They separated the officers from the rest of the crew and put us in prison to be interrogated."

Kathryn fell silent. She fought with herself if she should go into any detail. Both young women knew what Cardassians did to their prisoners, but there was a part of her that wanted to tell them. For the first time since it had happened she really wanted to speak about it.

"The Cardassians started with the admirals and worked their way down the ranks. I was only a lieutenant at the time; so, for the first couple of days all I heard were the cries of pain of my companions. When they finally came for me I was relieved that the waiting was over but I was also afraid of what was to come. The first thing they did was to strip me naked to make me feel exposed and vulnerable. I expected that they would use some high-tech implements but their commander had a fondness for more traditional instruments of torture.

"They shackled me in the middle of a bare room with arms and legs spread. They flogged me and I tried not to cry out in pain..."

As Kathryn told of her torture at the hands of the Cardassians her voice became distant and the more details she gave them the more the words she chose were clinical and technical. Her usually piercing blue-grey eyes became unfocused and B'Elanna as well as Seven wanted nothing more than to take her pain away but instead they let her talk.

Kathryn told them that they had not asked a single question and that she later had learned that the base commander used her and two other young women as leverage to get the admirals to cooperate. Admiral Enderes had broken down and told them what he knew, which had not been much, but it also had not stopped Ensign Hendrix' suffering. Admiral Pulaski on the other hand had somehow managed to convince the commanding officer that as a doctor she was not privy to any pertinent military information and they had led Nurse Toleyn off the hook.

"Admiral Paris refused to talk and I refused to beg. My refusal must have angered him so much that he stopped asking questions and instead concentrated on trying to break me. He called it training."

Kathryn spoke of sleep deprivation, time locked up in an icy cell, drugs in the water and food that left her afraid and pliable, but not pliable enough to give in. To B'Elanna the picture she painted was eerily familiar and though her captain never mentioned a name she knew of whom she was talking. She closed her eyes to ward off her own memories.

"One day," Kathryn continued, "the door to my cell opened and Admiral Pulaski came in. Her legs were hobbled and she wore manacles, but she also had a med kit. She told me that she had treated my injuries a couple of times already but that I had been unconscious then. She also told me that they had a plan to get out of there but that they would need my help.

"The next time he had me brought in his command centre to have me raped and beaten the other prisoners and our people at the mines created a distraction by attacking the guards. Gul Canak stormed out with his personal guard in tow. He told the young soldier he left behind with me that it wouldn't take long to deal with the Federation rabble.

"I was surprised how easy it was to get him to remove my restraints. It was even easier to kill him with his own disruptor. I locked to door to the command centre and used the phasers installed to subdue the prisoners to take out the Cardassians. Most of them died. Canak and some of his guard unfortunately escaped in a shuttle and managed to destroy the only other shuttle and the deflector dish. So, we were stuck on the planetoid with no way of knowing if the distress call I had sent out only moments earlier even had gotten through.

"It was only a question of time before Canak or some other Cardassians would return with reinforcements. For once we were lucky and were rescued only hours before the Cardassians returned, thanks to a young captain who defied his orders not to cross into Cardassian territory. Under usual circumstances that might have been the end of his career but the fact that he rescued three admirals and a couple hundred civilians saved him. He's now commanding the flagship," Kathryn fell silent but she did not look at the two young women.

"I'm glad that I killed him," B'Elanna said as if she had not heard the last part.

"I'm also glad that you did. That's what I wanted to thank you for," Kathryn looked up and saw B'Elanna's tear stained face. "Oh god, B'Elanna, I'm sorry. I didn't think what my words would to for you, what memories they would bring back. I'm sorry!"

"There's no need, Kathryn, Captain," B'Elanna smiled at her. "I'm glad that you honoured me with your story. On Qo'nos they probably would write at least a ballad about it, if not even an opera."

"Thank you, B'Elanna," Kathryn said. "but if anyone deserves an opera for their actions it is you."

"Your actions made you the youngest recipient of the Christopher-Pike-Medal of Valour, Captain. You should be proud of your achievements," Seven said, drawing from the knowledge of assimilated Starfleet officers.

"I only did what I had to do to survive, Seven. Everyone who participated in the uprising would have deserved a medal but only about a third actually did get one," Kathryn answered.

"Admiral Pulaski proposed you for the medal not only because of your actions during the uprising but also for the way you helped to organise the survival of all the injured," Seven said. "You deserved it."

"So, that's why you know so much about healing," B'Elanna said. Seeing Janeway's questioning look she added, "It's all the doctor has been talking about since I regained consciousness. Listening to him you're the best thing since his mobile emitter."

Once again Kathryn Janeway had a choice to either let it go and stay the unflappable captain, though with what she had already told them that image was already out of the window. So, she opted for honesty.

"Those weeks don't count among my favourite memories. I still have nightmares about that time. Their medical bay was far too small to deal with all our injured and only equipped to deal with Cardassian physiology. There was not enough medicine or food or blankets, not enough beds, no bandages and during the uprising a lot of us had been seriously injured. The third day the boneknitters stopped working and the two functional replicators were password protected and when we finally got them to work they still didn't produce enough for all of us.

"To me it was worse than being tortured; then I only had to deal with my own pain. I hated Canak more for the pain I saw after he was gone than I did for what he had done to me. I can't thank you enough for what you did, B'Elanna, for killing him once and for all. I just wish that I would have told you sooner but until recently I was convinced that Chakotay had killed him. I'm sorry," Kathryn said.

"You had no way of knowing, Captain, and I don't want to talk about Chakotay. He's dead and he should stay dead. There's only one thing I'd really like to know, but you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"Shoot."

"Did you tell him what you just told us?"

"No, B'Elanna. I didn't like the expression in his eyes when he told me. I didn't want to give him the chance to see me as someone else but his captain," Kathryn answered.

"Then why did you tell us, Captain?" Seven asked.

"Because you deserve to know the truth. I owe you, B'Elanna, not only for killing Canak but also because of the way I had you treated those last months."

"You were only enforcing Starfleet protocol, Captain."

"Be that as it may. I'll leave you now, enjoy the sun. I still have work to do."

Kathryn knew that her hasty retreat was anything but graceful but she didn't want to get into a discussion with B'Elanna now.

-x-x-x-

The next few days Kathryn still had trouble sleeping through the night and spent the sleepless hours working on her plans for a complete overhaul of the ship once everyone had had their shore leave. She estimated that they would be planet-bound for about eight to nine months, and that also meant that they needed a defence and an early warning system. Some of the changes she wanted to make would leave Voyager as defenceless as a beached whale for weeks at a time.

Janeway remembered the plans for a modified probe Seven had sent over some time ago. A couple of them put in a high orbit and linked to the Astrometrics lab would give them ample warning about anything approaching the moon. It would help, but it was not enough to keep her ship really safe. What they really needed was an orbital defence grid, plasma cannons ready to gun down anything coming too close for comfort. Unfortunately, even with the resources from the neighbouring planet an endeavour like that was beyond their abilities.

But there was something they could do. Ensign Wildman's team, though officially still on shore leave, had come up with a plan to tap the moon's geothermal energy. They wanted to use that energy to boost their park plans, but the energy could just as well be used to power a planetary defence system, some plasma guns and perhaps even a protective shield.

It was already the middle of Alpha shift when she finalised her plans to keep her ship and crew safe. She was about to go to the mess hall to get something to eat when Tuvok asked her to come to his Ready Room. It was the first time she entered the room since he had taken over as her second-in-command. She never had felt comfortable there while it had belonged to Chakotay. His ostensible show of his Indian spirituality had always seemed exaggerated in her eyes, even at the time she had briefly tried to contact her own spirit guide. So, now she was secretly relieved to see that Chakotay's wall tapestries and dream catchers and terracotta statuettes had been replaced by a simple Vulcan meditation lamp and a single, simple, yet elegant orchid.

Janeway took a seat in front of his desk and accepted the mug of Vulcan herbal tea he offered, but not without raising her eyebrow at his choice, a gesture he didn't dignify with a response.

"I was able to break the encryption code, Captain. Do you want a report or do you want to see for yourself?" He asked.

"You know the answer to that, old friend."

More than three hours later Captain Janeway tapped her comm. badge, "Janeway to all personnel. There will be a complete staff meeting tomorrow at 0800, participation is mandatory. The emergency stations will participate via life feed, the rest of us will meet in the mess hall. This is official ship's business, so I expect all of you to be in full uniform. Janeway out."

Captain Janeway and Commander Tuvok spent the rest of the day and half of the night in closed consultation planning the staff meeting, among other things.

Back in her quarters Kathryn had the first sleep undisturbed by nightmares and dark memories since the explosions.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Chapter Six

When the first crew members entered the mess hall the next morning the room had once again been turned into a court room. The speculations had run rampant ever since the captain's announcement and seeing the mess hall like this had their emotions ranging from dread to anticipation.

At exactly 0800 Commander Tuvok stepped through the double doors. He was wearing his dress uniform. Three paces behind him was B'Elanna dressed in her prisoner's jump suit, flanked by two burly security officers who topped her by almost a head. Tuvok stood behind the central desk and Crewman Torres was led to a single chair in the middle of the room.

The assembled crew took their seats as far as available while the rest leaned against the walls and the bulk heads, leaving a narrow corridor between the doors and the captain's desk. Captain Janeway, however, chose the more dramatic way of beaming in directly from her quarters. She too was in full dress uniform. B'Elanna and Harry were the first ones to jump to attention when she materialised and the rest of the crew followed suite.

"At ease," Captain Janeway ordered. "As the highest ranking Starfleet officer in the Quadrant I have ordered this staff meeting to reopen the court-martial proceedings against former Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, daughter of Miral of the House of Presba, chief engineer on board of the USS Voyager."

B'Elanna once again snapped to attention and tried to keep her expression as non-committal as possible.

"Lieutenant Torres was found guilty of one count of murder and two counts of involuntary homicide. The basis for this verdict had been Lieutenant Torres' confession solely. Recently new evidence has been brought to my attention, evidence that makes it necessary to add additional charges. Mister Tuvok, would you do the honours, please?"

B'Elanna stood ramrod straight but Kathryn had seen a minuscule flinch at her words. The other crewmembers showed much less restraint. They looked at each other, murmured among themselves but none of them spoke out loud about what must have sounded to them like a gross injustice in the making, another one.

"The recent series of explosions, as you all know, was due to sabotage, committed by former Commander Chakotay. In the course of my investigation I came upon encrypted security footage. What you will see now has all been taken from those files and compiled into a series of short videos. In the interest of justice and due procedure you will refrain from any and all comments during the viewing as well as afterwards."

A view screen behind Captain Janeway's head flickered to life and the whole crew saw a female crewman of the lower desks wearing the yellow uniform of engineering and security chase after B'Elanna in one of the corridors and tell her about a meeting of the former Maquis' members in Cargo Bay 2 Chakotay had called. She also told the Chief Engineer that he didn't want her to know about it.

Next the view screen showed the interior of Cargo Bay Two, easily recognisable by the green glow of the Borg alcoves. Chakotay was standing on the two steps high dais and looked down on an assembly of about twenty crewmembers, all of them former Maquis. He made eye contact with every single one of them before starting to speak.

"You all know me. You trusted me with your life when we were still with the Maquis and fighting the Cardassians and Starfleet's tin soldiers. You know that I am loyal to those who are loyal to me. To survive those last five years we did our best to work with the Federation and their unreasonable rules. And what did it get us? Nothing but blood, tears and bitterness. We are alive while our brothers and sisters were slaughtered at the other side of the galaxy. We owe it to them to survive. Captain Janeway promised to bring us back, instead her actions threatened our lives every step of the way for five very long years. Starfleet ideals made us miss chance after chance to find a faster way and chance after chance to settle on a nice comfy planet. I'm telling you all this has to stop."

Chakotay let his words sink in and his confidence visibly grew at the sounds of approval he heard from all around.

"In space energy equals life and at this moment, right behind me the Borg suck up our life force. Janeway has endangered this ship more than once for the sake of her pet Borg, the scorpion that will never be truly human, no matter how hard she pretends to try. She showed her true colours by returning to the Borg of her own accord.

"But instead of using the unexpected gift her defection has brought us, instead of using the transwarp coil to get as far away from here as possible, Janeway used it for a suicide mission leading her deep in the heart of Borg space. We could be back in the Alpha Quadrant by now, but she turned our means of escape into a fool's venture, a suicide mission. Janeway told us that her actions were in tune with Starfleet regulations, that a captain never leaves one of their own behind. But what good does it do to save one person and sacrifice one hundred and thirty-one others in the process. Janeway does not care about her ship or her crew. She only cares about the Borg abomination. We can't allow her to drag us down with her. It has to stop."

Chakotay studied the expressions on the faces of the people standing all around him, and his expression became triumphant. However, before he had a chance to continue his rousing speech B'Elanna's voice came from the back of the room.

"So, what do you intend to do, Chakotay? Take over Voyager? You don't have what it takes to captain this ship or lead its crew. You never did and you never will. Do you really think that we don't know that the real reason you left Starfleet was not your need to fight for your people but the fact that Starfleet refused to give you your own command?"

B'Elanna had stepped in the middle of the half-circle, with her hands on her hips and a cocky grin on her face. In the blink on an eye Chakotay had stepped down from the dais and invaded B'Elanna's personal space. This attempt at intimidation, however, didn't seem to impress her too much.

"No one asked for your opinion, you dishonourable traitor. You consort with the Borg and lick Janeway's boots every chance you get. You have lost the right to call yourself Maquis," Chakotay said.

B'Elanna's grin morphed into a smirk, "Offence is the best defence, Chakotay, right? Still, you didn't deny my words.

"Captain Janeway taught me what it means to be a good officer, and every day she shows all of us what it means to be a good leader. You, Chakotay, you do not have what it takes to be either. You don't have what it takes to captain Voyager. You don't even have what it takes to lead the Maquis on board."

"So, you think you could do better, you good-for-nothing mongrel?" Chakotay snarled.

"Even the dumbest of Tom's holo characters would do better, Chuckles," B'Elanna answered with a sneer.

Chakotay's fist hit B'Elanna square in the jaw. She stumbled backwards but a few of the others kept her from falling down. She quickly regained her equilibrium.

"Now, that you have taken the first swing. Chakotay, son of Kolopak, I challenge you for the leadership of the Maquis on board of this ship, according to the traditions of your tribe," When he didn't answer immediately she added, "Or do you only honour your heritage if it's convenient for you?"

Chakotay took a step back and studied her with disdain, "You dare speak to me about tradition and heritage, a half-breed who is afraid of her own blood? I accept your challenge, right now, right here. I can't wait to see you lying at my feet, begging for mercy.

"As the challenged I have the choice of weapons, and I choose those." He raised his bare hands, "I bested more than one Cardassian with nothing but my fists, a weak half-human should not be a problem."

"I accept, Chakotay, right here, right now, in front of those witnesses. And whoever looses will swear fealty to the other and obey them," B'Elanna answered.

"Agreed. I will enjoy having you crawl at my feet."

As the challenger B'Elanna attacked first, opening herself up for a counter-attack. His fist aimed at her stomach but she stepped aside at the last moment and grabbed his wrist. She threw him over her shoulder in an elegant Tsunkatse move. The surprise on his face quickly turned to anger and he once again tried to overpower her. A second time she used his own strength against him.

When she tried the same strategy a third time he was prepared and landed a hard hit right against her solar plexus. B'Elanna stumbled backwards and hit her heel on the first step of the dais. She lost her balance and Chakotay followed up with a hard jab against her chin.

A full-blooded Human would probably have lost consciousness, especially since the impact had been hard enough to send her across the dais and make her hit her head on the frame of Seven's alcove. B'Elanna, however, just shock it off and had the presence of mind to roll to the side when Chakotay threw himself at her in an effort to finish her off. She kicked out and his forehead collided with the metal alcove. That gave her the time she needed to get back on her feet.

Before Chakotay had a chance to shake it off B'Elanna grabbed him by his uniform jacket and the seat of his pants and threw him off the dais in an impressive show of Klingon strength. He skittered along the floor and ended up at the feet of his fellow Maquis. It took him some time to get back on his feet and when he looked up B'Elanna was there. A right hook impacted with the side of his chin and sent him back down to the deck plating in the middle of the half circle of people.

Instead of trying to stand up, he whirled around and grabbed B'Elanna's ankles. He pulled hard and brought her down. Chakotay got back to his feet and kicked B'Elanna in the stomach and ribs before she could get up. He got three hard kicks in before she was able to roll away. B'Elanna used the steps of the dais to get back on her feet and just barely dodged a right hook. She darted right under his defences and let go with a barrage of short, hard jabs against his centre. She kept at it and drove him back. He finally grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back.

Chakotay tried to hold on but B'Elanna twisted out of his grasp, a roundhouse kick impacted with his shoulder. A loud crack was heard and he howled in pain. She smiled in satisfaction but at the same time her right hand went to her ribcage where his kicks seemingly had broken one or more of her ribs. Just in time to get the best effect she followed up with a kick to his groin. He fell to his knees and instinctively curled into a ball, and this time she allowed him the time to recuperate.

About two minutes later Chakotay jumped back to his feet and once again attacked her, but not with a boxing or wrestling move but with a knife in his hand. B'Elanna saw the glint of the steel and instinctively took a step back. The weapon only sliced her arm instead of impaling her chest. Murmurs of disapproval came from the onlookers. Two of the Maquis who were working in security took a step forward to stop Chakotay but B'Elanna simply waived them off.

"So, you killed Cardassians with your bare hands?" She taunted while she easily danced out of the way of his next frontal assault. "And yet you need a knife to deal with an unarmed woman. Tell me, Chuckles, those Cardassians, by any chance were they asleep when you killed them? Drugged into unconsciousness?"

Rational thought seemed lost to the seething man; again and again he aimed for B'Elanna's heart, oblivious to the fact that her ribcage was too strong for his weapon to penetrate and reach her hearts. B'Elanna touched the bleeding slice on her arm and licked the blood from her fingertips. Her whole body visibly relaxed. Chakotay attacked again and this time she didn't evade him but allowed him into her personal space. The tip of his knife had already touched her chest but before he had the chance to follow through with a hard thrust B'Elanna twisted her upper body aside. Fast as lightning she raised her elbow and hit him square in the throat. Chakotay stumbled back, suddenly fighting for breath. The heel of B'Elanna's other hand hit the inside of his wrist and the knife fell onto the deck. She kicked it towards the dais and in one fluid movement let her foot hit the side of Chakotay's knee.

His massive body hit the deck, and this time she didn't give him the chance to recuperate. Pulling on his right arm she forced him to lie face first on the hard deck plating. The arm was at an angle that only a tiny movement would have been enough to at least dislocate it. She rammed her knee into his back to make sure that he would stay down and allowed him a minute to catch his breath.

"Time to surrender, Chakotay, and swear fealty to me."

"Never!"

The crack of his shoulder dislocating was loud to everyone in the room.

"Surrender, or I will break every single bone in your body, starting with your right hand; and I will make sure that the breaks will have to heal the old-fashioned way."

"Be wise for once, Chakotay. No one here will follow you now. The Maquis don't fight for cowards, and we will make sure that everyone outside of this room you try to convince of your traitorous ways will learn exactly what a coward you are," Ayala said, stepping from behind the crowd.

Murmurs of approval followed his words. Chakotay tried to break B'Elanna's hold but the pain in his dislocated shoulder was too much for him.

His voice was slightly scratchy when he finally said, "I surrender, you won the challenge. You are the new leader of the Maquis."

"Oh, you can do better than that, Chakotay," B'Elanna said and increased the pressure.

"I, Chakotay, son of Kolopak, swear fealty to you, B'Elanna Torres, daughter of Miral of the House of Presba."

"That's better." B'Elanna let go of his hand and rose to her feet. "Go to sickbay and have Tom patch you up. Tell him you had a slight mishap while training in the gym. And everyone else, go back to whatever you normally would be doing this time of the day. There will be no mutiny against Captain Janeway. When this whole mess began we thought that we were at least seventy-five years away from Earth. Now, five years later we should still be seventy years away but Captain Janeway has reduced the distance to thirty-five years. No one else could have done this, and no one else will be able to bring us all the way home. Captain Janeway is not the one who wanted to turn tail when we came close to Borg territory. Captain Janeway is not a coward and we all know to what lengths she is willing to go to keep us all safe. She always has been and always will be our best bet to return to the Alpha Quadrant."

The former Maquis broke up into small groups of two and three and left the cargo bay. Only Ayala and B'Elanna were left. B'Elanna slowly took the two steps leading to the dais and retrieved a med kit from behind one of the pillars. She handed the medical tricorder to Ayala and used the dermal regenerator on her arm. "Check my ribs, please. It feels as if at least one of them is broken."

"I'm sorry that I wasn't in time to put a stop to this nonsense from the beginning," he said.

"Not your fault, my friend. Excluding us, there were eight other ex-Maquis missing from his little assembly, amongst them some of Chakotay's best buddies. Contact Manolo and Sanys, tell them what happened. We have to keep an eye on Chakotay and the others. I don't trust him as far as Naomi could throw him."

"I don't either, Lanna. We'll do our best. You can trust us," Ayala answered.

"I know I can, my friend. And now I have to go back to Engineering. I'm meeting Tom and Harry for dinner and fill them in. Two pairs of eyes more won't hurt."

"I'll do the same with a couple of guys from Security. You also might want to tell Carey. If he really is stupid enough to try to take over the ship, Chakotay will start with the engine room."

For a moment the screen went blank and when it flickered to life again the pulsing warp drive in the background showed clearly where the next chapter of that drama would play out. It looked like a normal day in Engineering with B'Elanna shouting orders and her engineering team focused on their work.

The double doors to the main floor of the engine room slid open. The sound of numerous booted feet echoed through the cavernous room and B'Elanna turned around. She ducked just in time to avoid being hit by Chakotay's phaser pistol. The scorch mark on the bulk head where moments earlier her head had been was ample proof that the weapon had been set to kill; a stun setting would have left another pattern.

The moment B'Elanna had moved, her staff had also begun to take cover. Moments later she had retrieved the metleth she had hidden under her console and threw it at one of the six intruders who had entered the Engineering with Chakotay. He was standing behind Lieutenant Carey, ready to attack. B'Elanna's blade embedded itself in his back. He cried out. Only then she saw the glint of the knife in his hands. It had already been at Carey's throat, an with his last breath he slid Carey's carotid and killed him. Both men slid to the blood splattered floor, amidst a cacaphony of people shouting, phaser fire, cries of pain, beeping and burning equipment.

Chakotay's voice rose over the pandemonium, "Surrender, B'Elanna, or you people will all die. We already took the bridge, the ship is ours now. Surrender and I even might let you live."

At this point the Engineering staff had taken cover, all except for Ensign Merrin who shot an intruder on the upper level and in return was killed by one of Chakoray's men. When Merrin's body hit the lower level and landed next to John Carey B'Elanna burst from her cover and launched herself at Chakotay, a black and yellow blur.He turned his head just in time to let her right hook glance off his chin, it only grazed the side of his head. Moments later their bodies collided and B'Elanna's momentum threw him off his feet.

Vorik and Nicoletti were first to get over their surprise and attacked the traitors who were still staring at B'Elanna and their leader.

B'Elanna and Chakotay were fighting over his phaser. A shot went off and hit a second intruder on the upper level who had just started to take pot shots at the Engineering crew. One of them had missed Susan Nicoletti's head by a few scant millimeters.

Chakotay tried to get enough leverage to throw B'Elanna off, but the Hybrid refused to let go of the hand holding the weapon and in turn tried to get him in a chokehold.

At the same time Vorik pulled Susan behind the warp core. They put their thumb prints on a hidden padd at the base of the railing protecting the containment field. A few hearbeats later the only light in Engineering came from a humming secondary force field around the warp core. It was basically impossible now to discern to which side the shadows moving around belonged. The sounds didn't help either, grunts, indistinct shouts, cries of pain, but no more tell-tale shrill of phaser fire.

The main doors swished open, for a moment the lights form the corridor showed crewmen locked in wrestling matches, others trading blows. Ayala and four security officers ran in and shot everyone who was not part of the regular Engineering staff. They all were using strange looking rifles, propulsion weapons.

Vorik had been defending himself against two opponents when the security detail stormed in. Ayala's first shot hit one of them and he crumpled to the deck. Vorik used the other's surprise to break the neck of his other attacker.

B'Elanna and Chakotay were still locked in their fight over the weapon, but this time it was a metleth they were fighting over, the metleth B'Elanna had buried in Carey's killer at the beginning of the attack, its blade dulled with Human blood. B'Elanna's uniform tunic was shredded and she was bleeding from a deep cut in her left side, slightly below the waist. Chakotay got a good kick with his knee in, B'Elanna howled if either in anger or in pain or both. The sudden movement had shifted his balance and allowed B'Elanna to put her hand around his throat while the other still had a death grip on his knife hand.

They rolled around on the deck. B'Elanna smashed Chakotay's hand against the wall holding the monitors for the secondary tactical station. The metleth fell out of his hand. His other hand closed to a fist and hit her in the side of the head. She lost her grip on his throat and her balance. He threw her off of him. Tumbling back B'Elanna grabbed her metleth but before she could get back on her feet Chakotay was on top of her and they suddenly found themselves in the same position as earlier but with mirrored roles.

Chakotay had one hand on B'Elanna's throat and the other around her knife hand. In contrast to earlier, however, B'Elanna's other hand was not free to attack him but had somehow been pinned down between her back and the deck plating. Chakotay's breathing was extremely laboured but his face showed a triumphant grin that quickly contorted into a cry of pain when B'Elanna flipped the metleth around without losing her grip and sliced his arm open to the bone. He let go of her throat, punched her in the face and tried to stop the bleeding by covering the injury with his other hand.

B'Elanna used the distraction to free her hand. Chakotay's face contorted in anger. He let go of his injury and tried to get both hands around her throat. His weight was still resting on her legs and hips. With a flickering movement B'Elanna sliced his throat before he got the chance to crush her windpipe.

The rest of the fighting had finished around the time B'Elanna had smashed his hand against the wall. Regardless if they were attackers, security or engineers, everyone stared at them as if the fight between Chakotay and B'Elanna would somehow decide the fate of all.

When Chakotay's blood spurt from his severed carotid Ayala and one of his men finally rushed forward and pulled his lifeless body off of her. B'Elanna slowly got to her feet. Chakotay's crimson blood had splattered all over her face, chest and arms, and her own lavender coloured blood was still running from her side; it made for a gruesome sight.

"Ayala, let two of your men take care of the dead, and I don't want Carey and Merrin in the same room with this scum. Get the rest of them to the brig. The doctor can treat them there. Everyone else, get to sickbay and let the doctor patch you up. We have some repairs to do."

"Not before you report to sickbay and let Samantha patch you up, Chief, you're bleeding all over the engine room," Susan said.

B'Elanna looked down her side; "You're right. I might need a pass or two with the dermal regenerator, but before we get to that, I have something to say: You all did a really good job at defending Engineering, thank you!"

B'Elanna and three other injured crewmen left Engineering. Vorik and Susan put in some commands at the warp core console and the secondary force field disappeared.

-x-x-x-

The screen went black. From the surprise and horror on most faces Kathryn deduced that though they had been told what had happened in Engineering, they had not been given all the details. Janeway stood up and let her cold, grey gaze roam around the room, and suddenly most members of her crew found somewhere else to look, except for Seven of Nine and Naomi Wildman.

"The authenticity of this recording has been verified. It proves without the shadow of a doubt that Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, daughter of Miral of the House of Presba is not guilty of the crimes of which she had accused herself and of which she has been convicted. Commander Chakotay was killed in self-defence while he was committing a criminal, while he was committing treason. The recording also proves that Lieutenant Torres is in no way or form responsible for the deaths of Lieutenant Carey and Ensign Merrin.

"On the contrary, her actions as well as those of the rest of the Engineering crew were commendable. The only persons to blame are Commander Chakotay and the eight crew members who wanted to seize the power on board for themselves.

"In light of this new evidence Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres is found not guilty of the charges previously brought against her and the sentence of life imprisonment is revoked."

The mess hall erupted in lout cheers and only the presence of the two burly security officers to B'Elanna's left and right kept her from storming over to congratulate her. It took almost ten minutes for everyone to calm down enough to become aware that the captain was far from being finished.

"This new evidence, however, also brought to light that Lieutenant Torres lied at her court-marshal. She lied to her commanding officer and as the captain of this vessel I expect better from the members of my senior staff. Attention, Miss Torres!"

B'Elanna jumped to her feet and stood at rigid attention. She tried to maintain a neutral expression but Kathryn knew her good enough to see that she was worried and confused.

"Miss Torres, how do you plead on the charges of purgery and the deliberate breach of the command structure?"

"Guilty, Captain Janeway."

"On the charge of instigating a shipwide conspiracy to keep the truth from your commanding officer, how do you plead?"

"Guilty, Captain Janeway. The others simply went along with what I asked of them. Please, don't punish them," B'Elanna answered.

"B'Elanna Torres, for purgery, conspiracy and conduct unbecoming of an officer you will be sentenced to two months and twenty-seven days of confinement to the brig. The sentence is considered as time served. Effective immediately you are reinstated as a lieutenant and chief engineer. You will report for duty at the start of Alpha shift tomorrow morning."

This time it was as if the cheers would never die down, but though this meeting was far from over Kathryn was not inclined to stop them, especially when she saw that Seven had left her place in the back of the room and strode directly towards B'Elanna. Seven turned the half-Klingon around, pulled her in her arms and kissed her, a long, passionate kiss that left no doubt about her intentions. She whispered something in B'Elanna's ear, B'Elanna blushed, Seven smiled and left the room.

At Captain Janeways signal Tuvok touched his comm. badge and a yellow alert reverberated through the room. It ended after five seconds and everyone's attention refocused on the captain.

"I'm not finished. You all have to answer for lying to your commanding officer, either by omission or directly. That makes all of you guilty of participating in a conspiracy and conduct unbecoming of a member of this crew. There are consequences: As of tomorrow 1400 hours shore leave is cancelled and every single member of this crew will add half a shift to their regular duty shifts for the next two months. Enjoy the rest of your time off. Dismissed."

-x-x-x-

Kathryn and Tuvok beamed directly in her Ready Room, "What do you think, Tuvok, how many complaints about this summary judgement will have piled up by tomorrow?"

"If Lieutenant Torres has anything to say about it, none. If I may ask, Captain, why didn't you tell them about the overhaul as you had planned?"

"A number of reasons. This way they will worry about the extra shift but it will still allow them to enjoy their last night off. I also think that the senior staff should be the first to know about the plan."

"Would I be wrong to assume that Lieutenant Torres' blush had anything to do with your decision, Captain?"

"Really, Tuvok, would I do something like that?" Kathryn laughed. "You know, for someone who professes to disdain emotions you see right through mine. Yes, it has something to do with Seven and B'Elanna. If I had told them now they would not have enjoyed their time off, especially B'Elanna. She probably thinks that she now has something to prove.

"In her eyes, she disappointed not only her captain but also her friend and mentor. So, it was the right decision, Captain, and just for the record: I do not disdain emotions. On the contrary, I'm an avid student of emotions, especially Human emotions. One day you should tell Lieutenant Torres the real reason you didn't allow her to go with you on the rescue mission into Borg territory."

"One day, my friend, but not any time soon. So, how do you think the crew and senior staff will react to project Do-it-yourself? Apart from the few crew members who will think that I have completely lost my mind," Janeway asked in an effort to change the subject. She really didn't want to say out loud what they both knew: that she had made B'Elanna stay on board because deep down she had been convinced that they would not come back and she had wanted at least one of her daughters of the heart as safe and sound as one can be in the Delta Quadrant.

"I still think that the name does not fit the seriousness and scope of the endeavour, Captain, but it's well in line with the crew's peculiar sense of humour. I will make sure that Ensign Wildman receives and invitation to the senior staff meeting tomorrow morning. Do you still want to go through with the promotions?"

"Yes, Tuvok, do you object? Samantha and Harry have more than earned their lieutenant's pip," Kathryn said.

"No, I do not object. They earned their pips. After recent events, would it not be better for morale to have the whole crew participate?" Tuvok asked.

"I have no doubt that Neelix will insist on a party to celebrate the event, and there will be a ship wide announcement after the staff meeting."

Kathryn invited Tuvok to join her for some tea on the upper level and after that they both returned to work. There still was a lot to do to prepare for project: Do-it-yourself.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Chapter Seven

B'Elanna felt strange to walk the corridors of Voyager without a guard at her side. At first she had been vexed by their mostly silent presence, but over time it had become almost comforting, and it had given her an extra pair of hands whenever she had needed them.

After the captain and Tuvok had beamed away it had taken her forever to get out of the mess hall. Everyone seemed to want to pat her on the shoulder of shake her hand and congratulate her, some even hugged her. It had felt great but it also had been somewhat disconcerting. Even some of those Starfleet members who had never made a secret out of their dislike for the Maquis members of the crew in general and her success as Chief of Engineering in particular had approached her with kind words. It was puzzling, but deep down B'Elanna had no doubt that sooner or later they would fall back on their old attitude.

B'Elanna had finally reached her quarters, their quarters, the quarters she shared with Seven of Nine, the quarters she had been sure to never again see from the inside. Suddenly her hearts beat in her throat. She swallowed when she took a step forward, half expecting the door to stay shut. But it identified her and slid open and moments later she was pulled inside and into Seven's arms.

After almost three months without her beloved a simple peck on the lips would have been wonderful. The kiss Seven had planted on her in the mess hall in front of the whole crew had been bliss, but now she was literally swept off her feet. The playfulness of Seven's words then, "You are sentenced to be ravished, bang'wI, melted under the intense blue gaze levelled at her. B'Elanna's lips parted of their own accord when the tip of Seven's tongue touched them. Their tongues met and B'Elanna closed her eyes. It had been so long.

The tip of Seven's left index finger ran from her neck down her spine, moments later the warm air of their quarters hit the naked skin of her back. Seven must have cut open the grey jumpsuit B'Elanna was still wearing.

Seven's tongue was leisurely exploring her mouth and caressing her tongue. It was paradise to be touched again the way only Seven knew how, gentle and firm, loving and demanding. B'Elanna's hands sneaked around Seven's slim waist and up her back to her neck until they found the hidden zipper that opened the biosuit Seven was wearing. B'Elanna needed to feel Seven's smooth skin on her own; and Seven seemed to share her desire and made quick work of the rest of her prison garb.

The drab grey jumpsuit was the thing she had resented most during her incarceration, not because it made her stand out among the rest of the crew, but because it was a constant reminder of her situation. And now it pooled at her feet.

Seven's biosuit had been pulled down to her hips and B'Elanna longed to kiss and fondle and devour her perfect breasts. She wanted to take her beloved right here in the living room but Seven had other plans. Seven put her slighlty cold hands on B'Elanna's hips.

B'Elanna thought that she wanted to pull her closer, instead she was raised off her feet and found herself been hoisted over Seven's left shoulder. Seven walked to their bedroom, threw her on the king-sized bed and stared down at her. B'Elanna's gaze was riveted on Seven's eyes. There was a predatory glint shining through that alone made her hearts beat even faster; then Seven licked her lips.

She took the biosuit off without losing eye contact with B'Elanna. Seven's blue eyes pinned her to mattress though B'Elanna longed to get up and claim every inch of Seven's skin and every single one of her implants as her own. The expression in Seven's eyes told her that her beloved wanted the same, and after everything she had put Seven through those last three months, after everything she had asked of her, B'Elanna reasoned, it was only fair that Seven would be the first to reclaim what rightfully belonged to her.

B'Elanna pushed herself back until she had reached the centre of the bed. She spread her legs and Seven followed the invitation. She crawled on the bed between B'Elanna's thighs. B'Elanna grinned when she felt Seven's right knee only a fraction of a inch from her sex, but Seven's feral smile told her that it would not be that fast of easy. Seven wanted to play and she wanted to play by her own rules.

Seven's arms now were at the side of her head. She allowed their nipples to touch fleetingly when she bent down to whisper in B'Elanna's ear, "You are mine, benal, all mine, to do with as I please. I want you to put your hands over your head and keep them there. I want to inspect my property to make sure that you took good care of what is mine."

B'Elanna shivered at Seven's deep throaty voice that held so much promise, "No one can take care of me as good as you do, my beloved. Please, kiss me."

Seven obliged her, no, she did more than that. Seven didn't just kiss her; Seven's lips claimed her lips, Seven's tongue claimed her tongue. Seven claimed the air she exhaled and breathed in her own. B'Elanna moaned when the kiss was broken but she kept her arms obediently over her head.

Seven kissed and licked along B'Elanna's jawline to her right ear. She nibbled the earlobe and smiled at B'Elanna's frustrated groan. She licked her way upwards past the ear and to the temple and started to kiss the ridges on B'Elanna's forehead, as if it were the first time and she had yet to explore their taste and texture.

But it was not the first time, it was fundamentally different. Then B'Elanna had been extremely self-conscious about them. All her life they had been the visible reminder of a heritage with which she wanted nothing to do. Over time Seven had convinced her that Klingons were a proud and honourable people with a long history that did not only consist of conquests and wars and that there were some Klingon cultural traditions that were really worth exploring, some very inspiring traditions. No, this time B'Elanna was able to enjoy Seven's ministrations and her softly murmured words that told her how proud Seven was for her beautiful warrior and how much she had missed her and wanted her, and how she wanted to hear B'Elanna scream her name in passion.

Seven's lips and tongue were the only part of her now touching B'Elanna, and B'Elanna craved more, she needed more. With every single one of her previous lover's B'Elanna had simply taken what she wanted and needed, but Seven was different and not only because she was the first lover who could not only match but surpass her Klingon strength and occasional aggressiveness.

Seven had also been the only one without preconceived expectations about sex with her though she knew more about Klingon physiology and sexual impulses then B'Elanna had ever wanted to know. Seven didn't expect B'Elanna to always be the aggressor. She didn't expect her to always be rough. She didn't want to tame her so-called baser instincts. She didn't love when B'Elanna only wanted to cuddle. Over the months it had even turned out that Seven was the more adventurous of the twp of them, the one who was always ready to try something new; not because she thought that their relationship needed some additional spice but just because she was curious and always searching for new ways to please her beloved.

Kissing the forehead ridges as part of their foreplay had been one of those new ways. And Seven was thorough. There was not one bump or swell left unattended.

"Sev, please, I need you, please."

Seven kissed her way down to the other ear and whispered, "I'm here, my love. I'm here."

"Please Seven."

"Patience,bang'wI, patience."

To emphasise her point Seven shifted her weight just enough to free her right hand and changed the angle of her knee to create a tangential contact with B'Elanna's sex. She sneaked her hand under B'Elanna's neck and touched the almost imperceptible but extremely sensitive ridges there.

B'Elanna moaned, she arched her back, "Open your eyes, my beauty. Tell me, all those long nights in the brig, did you think about me?"

B'Elanna swallowed hard at the predatory expression on Seven's face, "You know I did, my beloved. I missed you so much. I would not have been able to stay sane without thinking of you and dreaming of you and without seeing you during the day. It hurt so much having to sleep without you, to know that you were only a couple of decks away, listening to the same hum of the warp core. Please, Sev, take me, take me hard."

Seven pressed her knee harder against B'Elanna's centre and asked, "Did you masturbate alone in your cell, thinking of me?"

B'Elanna's hands had closed to fists and her arms were trembling from the effort to keep them over her head.

"I tried," she said softly, "but my fingers are not yours, and your scent was missing. I just couldn't fool myself this much. I was only able to achieve a semblance of relief on the rare occasions when I was able to convince myself that you were there watching me masturbate, that you had told me to give you a show."

Seven rewarded the answer with another breathtaking kiss and a slightly firmer touch of her fingertips against the neck ridges. She knew that she could make B'Elanna come alone by manipulating them, but that wasn't what she had in mind just now. She wanted to bring her beloved to brink of orgasm and hold her there for as long as possible. She wanted to make up for all the nights they had lost. She wanted to show B'Elanna how much she loved her, adored her, worshipped her.

"Tell me what you want me to do now, my love," Seven demanded.

"Everything you want, Seven, everything and anything. I'm yours, my love. Just being with you, here, in our bed is more than I'd ever hoped for."

"You know that Captain Janeway would have found another reason to release you from the brig sooner or later, even if she would not have found out the truth, right?"

Seven once again bent down and kissed B'Elanna. She removed her hand from B'Elanna's neck which elicited a groan from her that was swallowed by Seven's mouth. Seven also back up her knee touching B'Elanna's sex, but quickly replaced it with her hand. She playfully retraced the length of B'Elanna's folds. B'Elanna's hips rocked in response. Seven smiled and entered her with two fingers. It's been too long since she last felt B'Elanna's moist walls around her fingers and Seven knew that she wanted more. She broke the kiss and saw the now almost black eyes of her beloved. It was exactly the colour she had wanted to see, the sign that B'Elanna's climax was close.

"What do you want me to do now, my beauty?" She repeated her earlier question and moved her finder slowly inside of B'Elanna to give her further incentive to answer.

B'Elanna could hear her pulse beating in her throat but she somehow managed to open her mouth and answer somewhat coherently, "Take me, my love, fill me. Put your whole hand inside, make me feel you. Pump your fist deep inside of me, make me cry out your name. Bite my nipple, please, I want to feel all of you."

Seven sealed her lips with a gentle, undemanding kiss and licked her way down to B'Elanna's right nipple. She kissed it gently. Her lips closed around the already hard nub and suckled. If not for the expression in Seven's eyes and B'Elanna's needy growl it could have been seen as an innocent gesture. Seven could hear the rush of blood in B'Elanna's veins. It was an intoxicating sound that never failed to bring her a step closer to her own release. She unconsciously dispatched some nanoprobes to regulate her hormones for a bit longer. Her own climax was less important to her than bringing B'Elanna over the edge.

She added a third finger and put her thumb on B'Elanna's clit. B'Elanna was dripping wet, wet enough to forgo any additional lubrication. Seven bit down on B'Elanna's nipple; not hard enough to leave marks, but enough to make B'Elanna yelp at the sudden change of pace. She circled the aureole with the tip of her tongue and then shifted her whole body. She knew that she had to change the angle of her hand to be able to enter B'Elanna completely without injuring her.

"Put your hands on your breasts, baby. Touch them they way you would touch mine."

B'Elanna obeyed with a groan and a grin. She caressed her breasts and squeezed her nipples and rolled them between thumb and index finger and Seven wriggled her three fingers inside of B'Elanna's core and pressed down on the clit. Her attention was on B'Elanna's eyes and her breathing rhythm, and when the time was right she not only added a fourth finger she thrust her whole hand inside of her beloved.

B'Elanna's hips arched from the mattress. Seven's mesh covered hand pressed her back down to insure that she would not injure herself by thrashing around. Seven closed her right hand to a fist and began to thrust. Without her Borg enhanced strength she never would have been able to hold B'Elanna down and at the same time have her left index finger on B'Elanna's clit. The digit began to vibrate and massage the sensitive nub. B'Elanna's hands grabbed the mattress to her left and right. She cried out to Kahless. She shouted Seven's name, again and again, every time Seven's fist reached the deepest point it could, every time she almost pulled out, stretching B'Elanna's vaginal opening to the point of almost tearing it. It was a dangerous game with B'Elanna's physical limits but B'Elanna trusted her beloved and Seven's nanoprobes worked overtime to allow her to stay in control of what she was doing.

Seven slowed her movements when the first wave of orgasm began to ebb out. She opened her first and found her fingers quickly tightly sheathed from all sides. Despite the still mounting pressure she managed to wriggle her fingers and touch all of the special spots that were normally hidden and inaccessible without further stimulation. The tip of Seven's long fingers, however, reached them and sent B'Elanna in another series of spiralling orgasms that finally made her pass out.

Seven gently and carefully removed her hand. She inspected B'Elanna's folds with her ocular implant to make sure that she was really alright. She crawled up the bed and pulled B'Elanna in her arms until she was lying half on top of her. Seven kissed her lover's forehead and was rewarded with brown eyes fluttering open. They were still darkened with desire but also visibly confused.

"What happened?" She asked.

"You passed out, my love."

"Klingons don't pass out, Seven."

"You did, bang'wI, but don't worry, I'll take the secret to my grave and if you need to you can always blame it on the long abstinence," Seven said with an indulgent smile.

"I'd rather blame it on your superior skills, benal, and now my love, it's time for me to repay the favour, don't you think?"

B'Elanna didn't wait for an answer but kissed Seven just as hungrily and passionately as she had been kissed earlier.

-x-x-x-

A few decks above B'Elanna and Seven's quarters Ensign Harry Kim nervously pressed the door chime to Captain Janeway's Ready Room. He carried a padd and what looked like old fashioned writing paper.

"Mister Kim, what can I do for you?"

"B'E... Lieutenant Torres asked me to give this to you and to tell you the rest of the story. Commander Chakotay kept a diary of sorts. It will give you some insight into his state of mind and you can use it as additional proof to bolster the over-turning of Lieutenant Torres' court-marshal proceedings. Personally, I recommend not to read it, Captain, it's full of delusional rants and invectives."

Harry handed the stack of papers over, together with the padd.

"The padd contains the rest of what happened, as well as Lieutenant Torres' logs and a few other things."

"Ensign Kim, why don't you tell me what happened to the surviving mutineers? In your own words."

"Yes, ma'am. There were three of the traitors left when everything was over.We put them in the brig. B'Elanna said that you would take care of them when you came back with Seven."

"So, at one point she wanted to tell me the truth?"

"Yes, Captain. It was only afterwards that she came up with the idea to keep Chakotay's defection from you. Please, believe me, Captain, she didn't do that lightly. Read her log entries and you will know."

"Did you, Harry?"

"Oh no, but I was there to witness it. She told me that lying to you was the hardest, the most frightening thing she ever...."

There was another chime at the door and at the captain's orders a visibly nervous Tal Celes came in.

"Ensign Tal, I'm a bit busy at the moment. Can it wait?"

"I'm afraid, it can't, Captain. It's my fault the three prisoners are dead.

"I see. Why don't you start at the beginning, the two of you."

"As I already said, we put them in the brig and Sam... Ensign Wildman patched them up," Harry started to say.

"One of them was Bajoran. It's part of our culture to at least listen to those with a troubled soul. He told me that he felt deeply ashamed for having fallen for Chakotay's rhetorics and that he wanted to pray to the Prophets for forgiveness. He asked for his prayer mandala to be brought to him. Lieutenant Torres said that we couldn't take the risk, but I did it anyhow."

"Tal, it was not your fault. How could you have known? No one, not even B'Elanna, could have anticipated such duplicity," Harry said with a comforting hand on the young woman's shoulder.

"It's my fault. If I had not been so incredibly na´ve they would not be dead, and B'Elanna would not have spent three months behind bars for something she didn't do. It is my fault."

Captain Janeway had never seen the young ensign as desperate and as determined before, even her usual slight stutter was gone.

"Ensigns, let's get back on topic, can we?" Janeway said with a hint of her command voice. "So, the crewman asked for his prayer mandala, then what happened?"

"He had a Cardassian disruptor concealed in the back. The first moment the guard had turned his back to escort me out he used it to overload the force field. Before we had a chance to react he had knocked the guard out and forced me into an empty cell. He deactivated the force field to the cell of one of his fellow traitors and shot him point blank. He repeated his actions with the other man, and he shot himself."

"Did he say anything before he killed himself?" Kathryn asked.

"He said: Tell Lieutenant Torres that my debt now is paid," Tal Celes answered tonelessly.

Harry wrapped his arm around her shoulders and told her that she was not to blame, "No one could have anticipated that and there was nothing you could have done to stop him. Let it go, Tal."

"Ensign Kim, Ensign Tal. In your shoes I might have done the same. Stop blaming yourself. Thank you for having to courage to speak up. Ensign Tal, Ensign Kim, dismissed."

Both of them snapped to attention, but Harry hesitated before he turned to the door, "Is there anything else, Mister Kim?"

"Yes, Captain. It's Ensign Celes, not Ensign Tal."

"I always thought that on Bajor the name that comes first is the family name."

"That's true, Captain, but there was a mix-up the first day at the Academy. They got it wrong."

"I'll make the necessary changes to our files, Ensign. Thank you for telling me, Harry. Ensign Celes, why did you never say anything? This could have been taken care of years ago."

"In the beginning I tried, Captain Janeway, but after a while all the instructors were used to it. It simply was easier to let it go than to insist and get into arguments about it. I wasn't that great of a student. I thought it best not to draw any unwanted attention," Celes said.

"I see. Dismissed. Enjoy the rest of your time off. I have some reading to do."

-x-x-x-

Kathryn decided to fortify herself with a mug of coffee before she began the according to Harry unpleasant task of reading Chakotay's diary. Two hours later she put the loose pages aside. She had read enough, enough to know how clearly delusional and vindictive her former first officer really had been, almost from the beginning. He had fantasised about making love to her, had revelled in developing scenarios in which had had saved the captain from certain death and had been rewarded with her love and her command.

After their return from New Earth his tone had become more aggressive and his account of their stay did in no way or form coincide with her own memory. To Kathryn those four months had been the longest in her life. She had tried to keep herself busy with searching for a cure, but apart from that she had been at the brink of depression and Chakotay's attempts to create a home for them and to get closer to her on a personal level had been at best annoying. To him it had been four months of a slow courtship during with he had apparently scrutinised every single one of her moves and words and had come to the conclusion that she soon would fall for his charms. His sexual fantasies about them were outright embarrassing. He even had dreamed about her having his children and raising them according to the ancient traditions of his tribe, without modern technology and knowledge.

The sexual fantasies were slowly replaced by scenarios of violence after Seven of Nine had joined the crew. He had listed various plans how to kill first only Seven and then Seven and B'Elanna. There were scenarios in which Kathryn had been freed from some sort of mind control after he and the crew had killed Seven, and of course she had jumped at the chance to exchange her pips for a place at his feet in gratitude. And then his delusions had turned to hate...

The most surprising thing about this look into the soul of a man she once had trusted was the fact that he had managed to appear completely sane for so long.

An inquiry with the ship's computer told her that Alpha shift was about to end. She still had some things to prepare fro the senior staff meeting the next morning, instead she activated the padd Harry had given her and pulled up B'Elanna's personal logs. The first entry had been made about a month after she had been sentenced to life imprisonment.

- - -

Naomi just left. She found the log entries and the security footage Seven hid under Borg encryption codes from Tuvok and the captain. That girl is too smart for her own good. She thinks that I'm wrong and that the captain does not need to be protected, but she promised to keep her knowledge to herself. Harry and Seven and Ayala agree with her and want me to end what they call a charade, but they don't know her the way I do.

They don't know about the burden she carries. They don't know about the extent of the guilt she feels for having stranded us in the Delta Quadrant in the first place and for every death and every injury one of the crew suffered since then. They don't know about the insomnia and the bouts of depression. They don't know about her sorrow and grief for every crewman lost.

I do, and I know what it would do to her if she ever found out that having gone off to save one member of her crew the lives of eleven others were lost. I know the captain would bear it and bury herself behind her command mask, but the woman would break, the woman who loves every single one of us like family, even black sheep like me. It would break her heart.

In a few minutes Captain Janeway will come by and ask me change my story, to finally tell her the truth, and I will answer that there's nothing to tell and for the fraction of a heartbeat I'll see the woman behind the captain's mask, the woman who is hurt by my actions and by what she sees as my Klingon stubbornness - but giving in and telling her would only make it worse. I can't do that. Still, there is a lot to tell, to explain. I can't tell it to Kathryn or to Captain Janeway, but I can spill my guts on this padd. Tuvok and Ayala assure me that even felons have a right to a modicum of privacy.

- - -

Kathryn was stunned. How could B'Elanna know? She always had been very careful to keep her feelings and fears out of her interactions with her crew. How could someone a brash and volatile as B'Elanna have looked this deeply and accurately?

Kathryn shock her head and chided herself. If brash and volatile were all B'Elanna was, if her outward attitude was all there was to her she never would have named her chief engineer. Everyone else, including Chakotay, might have fallen for the harder than duranium exterior B'Elanna presented to the world. Kathryn had seen someone who needed guidance and was eager to please, with the right incentive. She had easily seen behind B'Elanna's masks, why should she be surprised that it also had worked the other way round?

Hours later she put the padd down. B'Elanna had recounted every detail of what had happened since Seven had left them to the moment the Delty Flyer had docked in the hangar bay, including the message Seven had left for B'Elanna in which she had told her that she loved her and that the Borg queen had blackmailed her, begging her not to tell the captain to keep her from doing something reckless. It seemed as if her whole crew was hell-bent on saving her from herself, Kathryn thought.

She reluctantly tended to the last of her preparations but B'Elanna's words kept echoing in her mind. So, she returned to the padd and re-read one of the last entries.

- - -

The last of the traitors were dead, killed by one of their own, killed because I once saved a man's life, because I taught him in that Cardassian hellhole that honour is more important than life. He had been my right hand man during the rebellion and the weeks of preparation, but on board of Chakotay's ship we drifted apart and he told me that one day he would repay his debt to me. I wish he would have understood that it was I who owed him, without him we would not have succeeded. I wish he would have found another way. I wish he would have repaid me by not joining Chakotay. He wish he would have repaid me by choosing life. He chose death, but with the surviving traitors gone he also gave me a chance, a chance to keep what really happened from our captain, from Kathryn, to keep her from being hurt by the knowledge that a part of her crew, of her family betrayed her and that two good men were killed because of it.

I didn't know if I would be able to convince the rest of the crew to keep quiet about Chakotay, but I must have said the right thing. They all agreed that it was time that we did something for our captain instead of always relying on her strength. Most people on the lower decks see Captain Janeway as larger than life, like one of the statues in the Hall of the Great on Qo'nos. The idea that she could in any way be affected by Chakotay's betrayal was a hard sell, and I'm glad that it worked, thanks to Neelix who did most of the talking.

It was harder to make the crew understand why the court-marshal was necessary; my Maquis friends made them understand. They know that ten crewmembers could still be alive if I had had the courage to kill Chakotay after he had attacked me with the knife and proven himself not worthy of being called a Maquis. A real Maquis and a full-blooded Klingon would have done just that, and they would have been in their right. Even as a Starfleet officer I would have had the right to relieve him of duty and put him in the brig for openly speaking about mutiny.

I did neither. I relied on my knowledge of whom I thought was my friend, despite everything I still trusted him. I thought he would back down after having lost the support of the majority of the Maquis. I was wrong and now the death of ten people is weighing on my conscience.

Now, after more than two months in the brig, I begin to understand that protecting Kathryn is not my only motivation for being here. It's also penance, the price I pay for not having acted when I should have acted, the price I pay for getting ten crewmembers killed.

- - -

Oh B'Elanna, Kathryn thought, you're even worse then I am in accepting blame for things out of your control.

Me, larger then life, don't these people have eyes to see? I should use Voyager's refit to change or at least rethink my relationship with my crew. I'll also go over their personal files with a fine tooth comb, there might be more things I missed than Ensign Ta... Ensign Celes Tal's name....

With that thought the captain called it a night and retired to her quarters.

-x-x-x-

When Captain Janeway entered the conference room her senior staff was already present. A visibly nervous Samantha Wildman sat between Neelix and Harry Kim. B'Elanna was in her usual seat next to Seven, once again wearing her Engineering uniform with the rank insignia at the side of the grey turtleneck. It was good to have her back where she belonged, Kathryn thought.

"Good morning, everyone. Lieutenant Torres, it's good to have you back."

"It's good to be back, Captain, thank you."

"Alright, let's get down to business. Ensign Wildman, front and centre, please."

Samantha looked unsure but obeyed without delay.

"Attention!" Tuvok barked and the rest of the room's occupants jumped to their feet.

"Ensign Samantha Wildman, in recognition of your exemplary service on board of the USS Voyager I hereby grant you a field commission to lieutenant second class. The promotion comes with a raise, of course, and the added responsibility as our new department head for the department of bio-sciences. Congratulations, Lieutenant Wildman."

Kathryn put the pip on Samantha's uniform and hugged her while the others clapped.

As soon as Lieutenant Wildman had returned to her seat Janeway called Harry forward and promoted him to lieutenant first class. He seemed to have grown two inches by the time he had returned to his seat under the whistling and clapping of the rest of the senior staff.

When everyone had calmed down, Kathryn added, "Mister Neelix, I count on you to organise a promotion party for our newly minted lieutenants. I'll send my bridge's assistant over with a few ideas later that day. And now for the main reason I called for this meeting."

Kathryn turned around and grabbed a crate from the floor. She upended it on the conference table and dozens of data padds clattered on its surface, "In front of you are the collected ideas, plans, and proposals made to me over the years to make life on Voyager safer and more comfortable, to make your journey faster and our weapons more efficient. Every padd stand for at least one proposal and in the past I had to reject them all because they would either tax our resources or have Voyager too exposed to danger. I reconsidered. Tuvok, would you, please."

The tall Vulcan rose and activated the view screen on the wall. It showed a picture of a ship that looked like Voyager's slightly bigger sister. She let her people come to their own conclusions. Seven and B'Elanna didn't let her down. They first looked at each other and then B'Elanna asked, "Captain, could we please see the technical specs of the changes you propose."

"You'll all get a padd with the specifications at the end of this meeting. For now a quick overview will have to do. When operation: Do-it-yourself is finished Voyager will have three additional decks for a standard crew of one hundred and ninety-five. Top speed will be warp 9.99, top cruising speed at warp 9.81. I expect an increase in hull integrity, shield and weapons strength of at least thirty percent. We'll have a third holodeck, a big garden, two more gyms and four Delta Flyers that will replace the standard shuttles.

"Our first order of business will be to make sure that Voyager is safe here. We will have a satellite defence system and an energy shield that extends over the dock we'll have to build and the perimeter Tuvok has already set aside for our temporary habitat. Now for work distribution...."

"Captain, will all due respect, what you plan to do would take Utopia Planitia at least nine months. There's no way we can do it here. It would take us one and a half years, working double shifts. Do you really want to lose all that time?" Harry asked.

"Tuvok estimates that it will take us about nine and a half months. Don't forget, Lieutenant Kim, we have something with which Utopia Planitia can not compete. They are just doing a job, but we have a common goal. We are a team, a very good team," Kathryn said.

"And we don't have to deal with even a fraction of the paperwork," Tom said. "If there's one thing my father bitched about it's the paperwork and the holier-than-thou attitude of the guys from the supply department. He positively hates paperwork."

"I've never known a frontline officer who didn't, Tom. Now, let's get to work distribution: Lieutenant Wildman, your first order of business will be to set up temporary habitats for the whole crew. Neelix, you will be her second on the project, and recruit whomever else you need. Tom as long as our defence system is not up you will organise patrol flights with the shuttles through the solar system, coordinate with Tuvok. Lieutenant Kim, you will act as my adjunct. See it as the start of your command training. Seven, B'Elanna, you'll help me to establish our defence perimeters. We'll start with building advanced probes to link up with the Astrometrics lab, and then we'll create a defensive shield around Voyager and the designed settlement area powered with geothermic energy. Any questions?"

"Tons, Captain," B'Elanna said after exchanging glances with Seven, "but the technical details can wait for now. There's one thing we'd really like to know. What made you change you mind about a complete overhaul?"

"Honestly, that's not a question I'm prepared to answer in its integrity just now, B'Elanna, but it reminds me of a point I almost forgot. Over the last four years I got dozens of requests from people who want to reproduce. With the new desks and the changes in the energy grid we'll be able to grant at least half of those requests, provided they're still valid. Doctor, it will be your job to check those requests and find a fair way to organise it. Consult with Neelix; he knows the crew better than either of us do. And while you're at it, I want you to come up with protocols to protect the babies in every day operations as well as in emergencies.

"Lieutenant Wildman, I must apologise for having failed you and Naomi in that regard. I never wanted to command a generational ship and tried my best to ignore the fact that I already do," the captain said to everyone's surprise.

"Thank you, Captain, but there's no need to apologise. You always did everything in your power to keep my daughter safe, and not only Naomi, me too. I never thanked you for giving us quarters next to an escape pod and for making sure that the people around her have special instructions, and please don't tell me that it was standard procedure. I looked it up, it isn't."

Kathryn's eyes widened a bit and then she simply shrugged her shoulders, "It's easy to keep an eye on one child, Lieutenant. Now, are there any more questions?"

This time no one spoke up.

"Good. There will be another full crew meeting at 14h00 hours to tell the rest of the crew about Do-it-yourself. Lieutenant Wildman, you have 'til then to come up with a moving plan. Dismissed."

-x-x-x-x-x-

Epilogue

To say that the crew was stunned by operation: Do-it-yourself would have been an understatement of galactic proportions. There had of course been some very sceptical voices, but Captain Janeway's motivational speech silenced them quickly. The next couple of days everyone was busy with setting up camp outside of the ship and working on the defence grid. Harry even found a way to strengthen the protective shield around Voyager and the settlements with the same demands on energy.

It took three days to organise everything and as soon as they had a decent rhythm going Kathryn invited B'Elanna and Seven to dinner. The three women spent the better part of dinner talking about the refit. Kathryn only brought up the reason for the invite when they had relocated to couch and were sipping their after dinner coffee or in Seven's case tea.

"B'Elanna, a few days ago you asked me why I changed my mind about a refit, and you deserve an answer, you and Seven. I just don't know where to start."

Kathryn fell silent and both of her guests respected her need to order her thoughts or find the right words. Finally she said, "The short answer is that you made me change my mind, B'Elanna, but you deserve more than a short answer. The refit is a chance to also revisit my leadership style. In your logs you said that the crew sees me as larger than life, but I'm not, far from that."

"Of course you are not, Captain," Seven said. When B'Elanna nudged her in the side she added, "you are of average height for a Human female of your genetic make-up. From our point of view, however, from the point of view of your crew, Captain, you are. Without you this ship would never have made it 35,000 light years in less than six years. With an ordinary captain we would still be almost 70,000 light years from the Alpha Quadrant."

"Yes, Seven, we made it about 30,000 light years further than could reasonably be expected, but that was more luck than skill. Without Kes we probably still would be in Borg territory and have been assimilated. And the last 20,000 light years... Seven, you almost paid with your life and your soul for those transwarp coils. So far, every short cut we tried either turned out to be a dangerous trap or it cost us valuable lives, or both. I decided that from now on we need to be more cautious. We'll rely more on ourselves and won't rush headlong into danger just because I smell coffee in a nebula. The Delta Quadrant is dangerous enough without constantly, deliberately flirting with danger. The upgrades will make our ship safer and more independent, especially after we're done with mining the planet. We'll have enough dilithium and other energy crystals for years. That of course does not mean that we'll stop to investigate interesting phenomena or will no longer search for wormholes and new technology and allies."

"We know that, Captain. You already said that at the meeting when those morons feared that the overhaul was nothing more than an elaborate ruse to get us to settle down and what not. It still does not explain what's wrong with your leadership style," B'Elanna said.

"In command school one learns that a captain has to keep a certain distance from his or her crew, that a captain has to stay separated from his people in order to make the hard decisions. I tried to live by those rules because I believed in them and because I was convinced that being out her in the Delta Quadrant the crew needed that more than under normal circumstances.

"And then I come home from getting back one lost sheep and find out that some others have staged a rebellion in the paddock, a rebellion that would never have happened if my crew had known me better. Chakotay played with people's fears and insecurities. He used the image I created of myself to harm my people and my ship," Kathryn said.

"In a crew of 134 people he only found eight other people to join his cause, Captain. In my book that makes 125 people you now know you can trust completely," B'Elanna said.

"And they proved that loyalty by lying to me and letting you take the fall for something you did not do, B'Elanna," Kathryn said sarcastically. "I know you did that to protect me, and I admit that it hurt when I found out about what happened in the Cargo Bay and in Engineering. You are also right to think that I feel responsible for the death of eleven crew members, but B'Elanna, before I knew the truth I also felt responsible for the deaths of the eight crew members that supposedly died due to an accident in the holodeck and I felt guilty for not having been here to prevent you from losing your temper when I could have avoided that by taking you with me," Kathryn said.

"Why didn't you, Captain?" Seven asked. "Bella told me that she all but pulled a phaser on you to force you to take her with you."

"That's a Klingon exaggeration, Seven. The simple truth is that I didn't know if we'd ever get back and I wanted to keep B'Elanna safe, well, as safe as possible. I don't show it often, but some members of this crew are more to me than just crew. You and B'Elanna are family for me, not distant cousins or something but closer. I feel not old enough to see you as my daughters even though at one point I have been a mentor to both of you. So, I haven't gotten around to define what you are to me, but I wanted at least one member of my closest family to be as safe as possible."

Kathryn grabbed B'Elanna's hand across the corner of the couch table.

"Family protect each other, so, thank you for trying to protect me, B'Elanna. Don't do it again. The next time you fee the urge you'll just come to me and we'll talk or even better, take me in your arms and give me hug. Deal?"

"Deal, Ca... Kathryn. You know, you're in luck, I always wanted a big sister."

They hugged and also pulled Seven into the embrace who suddenly had a lot of questions about 'family protocol' and announced that she would research the history of her new family as she had B'Elanna's family tree. B'Elanna's only comment to that was a loud groan and when prompted she only said that Kathryn would be in for a surprise.

Kathryn declared that she already knew everything there was to know about the history of her family on both sides to which B'Elanna commented, "That's what I thought too, before Seven started her research. I had no idea that our Klingon database is that extensive, and I shudder to think what my beloved will unearth when she starts to sift through the Federation files."

Kathryn took it as a challenge; a challenge she lost when Seven researched the real involvement of her ancestor and namesake in the Millennium Tower.

-x-x-x-

All in all Voyager's refit took ten months and four days. During that time the crew got to know a new side of their captain. Kathryn could often be found doing some grunt work when a pair of extra hands were needed. She participated in group activities like barbeques, and the crew found out that she had knack for playing drums and that her competitive streak didn't end with velocity but extended to almost every team sport though she had to admit that basketball was not one of her stronger games. As a result even the lower deck members began to see their captain as an approachable Human being instead of a larger than life statue.

The refit could have been done in the time Tuvok initially had estimated, if not for the fact that B'Elanna and Seven kept coming up with improvements to their original designs, among them a plethora of security measures meant to keep the soon to be offspring of the crew safe.

With the recent losses and the new decks all requests for procreation could be granted with energy and one and a half unused deck to spare. Thanks to the doctor and his extensive database combined with a little bit of Borg ingenuity Tom and Harry even got to fulfil their most cherished dream, a little boy sharing their DNA named Jonas Kim-Paris.

Seven and B'Elanna on the other hand had been too busy with the refit to plan their own family; an oversight they rectified as soon as Voyager had once again been on taken flight and the new and modified systems had proven their reliability. Due to the Borg modifications in Seven's body B'Elanna had been the one to carry their child, and everyone on board, but especially the Engineering crew sent thanks to Kahless that even with Klingon-Human hybrids a pregnancy only lasted six and not the usual nine months. K'Ryn Torres-Hansen, though only a quarter Klingon, grew much faster than Human children. The Doctor attributed it to her Borg inheritance, but the fact remained that with eighteen months she has passed the terrible two to go directly to the inquisitive four and an innate need to 'repair' everything she could get her hands on which at her age mainly meant to take them apart.

The part of the refit that had given them the most trouble was the upgrade of the communications system. They first had tried to expand on Lieutenant Barclay's tentatively sketched ideas about using micro wormholes but that had not worked. In the end they had found a way to create artificial micro wormholes that allowed stable, unlimited two-way communication as long as the ship was not moving.

The first transmission that reached Voyager that way told them that the war with the Dominion was over, but it also told them that Vulcan had been attacked by the Breen only a few days before the end of the war. Tuvok's wife and oldest son had died during that attack. It had confirmed what he already had felt for a few weeks and three months after they had resumed course he asked his captain and friend to be released from duty. He had explained that without the link to his bonded mate he would not stand a chance to survive his impeding Pon-Farr. He had recommended Lieutenant Torres as his successor as first officer.

Kathryn Janeway, however, had refused to simply let her oldest and best friend die and, with the help of Seven of Nine, convinced him that the logical solution was not in dying but in choosing a new mate. So, despite a just renewed fertility inhibitor Captain Kathryn Janeway, mate of Tuvok, gave birth to a healthy daughter with light brown skin and slightly pointed ears. Just like with Klingons and Ktaraians the physical and mental development of Vulcan children was much faster than that of Humans, at least during the first decade.

It didn't take long forT'Exa Greta Janeway and K'Ryn Torres-Hansen to get into all kind of mischief that even taxed Tuvok's patience. The mixture of Klingon temper and Vulcan moderation, however, over the years not only to some quite memorable pranks but also a unique mix of logic and ingenuity that kept their parents constantly on their toes. It also attracted the attention of the Think Tank that once had tried to 'recruit' Seven of Nine, to no avail of course. They had not counted on Voyager's upgrades and the feistiness of the girls.

When Voyager finally arrived in sector 001 of the Alpha Quadrant via an artificially created wormhole the ship still was the most advanced vessel in Starfleet, despite the advance the Dominion war had brought.

THE END

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