Wonders of the House Presba

 

Book 1:

 

Modifications

 

By Katrina and Llachlan

bearblue1@yahoo.com | llachness@gmail.com

 

This series can also be found at: http: www.merwolf.com/llachlan/seven

 

Series: Wonders of the House Presba


Book 1: Modifications
Book 2: Transitions
Book 3: Encounters
Book 4: Reflections Part 1 | Part 2
Book 5: Diffractions
Book 6: Prisms

Appendix

 

TV Series: Voyager (with DS9 and ST:TNG Crossover)

Code: Slash Multiple. F/F/F... M/M. Alt/Het (7/J, T/J, 7/T etc.)

 

 

There is a lot to read from this point. Notes, Disclaimers, Thank yous. If you want to bypass all of this (understanding that you’re missing out on the disclaimers, which are pretty comprehensive, and the notes and the thank yous) then go here:  Begin Modifications

 

Note from Katrina:

 

A special thanks, which will be repeated, goes to Llachlan for writing with me. It’s been wonderful and I’ve learned so much, including a bit of Klingon.

 

It was not my intention to start writing yet another series in yet another fan fiction world. I intended to write a long story that was composed of five parts. What I received were separate stories in what is apparently now more than I ever thought it would be.

 

Katrina wrote this disclaimer thinking that there would be only one story. It basically provides the warnings and so ons necessary to convey the idea.

 

Oh, and I should mention that this is a work in progress. It is possible that there may be changes made to stories in the future and that there may be stories that affect changes to previous stories. We will update as necessary.

 

We will only post stories that have been completed as an arc. This should avoid the “unfinished story,” syndrome that sometimes occurs in series and works that get posted.


As a commentary, one of the beautiful things about the web is that it has provided the opportunity for many to see the writing process in action (thus the incomplete stories that we sometimes must deal with). I hope to keep the process somewhat transparent, but you may notice that there are errors. That comes from reading and rereading and simply becoming blind to the error. If it's major, please let me know. If it's minor, please forgive me. Hopefully I'll catch it in the next reread. Llachlan is well on her way to convincing me of the power of editing and past books may recieve some hefty editing in the future. .

 

Also, the first story was written for and posted to a Yahoo group: Voq_Je_Bang, which emphasizes the relationship between B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine. You may notice that this story leans strongly that direction. Sequels will generally favor the pairing, but as this is a multi-universal stories, other pairings and groupings are optioned for the needs of the series.

 

The main goal, of course, is that you enjoy what you read. I hope that will be the case.

 

Sincerely, Katrina

 

==^==

 

Thank yous: Thank you, Llachlan. WotHP is coming to glory because of you. :)

We would like to take a moment to express our thanks to those who have taken time to pre-read and beta these stories. Thank you Raven for your patience and telling me to keep writing. Thank you Jillo and Honore for seeing the errors that I just plain out missed. Thank you to Dee Jay, Bonnie and Cirroco for being inspirational. Thank you to Kym, always. Thank you to Tracie for joining the pre-reading party. Others have joined in the beta list. And thank you to Karla for posting to me at just the right time. And thank you to Silk for being there! You are all so awesome!

We'd also like to thank HW and TMM for being willing to provide insight and act as a final pre-readers for our stories. They truly would not be the same without their input.

 

Disclaimers: Though, technically, disclaimers should not be necessary for any work of fiction, it has become traditional to include various informational topics designed to help readers determine whether they wish to move forward with a given piece or not. Therefore, I bow to tradition and am including the following disclaimers.

 

This is not a children's story. For the purposes of reader navigation you may consider that topics in this fictional work will range from General to NC-17. This includes love-scenes, violence, language, etc. It may therefore be considered NSFW, but it should be safe for an adult consciousness. Also, if sexuality offends you, why are you reading this? This is fan fiction for Pete’s sake. It's traditional.

Given the above, you may consider that relationships of a variety of types will be explored. I have no One True Pairing (OTP). I just have Favored Groupings. It is possible that this slash will burn out due to the heat factor. (One can hope anyway...)

The relevance of the above declaration has to do with the fact that will be a work of fan fiction. Specifically, it will be a ST: Voyager fan fiction. There are a couple of reasons for this decision.

I was not originally attracted to the show until I read some fantastic fan fiction about Voyager. Suddenly I was inspired. Inspiration is the foundation for creativity. I had to.

The series is over, so I can not get upset when the producers decide to do something that either reflects something I was writing so I have to start all over again OR kills off/ changes a major character, which causes me to be upset OR does something stupid with the plot that I have to take into account.

I found out that this particular fan fiction genre has the option of utilizing Alt-Universe (AU) settings. I found this idea appealing – since there are several things I intend to disregard or completely revise as far as canon is concerned. Therefore, for the purposes of informing the reader, these stories are AU. All of them.

I have thought for awhile that I needed a playground writing space. It's been a long time since I've sat down to fictionalize something. Familiar characters and basic settings provide ... confidence.

Why the groupings? Well, Tuvok because I was shocked at how few fan fics there were with him involved. Yeah, Ponn Farr an obvious plot, but... I thought there would be more than three. Or was it four. I completely expected dozens and was disappointed. It had to be fixed. Why B'Elanna? She's Hot. Why Seven? She's Hot. Why Janeway? She's Hot. You see the pattern here. Why Ro? She's Hot. Why T'Pel? Because of Tuvok, silly. And she's Hot. Why Lwaxana? Because I laughed my ass off when I wrote her in and then I realized with complete shock that she was absolutely perfect as in, perfect , for the story. She made it make sense. And she's Hot. Why the others? Because sexy is sexy and I'm writing it, damn it. It is a practice in artistic bravery and it will either work or it won't. But I won't stop just because I get cowardly about it. Sometimes you have to let the story own you. (Maybe I shouldn't include this part. I suppose it counts as spoiler. But this genre of fan fiction has the weird option of including the slashes of the people involved. Which.. is a spoiler. Dang it.)

I may unconsciously borrow recognizable references to other works. It is not my intention, however, to stray into other writers' territory. But I believe in the power of the Jungian Consciousness and things do happen sometimes. That said... As far as I know, this is, barring the fan-fiction element – my own contribution.

The technology of this story will be mixed. Some will be canon, some will be ... logical extensions of the storyline. I hope. Unfortunately, I am not an expert in Trek Tech. I will do my best not to be overtly obvious about it though. I did, after all, watch a lot of Trek in my time.

This story starts from a point that is apparently somewhat controversial. For those who have not watched the end, it may spoil a bit. The finale, however, is somewhat important to the beginning and the middle and maybe even the ending of this series, so I apologize now for any offense. It is entirely unintentional. I know what it is to love something and have it go wrong. Hopefully, in some ways, this will fix some of those issues.

Star Trek: Voyager as an enterprise is owned by Paramount as far as I know. No money is being made from this work of fan fiction. Collectively, ST: Voyager is an iconic story of pathfinding. That really can't be owned by one person or a company.

 

Archive Permissions: This series may be archived as long as the disclaimers, my name and the whole stories are posted and as long as readers are informed that the stories are part of a series. It would be nice to be informed of the posting, so I can share it with my friends. Post me at: bearblue1@yahoo.com

 

Feed the Authors: Please Do! We love positive feedback. We’re somewhat okay with positive criticism. We hate 'you suck,” messages, so We will probably ignore those. Feedback Llachlan and I back at: bearblue1@yahoo.com | llachness@gmail.com

 

Playground Permissions: This is a living series. I intend to write on the series until it's finished, but I recognize that there are some fun places, people and things being developed here. If you care to play with them, I'm not entirely opposed. I just have a few rules. 1. You must tell me, because I'll want to read it. I'm a fanfic-aholic. 2. If you post the story, you must include a reference link to this page, thus providing credit. Also, if you post the story, I'll make a link to it as an auxiliary fic and thus you get more famous. Also, if you want a place to post your contribution, I'll be happy to provide it. See, win/win. 3. Any story involving the House Presba as delineated in this series must have a happy ending. Must. The major groupings must be intact by the end of the story and they must be happy. Happy ending. Can't emphasize that enough. I can deal with angst so long as we arrive at the happy ending. 4. Stories must be complete in and of themselves and must not conflict with the canon as put forth in the series (meaning, my stuff, not Paramount or whomever...)

 

Title: Modifications

 

Summary: Kathryn Janeway finds herself alive and well in the past and begins to set changes in motion. Things will never be the same for Voyager, its crew or their universe.

 

Slash multiple – het, f/f, m/m

 

Bookmarks:

 

Thankyous and Disclaimers

 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 |

 

Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21

 

Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29

 

Begin Modifications

 

Part 1 | Bookmarks

 

Kathryn Janeway drew in breath abruptly and deeply, hard enough to make her chest hurt. She jerked awake, feeling in her bone and sinew as if she had been shocked back to life. It was entirely possible that she had been. Either that or this was the last dream before dying.

 

The woman breathed in shakily and sat up, trying to quickly calm herself and assess her situation. She noted that she was on a soft, oddly familiar surface, in the dark. She was undressed, but felt covered. As her hands briefly explored the area around her, she recognized herself to be on a bed. Her eyes began to adjust to the small amount of ambient light. She brushed her hair away from her face, tucking the medium length strands behind her ears for the moment as she listened for any unusual sounds. She recalled that her hair had been shorter just moments ago. She was sure of it, and she was equally sure that she had not been dreaming, had not been asleep at all as millions of connected beings had shared her terror.

 

Fear clawed at her belly, made her want to panic. But she had mastered iron control long ago. She touched her head, her neck and shoulders, noting the absence of implanted harshness. As she recalled, she had not yet adapted. The cybernetic “enhancements” had not yet been a part of her – only an invader to be fought, however subconsciously.

 

She had, after all, gone willingly. She just couldn't help the fighting. Adrenaline still coursed through her, spurred on by her current situation. She dreaded the come-down. But that was for later. Right now she needed to be calm, gain more information. Determine threat levels.

 

Kathryn wondered what other changes she would discover. She stayed very still, waiting. As the harsh pounding of her heartbeat settled, she began to recognize the familiar hum, tones and scents of a ship. She shivered, though she knew the temperature to be otherwise comfortable. She tasted copper on her tongue, an after-effect of fear. She thought quickly, tapping into all her experience to force herself to settle down. It wasn't easy. Her last known location had been much warmer, more humid and acrid. It had been blowing up. She vividly recalled the burning, twisting, painful last moments of her life.

 

She should not be here.

 

Kathryn waited a few moments more, to make sure her voice was stable, then uttered a husky command. “Computer, lights. Thirty percent.” The revelation was more than she expected. She gazed around the domicile, taking in the room with a sense of wonder and trepidation. Her chest began to ache for different reasons.

 

Home. She was home.

 

That was her first emotion beyond fear.

 

“Computer, time and date.”

 

The computer issued forth an absolute impossibility.

 

She managed, somehow, not to cry or to gasp. She strangled that sensation away. There would be time enough for tears later, if she needed them. Right now she had to think, to strategize, to determine what was real versus imagined; what was temporary versus permanent; what was a trap or just odd truth.

 

She gathered her courage around her, along with the bed's blue sheet, and folded it close to her heart. Then, feeling the impossibility of it all, stood up and walked to the replicator. There was one test she wanted to conduct, one incontrovertible proof to make, before she put any belief into this ... not-quite-dream. She pressed the button which signaled the machine to wakefulness. “Coffee. Hot. Black.”

 

There was a humming sparkle of light and a black cup appeared on the replication surface. The liquid within the cup was steaming and the scent – despite being just a little bit off and otherwise perfect – was disturbingly reassuring. Her hand trembled as she retrieved it. She brought the cup to her mouth, blew on the dark concoction to cool it, and then took the risk and sipped.

It was dreadful. Awful. She winced as the hot liquid flowed over her tongue, abusing her taste buds with its gruesome, memorable mouthful. She swallowed and loved every torturous moment of it, even as she cussed. It still took everything she had not to drop the cup onto the floor and run screaming out the door – sheet and all.

 

Instead she lifted the cup again, and took another sip of the terrible-wonderful stuff and carefully made her way to the small desk that she knew would be just... over there. She set the cup down, sat in the worn chair and assessed the patina of the quarter’s ... her quarter's desk unit. In gazing down, she noted the youthfulness of her shaking hands, which she steadied by placing them firmly on the desk.

 

She knew, if she opted to look in a mirror, she would look completely different than she last recalled. Her white hair would be auburn. She would be just a little taller, though maybe not stronger. She had still been in good shape for her age. Her skin would be pale and smooth, without the wrinkles and familiar spots and marks. The evidence of passing of time would be gone. Except, perhaps, in her eyes. Her eyes would tell her a story of a lifetime lived, even if they were brighter and more focused.

 

Dead people would notice her once she stepped out of this temporary haven. Old friends long gone, but – she knew – here now, would notice what seemed to be arbitrary changes in her attitude. If this were at all real, changes would be made. It was unavoidable. If she were here, if she were alive, she would make ... different decisions for some things.

 

The temporal directive be damned. She would do things right this time. Or different. If she could.

 

If she were alive, and this was a second chance...

 

Alive.

 

She was alive.

 

Kathryn's body shuddered with primal awareness. She felt her own vitality, her hunger for life. She felt urges she had long thought buried.

 

She should be dancing. She should be whooping it up.

 

Years of ingrained stateliness held her grounded. She was, after all, an admiral.

 

Hah.

 

In another lifetime...

 

She wondered, very briefly, why she had not forgotten that lifetime yet. Her memories lingered, bright and sharp. She had always had a good mind.

 

She guessed, though, just by the fact that her memories were intact that this might not be the working of those who monitored time lines. It was... something else. She considered all kinds of possibilities, even notions of heaven. She discarded most of those random ideas. She decided, for the time being, to just take it a moment at a time.

 

Voyager had been a state-of-the-art Federation starship a long time ago. Well, not so long ago now. That inner commentary caused Kathryn to chuckle. Very briefly. The ship was shaped somewhat like a giant version of her mother's garden trowel, with two warp nacelles appended to where the handle would have been. The vessel was designed for science and exploration, had 15 levels, and could move faster than Warp 9. Unlike many of the Federation’s larger ships, it could land on planets. The vessel and the crew had been dragged far from Federation space by a powerful alien entity who died before they could be sent back. And thus they had traveled through the Delta Quadrant trying to return to the Alpha Quadrant, where the Federation and Starfleet resided.

 

She had been in two realities previously. In one reality, her first, they had made the long journey and arrived - traumatized, weary, with a ship that was held together by hope and a prayer - after decades. There had been so many losses. Enough that, when she had a chance, she'd gone to Klingon space and retrieved an item of temporal power – just so she could change the time line. In that second reality, she had given – or attempted to give her life – so Voyager could go home within the first decade. She had no idea whether they made it or not. Now, she was here. Back on Voyager.

 

Kathryn stayed with her thoughts a few minutes longer, drinking that terrible, precious coffee, and tried to decide which was the dream – the long, full life she recalled with the last few moments of terrifying Borg connectivity or the frightening possibilities of her new now.

 

==^==

 

Moments or millenia later, after the cup was long empty and cold, Kathryn Janeway – Admiral or Captain - felt a little more ready to contemplate what ought to be done next. Reasonably, she decided to take time to read up on the last three days worth of personal logs and a few other important records. It was like opening a bookmark to a familiar page. She felt, if not caught up, at least refreshed.

 

She had come to four conclusions during her time of meditation.

 

First, current data indicated that she really was back in the Delta Quadrant on Voyager. The coffee had not been holographic and there was nowhere else that it could be found. She knew. She had tried. It was amazing what one could come to love.

 

Second, she was no longer in her later years and there was no record of her having been an admiral. In the meantime she retained all the memories of her personal past. Every single joy and sorrow remained hers. Every thing she had managed to learn remained hers. But she no longer had files with her. There were no data cubes, no redundant measures for recreating what had occurred to allow her to rescue Voyager that last time. She could not use the same methods.

 

Third, there were no indications of another Captain Janeway on the ship or that a temporal anomaly had occurred. Nor was she in the universe of opposites. The Federation was something she recognized, though not yet triumphant in their war. She could not, at the moment, recall whether they had won yet or not in her old universe. In this universe, the war in the Alpha Quadrant raged in all its fiery glory. That was worrisome in its own way, but it would resolve itself in time. Her quiet investigation, was quick and deep, if not thorough. She did not plan on informing any of her staff, nor adding to the logs any information regarding her past. It wouldn't do to alert an interventionist. She believed in her heart that there was a reason for her presence now.

 

But that reason was not instantly apparent. On the other hand, she had years of experience on which to rely and a long time to contemplate her past. She would play Captain. It was a familiar role and if her crew thought her a little mad for a short time, well, she wouldn't blame them. It was, after all, very possible that she might be.

 

Finally, she decided, the puzzle of why she was here would be revealed in due time or it wouldn't. It was possible that she was dreaming. It was possible that there had just been a loop created or collapsed. It was possible that the time patrol had simply reverted the time stream to the last, best location and had assumed her memory would be wiped. It was possible that Q was in play. It would be like him. So many possibilities, but the real truth lay in the opportunity.

 

She could make a few assumptions based on her current predicament. The termination of the Borg was not the correct solution. The arrival of Voyager in the Alpha Quadrant that early might also have been a mistake, though that awareness tore at her heart. But now... there were possibilities. She was farther back than she had originally intended. Perhaps a solution could be found for those who had fallen irretrievably ill in the Delta Quadrant if she had the Doctor working on it – though discreetly. Perhaps... she might try a... different... approach to her most valued relationships.

 

The rules had changed. Who knew what the future held – aside from familiar faces? She thought of that old story about butterflies and hurricanes. As she was here, the butterfly must have flapped its wings. The future was already changed. They would encounter who they might. They would do what they must. Voyager would return home, but perhaps with less... personal damage.

 

Yes.

 

Captain Kathryn Janeway, who used to be an Admiral, stood up resolutely and discarded the sheet, letting it drop to the floor. Then she paced towards her refresher with a bit of a predatory gleam in her eyes. It was time to take a good look at what she had to work with.

 

==^==

 

Part 2 | Bookmarks

 

Sometime later, B'Elanna Torres stalked angrily down the corridor. People swerved out of her way instinctively as the fiercely determined woman passed by them. The Voyager crew had long been familiar with her temperamental ways. If she was swearing volubly, there was no doubt a good reason; often it was something to do with the state of the ship, Tom Paris or Seven of Nine. There were circumspect betting pools about which of the culprits, plus other miscellaneous options, would set off the volatile woman next. Thus, even as her fellow crew persons stepped hurriedly out of her way, some of them were trying to listen in on what her extensive vocabulary of curses aimed at. In this case, though, it was almost a sure bet. The Chief Engineer was heading toward the scientific domain of the Borg, Seven of Nine's state-of-the-art Astrometrics department.

 

There was a second betting pool regarding one particular relationship of B'Elanna Torres. This one had originated as a joke by her sometimes romantic partner Tom Paris, the prime Voyager Helmsman, – where he opened a pool early on to determine the date that B'Elanna Torres airlocked the statuesque Borg. The original bet took on a life of its own as someone added in the option for kissing, another added public fisticuffs, and then others added sundry and perhaps not entirely impossible results from the fiery – and so far unfriendly – relationship.

 

Seven of Nine was light to B'Elanna Torres's dark. She was perceived as emotionally distant and enclosed, while B'Elanna was seen as fearsome, but approachable. Seven, who was originally named Annika Hansen, was a descendant of Norse ancestors, while B'Elanna was descended from Spanish Conquistadors and the race of Klingon. B'Elanna was muscularly compact, naturally tan and brown-eyed beautiful with dark hair and the finely decorative ridges of her Klingon heritage on her forehead and .... perhaps evidenced discreetly elsewhere. Seven of Nine was tall, blonde and blue eyed and proportioned like a human male's wet dream. She was also Borg. So upon her person were the metallic cybernetic implants of her alien home of youth, which rather than detract from her exotic beauty added to it. Both women were incredibly strong, enhanced either by genetics or by technology. Both women were incredibly intelligent and capable. Both could hold their own in a fight. Both frightened people with their intensity.

 

There were other issues.

 

Seven of Nine, former Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01, frightened much of Voyager's population simply by existing. She was a constant reminder of their vulnerability toward those dangerous empire-building aliens. There were those who thought of her as mostly machine rather than human, or else they were completely envious of her beauty and brains, and their prejudices were often vocalized in her presence. There were others who simply could not process that Seven of Nine's unique beginnings might affect her co-mingling with the crew. They unrealistically expected her to behave in known human ways and she simply did not. She was also proud of her Borgness, though she was often pressured by social expectations to be different. There were very few of the crew who considered themselves her friend.

 

Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, who was of the Maquis, was more socially adept than Seven of Nine, since she was raised in both Human and Klingon populations. That had its own drawbacks, however, since cultural expectations differed between the races. The Klingons were fiercely proud and had social codes based on warrior traditions. Human approaches to life were sometimes diametrically opposed. Then there was the physical conflict that raged within B'Elanna, since many of her bodily processes reflected her Klingon heritage. Her blood, under certain light, glowed lavender. She was constantly repressing her needs--especially in romantic encounters – just to make sure she didn't seriously hurt anyone. Very few people realized how much effort she put into channeling her passions.

 

Especially when it often seemed she wasn't channeling them very well at all.

 

B'Elanna finally arrived at Astrometrics. She aggressively started forward through the doors, already beginning her tirade, then stalled at the sight before her. The room fairly buzzed with activity. She spotted the red-headed Delaney sisters, Megan and Jennifer, to her left. They were busy communicating with another set of twins – the recent Borgling arrivals Rebi and Azan.

 

And wasn't that just what she needed in her life? More liberated Borg. She growled sub-sonically, enough that the attention of the cybernetically enhanced twins was drawn toward her – though they didn't stop talking with the Delaneys. B'Elanna pulled that hostility in sharply.

 

They were just kids. Borg. But kids. And she wasn't after them.

 

The twins' conversation ping-ponged in the air as both sets finished each other's sentences. The adults were holding their own, since the Delaneys were no slouches. Starfleet attracted the best and the brightest, after all. But it was obvious that the young boys were giving them a run for the latinum on the topic they were investigating. B'Elanna stared a few seconds, then shook her attention away to find the woman who originally inspired her ire.

 

To her right she spotted Seven of Nine, who was leaning over a smaller, brown-haired Bajoran woman, Ensign Tal Celes. Seven was speaking earnestly with the shy and bumbling Celes and actually physically guiding the young woman's hands along the console. B'Elanna thought Celes looked ready to faint. She wasn't sure if it was due to nervousness or the physical nearness of Seven of Nine. B'Elanna concluded that it was probably both.

 

B'Elanna ignored the rush of hormones she felt flush her system as she caught scent of her Bor... the Borg and then there was the follow up flash of irrational jealousy. She nearly growled again.

 

B'Elanna called herself automatically to heel even as she flashed back to a bite given to her during one of Seven's ... growing pains. She dragged her attention forward in time, forward in reality. She was here on a mission. That woman was a Borg and emotionally unavailable. Everyone knew it. And there was Tom to think about ... And there were reasons ... there were reasons...

 

She couldn't finish the thought. Instead she instinctively retreated into anger – a portion of which related to what she thought about the being she could never have.

 

“You!” B'Elanna began, and then continued with the cussing. She stalked forward, waving a PADD in Seven's general direction. “I want an explanation, Borg!” She just – at the moment – couldn't quite remember which thing she wanted an explanation about. B'Elanna held onto the PADD like a lifeline to rationality, even as she swung it in the Borg's direction.

 

Seven of Nine gently released Tal Celes' hands. She spoke softly to the ensign, “You are excused. Please return at your regularly scheduled time tomorrow. We will try again.” There was a remarkable amount of patience in her voice. It surprised B'Elanna. She knew how frustrating working with Celes could be and she knew that Seven had her own moments of expressed intolerance for the Bajoran. But something had changed, though B'Elanna could not think when it might have occurred. It must have been recently, in any case.

 

B'Elanna observed the ensign's retreat and, again, stifled an unfriendly growl at the young woman. Tal Celes had very nearly bowed to Seven in an act of gratitude and Bajoran courtesy, but caught herself, instead satisfying those social obligations with a nod. Then the young woman stepped away, nodded fearfully to the Lieutenant, and exited as quickly as was decently possible.

 

By that time Seven had turned around to face the Chief Engineer.

 

Seven of Nine did not speak immediately, but first took a moment to observe the irate woman. In her case, observation included a multitude of data, knowledge-based and sensory. An overload of information was instantly available for Seven's access. She knew, though Seven would never admit it, exactly how hard B'Elanna was holding back – was always holding back.

 

Seven often wondered what would happen if she initiated exploratory touch at moments like these, since she was highly aware of B'Elanna at a primal level. If there were ever a vase in Astrometrics, she might have thrown it long ago. Seven, however, coolly stopped the familiar impulse. She would not take advantage of B'Elanna's current state. Though she was, slowly and patiently, whittling away at the Klingon's hostility and moving a good portion of their interactions into better directions. Despite B'Elanna's accusations, Seven of Nine was a very honorable individual.

 

Seven clasped her hands behind her back and gazed with an unflappable attitude at the other woman. “Lieutenant Torres, I request that you cease swearing at this time. There are children present. Please convey your message alternatively.”

 

The smaller woman spluttered to a halt and then took a breath to calm herself. She grimaced as she held back her temper. Then she calmly, if a bit sharply, extended the PADD in Seven's direction. “Perhaps you could explain this, please,” she said through gritted teeth.

 

Seven of Nine's brow arched, raising her ocular implant, and she gathered the PADD from B'Elanna. She was rather impressed with the small warrior engineer's self-control – given how much she knew that B'Elanna's temper was roiling. She glanced down at the information tool, reading through it quickly. “Interesting,” she commented.

 

“Interesting?!” There was a bite to the question.

 

Seven of Nine returned her attention to B'Elanna. “I have no knowledge of these changes, but I note that they are effective. I am not sure why you are upset. On the other hand, I am willing to investigate it further, if you will allow ...” She hoped to buy some time. But the engineer was having none of it.

 

“Excuse me?” B'Elanna stepped dangerously close and poked her index finger at the PADD. “Those are Borg enhancements! Are you telling me you didn't have anything to do with this? Only you have the clearance ... ”

 

Seven of Nine held very still, though she urgently wanted to step back. It wasn't because she was afraid. She could match and exceed any violence that B'Elanna might throw her way. But she struggled with the rush of responses she was experiencing to the other woman's proximity. It was... disconcerting.

 

It always was.

 

Then there were other things to consider. She had long ago researched appropriate responses to the bracing behavior B'Elanna displayed and Seven was aware that, with a distressed Klingon, retreat had to be practiced carefully. Also, she was beginning to feel the stir of her own anger. No one liked being accosted unfairly, and it happened often enough to her that there was always that small trickle of resentment. But she was trying to set a good example. She had obligations of a personal nature now.

 

“Lieutenant, I am sure there is a logical explanation.” There was a touch of heat to her reply and she knew that she must diffuse the moment or suffer emotionally. There was always a subjective cost to arguing with the Klingon hybrid.

 

Seven of Nine broke her attention away from B'Elanna's hot gaze. She instead turned to look at two sets of twins who were gaping at her. “Ensigns, I request that you take a 15 minute break. Azan, Rebi attend me.” Seven of Nine pointed imperiously at the ground before her with her cybernetic hand.

 

The science officers didn't need any more prompting. They left in a hurry, sending sympathetic glances at the other set of twins. Azan and Rebi, the two young boys, jerked forward, since there was no avoiding that command. There was no dawdling at all.

 

B'Elanna moved away, a bit startled at the tone in Seven's voice. Oddly, she recognized it and she felt her blood charging in instinctive reaction. The only thing missing was the middle and last name. Well, and there was the formality of the demand. Her mom had never been that curt.

 

B'Elanna's gaze sharpened as she realized she was indeed witnessing something unexpected. But... Seven? She had held stringently to the idea that Seven was Borg. Now she was being given an abrupt new vision and it was skewing something on the inside.

 

Seven ignored B'Elanna for the moment and tapped the communicator above her chest. That movement caused all sorts of interesting things to happen to B'Elanna's consciousness even as she was aware that Icheb and Mezoti were also being called into Astrometrics to experience this... parental moment.

 

A few minutes later, the other two young people arrived and made their way to Seven.

 

B'Elanna stepped away from the group. She needed a little distance from the strange domesticity. Though Seven had spoken sharply in commanding the children to her presence, she had not continued with that tone of voice once they were there. In fact, she'd gave the assignment to the Borglings with an impressive neutrality.

 

Seven handed the PADD to Icheb. “It has come to my attention that certain enhancements have been made in Engineering. This needs further investigation. Please review this PADD and consult with your siblings. You will report on who instigated these changes and by what authority. You will begin now.” Icheb didn't even blink at the demand. He simply looked down at the PADD and began talking with his siblings.

 

B'Elanna took a moment to observe the children. The children had been on Voyager only a comparatively short time. They originally came from a Borg vessel where the adult population had been decimated by a biological weapon and were still adapting to their new – probably temporary, given the Captain's preferences - home.

 

There had been a total of five children rescued, including an infant. The youngest was located in Sickbay in a specially created maturation chamber. She had no idea how long the baby would remain in the unit. But she guessed that Seven probably knew.

 

Icheb was the oldest – a teenage Brunali, but there was no real way of knowing how old any of the children were. The best guess would place him somewhere between 16 and 17 – old enough to be responsible for his... siblings and to think of Starfleet with a gleam in his eye. He was a tallish young man, and probably going to get taller, slim with short, dark hair and dark eyes. He had a ridge running down the middle of his forehead and along the line of his nose. He smiled easily.

 

That always took B'Elanna aback. She was so used to Seven's reserved mode of behavior that any display of emotion by the children always caught her off guard. She figured, however, that she would eventually get used to it. Certainly, even Seven of Nine had been emoting more – if in a more adult Borg way.

 

After Icheb there was Azan and Rebi, the Wysanti twins. They were somewhere between 10 and 12, quick witted and active. Like Icheb they had a nose ridge, but it was as if someone had pressed the line in at decorative intervals along their foreheads. They would often converse silently between themselves via their Borg enhancements. It was probably a twin thing, but it did make B'Elanna wonder if this meant that Seven and the children were only speaking out loud to avoid being rude.

 

Then there was Mezoti. Mezoti was a pretty young girl, about 8 years old. She too was blonde and blue eyed. Her original species were the Norcadians, but she had always been Borg. She also had a nose ridge, though it did not extend all the way up her forehead like the boys' did. Originally she and Seven had not gotten along, because Mezoti had been testing her boundaries. Now though, B'Elanna noted that Mezoti stood very close to Seven and watched the Klingon with a cautious gaze.

 

Of course, all of the children – even the baby - had implants, some more visible than others. They would never not be Borg. There would always be that strike against them...

 

And suddenly B'Elanna's double-hearts clenched with awareness and she winced as if in pain. Memories of her own childhood difficulties stirred within her.

 

“Lieutenant?” Seven, who had turned her attention away from the children and back to the hybrid, began to query.

 

B'Elanna gruffly waved the question off. “It's nothing.” Actually it was a spasm of guilt, but there was no way she would admit that. Klingons, even half Klingons like herself, didn't do apologies – if they could avoid them. But that didn't stop her stomaches from protesting as her own history kicked her in the gut. “I just remembered something.”

 

There was a pause. “I .... see,” said Seven, though she really did not. The Borg decided to let the matter drop.

 

Icheb then captured his caretaker's attention. “Seven?” The name was spoken gently, affectionately.

 

Seven nodded formally, “Yes, Icheb. Do you have an answer?”

 

“I believe so. Our report is as follows: None of us did it, though we are all capable of it. Instigator of the changes: Unknown. Authority: Upper level clearance needed. Captain's choice. Unknown individual and command.” Azan and Rebi nodded in agreement. Icheb continued with some enthusiasm, “However, the changes made were effective. If we might make recommendations for further...”

 

Seven of Nine raised her hand to forestall the offer. “The Lieutenant prefers to pursue more official channels for recommendations and changes. Thus the crisis today. Modifications were made without consultation. If you have suggestions in relation to changes and this ship, please submit your recommendations to me via the usual formats and I will see that they are delivered to the Chief Engineer or the Captain in a timely manner. Will you comply?”

 

The Borg children spoke as one. “We will comply.”

 

“Please check your schedules now. I believe it is time for 'rest and relaxation.'” In general Seven and the children were pleased with the schedule they had finally arranged. There had been a bit of a learning curve, but they had learned to work together – as individuals in relationship to one another. Someone who didn't know that their relationship was not formalized might have simply called them a family. The Borg would have simply called them a collective.

 

The children's expressions changed a bit, as if they were looking inward. Then they nodded.

 

“Icheb, you will supervise. Holodeck 1 has been reserved for you.”

 

“Yes, Seven.”

 

“You are all excused.”

 

“Yes, Seven.”

 

B'Elanna watched as Mezoti reached up to Seven for a hug. Seven leaned over and embraced her young charge, closing her eyes to fully enjoy the sensation. The beautiful woman then whispered something in Mezoti's ear, which caused the young girl to smile. B'Elanna did not hear what was said, though she did technically have preternaturally good hearing. She suspected that it had been some sort of sub-tonal sound that only a Borg could pick up. But she wondered. And she could almost guess, just based on that smile.

 

Then the children left and she and Seven were alone.

 

Seven offered the PADD back to the Chief Engineer. “I believe I can say with 99.9% certainty that it was not one of us. Do you agree?”

 

“I guess I have to. Borg don't lie.”

 

“They do not,” agreed Seven of Nine, as she disregarded – once again – B'Elanna's original accusation. It was an old game with them..

 

“But why only 99.9%?”

 

“One must take into account the impossible.”

 

“Ah. I see.” B'Elanna finally took the PADD back, carefully avoiding touching any portion of Seven of Nine. She wasn't sure she could trust herself.

 

“Are you sure you are ... all right?”

 

“I'm fine.” She gazed at the PADD and then looked at the blonde. “But, Seven, if it wasn't you or the children ... who was it?

 

The Borg looked thoughtful and then gave B'Elanna a look that was almost as good as a shrug. “I do not know.”

 

==^==

 

Part 3 | Bookmarks

 

Captain Kathryn Janeway had a very busy if surreal day. True, in her past, it hadn't really been that long since she'd walked these familiar halls. But that had been as almost a stranger. This time it was different.

 

She'd been making changes throughout the day, starting with some simple coding enhancements to the vessel. It was possible that someone's red-flag would go up, but no one had brought the changes to her attention. She hoped that the individual was smart enough to recognize the benefit to Voyager. The improvements she had coded in the morning had been nothing overtly demanding on the physical systems of the ship. But she'd half-expected B'Elanna to come storming into her office at any time. That event had not been forthcoming, though Kathryn had been looking forward to seeing the expression on the engineer’s face when she told her who had made the changes. On the other hand, she wasn't sure she was ready to deal with the temperamental woman at the moment.

 

Then Kathryn had moved onto some staffing issues that she felt needed immediate attention. Chakotay had not been prepared for her interference in what was mostly his domain, but he would do what she'd asked, including finding assistants for helping Neelix. “People who can cook,” she'd said rather pointedly. Chakotay wasn't quite sure how he would go about finding those precious individuals, but it was an order from the Captain.

 

Chakotay was a burly, darkly handsome man. He was a member of the Kolopak tribe, descendants of Native Americans – the tattoos of which were displayed upon the left side of his forehead. He had been the captain of the Maquis ship, which Voyager had been chasing per the orders of Starfleet.

 

The Maquis were a fairly successful revolutionary group, fighting against ... well... everyone. At that time the occupying Cardassians, an unsavory reptile culture, and the Federation were still negotiating compromises that eventually failed. The Maquis had used whatever means necessary to win their cause, which was liberation of the planets that the Federation had deeded to the Cardassians as territory. A striking number of Starfleet officers had given up their commission to join them. Their efforts were starting to have a real impact and Cardassia had done more than protest. All of that combined to bring the Maquis to the Federation's attention. This particular ship with its crew had been brought to the Delta Quadrant at the same time as Voyager. They had combined forces when they'd realized that they were both stuck more than 70,000 light years away from home and Chakotay had become her first officer.

 

At one time he and Kathryn almost made a go of it, but that was something that hadn't worked out. Instead they'd become friends and sometimes adversaries, depending on their current adventure. He was, usually, an excellent first officer – but he could be willful. The captain was grateful that today he wasn't showing signs of disagreement. She really didn't want to have to argue her cause with him. It might reveal too much.

 

So she brought up the next topic and told him that she wanted him to start developing protocols for new crew integration. “It can't go on as haphazardly as we've done before,” she'd said to Chakotay. “We've lost so many already. I want to start considering the possibility of recruitment and training. That will be your job.”

 

“Recruitment, Kathryn?”

 

The captain had nodded firmly. “We have a good crew and our progress has been excellent. But we're explorers in a part of the galaxy that has no Federation representatives. Starfleet only exists with us, but – after long thought – I think we're eventually going to need help. We will need able bodied people to go on. If we have the training schedules on hand, we can begin as immediately as they come. I want these potential new people thoroughly integrated. And if we have people who want to try their hand at something else, let them. Let's give them what they need. I want our people to be the best that there are, because that is their destiny. I want us to be as strong and flexible as possible, Chakotay.”

 

Chakotay was looking at her strangely.” It sounds like you're putting us more on a military footing, Kathryn.” He tapped the corner of the PADD with his index finger, keeping tempo to some unknown rhythm.

 

“Maybe I am. But that's not quite what I'm thinking. I'm thinking more in terms of something more... holistic.” She leaned forward. “There are many in this crew who claim to come from warrior traditions. Call these people in. Find out their traditions.” She hoped she wasn't pushing too fast, but honestly, she had no idea how long she would be in this reality or whether or not those memories of the past would begin fading. “Get together and start working with Tuvok on scheduling specialized training sessions for the crew. It’s time we took advantage of our knowledge base. It's time we start thinking beyond terms of mere survival, which is where we've been for years. We need more and we can be more. We have people who are experts in areas that aren't covered in the handbook. Let's use them. Someone knows how to use throwing knives. Let's get more people learning how. You understand? Shared knowledge is shared power. We have the files that Starfleet has been transmitting to us. At our next beam out, send a request for training manuals, procedures, holodeck sessions. I want our crew as up to date as we can make them.

 

“Plus it will keep them from getting bored. Boredom is a killer out here, even with all the adventures we go through.” She paused, trying to give him time to gather his thoughts. “We have such a small population to draw from, but also more than many small villages on earth. Surely we can do more than just ... “

 

“...try to make it to the next port.” Chakotay inserted.

 

Kathryn nodded. “We already have a strong ship's culture. Let's see if we can't make more from that.”

 

“I think I see where you're going with this Kathryn.”

 

This caused the captain to lean back in her chair and smile at him with those ancient eyes. “Good. Thank you.” He smiled back, and she continued, “So in that spirit, I want you to talk to Neelix about establishing crafting and mercantile classes. I know that we have creative people on board. I want them to build up their talents – to contribute to our home. Besides, when we visit other planets it opens up the possibility of personal trade goods. That will also bring a sense of pride to my... our people.

 

“It's not like we don't have the time. Certainly Harry and others have been working on their hobbies while we've been out here. I just want to encourage more of that, since not everyone is as motivated as Ensign Kim.”

 

Chakotay gave her a rueful grin. She continued on. “And we're in here for the long haul, Chakotay.” She paused to give him time to grapple with that pronouncement.

 

It wasn't something she'd really articulated so frankly before. But she wanted him to know that she was aware of the passage of time. She leaned forward and pressed her fingertips together. “Even if we were to get rescued tomorrow, we've already been out here for nearly seven years. If we're going to be out here longer, we might as well make it profitable and meaningful. I want the crew to be able to take something back with them from their journey. Works of the hands, Chakotay, as well as the mind and spirit. I know everyone does their best. I know they're tired. But I think ... I believe this will help. The ancient warrior cultures of earth – at least the good ones – encouraged artistic pursuits as well as military in order to build up the spirit. Our people have become restless. It's time to wake them up, to give them a different kind of hope. We'll get home. But I want to be more than rag-tag when we get there. I want them to be proud of themselves for their incredible achievement. I want them to be ... family.”

 

Chakotay was nodding as he made notations on his PADD. His expression was serious, but she could see he was already thinking hard. This was good, because she needed him to be focused.

 

“We also need to think...” she inhaled a bit, to gather her courage. “... about the notion of families on this ship.”

 

Chakotay had sat back in his chair, stunned like an ox at that statement. “Families.”

 

“Yes.” The captain had nodded firmly. “Families. We've already got children aboard. We might as well adjust to facts. There will be more. We will need to assess space needs, power, formal instruction. I believe that Seven of Nine has developed...” Kathryn let a brief, sharp smile curve on her lips, “several protocols for such things. You may discuss them with her and with Samantha Wildman. Also pick other personnel for the project... Let's just call it... Generations... and then you and they will begin working on policies and procedures for handling integration and development.” She looked keenly at him, “Is that something you can handle, Chakotay?”

 

“I...Yes, Captain.” He was looking a bit overwhelmed, “These are major changes, Captain.”

 

Captain Kathryn Janeway merely nodded. “There will be more to come. Make it so, First.”

 

There had been one other thing that surprised him. She demanded a team of assistants. Kathryn intended to spend her time differently now and she planned on using what she'd learned as an Admiral. Delegation had its place. “Find me good people, Chakotay,” she'd demanded after giving him details of what she wanted – including the name of one specific person. Then she'd smiled broadly. “Think of it this way. They can double as body guards on away missions.”

 

Kathryn excused the stunned Chakotay and then she'd called in Tuvok.

 

This moment held a bit of angst for her. In her first reality, Tuvok had died much too early. It had nearly wrenched her heart out to lose her longtime friend, and a part of her had always blamed herself for his untimely demise.

 

Tuvok was her Chief Security Officer. He had been on the Maquis ship acting as a spy for the Federation. He'd been very good at his job. None of the Maquis had ever suspected.

 

Like all Vulcans, Tuvok had pointed ears and eyebrows that were almost straight, giving him a sort of ancient-time demonic look whenever they narrowed in thought. His skin was the color of fresh brewed coffee and he was a very tall, slim man. Vulcans originated from a hot, desert world with a heavier gravity than earth, so despite his slim size he was actually stronger than might be outwardly perceived. He towered over Kathryn, but she didn't mind. She always felt safe with her friend.

 

Because he was Vulcan, the opening pleasantries of conversation were kept to a minimum. Vulcans were a logical, touch telepathic, and an efficient people. They didn't usually need a lot of dialog to get their point across. Kathryn knew that, despite the reputation for being emotionless, Tuvok had a great heart. She admired him deeply for his intelligence and skill and would do almost anything for him.

 

They began discussing in great detail defense and security issues. That had taken hours, but she was pleased to be able to spend time with her logical friend and find some resolution for the things that had long been at the back of her mind. It had been.... healing. And if he was aware of her tender mood towards himself, he made no overtly obvious indication. He simply reciprocated in that ineffable Vulcan way of his.

 

Also, he approved of the changes in protocol. By the same time next week, the crew persons on the ship – from lowest rank to highest - would be required to go into combat conditioning. In a few months more, after crafting certain weapons to meet Janeway's demands, everyone would be armed and dangerous. Yes, there would still be a weapons cache to draw upon. Those would be the higher level items that had always been stored – though she intended to have teams working on improving those items too. But she wanted boot knives and small, potent palm phasers for every member of the crew. The people of Voyager would no longer be easy marks for boarding aliens, simply because they had been unarmed and had to rush to a storage closet for armament. It was true, the method harked back to a more primitive, savage time. There was, however, no sin in preparation, and they were indeed in the wilderness – as their forefathers had been. It was time to acknowledge that fact.

 

Tuvok promised her he would assemble a team to begin development of training schedules and weapons design.

 

And then there were the changes she wanted made to the ship itself.

 

Tuvok was no dummy. He made no comment as Janeway began describing physical, futuristic changes to be made upon Voyager itself. He simply listened, for the moment. He had been aware of certain security changes the captain had already instigated. After all, he kept track of such things and this morning was no different. He suspected, however, that Seven of Nine had experienced an interesting visit from the Chief Engineer.

 

He knew there was something different about Janeway, just based on the conversation. There was also something that niggled on his consciousness in her interactions with him. It wasn't her affection. That was always present, if not so deep as today. She had not touched him, so he couldn't get more specific – since Vulcan telepathy relied on physical contact-, but there was a sense of ancient wisdom in her gaze; a strange mix of agelessness with experience and a youthful exuberance motivated towards getting things done. Something had changed his friend, but it was an undefined something. It puzzled him, but she was acting rationally, so far.

 

He set the mystery aside for the moment and focused on the logical procession of the conversation. He would take up the matter during contemplation, when he had time. There was nothing Captain Janeway was requesting that was truly impossible, though they would need to find and make the materials to meet the need and perhaps layover for exterior work. But ultimately that responsibility would fall on other's shoulders and they would handle those demands adequately. He realized that the Captain was just sounding out her ideas and so, as a friend, he offered his opinions.

 

They also talked about more personal issues, but nothing that was out of the norm. The Captain merely informed him of something she was considering and asked for his input. Eventually they were done with their conversation and Tuvok had been given much food for thought. Janeway nodded at his farewell and then leaned back in her chair. Much had been accomplished and there was still more to go.

 

Kathryn still wasn't quite ready to face B'Elanna so she opted instead to take a bit of a walk about. She knew she would eventually have to talk to the Chief Engineer about all these changes that she was planning, since the small woman was the one who would eventually have to see them through. But Kathryn still had Tuvok on her mind and she wanted to talk to the Doctor anyway. She exited her ready room and told Chakotay where she was going. Then Kathryn made her way to the Sickbay, taking the long way around.

 

If crew persons saw her touching the walls of her ship now and then and smiling softly to herself as she walked, they didn't comment.

 

==^==

 

Part 4 | Bookmarks

 

Sickbay was as she remembered, sterile without being antiseptic. The colors and set up were designed to be calming and she actually did feel her shoulders settle down a bit. She hadn't been aware of how tense she was becoming. Ironically, the thought caused her to smile. She was feeling the heat of responsibility again.

 

Her lips twitched in humor. It still felt like home.

 

The Captain took a few moments to inspect the area, noting that the bio-beds were in good condition, if a bit aged. There was a new unit in one of the corners and she walked towards it curiously. Her breath caught and she reached to touch the clear barrier that protected the small creature inside the module. A sparkle of tears threatened to break past the mask she'd been holding firmly in place.

 

“A second chance,” she whispered. There, in that small bed, was the one being who had affected her life more than she had ever thought possible. There, in that small bed, was redemption for a decision she had not ever been able fix. That was when she'd truly lost Seven, she recalled... when the young woman had ceased trusting her Captain and had turned to ... another. It was amazing that her body could hold so much regret sometimes.

 

But now was not the time to wallow in the past. Now it was time to talk to the good Doctor and set new possibilities in motion.

 

“Computer, Activate E.M.H.”

 

There was that subtle hum and the ever familiar greeting, “Please state the nature of the Medical Emergency...”

 

Captain Janeway turned to meet another old friend.

 

Of all the beings on Voyager, the E.M.H. could be considered one of the most complicated. He was a hologram, but also a complete, free thinking individual. He was alive in his Matrix. Though he could appear as anything he programmed, he usually opted to appear as a slim, balding man wearing Starfleet's medical uniform. He had no formal name yet, but he responded to “Doctor,” and sometimes called himself E.M.H. He had several hobbies and a sometimes abrupt bedside manner, but most of the crew thought of him with great affection.

 

If he noticed that the Captain was displaying more pleasure in his company than usual, he didn't comment on it. What he did comment on was his surprise at her abrupt desire for a complete physical. Not that he didn't perform it, mind you. He was, after all, a fully capable Doctor and this opportunity did not come around often. So it was fair to say that he grabbed the bull by the horns and leapt at the chance to take care of his Captain once she made the request.

 

It was during the physical that the Captain made several specific requests and a couple of orders, some of which she made classified for his ears only. He was fairly buzzing with information overload by the time she was done handing him perhaps half a dozen assignments on top of his current workload. Not that he wouldn't have time for it. But he was going to regret the loss of several of his hobby subroutines. However, he knew it was necessary. He would need the processing space.

 

“I'll see what I can do to get you more to work with,” the Captain promised. “I know I've handed you a few ... difficult cases.”

 

“No more difficult than usual, Kathryn.” He was still so tickled that she was allowing him to call her that during off duty hours and personal medical sessions, that he never thought about how she'd come to have the information about certain crew members. It was an extension of friendship that was wholly unexpected and thus, completely meaningful to him. He was willing to sacrifice certain things for that small gesture. He considered it a fair exchange. Then he clasped her shoulder, “I promise. I will do my best.”

 

She patted his hand and smiled at him with a smile that reached her eyes. “I'm sure you will Doctor. I'm sure you will.” She prepared to hop off the bio-bed and then paused. The command mask slid into place. She told him about her plan to get the crew in condition. “You might as well plan on being busy.”

 

The E.M.H merely chuckled. “Of course,” he nodded, recognizing the shift in roles, “Captain.” He smiled warmly at her, “And, I am happy to report that, other than being a bit stressed, you are in good shape.”

 

==^==

 

It had already been a full day and there was still a ways to go before she could rest. It was with that thought that Captain Janeway made her way to Astrometrics. It was there that she hoped to find Seven of Nine, though she was feeling oddly ambivalent about how she would approach the younger woman. There were so many things she wanted and needed to say, but the curve to the conversation was eluding her somewhat.

 

She decided at that point to just focus only on what actually needed to be addressed at the moment. That thought helped settle her nerves and so she stepped out of the turbolift with confidence and made her way to Seven of Nine's domain.

 

Even so, her movements were cautious as she stepped into the lab. Though she retained the memory of greeting the Borg in a past future, she still ached with the original loss. Of all the things that had happened, the ancient awareness of her Borg's death continued to have the ability to strip Kathryn's command mask away, leaving her bare and vulnerable. The captain held tightly to the reigns of her emotions.

 

Naturally, it was all nearly undone as, without even turning around, Seven of Nine greeted her. “Captain. How may I assist you?”

 

Kathryn did not immediately reply. Instead she indulged in a moment of observation and drank in the pleasant sight of one living, very special Borg. Seven, naturally, turned around at that moment. But Kathryn just didn't have it in her, right then, to dissemble. On the other hand, she could get right to the topic that was foremost on her mind, and perhaps deflect undue attention. “Actually it's more a case of how I might assist you.”

 

Seven of Nine gave her captain a speculative look, inviting a continuation. Kathryn stepped a little more closely, until she was about a foot and a half away from the Astrometric's officer. It was close enough, yet far enough, that she hoped she could keep her equilibrium.

 

“I've had some time to think about this,” Kathryn's lips twitched. A lifetime was a long time to review one's mistakes. She knew that of all her decisions so far, this one would definitely affect changes in this universe – probably in ways that could not yet be quantified. She was, however, willing to commit. She was carrying on with that inner policy that if one was going to change something, it ought to be done big. “I want to offer you a choice – an... an opportunity, Seven of Nine.”

 

Seven just gazed at her patiently.

 

“Tell me, Seven how do you feel about ...” Oh, how to phrase this? “...your current assignment regarding the other young Borg?”

 

“Feel, captain?”

 

“Feel.”

 

“I ... enjoy it, Captain.”

 

“If I were to tell you that I intended to try and find their original home worlds, what would be your first response?”

 

Seven stiffened and her fists clenched at her sides, even if her facial expression did not necessarily reveal the sudden roil of hostile emotions. The Borg's reply was icily composed. “I would ... not receive such news gladly... Captain. I would offer arguments against it.” There was a slight catch in her voice, barely discernible to anyone who didn't know her. But Kathryn knew her quite well by now. “My arguments would not be solely for my own benefit. I would take into account what was best for the children.”

 

“And do you believe that you have had sufficient time to arrive at a conclusion of what was best for your ... charges?”

 

“I do, Captain.”

 

Captain Janeway nodded. Then her gaze narrowed. “I want you to consider carefully what I'm about to offer you Seven. These children need a real parent if they are going to stay on this ship. If this is not a responsibility you are prepared to take on in a permanent way, you need to let them go. We can not go half-way on this.”

 

Seven's stance loosened, just a micron. “I would....”

 

“No. Don't make the decision right now. I mean it when I say I want you to think about it. Because there is more to this than meets the eye.

 

“You are one person. An extra-ordinary person, true. But one individual. There are five children who will be calling on you to act – always – in their best interest – even when they reach adulthood. Even when it hurts you. You will need to consider that these individuals will eventually arrive at points of unexpected... unexpected departures. They'll need freedom just as much as they'll need direction.” Kathryn relied on a term from her youth, “Your commitment to them must be whole hog or die, Seven.

 

“Thus, here is your choice: Full adoption or,” She wanted Seven to know that this wasn't just a threat, it was a promise. “I'll return them to their people.”

 

Seven of Nine hesitated. She was aware that the Captain considered her to be young. But Seven of Nine was Borg and had lifetimes of experience upon which to draw. She was offering Seven something that would not be refused. She needed clarification, however. Sometimes the Captain's expectations were not like Seven's. “You would trust me with this? With raising them?” She gave the captain a very long, appraising look. “They will be raised according to my standards. You understand this? The collect... our family unit... would be unique.”

 

“I do understand and,” Kathryn's look was just as firm, just as determined. “I trust you. You, of all people, will understand what these children need. You will be able to guide them past some of the difficulties you have faced.” To forestall interruption she raised her hand, “And I am aware that there has been much to be desired about the crew interaction with you.”

 

She smiled tightly, “To give you an incentive, though I know you really don't need it, I offer you the option of real family quarters – to be more deeply defined at a later time. If you choose adoption, we'll need to discuss whether we will adapt currently available empty crew quarters to your... family's needs. Or whether we are going to use space within Cargo Bay 2 and somehow adapt that space.”

 

Seven's eyes were wide with surprise. Kathryn could have laughed out loud, but she satisfied herself with a small smile. “Do you think you can give me an answer on this topic by tomorrow?”

 

The ex-drone inhaled and gathered her thoughts. She was about to say that she could give Kathryn the answer now. But knew, that she needed time to really consider what was being offered and to discuss it with the children. She straightened to her usual at rest position. “I will comply,” she stated.

 

This time Kathryn did smile. She patted Seven's shoulder, affectionately. “Good. Good.” Then she grimaced, “There's more to talk about Seven, if you have a moment; less personal and more ship's business. It will take some time for me to explain everything. Perhaps we could go find a place to sit down?”

 

“Of course, Captain.” Seven started walking towards the two available seating units. Once they sat down, Kathryn began sharing some of her plans with the Borg.

 

Sometime later, during the conversation, Seven of Nine became convinced that she was not, in fact, imagining things. The captain's motivation towards her had changed – had moved from maternal, to something more... intriguing.

 

Seven had always been aware of Kathryn's body language. She'd analyzed it often, trying to sort out details and meaning. She had become quite the expert in Kathryn's personal style, but also – generally speaking – in most hominid interactions. It had been necessary for her... emotional and social survival.

 

At the moment Kathryn's body language was divergent, abnormal – but not unpleasantly so. Seven was aware that there was a deeper spark of personal interest emanating from the Captain. Also, there was something about the way Kathryn looked at her... something ancient, yet new.

 

It bore investigating and so she stored away her observations for later perusal. She then was able to focus on the topic at hand, which revealed to the Borg – once again – that Captain Kathryn Janeway had a very intriguing mind.

 

==^==

 

Later, Kathryn was talking with B'Elanna. They had spoken somewhat in depth about the changes she would like to make and the conversation had turned towards the time it would all take.

 

“Tell me Lieutenant, how much difference would a year make? Or two? If we took time to really train the crew, really fix the ship?”

 

B'Elanna blinked a few seconds. “Well... uh... I suppose it wouldn't really make that much difference...”

 

The Captain slapped her hand down on the table. “Wrong!” She glared at the startled Klingon. “Wrong,” she said more gently. “It could be the difference between life and death. It could be the difference between making a way to be happy on our journey or untold sorrows. It could be the difference...” Kathryn's voice cracked and she took a moment to compose herself.

 

“We've been running hell-for-leather since the start of this whole thing.” Captain Janeway stood up from behind her desk and moved to go stand before her engineer. She took the seat next to the Klingon woman, “That was my fault,” she said. “You see, I let pride and guilt push me into making... deadly... decisions.”

 

B'Elanna started to protest. “Captain, wait...”

 

Kathryn took one of the engineer's hands in her own. “... not that I didn't make some good decisions too, B'Elanna.” She said warmly. “I just acknowledge that we could have slowed down a bit. We could have, taken advantage of certain opportunities to shore up our strength.” She patted the Klingon's hand and ignored the confused and wondering look she was receiving. She also found herself thinking about how soft the engineer's hands were, even with the callouses.

 

Kathryn sighed. “You've been a miracle worker. I doubt we'd be where we are without you.” She released B'Elanna's hand and laughed ruefully, “In fact, I'd say we'd be a bunch of dead people and hunks of metal floating in space if it weren't for you.”

 

“I... I...”

 

“B'Elanna there are two things you need to be aware of at this moment. Maybe three.” The captain's expression twisted wryly. “First of all, I understand from speaking with Seven that you found some... anomalies in programming.” Kathryn pointed at her own chest. “I did that.”

 

“Y... you...”

 

“Yes, me. I utilized some procedures that had been suggested to me some time ago. I figured, they were helpful and wouldn't interfere too much with our systems. That has proven to be true, hasn't it?

 

“Well, yeah, Captain, but... you could have asked me to...”

 

“I needed to do something with my hands, B'Elanna. You know how it is.”

 

The Klingon nodded somewhat helplessly. She was feeling very distracted by Kathryn's touch and it had already been a trying day – emotionally speaking. “I guess, I do, Captain.”

 

Kathryn nodded and continued. “Secondly, we're going to be embarking on a major overhaul and take the opportunity to do in depth training. I need more engineers B'Elanna. I need more warriors. Seven of Nine has been tasked with finding us the resources we need – including suitable planetary bodies. We will have plenty of Borg expertise available to us. I'm going to ask that you take advantage of that.”

 

“Of course, Captain, but you know Seven and I, we don't exactly get along. I mean, it's gotten better, but...”

 

“One more thing, B'Elanna, then you can have your say.” Kathryn paused, “I recognize, from a Klingon point of view, that this is usually the completely wrong approach, but I must. I hope you won't take it as a sign of weakness, but rather as a human need to clear the air.”

 

“Captain.”

 

“Call me Kathryn. It's been so long since you have.”

 

“I... Kathryn, I will listen.”

 

“Good.” Kathryn gazed deeply into brown eyes. “B'Elanna, I wish to formally apologize.”

 

The engineer's hands clenched into protective fists, but she did nothing else. Kathryn continued calmly, with a mild hint of self-accusation. “I wasn't there for you when you needed me and I know you felt... abandoned... when Seven of Nine came aboard. I'm sorry for letting you think for even a moment that you were not important to me, personally. I'm sorry for not seeing sooner that you needed me. You are more than a daughter to me B'Elanna. You are someone I care about deeply.” Care was not the exact word. Kathryn's feelings were much deeper than that, but she knew it was too soon after an apology to say anything and too late, anyway. “But you should know, so is Seven of Nine.

 

“I have, and always have – and will have, feelings for you. Just as I have, and always have – and will have, feelings for her.” Kathryn said it with absolute sincerity, with a perfect knowledge of years of truth. “You should know that neither of you could be replaced in me. It's not a matter of equal or unequal. It is more a case that I appreciate different things about each of you in greater depth than you can possibly imagine.”

 

Kathryn barreled on. “I realize you have your relationship with Tom. I don't expect anything of you. I know the distance between us, has been my fault – and it has been my fault, not Seven's. But I would – if possible – dearly love to have my friend back. I've... missed her. Very much. So, please... take some time to consider...”

 

“I ... I was always your friend, Kathryn.”

 

“I know. But I lost you, for awhile.”

 

“Yes. You did.” There was a long pause. B'Elanna wasn't quite ready to consider all the consequences of this particular revelation. She felt like she was swimming in deep waters. But, this moment was something she had longed for, for several years. On the other hand... “Oh, and I thought you knew, Tom and I... we've sort of broken up. Again.”

 

Well, now, that wasn't in the captain's personal logs. “I am sorry. I've been so occupied...”

 

“It's okay,” B'Elanna responded. “We didn't exactly broadcast over the intercom.”

 

“There is that. And, as for Seven and I...”

 

B'Elanna leapt in before she could hear more than she could bear. “I felt like I was torn in half, you know.” B'Elanna grimaced. “If there was anything that could possibly have driven me more insane, I don't know how you could have picked it.”

 

“If it makes you feel any better, we never... that whole keeping a professional distance thing, it just kicked in with me ... like it did with you. I guess I kept thinking that, somehow our distance home would be shortened and then... then I could finally say yes.”

 

“It doesn't make it better. But I understand.”

 

Kathryn grimaced ruefully. B'Elanna had always been blunt, “Well, I know it's been rough on your feelings, since...” ... sometime forever and two universes ago...

 

B'Elanna gave her a startled glance, then ruefully shook her head. “It's not that, Kathryn. She's...”

 

“Impossible, arrogant, intelligent,... beautiful... desirable...”

 

“Kahless,” a whisper, “Yes.”

 

“I know!” Kathryn touched B'Elanna's knee. “Do you really think you were the only one cursing her on the one hand and praising her on the other?”

 

“Of course not. I just...” B'Elanna's expression was grim, “...you have no idea what just being around her does to me in particular. I mean it. You have no idea.”

 

“I...,” Kathryn cleared her throat, “It's possible you're right B'Elanna, but I think I can guess. And I knew when I threw you two together that there might be sparks. I was hoping...,” Kathryn waved vaguely, “I don't know what I was hoping. But it wasn't that you two would slug it out, that's for sure.”

 

Then she grinned, “And this conversation is leading to places that would require a bit of wine and dinner to go on – even if we change topics. You feel up to a meal?”

 

B'Elanna smiled back, with the smile reaching her eyes for the first time in a long time, “Fine. But I get to cook.”

 

==^==

 

Part 5 | Bookmarks

 

They didn't even get a chance to start replicating their meal before the klaxon of a yellow alert started and then changed to red. There was a beep on the communicator. “Chakotay to Captain Janeway, you better get up to the Bridge.”

 

“Another time?” Kathryn offered.

 

B'Elanna nodded, accepting, and strode behind the Captain out the door. They parted ways in the hallway as the intrepid captain headed towards the Bridge and the feisty Klingon headed towards Engineering.

 

The ship rocked with the impact of weapons fire. 'We're just going to have to do something about those inertial dampeners,' the Captain grumbled to herself. 'They're the one piece of tech that absolutely need to work to keep us from being jostled around like ants shaken in a can. And they're always the first to go.' She made it to the Bridge despite all the shaking and sparks. “Report.”

 

“An unknown vessel de-cloaked starboard and began firing at us, Captain. They've kept up with us while at warp three and have ignored hails. No serious injuries or breakdowns reported. Tuvok believes we can outrun them if we take the ship beyond Warp five.”

 

Captain Janeway nodded. She glanced at the ship on the screen, taking note of its ungainly appearance. It was roundish, with random sharp points and block-ish shapes jutting out all around, like some sort of crazy ball that one wouldn't dare try to catch. But that was the thing in space, a ship didn't have to be aerodynamic to work. Certainly the mysterious vessel's weapons array was successfully playing havoc with their ship. “Tom. Get us out of here. Warp Eight.”

 

Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris was a hot-dog pilot and cocky as hell. But he had reason to be. He was actually an extraordinary navigator. He had an intuitive sense of the total whole of any ship he was piloting, and Voyager glided effortlessly through space under his guidance – sometimes with a few bounces depending on what they were encountering. Tom was the blonde, blue-eyed son of inveterate Starfleet officers – one of whom was an Admiral. His beginnings had been shakey, as he had gone through a period of rebellion and made the kinds of mistakes that got one convicted for treason, but he had shaped up into a fine officer eventually. He cried out, “Aye-Aye, Captain,” and promptly obeyed her command.

 

Voyager picked up speed, even as she was rocked by a final few blasts from the chasing alien vessel.. Then she zipped forward, getting away from the assault with a few easily repairable scars to the hull. It was nothing serious, but it was annoying. In a few minutes they were far away from their attacker. In an hour they would be farther.

 

Kathryn stood with her hands on her hips and took a moment to visually assess the Bridge. There wasn't too much damage, and other than a few rumpled looking officers, everyone looked okay. Certainly they had experienced worse. She shook her head in dismay that they had gone through this yet again. 'Not the first time, not the last.' she thought with an internal sigh. When the captain was satisfied that they had eluded the alien ship, she said , “Ensign Kim, please compile all information garnered by our encounter and deliver it to my ready room.”

 

The plucky operations officer nodded to his captain, before turning back to his console. “Yes, Ma'am.” Ensign Harry Kim could probably be thought of as the stabilizing influence to Tom Paris' more adventuresome ways. The two men had formed a fast friendship early on and it had benefited both of them. If Tom was the master of hijinks, Harry was his journeyman. The young Asian could hold his own in the practical jokes department. His holographic changes to Tuvok's meditation programs were legendary. Harry was otherwise an ingenious and flexible officer, capable of working in a wide range of duties on the Voyager. He was a gold complexioned, with dark hair and brown eyes. His disposition was generally sunny, even on the difficult days. The Captain knew she could rely on him in a pinch. Now that she had the perspective of time, Kathryn knew she was going to be bumping him up a grade. He'd been an Ensign long enough.

 

Kathryn made her way towards her ready room and was stopped briefly by Chakotay. “Permission to speak with you for a moment?”

 

The captain smiled, “Granted.” She was amused by Chakotay's formality, but guessed that it was based on his intuitive sense of the difference in Kathryn's authoritative presence. The admiral was still in her eyes. “What can I do for you, Chakotay?”

 

The first officer's expression turned even more serious as he stepped close to her. He leaned in, “I found that crewman you requested. You're aware she was and considers herself to be Maquis and only Maquis. She wasn't too happy to be told that she was going to be seeing the Captain. Are you sure you want her, specifically?”

 

“Yes. Just send her on up to my Ready Room. I'll have a talk with her.”

 

Chakotay gave her a rueful grimace. “It's your funeral, Captain. I know this one. She's... antisocial at the best of times.“

 

“Let me handle it, Chakotay. If she doesn't work out, there are other options.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

Several minutes later the computer pinged with the arrival of Harry's sensor data and the door chimed indicating that someone awaited her attention. Kathryn sat back in her seat and gazed speculatively at the door. She recalled that she hadn't ever encountered the person as an individual. The woman had only attended required ship-events and deliberately got lost in the crowd. Originally, Kathryn had not found out much about her - until after their arrival in the Alpha quadrant many decades later; a long time after the woman had died defending the ship during one of those tragic alien boardings.

 

Now it was time to set another thing right. Kathryn might not be able to defend everyone on board from a particular destiny and certainly, there were going to be losses in this reality. That was the risk adventurers took. The captain, however, was still not one to go down easy. She might be practical, but sometimes there were people who needed saving, whether they wanted it or not.

 

After about a minute, which no doubt felt like forever to the person outside those doors, Kathryn called out, “Enter!”

 

The woman who walked into the room was a pale complexioned Bajoran. She had fine, dark, shoulder-length hair, delicately-scrunched nose ridges and wore the classic ear adornment – the d'ja pagh . She was almost as tall as Tuvok and lithe like a dancer. According to the ship records, she was Ba Nores, hailing straight from a wine farm on Bajor; just an ordinary farm girl radical who had longed for the stars. Kathryn had laughed out loud when she'd read that earlier. Especially when she thought about what this young woman had been doing over the last few years, aside from wasting her potential. Even starships needed a maintenance crew. Crewman Ba Nores, among others, had taken on the lowest, dirtiest, stinkiest, hardest jobs on the ship.

 

Of course, the woman stayed in character, even as she stalked towards the front of Janeway's desk. Seven years of acting could do that for a person. Crewman Ba was dressed in grungy, somewhat smelly orange coveralls and there was several smudges of dark matter on her face. Even with all that she looked beautiful and ...rebellious. This only sparked Kathryn's dry humor more and she wondered, very briefly, how the younger woman spent her time when off duty – probably running Klingon war holos, given the chip on her shoulder.

 

“Please have a seat Crewman Ba.”

 

“I prefer to stand.”

 

“I said, have a seat.”

 

The crew person sat down on the available seat rather abruptly. As she'd never been in the Captain's presence alone before she'd never heard the snap of command directed solely at her. Janeway hadn't even raised her voice.

 

There was a lingering moment of silence as the Captain gazed steadily at the crew person. Nores sat on the edge of the seat, placing her palms on her knees and looking a bit like a deer ready to bolt. Kathryn lifted a PADD off her desk and flicked a glance at it, as if she were reminding herself of something. Then she spoke, “I have to say, Crewman, that I'm impressed.” There was somewhat of a sarcastic twist to the captain's tone of voice.

 

Oh, that got Ba's attention. This was a woman who had, for years, deliberately avoided doing anything exceptional – avoided doing anything to draw the attention of the bridge officers or Voyager's captain. Her name might as well have been Ba Nores LoProfile. The Bajoran managed, somehow to sit even more stiffly in her seat.

 

“Of course, it's not your conduct as a crewman that has impressed me, Lieutenant.”

 

There was a wince. Ah, good. So she hadn't forgotten. Amnesia, then, was out of the question.

 

“What impressed me was how long you, Ro Laren, managed to bury yourself on this ship.” Kathryn set the PADD down hard on the desk. The crack of the sound reverberated in the room. “The hiding, of course, is over.” Kathryn spoke sternly, uncompromisingly. “There are other people who can do the job you are doing now and this ship has needed you for years. As you never gave up your commission, it is within my right to simply call you back to service. Therefore, you are hereby reinstated per field protocols, to your full rank. You are, for time foreseeable until I release you, restricted to quarters for gross insubordination - barring your new job, Captain's privilege, meals, PT and other training as assigned by Tuvok,.”

 

Ro abruptly stood up, anger in her features.

 

'Well now, that could be a good sign. She didn't go into denial. She just got mad.' Kathryn thought to herself. “Sit down Lieutenant!” the captain barked. This time there was the famous glare backing the words. Ro Laren sat down just as abruptly as she had the first time. “New quarters will be assigned to reflect your new official status. A cover story will be created, about time served on this ship, and you will adhere to it. As for the insubordination, you had every opportunity to step forward – since the beginning of this journey – and did not. This was after it was made crystal clear...” and this time Kathryn pointed an index finger straight at the Bajoran warrior. “... that all Maquis who had ties to Starfleet were called to duty. You're lucky I don't drop kick you out an airlock.”

 

The Bajoran opened her mouth to reply, caught herself and her teeth audibly clacked together when she closed it.

 

“Good. We understand one another.” Now Kathryn finally leaned forward, resting her forearms on her desk. “Here are your choices, Lieutenant Ro. I have asked Chakotay to find me at least four people to serve as assistants – one for each duty shift, and one to head the new department. You, Ro, would be the head of that department and the one most likely to accompany me on Away missions. Your job will be refined as we go along and you will receive intensive retraining. Perhaps, if you,” The captain grinned, realizing that the pun was applicable, “... keep your nose clean, you will find yourself in a place of real usefulness.” The Bajoran flinched.

 

“And if I don't want to... take up this assignment?

 

“Well, Lieutenant Ro Laren, it's either that, or I will make you the ship's chaplain and counselor.”

 

The Bajoran just stared at her in horror. “You wouldn't...” Janeway gave her that glare again and Laren felt her stomach settle somewhere down by her knees. “Oh, Prophets, You would.” The taciturn woman tried to stall and bargained, “Well, if you give me some time to think about it...” She was fairly sure she could steal a shuttle within twenty four hours. Or maybe hop into a life raft and set it off. Or maybe just go space walking on a permanent kind of basis.

 

“No. The decision is to be made before you exit this room.” Kathryn knew that Bajoran honor would insure that Ro perform well, if she could get the stubborn female to commit, right now. “It's time for you to take on new duties. You become the head of a new department and perform all tasks I assign to my satisfaction, as a fully re-established member of Starfleet. Or you become the ship's chaplain.”

 

“But,” Laren started weakly, “We don't have a chapel.”

 

“We don't yet, that's for sure. But it doesn't mean we don't need something like it. Even with the holographic options, there is something to be said about a room set aside for... personal meditation. “ She gave the Bajoran an unfriendly smile. “If you take the assignment, I might begin by having you find someone else to fill that position, anyway. You'll be working closely with Chakotay and Tuvok, so prepare yourself.”

 

“Oh, Prophets.” Laren cussed again.

 

==^==

 

Part 6 | Bookmarks

 

Later, Captain Janeway wearily returned to her quarters, confident that – even if she forgot everything by morning – things had been set in motion that would make life better for Voyager and her crew.

 

There hadn't been much more information about the alien ship in Harry's sensor log and she decided to list the event as just another anonymous dog-fight in the Delta Quadrant in her logs. She didn't specifically remember the event, but there had been so many that she wasn't too worried. So she set that worry aside as business for tomorrow

 

Given how tired she was, she fully expected to drop right into sleep once she hit the mattress. Which she did. However, she hadn't counted on the nightmares that began in the early morning hours.

 

She woke up sweating, dreaming of the Borg with a disturbingly weird and explosive eroticism. Kathryn knew it was just her brain trying to put the events of her past into perspective, but the dreams were very distressing – especially since there had been accurate memories mixed in with the symbolism. Greatly unsettled and realizing that she'd had just enough sleep to keep her from getting back to it, Kathryn opted to get up and get started with the new day.

 

==^==

 

Later that day the captain was seated on the couch in the Ready Room reading a PADD and contemplating her next step when the door chimed. “Come,” she called without even looking up. She expected to see Lieutenant Ro. Instead she was greeted with the pleasant sight of Naomi Wildman.

 

Naomi was the child of Samantha Wildman and a half-Katarian. She was strawberry-blonde, had cute button-like horns growing in a vertical line down the middle of her forehead, and an endearing smile. Kathryn remembered that she was incredibly smart and advanced for her age. She also adored Seven of Nine, which from the captain's point of view, gave her at least a hundred points in her favor.

 

Now the child was standing hesitantly just inside the Ready Room. One of her fists was clenched, and she appeared like she was just on the edge of tears. The captain dropped the PADD on the couch and leaned forward. “Naomi. What is wrong?”

 

With a gulp, the child straightened her shoulders and went to the captain, extending the fisted hand out. Kathryn instinctively lifted her own hand up, palm forward and suddenly understood when a single pip dropped into her hand. “Naomi?” she questioned.

 

The girl's voice caught, “I know you don't ... don't... need me any more. I wanted to give you your pip back.”

 

“Don't need you? Now why would you think that, Naomi Wildman?” She looked the young Katarian in the eye and patted the couch seat besides her. “Sit down, young lady.”

 

Naomi's bleak expression suddenly shifted to one of hopefulness.

 

“Now, explain to me why you think I wouldn't need you?”

 

“You are going to have all these new assistants and I thought...”

 

“You thought they were taking your job?”

 

Naomi just nodded miserably.

 

Kathryn chuckled. “No one could replace you, Naomi. In fact, my young friend, you are about to become even more important.”

 

The girl blinked. “I am?”

 

“Yes. You won't just be running errands for me any more. My new staff will need someone to help them too. It's a big responsibility and I've been meaning to talk to you about it anyway. I wouldn't expect you to be run ragged, mind you. You'll still need to do your homework, have fun. But we're going to be very busy soon.”

 

“How busy?”

 

“Very, Naomi. We're going to do an overhaul of Voyager and make quite a few changes. You'll be helping with that.”

 

“Wow.”

 

“My assistants will be keeping you busy. And, I will still need you too. Is this something you can handle?”

 

Naomi was looking at her with a very interested gleam. “I'm still the Special Captain's Assistant?”

 

“Yes. You are. And unlike the other assistants, who will report to Lieutenant Ro, you will report only to me and you won't have to do any paperwork.”

 

“Wow.”

 

“What do you think?”

 

“I think... I think I'd like the pip back, Captain.”

 

Kathryn smiled at her young friend as she handed her the pip. “Take a break today,” she said kindly, “but come back tomorrow during Alpha shift, after your homework is done.”

 

“Yes, Captain.” Then, exuberantly, the Katarian gave Kathryn a long hug, which was fiercely returned.

 

==^==

 

With trepidation, Lieutenant Ro Laren approached the Chief Engineer. She was still feeling very uncomfortable in the red and black uniform and she twitched the jacket down awkwardly in a fidget, “Lieutenant Torres, may I speak with you a moment?”

 

The Chief nodded, “Sure, let's go to my office. Carey, you got this?” The other engineer nodded and gave her a thumbs up.

 

Moments later, in the cluttered workspace – parts, tools and PADDs were everywhere, in what to an outside observer might have appeared disorder – B'Elanna was saying, “Okay, what is it?”

 

“I don't know how the captain discovered who I really was. I know that Tuvok has said it was not him and I know that you have always kept my secret. The paths dry up after that. But I wished to thank you for your loyalty to me.”

 

The Klingon inhaled, “Oh. Yeah. That.” She gave the Bajoran a toothy grin. “It was the only honorable thing to do.” She touched the woman's forearm with her fingertips. “It's nice to be able to talk to you at equal rank. You look good in red.”

 

Laren winced. Her arms were folded tightly against her chest and she looked to be in pain. “I don't deserve it.”

 

B'Elanna thought quickly and answered, “Laren, none of us did, in the beginning.”

 

“I...”

 

“Why don't you just wait and see if it grows on you.”

 

“... am not sure I can do this.”

 

“If I could do it...”

 

“It's not the same.”

 

“It's exactly the same.”

 

“The captain is...”

 

“...an amazing person. She knows what she is doing. If anyone can get you through this...”

 

Laren chuckled dryly, unsmiling, “I can slit the throat of an enemy without guilt, but ask me to ...” she waved vaguely at the uniform she was wearing.

 

“Laren, it's not the uniform. It's the person. Kathryn doesn't want someone who is just Starfleet right now or she wouldn't have asked for you. There's something going on with her. I don't know what, yet, but you've got to trust me when I say, there is a reason this is all coming up now and it's not what you think.”

 

There was a pause and Ro's gaze narrowed in speculation at her old friend. “Kathryn, huh?”

 

==^==

 

Seven of Nine asked for the captain and was invited to the Ready Room. Once there she handed Kathryn a PADD. Upon it was a formal request, including complete signed paperwork, for the adoption of all of the Borg Children.

 

Kathryn smiled widely at the PADD and then at Seven of Nine. She stood up and hugged the new mother. “Congratulations, Seven. May you and your family enjoy great happiness together.

 

The Borg returned the hug warmly, but gave her a puzzled glance. “Why should there be congratulations? This is merely a formalization of what was already a truth. We are and were a family before we signed that document.”

 

The captain nodded. “Yes. But it's an important social step, and a good protective measure. Now I, as captain, can't get any hair-brained ideas about where the children should go. That's your job now.”

 

If Seven was surprised by the commentary she didn't indicate it. She simply acted with her usual graciousness. “Ah. Then, thank you, Captain.”

 

“Kathryn. The occasion calls for it.”

 

“Thank you, Kathryn.”

 

==^==

 

Part 7 | Bookmarks

 

If the assistants had thought that there wasn't possibly enough work to justify four of them, they were soon disabused of that notion. No one had any idea how much paperwork and sheer grind the Captain had been facing. In fact, aside from guilt induced stubborn tenacity that kept her doing the work alone, she should have had a team long ago. And, as the captain predicted, their workload only gained speed as the re-constructive plans began to be set in motion.

 

The captain did not allow the assistants to act as a barrier to her staff. Hers was still an open door policy; though usually only the upper level personnel used that option. Lieutenant Ro was integrated into the senior staff meetings, though she didn't offer much in the way of input at first. Mostly, she observed their interactions, gaining perspective on how their personalities meshed. Eventually, however, the captain would draw her into deeper into the process.

 

Now that she had a bit more time, the captain was seen walking the decks more often and she would stop and talk with ordinary members of the crew. If her hours were a bit wonky, no one noticed. The fact that she was demonstrating more of a willingness to connect with the crew boosted morale quite a bit.

 

And then there were the new programs. Sure, they were intense, but they were interesting. People were participating and that was what counted. The crew felt like they were getting in the best shape of their lives. Of course, that had its own interesting and unexpected repercussions. Healthy people were randy people. Randy people who got laid were relaxed people...

 

There had been several anonymous suggestions, since “improvements were being made anyway.” One of the suggestions had to do with the Starfleet uniforms. It had been pointed out that over seventy-five percent of the damage the crew accrued during battles and ship-shaking events could have been prevented with even a small amount of flexible armor. Captain Janeway was seriously considering that one. She put the option for exploring the topic in the Lieutenant's docket and left it to her assistants. If they came up with something useful and appropriate, she'd consider approving it.

 

A few weeks later, the ship had slowed down to impulse. It was the Beta shift. They were investigating a gorgeous M-class planet, which appeared to be rich in minerals and other resources, without the disadvantage of inhabitants. They were assessing it from a comparatively great distance via various sensor bays and Astrometrics. There was a sense of “things as usual,” mixed with anticipation for the rumored big things ahead.

 

Of course, that's when the alien ship showed up again. It was joined by a second ship. The roundish vehicles began firing at them almost immediately.

 

==^==

 

Once again they tried to hail the aliens. Once again, there was no response. Once again, Tuvok pointed out that their engines outclassed the vessels'. This time, however, there was more data.

 

Lieutenant Ro manned one of the science consoles. “Three life-signs in each ship Captain. Humanoid. Bipedal.” There was a long pause. “They are not very tall. Ma'am.”

 

Captain Janeway hated to lose access to the planet, but if it was claimed then it wasn't worth the harassment. At least, not this go around. “Tom, get us out of here. Warp eight.”

 

“Aye, Aye. Captain.” Once again they left the alien ships behind in the stardust.

 

“Now, Lieutenant Ro, please explain what you mean by “not very tall.”

 

“I mean the inhabitants of those ships are very short, Captain.” The Bajoran indicated an approximate height by leveling her hand a little higher than her hip.

 

Kathryn pinched the bridge of her nose and counted to three. “And you determined this how?”

 

“When Harry scanned one of the passing vessels there were empty spaces, indications of corridors. The corridors were actually – quite small. There is active gravity on those ships, thus it is not likely that the corridors reflected zero-gravity travel.”

 

“It is a logical deduction, Captain.” Tuvok joined the conversation.

 

“I see.”

 

“If they attack us again, we could try and scan for a visual of the interior. They don't seem to have many barriers against the signals we bounce off them at this point.”

 

“I concur, Captain.”

 

“Fine. Chakotay, you have the Bridge.”

 

==^==

 

Some time later, on another day:

 

“May I have a moment of your time, Captain?”

 

“Of course, Lieutenant Ro. Please, take a seat.”

 

“I have a few questions to ask you, in relation to some assignments you've given me.”

 

“Shoot.”

 

“Beg Pardon?”

 

“Ask away.”

 

“Oh.” Ro took a moment to gather her thoughts. Lately, while around the Captain, she had been experiencing bouts of distraction. She had not quite pegged why. But she strove not to let that interfere with her duties. “About the uniforms. I've spoken with several people and there is general agreement that new uniforms would be good. There is also a question of why we need uniforms in the first place.”

 

“Maquis?”

 

“Not just Maquis, ma'am. We've been out here a long time. Some of the Starfleet personnel would have been done with their commission by now.”

 

“Point. I don't have an answer for that. They can call me stodgy if they want to. They can always go sans uniform while off duty. Heck, they can go starkers for all I care. I'm not opposed to individuality – off duty. I just have issues about keeping order while on duty. Continue. ”

 

“Right. Well, do you have any particular design in mind?”

 

“I'm open to suggestions.”

 

“We'll work on design specs. Tom Paris has... ideas.”

 

“He can have all the ideas he wants, as long as he keeps them in those holographic programs of his. He's to keep his mitts off the uniform design. Find other sources of inspiration.”

 

“Yes, Ma'am. There's also a request for more plants and decorative items. The crew feels that the hallways are just a bit... barren.”

 

“If they can get them not to fly around while we're being shot at by phasers, torpedoes and stray photonic rays, then they can have their plants and decorative items. I have a nice vase right over there. But for whatever reason, those damn podiums don't work in the hallway.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Of course, if they can get the plants to stay in one place, maybe those same wonder workers can also figure out how to keep us all from being tossed from our chairs on the bridge – while still having some mobility.”

 

“Point... speaking of decorations, Neelix is requesting storage space for individual works of art, crafts, etc.”

 

“Seven of Nine and family are moving out of Cargo Bay Two. Storage facilities for those projects may take up to one quarter of the space that is thus made available. That's all I'll allot at this time. We might need to consider... how to expand Voyager's space. Get our techs on it.”

 

“Physical or replicated?”

 

“Both. I've been thinking about those ships that attacked us. They looked...”

 

“Cobbled together?”

 

“Yes. But they were functional.”

 

“Function before form? Are you sure you want to mess with Voyager's line?”

 

“No. No. I don't want to do that. But we need to consider our options. I don't know how we'll do it. But... have a team work on the premise anyway. Or throw the need out to the masses. Maybe some smart person will come up with an idea and then someone will improve on it. That's what all of this has been about anyway; to try and get my.... our people thinking about the future.”

 

“Rather than immediately getting home?”

 

“You understand. They've been hanging on by their emotional fingertips. We either got to prop up their figurative feet, or we're all going to tumble.”

 

Laren did not have much to say to that. She happened to agree. It was just strange to hear the Captain say it so bluntly. It was as if the Captain had experienced a philosophical change.

 

“Is there more?”

 

“Probably, but ... it's nothing that can't wait.”

 

“Fine. Dismissed.”

 

“Thank you, Captain.”

 

==^==

 

The alien ambassador, a member of the Greeley race, was pleased to be aboard the ship. The being was a lovely shade of blue, almost a sparkling teal. It was bipedal, with four arms and startlingly orange crest that ran from forehead to below the first set of shoulders. It wore green silken robes and jewelry of status. The Greeley's companion, an assistant, looked very similar, with a cropped-shorter crest and wore a lighter shade of green. It also carried a case filled with the paperwork necessary for foreign relations.

 

They followed Lieutenant Ro, only dawdling a little bit to observe the crew's variety. “There are so many aliens,” One whispered to the other.

 

Ro heard the comment and she responded, “We're an integrated crew of many races.”

 

“Why does everyone only have two arms though? Was there an accident?”

 

Laren felt her diplomacy skill stretch. She held back her first response and tried to come up with something less caustic. The Bajoran was glad she held her tongue when she heard the other one say, “Quiet. Don't be rude.”

 

They rounded a corner on the way to the turbolift. Mezoti and Naomi were hurrying the way children do – at a full tilt run. They slid to a halt at the sight of Lieutenant Ro and the aliens.

 

One of the aliens behind Lieutenant Ro screamed and there was a thud. The Bajoran turned to see a very pale Ambassador staring at the children – its mouth opening and closing rapidly. “Is there something wrong, Ambassador?”

 

“What are...

 

“This is Mezoti, daughter of Seven of Nine and this is Naomi, daughter of Samantha Wildman.”

 

Both of the young ladies greeted the Ambassador shyly. They looked with concern at the assistant, who was still out cold.

 

“Hatchlings? These are... your people's hatchlings?”

 

“Uh. Close enough. Yes. There are six children on board.” Ro began to look a bit menacing. She could do menacing very well. “Is that going to be a problem?

 

The Ambassador shuddered lightly, as if shaking off something fearful, and then it smiled widely. “Of course not! This is good news. It is very good news.” It kicked its companion on the side. “Quit playing dead. They're harmless.”

 

Mezoti's eyebrow shot up and she was getting ready to answer with the truth, when she caught Ro's stern glance and shake of the head in her direction. Intimidated by the mere glance, she decided the better part of valor was to take Naomi's hand and look as innocent as possible.

 

Ro waited as the assistant collected itself. “May I inquire why you believe this to be good news?”

 

The Ambassador smiled. “A vessel with children is invested in the future. We can work with that.”

 

“Ah. I see your point.”

 

Later, in the starship's sizable conference room, negotiations were taking place. Naturally the conversation drifted towards the local dangers. That's when the Greeley began to describe a space-faring race of hunters and their ships.

 

“They are the Zakeeri, Captain. They are tenacious fighters.”

 

Captain Janeway's eyes glazed over a she thought, Not again. Why, Oh, Why? Verbally she said, “It would be helpful, Ambassador, if you could give us any information that you might have on the Zakeeri. I believe we may have encountered them before.”

 

“Of course, Captain. We will be glad to do so.” he hesitated, “Also, given your status as a family ship, we are willing to wave our usual demand that you leave due to such news as you have just given us. We are not unmerciful. However, I'm afraid that once you have resupplied, you will have to move on, Captain. You see, Zakeeri are a warrior race. They do not like for their hunts to be interfered with. If they see that we have been helping you...”

 

“I understand.” And she really did. It just pained her to realize that because they hadn't been charging towards the Wysanti, they'd encountered yet another hostile race that they otherwise would not have run into. On the other hand, maybe there would be opportunity to go with the challenge. She offered a thin-lipped smile to the Greeley. “Thank you, Ambassador, for your frankness and generosity.”

 

==^==

 

Part 8 | Bookmarks

 

B'Elanna felt a bit like she was swimming upstream. The Alpha and Beta shifts were in the midst of switching and the ship's corridors were suddenly filled with people moving to and fro. A few weeks ago, people would have parted the way for her, but lately, everyone had places to go – usually in a hurry. Technically, she had a meeting in about an hour. But she had been hearing rumors about the changes that the Borg were making to her ship and she wanted to see it for herself and this was the only time she had available.

 

True, they were approved changes. But for some reason the Borg had requested that they do the work themselves. The usual crew members were not involved nor asked to be. She supposed it made sense, given that the Borg would know what their needs were and certainly they had the capability. But it made B'Elanna curious and a little uncomfortable. And, as far as she knew, there hadn't been a privacy order accompanying the request. So, she'd been planning on taking a look-see for awhile. But she just hadn't had time, given the repairs from the latest attacks.

 

When she finally arrived at their door, the first thing she noticed was the name plate. Instead of the usual simple metal and engraving, the plate appeared to made of some sort of laminate, surrounded by faux-Borg metal filigree. A glowing neon green “Hansen Family Quarters” in an ancient boxy font scrolled across a black background. B'Elanna couldn't help the amused chuckle. It was an unexpected dash of humor. She wondered who had given them the gift. It didn't occur to her yet that Borg might have their own sense of humor.

 

B'Elanna pressed the chime.

 

A few moments later the door slid open, though she wasn't immediately able to step in. Azan and Rebi stood in front of her, blocking the way. “Lieutenant Torres. How may we assist you?”

 

B'Elanna looked in, but noticed that she couldn't really see very far into the quarters, since there appeared to be a small entranceway hallway with yet another door set on the inside. The Borg were guarding their privacy. Interesting.

 

“Actually, I was wondering... how you were progressing with your quarters; if you needed any assistance yourselves?”

 

“There is no assistance needed at this time. The Family Quarters are complete.”

 

“You're done? Already?”

 

“We are Borg,”

 

“...”

 

Their attention faded inward rather abruptly and then returned almost as quickly. “We apologize. We have been forgetting a proper greeting protocol. Lieutenant Torres would you like to come in?”

 

“Yes. I would. Thank you.”

 

The twins stepped back, far enough to let the engineer into the entryway. She glanced about. “This seems... redundant.” The door to the corridor swished closed behind her.

 

“It is not, in context,” Azan or Rebi replied. They didn't illuminate that comment, but did provide a clue. “It is a necessary security protocol. Please wait here. I will return.” Then the one twin left and the other stayed, and watched her like a Klingon Raptor.

 

B'Elanna gazed down at the boy. “Was it something I said?” As soon as he shook his head, she knew that this one was Azan. He'd always been the shyer of the two. She took a moment to really look around and settled into a relaxed stance. At least it wasn't like being in a dark closet. The walls were a simple blue metal. There was no secondary panel for keying in. She supposed that would have been redundant. “So, if I were to try and walk in now, would I be able to?”

 

Azan simply shook his head again.

 

“Interesting.” She pondered a moment. “If someone were to try and break in, what would happen.

 

The second door to the Quarters opened and she beheld Icheb. The young man answered, “The intruders would find the results unpleasant.”

 

“Ah. Yes. But would they survive?”

 

“That is... private... family information, Lieutenant Torres.”

 

“I see. Does the Captain know?”

 

“She does.”

 

B'Elanna stifled the flinch at the implication.

 

Icheb ignored her body language and gave her a modest courtesy bow and waved her in. “We invite you into our home, Lieutenant Torres. Please come in.” Azan stepped to the side, to let her pass. Now he was guarding her back. Or was he watching it?

 

She didn't glance behind herself to find out.

 

Instead she stepped into wonder. “Sweet Kahless!”

 

There were only a few options for creating more space on a starship. One either went horizontal or vertical or some combination thereof. The Hansen family had chosen vertical.

 

B'Elanna now stood in an open space that drew her attention first up and then out. On one side, the view ports stacked, one above the other, with a walkway on the two upper levels. The walkways created a small half-moon shaped opening and there was an efficient-looking open lift with a ladder attached that connected all the levels through that opening.

 

“The main level,” Icheb informed her, “is the family area. Through there, is the kitchen and dining area. If you go past that, there is a refresher facility, should you need it.” He pointed another direction. “Through there is the family recreation area. The wall can be removed so that recreation can expand into here, should events require.” He led her further into the open space. “This is actually our guest area.” He indicated the soft couches that formed another half-moon shape around a knee-level table. “Please make yourself comfortable. Mother will be here soon. Do you wish refreshment?”

 

It took a moment for B'Elanna to respond. She was still taking it in. The theme of bright colors, black and silver had carried into the design of the space. It felt a bit futuristic. If that word could be applied in the 24th century. The décor was not exactly understated, but sleek and efficient. Like the family, she realized. Also, temperature-wise, she was actually quite comfortable – which was unusual in other people's quarters. “It's very beautiful,” she praised. And then she nodded to Icheb. “I'd like something to drink please.”

 

“Blood wine?”

 

“Too heavy. Something ... lighter.”

 

“Soda?”

 

“Yes, Please. Any flavor.”

 

“Do you mind if Azan and Rebi stay with you?”

 

“I... uh... No. They can stay.” She didn't mention that she had no idea what they would talk about. On the other hand, she had plenty of questions for them. She picked a seat, one that gave her the most view for the latinum and sat down. “So. What's on the second level?” she asked the two boys.

 

Their reply bounced back and forth between them to make a coherent whole. “Our quarters. We share a double room. Mezoti and Icheb have their own. And there is a room for when the baby is old enough.”

 

“Do you like your quarters?”

 

That question gained her brilliant, amazing smiles. “Yes. They are quite satisfactory.”

 

She couldn't help but smile back. “Say, if you have to keep me company, why don't you guys take a seat. Tell me more about your rooms. Do they have your alcoves in them?” Soon B'Elanna found herself deep in conversation with the boys and, when Icheb joined them again, they began asking her questions – about her history, her family, and Klingon ways. She would have joked that they should have that information in their cortical nodes, but she realized she was having a great time just talking with them and didn't want to spoil the moment. She knew she was being charmed by them, and surrendered.

 

A short time later, she heard the sound of excited girl chatter and turned to see that Mezoti and Naomi had entered the domicile. They immediately joined the conversation, telling about their adventures of the day. For the first time in a very long time B'Elanna Torres felt herself really relaxing.

 

It was an odd sensation.

 

That's was when the lift went up one level and then another. It was high enough above her head that she could only see the undercarriage and not the occupant, but she guessed who might have called it up. B'Elanna experienced a weird mix of anticipation and trepidation as the lift began its journey down. Unconsciously, she stood up.

 

Naturally, when she stood up, the children did too. Not that B'Elanna noticed.

 

Instead, she was busy being captivated by the reveal. She expected to see Seven of Nine's famous boot and heels first. No one on the ship could figure out why she wore them, but Seven paced herself with such confidence in them, that no one was going to argue with the ex-drone over it either. Instead, however, B’Elanna saw toes and then feet, and then the barest hint of ankle. Silver cybernetic enhancements wrapped around Seven's feet decoratively and B'Elanna could visually trace their line up to the hem of the black trousers Seven was wearing. Black trousers?

 

B'Elanna's gaze followed the line of the pants up those long, wonderful legs, to encounter the white of a button down overshirt. Half of one side of that was covered by a cascade of color and characters – pastel images of Flotter and friends – via a blanket that covered Seven across one shoulder. Seven of Nine was carrying something under that blanket in what appeared to be a sling. She supported that small bundle with her augmented arm.

 

The lift continued on down until B'Elanna could see Seven's beautiful face gazing with awesome tenderness down at what she was holding. The complete whole – sight, scent, sound - actually caught the Klingon's breath away. And she felt perhaps a thousand misconceptions shattering within her all at once in an overwhelming cascade.

 

She'd have probably gotten over it, if – as the lift finally stopped – Seven hadn't glanced up and at the gathered group – with that expression still on her face. And suddenly B'Elanna was in another mental place entirely.

 

She was in enough of a mental-spatial difference that she didn't process Seven's change of expression upon actually catching sight of the Klingon. Of course, Seven had been aware that B'Elanna was in her home. But self defense was often instinctive. They'd had so many battles in the past. The happy gaze had altered like a warp core going cold.

 

But by then, it was too late for B'Elanna. She was busy processing. Everything. Every sight, every scent, every moment with the Borg, her Borg, for the last four years.

 

So she missed the childrens' greeting. She missed Seven of Nine's return greeting and the gracious welcome of Lieutenant Torres to her home. She missed the children asking to see the baby.

 

She came to alertness when Seven of Nine actually began peeling back the blanket, to reveal a tiny being suckling serenely. That simple maternal sight caused B'Elanna's mind to be blown even further down this new and ancient neural pathway. Her essence scattered across a vast ocean of hormones, home truths, emotion, and some things more profound than could be uttered or explained. All this, a part of her realized – with a great amount of awe –, without even a hint of a drop of blood to add to the cascade. That, she knew, would have sent her even deeper.

 

The bond would come in time. Soon. She knew this and she felt her blood begin to boil. A mix of intense yearning, need, and adoration thrilled through the Klingon like fire sparking in a dry forest.

 

She vaguely heard, on top of her heartbeats and as if from very far away, the children talking around her.

 

“What's that sound?”

 

“I think she's broken.”

 

“She's not broken. I think B'Elanna's sleeping with her eyes open. I know because...”

 

“She's can't be sleeping. She's not snoring. That's growling. That's definitely growling.”

 

“That's not growling. It's too low for growling. It's purring.”

 

“I didn't know Klingon's purred.”

 

“I think it's a mix of growl and purr.”

 

“But she's broken. If she's broken, how can she growl or purr?

 

“Maybe she has an engine inside her, like down in engineering.”

 

“Lieutenant Torres' temperature has escalated 20%. Her pupils are dilated. Her heart rates have...”

 

“Children, cease analyzing Lieutenant Torres.”

 

“Why is she staring at you like that?”

 

“I do not think she can help it. Step away from the Lieutenant. Now.”

 

Then, abruptly, there was presence, warm and vibrant. Seven cupped the Klingon's face with her human hand. “Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, you must awaken.”

 

“I'm awake.” the smaller woman replied – but it sounded as if it were from a great distance. She felt the baby resting between them. Its subtle moves and scent were comforting, but didn't stall the fire inside B'Elanna in the least.

 

Indeed she was awake, as if for the first time in her life. She was completely, utterly aware of her surroundings. Without even looking she knew where all of the children were in relation to herself. She could hear their individual heartbeats; register the scent of their pulses. Of course, she could always do that, but it usually wasn't so profound. She took those sounds for granted, normally. Now though, it was as if a switch had been thrown inside of her. If lost, she'd be able to track these children anywhere in the universe.

 

And Seven... Seven she would be able to find in any universe. B'Elanna fell into those blue eyes.

 

B'Elanna gripped the forearm of the hand that touched her, tightly just under the wrist. She then scented her way up the wrist to Seven's hand. “Mine,” she ground out through clenched teeth. She was thoroughly aroused. Her thoughts were going a mile a minute, assessing and reassessing her options. She fought for control and was losing the battle. A part of her knew her behavior was completely primal and she didn't care. She glanced at Seven through her peripheral vision. Then she brought the woman's palm to her nostrils and inhaled deeply. Her following exhale buzzed along the Borg's sensitive skin. “Ours will become a great Household,” she predicted, as if under a prophetic vision.

 

Perhaps she was. There was something greater than she at work here. Seven's blood called to her.

 

“Lieutenant Torres, I long ago accepted that I could not have you.” Seven tried to reason with B'Elanna. She spoke gently, but brought up something that should have been obvious. “I am Borg. I am not promiscuous, but Borg are not monogamous. It is not something that we can be. Ever. Even with socialization protocols our,” she didn't have the words to explain. “... Our subroutines simply do not support it. I know Tom's behavior affected you adversely. I can not and will not put you through....”

 

“It is not the same.” B'Elanna stated gruffly, and not at all bothered that they were having this conversation in front of young people. Naomi could ask her mother; and the Borg children – it might take growing up for them to truly understand, but they already knew what was in their knowledge-base.

 

B'Elanna's tongue flicked against the palm of Seven's hand, and she absorbed the taste. Some part of her memorized it. “It will never be the same.” She hummed lightly. “Tom's sexuality was never the problem. It was his dishonesty about it. Besides he was just... not for me.” She turned her head and stared right into Seven's eyes. “But you are.”

 

B'Elanna's statement came very close to shattering the Borg's composure. Seven realized that communication was happening on several levels, but she was struggling with her own reactions and could not process them fast enough. She set aside the variables for investigation later; handing that job to her efficient cortical node. She had to focus on the present, focus on helping the Lieutenant. “We can not have this discussion now, regardless, Lieutenant Torres. There is a meeting we must attend very soon.” Seven was feeling a strong, irrational impulse to slap the Klingon, but that would have been exactly the wrong thing to do. It would have started things that could not then be stopped. “Lieutenant, I believe you are not in a rational...”

 

B'Elanna's growl hit an even deeper rumble – deep enough that only a Klingon or a Borg could appreciate it. Seven of Nine felt it reverberate to her core. “I've never been more rational.” Her teeth skimmed across the meaty side of Seven's hand, but she didn't bite. “I know who you are to me now Seven. I should have realized it long ago. The signs were there from the beginning...” She pressed her teeth onto the palm without breaking the skin. She felt Seven's shiver. “There is no question.” She gave Seven a very feral smile and then abruptly let go of the woman's hand. “But you're right. This must wait.” She leaned in close enough that her lips brushed against Seven's neck. “Give me some space, or I will mark you right here and now.”

 

Uncharacteristically obedient, if only because she was feeling thoroughly discombobulated by the Klingon's behavior, Seven paced back several steps. It was so quick that B'Elanna wasn't even sure she really saw the Borg move. One moment Seven was right in front of her. The next she was standing by Mezoti.

 

B'Elanna's dark gaze tracked the stunned children. Before they could pop any questions or commentary at her, she raised her hand to them and pointed. “You are not to say a word about this to any one outside of this room until Seven and I work this out, which we will do later. Understand?”

 

“We will comply,” Icheb said on behalf of all of them.

 

B'Elanna grunted an acknowledgment, straightened her jacket and then marched to the quarter's entryway. She turned around briefly. “Wearing that outfit to the meeting, Seven?”

 

Seven of Nine tilted her head at B'Elanna's change of topic. She looked down at her clothes and then back at the Klingon. “I am, technically, on maternal leave. But the captain feels my expertise is needed. I am attending... as a favor.”

 

B'Elanna nodded. “I... look forward to seeing you soon then.” Then she left, while she still could.

 

==^==

 

Part 9 | Bookmarks

 

The Holodeck was comparatively crowded, since pretty much the whole command crew was present. There had been a bit of a stir when Seven walked into the meeting in her casual wear, but that didn't last long because of her own business-like attitude. B'Elanna kept her distance, but pretty much tracked Seven through out the meeting. The captain made one inquiry about Seven's youngest, but was reassured that the infant was being cared for.

 

And so they got down to business. The holodeck transformed into a war-room complete with to-scale mock ups of the Zakeeri ships. The schematics were displayed on one of the walls. There were also holographic physical generations of the Zakeeri. It turned out Lieutenant Ro had been correct. They were a very short people.

 

They were also very physically beautiful. The male and female form of the species were similar to humans, though there were definite differences. They had fine features, were pale skinned with dark, natural and very ornate markings on their faces and other places on their bodies. The species originated from a heavy-gravity world, so though small, they were very strong. They sported a sharp set of fangs, had amazing hearing, sense of smell, and sight capabilities. They were formidable beings.

 

Seven told the command crew the Zakeeri Borg designation and downloaded the available specs she had on them onto one of the screens. She included information on known weapons, culture, mating habits and sundry trivia that would overwhelm someone less organized.

 

“If I had to, I'd say they looked like felines,” Chakotay commented as he walked around the figures.

 

The Doctor replied, “That may be closer to the truth than you may realize. They are omnivorous, but their origins indicate that this was not always the case. If you look here,” He lifted one of the hands of the creatures and pressed against a fingertip. A single, longish, sharp claw extended. “Imagine a good swipe from one of these.”

 

“Ouch.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“But, why are they attacking us?” Harry inquired

 

“It is their culture. Observe.”

 

A new visual appeared above the holographic station Seven was working on. They saw a series of battles. It started with one ship, then two, then three. Each time the number of ships increased, until, after a certain point, a bigger ship arrived and began decimating the victim. “Technically, right now, they are not hunting us. They are ... counting coup. They are also testing us, to see if we are people.”

 

“People? Of course we are people!” Tom objected.

 

B'Elanna interjected. “What she means, Tom, is that they have their own standards for figuring that out. They're a warrior culture. If we prove ourselves to them, they'll leave us alone. If we don't, we become prey.”

 

Seven nodded. “Precisely.” She looped the image of the battle, so they could observe the process again.

 

The captain paced around the fighting images. “Do they board ships as well as chase them?”

 

Tuvok answered, and brought up another holograph – opposite from Seven's. “Yes. This is a recording of a boarding, which was obtained by the Greeley.” They watched as warriors, two at a time, appeared on an alien ship. They were fast and aggressive, using natural as well as crafted weapons. It was obvious that their short height actually gave them some advantages.

 

“Nasty,” commented Harry.

 

“No. They're arrogant.” Seven of Nine disagreed. “In that recording, they are fighting an inferior species. We can beat them, if we prepare. Also, their method of approach might be different if they encountered beings they believed to be equal to them.”

 

“And how many recordings do we have of encounters between equal beings?”

 

There was a moment of silence. “None.”

 

==^==

 

They discussed their options well into Gamma shift before the captain sent them all off to rest. She stopped Seven before the young Borg woman exited. “Sorry for spoiling your leave, Seven.”

 

“It is alright, captain. It was important. I have ideas, but I am not ready to share them.”

 

“Are you telling me you have been holding back, Seven?”

 

“I need to do further research.” the Borg hesitated a moment. “Captain, it is now common news that a uniform change is in the works.”

 

“That's true, but nothing has really been settled.”

 

“May I suggest that you contemplate the Zakeeri uniforms in relation to the ones that Voyager's personnel currently wear?”

 

The captain wasn't slow on the uptake. “You're suggesting that the Zakeeri won't be impressed with our appearance.”

 

“Sometimes strength can be implied. Klingon armor for example...”

 

“Yes. I see.”

 

“And weapons.”

 

“I do understand, Seven.”

 

“Kathryn.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“... My family's domicile is open to you.”

 

Kathryn's breath caught. “Thank you, Seven. I am honored.”

 

“At some point we must talk, about my attraction to you and your attraction to me. Soon. B'Elanna is ... ready to change the state of her and my relationship. I want her equally desperately. I have decided that my only option and hope is honesty with both of you.”

 

The captain reached out and touched Seven's arm. “I would expect nothing less.” Then she looked around at their holographic war-room. She gave a wry chuckle. “There's always going to be something like this going on for us, isn't there?”

 

“This is the Delta Quadrant. It is like...” Seven reached for an appropriate analogy. “... It is like your Wild West.”

 

“Yes, but this isn't the Wild West. They at least had the cavalry to call on. We have only ourselves.”

 

“Do you worry about our abilities, Kathryn?”

 

“I'm the captain. I constantly worry.” It wasn't an exact answer, but it was close enough.

 

Which is why ...

 

“Seven, you have no idea how much I want to have this conversation. I want to just follow you home like a lost puppy right now.” Kathryn waved her hand towards the holographic images, “but if we were to take our relationship further, I'd want to do it right. I don't know that I could focus.”

 

“Do not wait too long, Kathryn.” Seven mimicked the other woman's wave. “There will always be this. But should something happen to one of us...”

 

The captain flinched. Then she looked into Seven's eyes. “Then let's just say... not tonight. I'm bone tired, Seven.”

 

“Come home with me, and you will rest. I promise.” Seven cupped Kathryn's face with a warm palm. The smaller woman could feel the assurance in Seven's voice.

 

“I want to.”

 

“But you will not. Why are humans always so irrational?”

 

Kathryn could not answer that question.

 

Seven leaned forward and pressed her lips softly against Kathryn's. Then, abruptly, as if it never happened, she turned away and exited the room.

 

Some long moments later, Kathryn Janeway collected her wits. “Computer. End Program.”

 

==^==

 

Of course, the nightmares hadn't gone away. Instead they had evolved, nightly bringing in and blending the worst parts of her past in such a way that she awakened after a few hours wishing she were back on that exploding Borg ship. While she knew she hadn't exactly resolved everything about her past, she'd honestly thought she'd set those episodes behind her.

 

Apparently not.

 

Kathryn shuddered and got out of bed. She wondered what she was going to do and a small sob escaped. She was suddenly grateful that – despite the passionate heat that was gathering – she was not yet involved with anyone. She wouldn't have been able to hide this.

 

There was a part of her mind that pointed out that, if she had gone home with Seven she could also have asked for a hug right that moment. Or a kiss. Or for deep, sweet loving. And she would have received it.

 

Still, it had been years. That was also part of Kathryn's hesitation. It had been a very long time since she'd been with anyone. Her mind skipped over another deep wound and memory of a loved one lost. She suddenly felt rusty. Ancient. Inexpressibly Lonely.

 

Besides there was too much to do in preparation and there simply wasn't time. They knew the Zakeeri were going to strike again. They just did not know when. They had come up with some good ideas for possibly impressing them. Their one main advantage was that they were actually more technologically advanced. But there were secondary methods they could bring into play.

 

But given the circumstances, there really wasn't a choice. They couldn't make a real stop until the chase was given up. And that wasn't going to happen until they defeated these people. It just seemed like so much effort for what was only a best guess – a shaky hope of something better in the future. And she wondered, already, if she'd been making the right choices.

 

She supposed it didn't matter. She was making choices, the best she could at the moment. Even with all her insight, it was all still a gamble. And her crew just assumed the late nights and early hours were the result of working hard. She flashed back on her earlier conversation with Seven. “Not much longer. Honest.”

 

Kathryn pressed the bridge of her nose against the incipient headache. At least that particular problem wasn't a temporal issue, just a personal one. But that thought didn't make the headache go away. There were plenty of temporal things for her to juggle at the moment anyway.

 

Grimacing, Kathryn made her way to the refresher, feeling worn. “I've got to get some sleep,” she chastised her mirror image, as if that would do any good. A part of her mind leered, 'Well you could always call Seven.' and then her subconscious got greedy. 'And B'Elanna.'

 

“Knock it off,” she ordered herself. “We've got work to do.”

 

But the brief, powerful image, of women she loved - naked, entangled and waiting for her, wouldn't leave her mind. It was infinitely better than her nightmares had been, but also definitely much more distracting. She looked back in the mirror, trying to get a grip.

 

Then, she had a really weird moment.

 

It was a flash really, as if it were behind her eyes and also in the mirror at the same time. She saw someone, she thought, behind her. Kathryn whirled around – expecting to confront...

 

No one. There was no one there.

 

“I really have to get some sleep,” she commented to herself. Then she prepped for a shower.

 

A few minutes later, feeling somewhat better and more ready to face life aboard a lost ship, she stepped out of the shower.

 

The apparition was there. It was male, Klingon, in full armor. It held a Bat'leth crooked in one arm and gazed at her fiercely.

 

She gasped and realized there was nowhere to go and nothing to hide behind.

 

“Kathryn Janeway,” the Klingon said. “You made me a promise. Do you remember?”

 

“Who... who...”

 

“You went to the heart of my people's empire and you dare ask who?”

 

That sparked in Janeway. “You could be anyone,” she ground out. “You could be Q,” she accused.

 

“I am not Q.” The being growled back. “I am not just anyone. You know who I am.”

 

“You're a figment of my imagination.”

 

“If the thought comforts you. But it doesn't change that you made a promise, Kathryn.”

 

“But I destroyed the Borg...”

 

“That was not the promise, Captain Janeway!” The being grimaced at her and faded from her view. She heard mocking laughter echo in the back of her consciousness and it offered her a hint, “It started with... 'Kahless, if I had to do it all over again...'” Kathryn winced. Then the voice and the presence were gone.

 

Great, on top of nightmares, hallucinations. She was going to have to talk to the Doctor.

 

==^==

 

“You look as if you've had less sleep than ever,” Lieutenant Ro commented as she handed the captain a tall mug of something warm.

 

“I think that may be true for all of us today.” Kathryn lifted the cup and queried, “Raktajino?”

 

“Yes. I thought you might need something a little stronger than your usual.” Raktajino was the spicy, dark version of Klingon Coffee preferred by many and a bit notorious for its intense stimulant effect.

 

Kathryn didn't even bother to blow on it. She just took two deep gulps, and then set the cup down to cool some more. “Thank you.”

 

“You're welcome. Do you want to,” Ro hesitated, “... talk about it?”

 

“We do have a full load, today, don't we?”

 

“That's not what I'm talking about...”

 

Kathryn said nothing. It wasn’t there wasn’t anything to say, but it was private and where would she start?

 

“Fine. But if you need a listening ear...”

 

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. “Change your mind about counseling, Ro?”

 

The Bajoran raised her hands defensively and shook her head. “Oh No!” Then she leaned forward, and still not smiling – the captain couldn't recall that she ever did and Kathryn wondered what it would take – said, “I was just offering you my ... friendship.”

 

The captain gazed steadily at the other woman. “That's not something you offer just anyone, is it?”

 

“No. It's not.”

 

“I accept.” She leaned back in her chair and lifted the cup of Raktajino to her lips, “But I still don't want to talk about it.”

 

“Of course not.”

 

“And you're still restricted to Quarters.”

 

There was only the tiniest hint of a lift to one of the corners of the Bajoran's mouth.

 

It was a start.

 

==^==

 

The captain realized later that she should not have been surprised. Tom caught up with her as she was about to take the Turbolift. She was going to try and catch a nap in her quarters. “Got a moment, captain?”

 

“How may I help you, Lieutenant Paris?”

 

“Well, I wanted to make my case.”

 

“Is there a problem?”

 

“Well, I hear you're going to be updating the uniforms.”

 

Kathryn groaned.

 

==^==

 

She never did get that nap, Kathryn thought later. She still wasn't quite sure how she'd arrived at being in a Jeffries Tube with a tool-kit in tow. She thought it might be because she'd thought she might find a bit of peace and quiet. She resisted the impulse to take off her jacket, fold it up, and just nap on the metal slats. She'd have awakened with imprints on her skin, but it might have been worth it. That is, if she weren't actually trying to accomplish something at the moment.

 

With a determined effort she got to work, making the adjustment for which she'd volunteered.

 

==^==

 

Part 10 | Bookmarks

 

B'Elanna was the one who found Kathryn later. The captain's forehead was resting on the deck plate above the opening where she'd been working. The glow from the interior softened her slumbering expression. To B'Elanna she looked as cute as Toby – the stuffed Targ B'Elanna had treasured since she was tiny. The engineer took a moment to peek at the exposed interior of the ship and was amazed to see that everything was complete except for the replacement of the panel. B'Elanna experienced a moment of profound affection for the captain.

 

She realized she did not want to wake the older woman. Kathryn had been appearing very fragile to the Klingon lately. On the other hand, a Jeffries Tube was no place for a nap. B'Elanna carefully put the panel back and reconnected it. Then she gathered the tools as quietly as she could and wrapped her arm around Kathryn's waist. The Klingon then gentled the other woman back until Kathryn's head rested against her shoulder.

 

It was a near thing. For a moment she thought Kathryn would awaken. But instead, she'd snuggled in, causing B'Elanna's hearts to beat a little more rapidly. Then, as silently as possible, Torres tapped her badge and ordered a site to site transport.

 

==^==

 

Kathryn startled awake at the combined sound of a quarter's communications chirp, a bit of audible dialog and then she heard quiet Klingon cussing. It took a few moments for her to realize that, while she was in a bed, it was not her own. She rolled up to a sitting position, and pulled off the covers. A few seconds later, she heard, “Damn it, I knew that would happen. Now you're awake. Computer, Lights. One fourth.”

 

B'Elanna sat down besides the still groggy captain. With her fingertips, the Klingon affectionately brushed Kathryn's hair away from her face and tucked it back. “I'd hoped you'd have a little more time.”

 

“How long?”

 

“I don't know how long you were asleep in the Jeffries Tube, but you've been here about a half an hour.”

 

Kathryn gave her a rueful grin and chuckled a bit helplessly. “Darn.”

 

“Well, it's quality versus quantity for us responsible types, right?” B'Elanna wrapped her arm around Kathryn's shoulders and gave her a squeeze. “I suppose this was one way to get you into bed.”

 

The captain began to chortle. “I suppose that is true.” She glanced up and was caught in a warm brown gaze. Her heartbeat quickened. “B'Elanna,” her smoky voice caressed the Klingon.

 

They leaned towards each other.

 

The communications channel chirped. “Kahless on a Crutch!”

 

==^==

 

It was probably for the best, B'Elanna thought later. She was confused anyway and that just would have topped it all off.

 

She'd been avoiding Seven for the last couple of days – speaking to her only when she absolutely had to. She hadn't gone back to the Borg abode. She just wasn't ready to face the depth of responses she'd experienced and now there had been just enough time since that moment and she'd started to feel embarrassed and wonder if it had really happened. She hadn't known where that sudden passion had come from and it frightened her a bit. She couldn't predict what she would do if she found herself alone with the beautiful Borg. And now, it seemed, she couldn't predict what she would do if she was alone with the captain either.

 

Sometimes, it was just easier to fix things, even if it meant throwing a wrench against the wall now and then. Of course, if the wrench was being thrown a bit more than usual, well, that's just the way of it. Her people knew to stay out of her way.

 

Unfortunately for her, Borg children apparently didn't care what kind of mood she might be in.

 

She found Mezoti waiting in her office.

 

==^==

 

Despite what one might think, Seven was not spending her time agonizing over B'Elanna's failure to show or Kathryn's delaying tactics. She was busy.

 

Motherhood agreed with Seven and she approached it with the same dedication that she brought to any task she might undertake and then some. She had taken to heart Kathryn's statement about commitment. Thus, she made certain choices, such as nursing and carrying the baby close to her heart most of the time.

 

If the Borg youths had been doing well as her charges, they began to thrive as her children. And, while it was possible she could have used other adult help, her young ones were ... remarkably mature for their age. Sometimes it paid to be Borg.

 

Fortunately for the rest of the ship, Seven of Nine was more than completely able to multi-task. Her maternity leave ended up not quite being the leave it should have been. But she did not mind. Seven found herself involved in several projects – if only because her expertise was needed. As a compromise, she retained her casual wear and crew persons got -somewhat- used to seeing her walking around barefoot and carrying the little one.

 

She and the children had not yet named the infant. They were waiting for the right name to manifest. They had a database of millions to sift through after all. And there were several contributing factors to consider – such as the baby's personality.

 

While Seven waited for B'Elanna and Kathryn to come to grips with whatever emotions and ideas were plaguing them, she was spending more and more time with Lieutenant Ro.

 

They were establishing protocols for dealing with the Zakeeri that were ... somewhat out of Starfleet channels. Seven didn't have any personal opposition to this strategy, since she firmly believed that there were times that cheating was an absolute necessity – even if they never used it. Logic dictated its usefulness in times of battle and her priority to protect the children and the people she loved overrode all.

 

Lieutenant Ro was finding that working with Seven was a revelation. Seven did not ask her silly questions about why she was wearing the new uniform or what had changed. She merely accepted. If she did have a question of a personal nature, it was usually based on the need for an intellectual framework rather than prurience. Seven was quick on the uptake and equally quick to bounce ideas right back at the Maquis. She was as beautiful as people said, but as for the legend of un-emotionalism, all one had to do was spend ten seconds with Seven while her children were present and find that notion instantly discarded.

 

This wasn't to say Seven wasn't sometimes abrupt during their conversations, but Ro, it turned out, liked that about the younger woman. Brusqueness was not something that offended the reticent Bajoran. The more she worked with Seven, the more attracted she became to the composed Borg. And finally, she began to regret the Personal Quarters lock down that the captain was enforcing.

 

And then there was Ro's attraction to Kathryn Janeway.

 

Oh that was a conundrum. She'd started out nearly hating the woman. But she’d had time to observe and gain appreciation for the woman. Now, if Kathryn were to ask the Bajoran to lick her boots... Ro might actually consider it. She wasn't sure what it was about Kathryn, except an awareness that – until she had been called on the carpet – that quality which garnered the Bajoran's respect hadn't been there. But whatever that difference was, it was there in spades.

 

There was a haunted look in her eye that Ro just connected with. This Kathryn was not someone who went about unaffected by her decisions. She was not arbitrary and autocratic. There was purpose to her choices. Her strength of character reminded Ro of one particular captain, and while that brought up certain issues, the quality was something that could only be admired. The Bajoran knew, in the deepest part of her being, that Captain Kathryn Janeway was a woman who could be trusted with her life.

 

The key was to prove that she was worthy of being trusted by the captain and to try and tamp down on the fire that stirred whenever the captain was near.

 

So that brought her back to the young Borg mother, whom she was also extremely attracted to. Ro wasn't one to ignore a gift from the prophets when it was delivered. She knew Seven would appreciate directness, therefore she brought up the topic at the next available opportunity. “The thing is I don't know when I'll be able to do anything other than tell you how I feel. You see, I'm confined to Quarters... until probably near forever or whenever Captain Janeway changes her mind.”

 

“I see.” Seven gave her an inscrutable look and then turned to the console. One hand moved rapidly across the system, while the other supported a sleeping infant.

 

Ro did her very best not to feel rejected, calling to mind that this was just Seven's way. At least she hadn't said an outright no. Which, then meant...? “Are you interested, Seven?”

 

Seven finished what she was doing. “I am.” she confirmed. Then she redirected the Bajoran's attention, “Lieutenant Ro. Please observe.” She pointed down at the consoles readout. So the Bajoran looked and then did a double-take.

 

She very nearly asked Seven why, but quickly reconsidered. Instead she said “This is... very Maquis of you. But it implies a commitment. Are you sure?”

 

There was no hesitation. “I am sure. It is practical and convenient. We could continue conversations that we've had to call off due to the need to go home. If the captain asks, you can tell her it was for... professional reasons. Or I can simply force the computer to believe that your quarters exists in two locations. Not difficult, but probably it would be spotted.”

 

“Still, it may be best. If Tuvok notes it, he'll come to me. And, right now, I think the captain is occupied with plenty of other... distractions. Besides, I like having a place of my own.”

 

“Acceptable.” Seven made immediate adjustments, and smiled slightly at the Bajoran's hum of approval. “There are things which must be discussed, before we continue.” Seven kissed the top side of the slumbering infant's head.

 

Ro reached up to stroke the soft, dark curls of the child's hair. It was amazing how one's life could take a completely unexpected turn. “So.” She gave Seven an inscrutable look of her own. “Talk to me.”

 

Seven began to explain.

 

==^==

 

Some time later, they entered the Hansen family abode. Icheb greeted them. His expression was filled with worry and he reached for the baby. Seven immediately handed the infant over to him and said, “You should have informed me sooner.” She gave her son a stern glance and he managed to look sheepish.

 

“We thought she would stop.”

 

“I understand,” Seven commented, and then she stalked to the lift, calling to Ro Laren over her shoulder, “I will return. Please make yourself comfortable.

 

That was when Laren realized that some people on Voyager had alternate methods of communication. “Wait for me,” she said as she hurried to keep up. “Maybe I can help... with whatever it is...”

 

She stepped onto the lift as Seven did and the buxom blonde responded, “Perhaps.”

 

Soon they were on the second floor. Seven marched to a door and issued a command. “Computer Seven of Nine, Parental Over-ride. Open Door – Mezoti Hansen's Room.” The door slid to the side and she entered the small bedroom. Laren followed, feeling both trepidation and curiosity.

 

The little girl lay on the bed, face to her pillow, and curled protectively inward. It was obvious that she was crying. Seven's advance softened and she made her way to the bed, sitting down upon the side of it. Laren felt like a third wheel, until Seven patted a space besides herself. Then Seven laid a gentle hand on her daughter's shaking shoulder. “Mezoti.” The name was a balm from her lips, softly and lovingly spoken.

 

The young girl turned, raised up her arms, and was quickly cradled by her mother. Mezoti wept, unable to convey vocally what upset her, even though she knew it was rude. “It is alright.” Seven comforted, as she listened to the grief in her daughter and held her. Seven felt one of Laren's arms wrap around her waist and then, with the other, reached forward to stroke Mezoti's back. She appreciated Laren's quiet, unquestioning support more than could have been said at that moment.

 

Eventually, after silent, consoling dialog along their family connection, Mezoti's tears began to calm into mere sniffles. “Mezoti,” Seven finally spoke. “It was inappropriate for you to approach Lieutenant Torres. The matter between herself and I is of an adult nature and we will address it. But it must be when she is ready and not before.”

 

“But doesn't she want to be part of our family? She said...”

 

“Mezoti.” There was a caution – a reminder – in Seven's voice. “Lieutenant Torres has ... many things on her mind. This must not be rushed. Do you understand?”

 

Mezoti only sniffled. There was more silent communication, until finally Mezoti said in a rather tiny voice, “I will comply.”

 

Seven kissed her daughter's forehead and hugged her tightly. “Good.” Then she continued gently. “I will contact the Lieutenant about repairing the hole in the plating of the office wall. You need nutrition. Azan and Rebi have been creating today's evening meal. Do you feel like eating?”

 

The little girl nodded and rubbed her knuckles under her eyes. “A little bit,” she claimed.

 

“Then you, Laren, and I will now go downstairs. Acceptable?”

 

Suddenly the young Borgling's attention was focused entirely on Lieutenant Ro Laren. She stared hard at the Bajoran and Laren forced her own expression to be completely neutral. The little girl nodded at something she saw there anyway. “Acceptable.”

 

==^==

 

Dinner wasn't exactly riotous, but it was voluble. The Hansens had a tradition of talking during dinner. At first it had started as an exercise in socialization, but it had turned into family time and they were actually good conversationalists. Seven remained reserved, but she guided the dialog with deft subtlety.

 

Soon they had pulled Laren into a comfortable revelation about Bajor and its society, which they probably already knew about. But they wanted her personal input. And they were curious about her – about her life and her experiences. She told them some things, sharing stories of the Enterprise, since that was a happier time. She told them about DS9 and some of the people she knew there. She did not talk about Cardassia or her time in prison, since that was not dinner worthy conversation, but she did talk a little bit about the Maquis.

 

They were not intrusive in their questions – though they did sometimes stop to analyze her replies, - to place them in context with what they knew. Like Seven they were completely straight forward. It was refreshing and so, she was surprisingly open with her answers.

 

Laren found herself feeling the odd sensation of being relaxed in the company of Borg. That amused the Bajoran enough that two corners of her mouth lifted slightly. No one thought of it as out of place.

 

==^==

 

Part 11 | Bookmarks

 

Later, after the children were finally put to bed – except for Icheb, who had an appointment at a Holodeck – Laren and Seven found themselves alone on the second level. Seven looked meaningfully at the alternative exit to the corridor on the next deck. “There is another on the next level. Your last chance...”

 

“Seven.” Laren took the younger woman's cybernetic hand in hers. Seven's grip was soft, warm, alive. The Bajoran led Seven to the lift and keyed in the next level. Once there they stepped out together and she said, “I'm not running. Not from you.” She tugged on the gratified woman's hand, pulling her closer. She leaned in and softly kissed Seven, then she pulled back. Brown eyes gazed into blue.

 

“Come with me.” The Borg's voice was husky, intimate. This time Seven led. There was only one doorway on the walkway, aside from the third level exit; Seven of Nine's personal room.

 

It made sense, of course, all the doors and even the way they talked – or rather didn't, Laren thought. They'd been denied privacy for so long, that when they finally had it, they protected it fiercely. She speculated that they probably knocked on each other's mental doors before entering – with perhaps a low-level constant check on Seven's part. She probably kept track of their heartbeats, their general location, if not the specifics of what they were doing. It was an odd mix of freedom and boundaries that the freed Borg kept.

 

Seven didn't lock the door behind them, though she did order the computer to set a soundproofing level on the room. “Can you do that?” Laren asked in surprise, even as she felt a rush in her pulse at the implication. Curiosity warred a moment with desire.

 

Seven smirked. “I can.” Then she undid the top fastening on her shirt and then another and another, until the shirt was hanging partially open. Laren forgot the question. She could see the peek and swirl of silver that roped around Seven's abdomen, including through the dark major implant that covered Seven's belly, and up to and around the woman's sensitive breasts and nipples.

 

“You're beautiful,” Laren whispered. Seven smiled and drew the shirt completely off. Laren inhaled, wondering at how alien and desirable her companion was. She stepped forward. “May I?”

 

Seven nodded – not quite shy, but not demanding either – and she held very still. Then she gasped lightly as Laren's fingertips traced along a line and starburst just under her breasts. “They're sensitive?”

 

“Yes,” Seven acknowledged.

 

Laren realized how trusting Seven was being with her. She watched as Seven's nipples stiffened in pleasure. “Correction. They're incredibly sensitive.”

 

“Yes,” Seven whispered. She could feel heat gather in her loins, sparks of pleasure shattered through her with each delicate touch.

 

“That's why you wear the biosuit, because the uniform... it's not enough.”

 

“You understand now.”

 

“How could you stand being in that shirt then?”

 

“It is ... specially replicated.”

 

“You could have done that anytime.” Laren leaned in and pressed her tongue where her fingers had been so gently moving. Seven's body shifted and her breathing deepened. Laren pulled back and spoke with mock severity, “Wait. You were teasing us all.”

 

Seven smirked again. “Why would I do that?” She laid her palm against the back of Laren's head and drew the Bajoran in for a soul-searing kiss. When they parted, desire smoldered in her gaze. Her hand dropped down and she grasped the hem of Laren's Starfleet jacket and then she gently lifted it off.

 

“No matter how many times I pointed out that I knew the mating habits of millions of species, no one ever caught the joke. So I kept on wearing them. Distracted people make... interesting mistakes... and comments. Sometimes unkind. But interesting.”

 

Laren paused what she was doing at the moment. She had been grasping the band of Seven's trousers and had snapped the top button free. “Seven, more fools they.”

 

“Indeed,” the Borg acknowledged. If she had been hurt by the comments of others, she did not indicate it. Instead, Laren suspected that Seven had considered those emotions irrelevant, and in a case of unusual generosity had let the comments go. Laren observed the deep intelligence that sparkled in Seven's blue gaze and now could perceive the humor there too.

 

The blonde lifted off Laren's shirt and tossed it to the side. Her fingers grazed against the Bajoran's sensitive skin. “It was hiding in its own way.” Seven explained. “No one bothered me after Ensign Kim approached me.”

 

Laren sniffed back a laugh. “That was legendary. We even heard about it down below.” She gazed at her new lover. “What would you have done if he'd said yes?” The Borg smiled like sexy predator, causing Laren to shiver. “Poor Harry. He'll never know what he missed.”

 

“Barring a miracle.” The Nordic beauty agreed. Seven drew Laren in for another kiss. “He wouldn't have enjoyed it much anyway. I wasn't as... evolved as I am now.”

 

This time Laren did laugh and she dropped down into a crouch and parted the trousers so she could drag them down off of Seven. Her sensitive nostrils picked up the Borg's sweet scent. “You smell delicious, Seven. Absolutely edible.”

 

“As do you.” Borg senses were heightened and always evaluative. The blonde also meant what she said. The Bajoran smelled wonderful to her.

 

Seven stepped out of the trousers with easy balance. Her legs were also cybernetically enhanced and black and silver swirled ornately, around her hips, thighs, calves, ankles and feet – pausing now and then in decorative starbursts. Of course, they weren't really decorative. These were the implants that were part of Seven's whole being. They were not, as many thought, foreign, but rather intrinsic – grafted seamlessly into Seven and just as living and breathing as her skin.

 

Seven gasped as Laren's hands skimmed up her calves. The Bajoran's hands continued up their path until she grasped Seven's hips. She could see the wetness between the blonde's legs and hungered. She leaned forward; intending to taste, but Seven's hands covered hers, and then slid up her arms and Laren felt herself being lifted up. She groaned at the denial, but knew the why of it when Seven began tugging at her uniform's pants.

 

Moments later they were both equally and gloriously nude before each other. Seven spoke the Bajoran prayer of beauty with great sincerity, causing Laren to inhale in surprise. Then she stepped forward into Seven's loving embrace.

 

Seven's bed was probably much larger than it had to be, but she was a woman who liked to be prepared. It was also more comfortable than standard Starfleet issue. In fact, it might have been the most comfortable, nearly sybaritic bed, Laren had ever been on. If so, the Bajoran suspected that she had great cause to praise Borg ingenuity. It took her a moment, mostly because she wasn't paying attention to it really, to note that the headboard seemed to be very... alcove like. Seven's brilliant kisses, however, knocked out any pursuit of the questions.

 

Eventually Laren found herself prone, facing up at Seven who straddled over her. “May I?” queried Seven in a bit of turn-about. Laren nodded, guessing what was coming. Just as she had traced some Seven's vulnerable erogenous zones in experimentation, the blonde intended to return the favor.

 

Nature liked to replicate favored designs. There were ridges in other places besides the Bajoran nose. Seven's hungry look stole Laren's breath away and the Bajoran arched when the woman's fingertips traced a set along the sides of her breasts. “Seven,” Laren prayed and then she found herself praying again and then again, when the younger woman found another set and another. In fact, despite Laren's original intent, she found that it was herself being brought pleasure upon pleasure by her enthusiastic and attentive lover.

 

And Seven was having a splendid time, touching, tantalizing, kissing and licking the full territory of the Bajoran's mouth and body. She reveled in Laren's responses, in applying the knowledge she had towards the other woman's happiness. Each physical, inarticulate soulful noise filled the Borg's senses and she craved more.

 

At some point she was finally between Laren's legs, which had instinctively spread for her access. Seven's hand stroked the fine dark curls and line of the Bajoran's womanhood, before dipping deeper to caress the ridges and multiple pearl-shaped nerve bundles hidden in the sensitive folds and deeper depth of her. Seven's mouth was busy, suckling on the rose-pink colored nipples, flicking her tongue against those wonderfully responsive body ridges. As wetness covered Seven's hand, the Borg pressed, finally... finally... in.

 

Laren lifted, floating in a zone of sensation so powerful that she was incoherent. But she pushed back, and then back again, as they established a primal rhythm. Neither of them held back and Laren's incoherency eventually became a long, deep wail of pleasure as the physical joy in her could no longer be contained. And then she came again. And again, because Seven adored hearing and feeling that sound shock through her lover.

 

Eventually Seven let her come down from that incredible high and whispered Bajoran adorations to Laren, softly calling her home.

 

==^==

 

Hours or minutes later, Laren had lost all sense of time, the Bajoran woman rose back to awareness amidst gentle kisses. Laren stretched lazily against the warm body that held her so close and began tenderly reciprocating. She opened her eyes and saw the question in the Borg's gaze. “Yes,” whispered Laren, as she looked into the eyes that had seen millions of lifetimes. Even with that awareness, or maybe because of it, Laren felt her body blaze hot for Seven once more. They kissed again, deeply.

 

This time Laren lifted herself above Seven, laying her body on top of the lovely Borg's. Then, she began her own trail of fire down the blonde's body – plotting the map of the woman's features, memorizing them for re-visitation. It was as if Seven were made for loving. Everywhere Laren stroked brought a beautiful gasp or a wondering sound of pleasure.

 

Sometimes Laren tested, seeing what kind of touch would bring which kind of noise. Her fingernails pressing and scraping along the Borg's side brought out a unique cry. The softest skimming touch swirling around a tender nipple summoned a whimper. Kisses drawing pathways along the Borg's abdomen, brought out even more wonderful sounds. And those beautiful legs... oh those gorgeous legs trembled and unfolded for her like butterfly wings. Laren stroked the insides of Seven's thighs, and trailed kisses until she arrived back at the point of origination. Silky blonde curls were long moist with desire. The Bajoran could see fine twirling lines, like tattoos under the downy cover of Seven's sex. She drew her tongue along those lines, until she felt Seven lift her hips urgently. “Please, Laren. Please.”

 

The Bajoran hummed and finally took Seven to her mouth. Her tongue searched and probed, finding the tender button and then dipping down to draw life's water and then rolling her tongue back up around that nub again. She supped the sweet saltiness of her cybernetic lover with abandon. Her hands continued their delicate assault, tracing a starburst here and then one there.

 

She pulled back briefly, long enough to barely whisper a vulgarity of want in Bajoran. Only someone with extraordinary hearing could have perceived it. Seven's eyelids popped open then her gaze slitted with desire. “Yes,” she hissed in reply. “Yes!” she demanded.

 

Laren grinned. She couldn't help it. She laughed a throaty laugh of erotic power and then slid one of her hands along the fine edge of Seven's abdominal implant, then down through the blond curls, along the tender lines. Then, she slid her fingers through the sensitive wet depth and finally thrust.

 

Seven growled and pushed back against Laren's hand. At least, that was what it sounded like to the Bajoran. Laren felt a heady rush of desire and adrenaline. The interesting thing was not just the push and pull, but Laren thought she felt... yes... there... another implant line, the difference was delicate, but she had become familiar to the different sensation by now. She pressed the point, deliberately trying to brush it as they created a new tempo.

 

This was where she wished she had as many hands as the Greeley. There were so many wonderful places to touch on Seven, so many places that lifted her lover higher. And higher. The Bajoran had to make do with her limitations, but oh did she try, until Seven arced and screamed out her joy again and again.

 

The Bajoran wondered what it was like for Seven, that thrilling orgasm she felt pulsing so deeply. The younger woman's responses thrilled her to the core and raised her desire to new levels. She began talking to Seven in Bajoran, praising her, loving her. She felt a rise of energy in the room, as if the prophets themselves were blessing the moment. And for the present, she believed. She truly believed.

 

Seven, meanwhile, was occupied with total sensation – Everything that she was collided in a Divine heap – a psychedelic rushing mesh of senses, pure pleasure, and analysis. She solved equations that had been bothering her for years - somewhere up there, in the state of heightened awareness. Omega claimed her, thrilled through her.

 

Seven, of course, never lost track of time. She might set it aside as irrelevant for a while, but she always knew when she was. She returned to her senses to find Laren reclining besides her. The Bajoran's was on her side, with her head propped up on one hand, and the other hand making long lazy circles on Seven's bare skin.

 

The Bajoran's smile was slight, but definitely there. “Welcome back,” she said. And Seven of Nine smiled in return.

 

==^==

 

Part 12 | Bookmarks

 

Seven of Nine kept her promise to Mezoti. She personally went to engineering to offer the Klingon her assistance with the matter. She left the baby at home in Icheb's care, in case she needed to work on the project immediately. She wore shoes, though not stilettos this time.

 

Now that she had been discovered by at least *one* person, finally, Seven decided to indulge her sense of humor again – perhaps with something a little more obvious this time. This time she chose to wear steel toed black “clod stomper,” boots. She also wore a sturdy denim-like – Jeans - and a simple work shirt – with three buttons left undone to reveal plenty of cleavage. She also wore a tool belt around her waist. She contemplated wearing a yellow helmet, but decided that would be too much. More importantly she realized she found the outfit surprisingly comfortable.

 

The engineers who were present that shift understood the reference. A couple of them swooned a bit and some of them started chortling when they saw her. After all, word of what had happened to the wall had run like wildfire through the crew. Though, everyone was very careful that the captain did not hear of it. Mezoti was only a child after all.... and, well, B'Elanna had threatened. Very effectively.

 

B'Elanna was just stepping out of her office when she scented Seven of Nine... Her attention whipped to the Borg and she took in the ensemble. Seven raised her ocular implant and gave her a smoky return gaze that pretty much took B'Elanna's breath away. Somehow, B'Elanna managed not to drop the part she was holding.

 

In fact she actually grasped it tighter, unconsciously indenting it.

 

“Lieutenant Torres, do you have a moment?” Seven inquired politely.

 

The Klingon managed to drag her tongue from the roof of her mouth long enough to say, “Yeah. Sure.” Then she abruptly turned and re-entered her office. She was frantically trying to pull herself together, but she knew instantly that Seven was right behind her. She could smell her beautiful fragrance, mixed very lightly with another's – as if she'd been hugged or something a touch more familiar.

 

Laren. She smelled Laren on Seven. The part in her hand cracked under the pressure. She looked down at it, trying to fathom her response. Then she felt warmth at her back.

 

A long arm reached around her, taking the part gently. “You smell her on me,” Seven whispered in her ear. “She smells good, doesn't she?” The Borg wasn't taunting, the Klingon knew that. She was observing, declaring. “She tastes even better.” B'Elanna felt a shiver run along her spine. Strong hands gripped the engineer's shoulders and gently turned her around. A cybernetic hand cupped her chin, lifted her gaze. “You knew her before, in the Maquis. You wanted her. She was... not available.”

 

B'Elanna had no idea how Seven knew that. She moistened her lips, swallowed, and tried to speak. She couldn't. There was a confidence in Seven's eyes that hadn't been there before and there was a blazing fire when she abruptly dragged B'Elanna by her jacket into a prolonged kiss. “Kahless,” the Klingon panted when Seven finally freed her. B'Elanna was pretty sure she couldn't feel her feet at the moment.

 

The Borg stepped away, unsmiling. She settled her hands on the tool-belt, and looked – if possible – even sexier. “Lieutenant Torres, I am here on a parental errand. Mezoti Hansen has damaged your office. I have come to repair it.”

 

B'Elanna barely tracked the change in topic, but she did get to it. “Leave it,” she ground out. Her fists were clenched tight. “I need the reminder.”

 

“I can give you better reminders than a hole in the wall, Lieutenant Torres.”

 

“B'Elanna. If you're going to kiss me like that, you'd better damn well call me B'Elanna afterwards.”

 

“B'Elanna.” Seven tilted her head in acknowledgment. “I promised Mezoti that I would fix the damage.” The Klingon stared at Seven. Without accusation, the Borg continued, “Just as you promised my family that there would, at some point, be resolution between us.”

 

There was a long silence between them. “Fix the wall, Seven.”

 

“As you wish.” Seven inclined her head, and pulled a tool out of her belt. “It shall not take long.”

 

“I need to go.”

 

“Lieutenant Ro will be in her office for another hour.”

 

B’Elanna wondered if she had been that transparent, but decided not to ask.

 

Seven turned and began to work on her task.

 

==^==

 

Kathryn Janeway was investing time in the ship's preparation. At some point, the Zakeeri would be showing up again, if not exactly the same Zakeeri who had been chasing them earlier. Their ships simply weren't that fast. But until they cleared the being's space, there were going to be encounters. And Kathryn wanted the next one to be the last one that involved phaser fire.

 

On the plus side, they had plenty of time. So, for once they would be able to meet their challengers head on. It's just, she wanted everything to be exactly right for the Zakeeri “welcome.”

 

Lieutenant Ro had been working closely with Seven and, among other things, the Brig had been updated with stronger forcefields. She was still waiting on the specifications for the uniforms and weapons that Seven had proposed, but she expected that would happen soon.

 

Her assistants were working out. Tal Celes was coming into her own, finally. Perhaps it was because of the surprisingly sure guidance of the older Bajoran. Maybe Kathryn should have made Lieutenant Ro a counselor. She might have done well at it.

 

On the other hand, things were running so much smoother that losing Ro now didn't bear thinking. Even Chakotay was starting to relax again and become his usual laid-back self. It was amazing how one person could make such a difference.

 

==^==

 

Lieutenant Ro was focusing on the schematics in front of her for several of the ship's developments when her office chime rang. She didn't even look up. “Enter.”

 

B'Elanna Torres strode in, growling. “You are going to pay!”

 

Laren looked up and felt a mix of amusement and perverse satisfaction wash over her. She stood up and walked around the desk to the shaking, growling woman. At least B'Elanna wasn't throwing things – like punches.

 

Laren made a split second decision, realizing she was probably taking her life into her own hands. She stepped into the Klingon's space. For the second time in the space of about ten minutes, B'Elanna got dragged close by her jacket and thoroughly kissed until all concentration had been completely wrecked.

 

When she regained her composure enough to communicate, she realized that Laren's thigh was between her legs and she was half sitting on the Bajoran's desk. Her jacket was undone and Laren's hand was making lazy circles on one of B'Elanna's breasts. “Laren... I...”

 

“Hmmm...” The Bajoran appeared to be very focused now that she was kissing along B'Elanna's jawline.

 

“Sweet, Kahless.”

 

Laren's chuckle was dry, husky and warm. B'Elanna felt the burn of desire – differently flavored, but definitely there – roll through her. “Laren, I thought... you and Seven...”

 

“Oh,” Laren captured B'Elanna's ear in her teeth, biting lightly before continuing. “We are. Definitely.” The nibbles continued along the strong line of B'Elanna's neck.

 

B'Elanna found that it was very difficult to become jealous when one's neck was getting nibbled. “Laren...”

 

The Bajoran pulled her attention back up, covering the Klingon's mouth in another searing kiss. Then she let go of B'Elanna enough to meet her eye to eye. “Seven and I had a very long conversation. About you. About the captain. About herself and her family.”

 

“You... you did?”

 

“Oh yes. She's very direct. Or haven't you noticed?” Then, abruptly she let B'Elanna go. “Though, sometimes I wonder what she sees in you. You've been terrible to her. The captain, in some ways has been worse.”

 

“Wait a minute, I ...”

 

“You're very fortunate she's the forgiving sort. I am much less so.” Laren gave B'Elanna a stern look, and there was a dark, dangerous gleam in her eyes. “On the other hand, I've loved you for forever, so ... I suppose I can forgive you for breaking her heart in the past. But that's over. Right.” She poked B'Elanna in the chest. “Right?”

 

“I... Ow. Yes... But she and I... she makes me crazy sometimes.”

 

“Good. You wouldn't be you if there weren't a little fire in the mix.”

 

“True.” There was a beat, “Wait. You love me?!”

 

Laren gave her another lingering kiss. “We'll have to continue this sometime later. I've got a report to give.”

 

“Continue? We will continue this?”

 

“Oh. Yes. Seven wouldn't have it any other way.” Laren's rare smile was tight, but there. Then she reached around the woman and grabbed a PADD.

 

Then she felt herself jerked forward in B'Elanna's grasp. This time it was the Klingon woman doing the kissing. And what a kiss it was. By the time she was done it was Laren who was sitting on the edge of her desk looking shocked and slightly disheveled.

 

B'Elanna gave her a feral smile and a sexy growl for good measure, before turning on her heel and stalking back out of Laren's office.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna made her way back to her office, fully expecting to see Seven there, but the Borg was gone. The engineer looked towards the wall that Mezoti had broken. It was definitely fixed. But, appended to the wall were three images in as many frames. One was an image of the Hansen family. The other was an image of Ro Laren. The other was an image of the Captain.

 

==^==

 

Ro Laren entered the Ready Room abruptly. She turned her attention briefly, very briefly, to the ensign working in the corner. “Get Out!” She barked the order as if she were the captain herself. The ensign dropped the PADD he was working on, but somehow managed not to just bolt. He looked to the Captain – who nodded. Then he scrabbled for the PADD, picked it up and made his escape.

 

Ro waited with barely restrained energy as the ensign passed her. Then once he exited, she ordered the door privacy locked.

 

“Lieutenant, what is this about?”

 

The Bajoran waited until she was behind the captain's desk. “Seven of Nine sends you greetings.”

 

Kathryn, meanwhile, had scrambled to a standing position. Which was good, because then Laren didn't have to lean too far down. Laren cupped her hand around Kathryn's neck and pulled the woman forward into a pulse-pounding kiss.

 

It lasted a good while.

 

“Oh. That's what this is about,” Kathryn answered when she was finally let up for air. “And what about fraternization rules?” If there was a bit of sparkle in the captain's gaze, Ro didn't quite notice it. At the moment her own mind was spinning. Kissing B'Elanna was one thing. She'd contemplated that moment for years, even if she'd only been taking advantage of the moment. But this was... sudden and amazing and disconcerting. This had not been intended.

 

“Irrelevant,” Replied Ro, falling back on a word she'd heard more than once lately. The captain's eyebrows lifted. “...due to unusual circumstances - at least according to Seven. I tend to agree.” The Bajoran husked. She laid the PADD she'd been carrying on the desk and then stepped away from Kathryn. Or rather tried to. Her arms were grasped by surprisingly strong hands.

 

“Going somewhere Lieutenant?” Kathryn grinned at the nonplussed woman with a touch of wickedness. “Understand, this isn't my usual style. I should throw you in the Brig. That's what I should do.” She gave the younger woman a bit of a shake. “But you're already confined to quarters.” Her expression became shrewd. “And I suspect there is more to this message, isn't there.”

 

Laren finally lifted her gaze, to stare at the Captain with more than a hint of embarrassment. The idea had seemed so simple when she'd rehearsed it in her head. “Yes. Seven and I... came to an understanding yesterday. We are of an accord – in interest in each other... and select others.”

 

“Oh my.”

 

“I... we... were going to wait. But then B'Elanna came to my office and was piping mad. So I ... kissed her. Because it was either that or get slugged. Then ... she kissed me and wow. I mean, Wow. It wasn't planned this way. I have... hurried things. It wasn't impatience. I just… B'Elanna was right there and I lost track. All I could remember was that I was supposed to give you Seven's greetings.” Laren could not believe she was babbling. She never babbled.

 

“Just not with a kiss.”

 

“Well. No.” Laren's lips quirked.but she would have approved. It was... efficient.”

 

Captain Kathryn Janeway began to laugh. She couldn't quite help it. She was feeling a bit giddy. “I see.” She still hadn't let Laren go. She was afraid she'd bolt. “Stay right there Lieutenant. That's an order.”

 

Ro blinked. “Yes, Captain.”

 

Kathryn pressed emphatically against the Bajoran's arms. Then she let go. The Lieutenant did not run. The older woman turned and picked up the PADD that Ro had placed on her desk. She looked at it. “The uniform specs?”

 

“Yes, Captain. Five possible designs. Each modifiable according to duty section.”

 

“Hmmm.” The captain continued to look at the PADD. “Lieutenant Ro, may I call you Laren?”

 

“Yes, Captain.”

 

“You may call me Kathryn, in private and in family, understood?”

 

“Yes, Cap... Kathryn.”

 

“Excellent, Laren. The truth is, Seven is right. These are unusual circumstances we find ourselves in.” Kathryn couldn't help thinking how unusual. She set the PADD down, put her hands on her hips and turned to face Laren again. “At one time I would have found being alone, save for the occasional ... non-crew encounter... an acceptable loss – no matter how long it took us to get back. But I've had reason to rethink my grand, glorious plan. And it sounds as if Seven and you have concocted an illustrious one of your own. I am not disinclined.” She smiled whimsically. “Also, certain... impressions could be useful to our... future guests.”

 

“Strength in numbers...”

 

“Exactly. They do seem to operate in multiples. Now, here is what we're going to do...”

 

“Wait. Odd numbers.”

 

“Damn. You're right. Then we will simply have to find a fifth.”

 

“A fifth?!” squeaked the Bajoran.

 

“They don't have to be intimate with us. Though I'm sure Seven would find a way.” Kathryn chuckled at the thought. “Poor Chakotay. She did try for him.”

 

“Wait. What?” Laren's eyes were bugging.

 

“Oh. Nothing. Never happened.” Kathryn waved her hand vaguely and then continued commenting on the Borg. “Faithful and true though, that's what our Borg are. Once you free them from the Queen. And, I'm all for keeping Seven happy. She is worth the journey, yes?” Kathryn began to pace. She wagged her finger in no particular direction. “Whomever we choose will just need to be an obvious member of the family unit. Someone whom we are already comfortable with – who might already be considered family by ... well most of us. That way we'll act naturally around them, regardless. Of course, the whole ship could be defined that way. Hah! But wouldn't that just turn the pips of some old Admirals.” Kathryn gave an evil chuckle, and then brought herself back to point. “I think, perhaps... an old friend of mine.”

 

“Oh. Prophets.”

 

“Straighten your jacket, dear. I'm about to invite him in on the plot.”

 

“Prophets. Prophets! Prophets!!”

 

“Janeway to Tuvok. May I see you in my ready room please.” Janeway walked passed the Bajoran, but not without laying a quick buss on the Bajoran's mouth. “Oh, and, we'll use all the uniform choices I think. It'll give the impression of more numbers on this ship than we actually have. Use standard Starfleet colors – as shoulder patches, so on. We'll have certain officers change uniforms every four hours or so. We all look the same to aliens, you know, until they start marking the difference. We'll get the Doctor to help with the illusion.”

 

Laren was quick witted, usually quick footed, and was still trying to catch up. She grabbed up the PADD and began taking notations. “Yes, Captain.” Then she paused, “Chakotay will be disappointed.”

 

Kathryn's eyes flashed with an old, grim pain. “He'll live. He'll find someone else. He always does. Anyone else, but me.”

 

“I... see.”

 

“Don't worry about it, Laren. I let it go a long time ago.”

 

“Yes, Kathryn.” The captain could practically hear the vow of future comfort being made by the Bajoran.

 

The entry chime rang.

 

==^==

 

Part 13 | Bookmarks

 

While Tuvok could not claim that the plan was logical, he did say it was workable and agreed to participate.

 

“Well, I guess it's time for a conference then,” stated Janeway once he accepted. She called Seven of Nine and B'Elanna Torres to the Ready Room.

 

==^==

 

“Seven, it seems you have been a busy woman.”

 

“Elucidate, please.”

 

“It's my fault,” Laren interjected. “I got... a little carried away.”

 

“You?” Seven was honestly surprised, since the Bajoran was the last person, next to Tuvok and perhaps Vorik, who would have behaved purely on impulse. Except, perhaps, for yesterday.

 

“Well... I got little ahead of the plan, Seven. It's not normal behavior for me. True. But nothing has been normal for me since... last night.”

 

“Indeed.” Seven paused, “The same might be said for myself.” She conceded. “Perhaps it is my own fault. I teased B'Elanna earlier today. Then I told her where you were.” Seven raised her eyebrow at the Klingon, who wasn't glaring as much as she probably should have been, given the circumstance.

 

“Oh.” Laren began to chuckle. “That explains so much.”

 

“Ladies, can we save this conversation for later? Though, I would just love to hear more about this plan you two concocted.”

 

Laren winced. Seven just nodded and responded practically. “Of course, Captain.”

 

“Then let us get down to... family business.” Now that they were all here, Kathryn wasn't quite sure where to start. But she was captain for a reason. She started with, “As you all know, the Zakeeri are going to be laying in wait for us somewhere along our current journey. We can expect that they have extrapolated our possible stopping points by now. We have a plan, given what we know about their battle strategies, to take care of the problem while their numbers are relatively small. We also wish to impress upon them, once we have enacted this plan, that we are not a people to be trifled with. I'm sure, that Seven's and Laren's purpose was not to enact a possible method for impressing the Zakeeri. But I intend to take advantage of the fact that they have been... ahem... working behind the scenes so to speak, to bring about... a union of personalities.” She gave the two women a bit of the stink-eye, but couldn't quite help grinning afterwards. “I am also looking forward to the full benefits of such a union...”

 

It was probably a good thing that B'Elanna hadn't been drinking anything right at that moment. The noise she made was humorous enough. Seven merely raised her ocular implant. Laren's lips twitched. Tuvok, who had already agreed with the plan, remained neutral in his expression. Kathryn was really trying hard not to be overcome by the levity of the situation. The captain continued, “But it was Laren who pointed out that the Zakeeri family or tribal units operate in odd numbers. Thus, the presence of Tuvok in this little conversation.”

 

“So... wait... How official is this going to be?” B'Elanna asked. She kept flashing back to several days ago, when she'd been in the Hansen quarters.

 

Tuvok offered, “Perhaps we should treat this as something similar to a house contract. It would then be up to the family to create a ... communal name and crest, and to set the parameters of... interpersonal relationship. The individuals would keep their original last names, and append the house name to it.”

 

“Satisfactory,” stated Seven, who already had a number of designations anyway. One more did not matter to her.

 

“The contract should be Klingon.”

 

“Why is that?” Kathryn asked with curiosity.

 

“Klingons are a known warrior race.”

 

“Not in the Delta quadrant.” Laren pointed out.

 

“Perhaps not. But we don't know that. There have been many Klingon explorers in the past. They might have made it to this part of the Galaxy.” She waved that issue off, since it was distracting her. “That's beside the point. Klingons have a tradition of creating family houses. The procedures are established. And they're fairly simple. Of course, we could also go with my mother's house, if it came to that. But I do not know what she would think... would have thought...”

 

“Vulcan's also have similar practices, but they are more complicated. The Klingon method would be recognized by the Federation and would solve the problem of legitimacy. And, it could, if you wish – afterwards be dissolved as easily.”

 

“Oh, we're not dissolving a House I build.”

 

“B'Elanna.”

 

“I mean it captain. Honor demands it. Especially since there are children involved.”


“... Oh yes... The children... Should they be brought into this discussion now?”

 

“I believe,” said Seven, “that it would be best if we worked out the details first and then presented it to my children. They are adaptable. But I agree with B'Elanna. If we join this new... house... I and my children will not be leaving it.”

 

“That's quite the commitment Seven.”

 

“Is that not what this is about?”

 

“Yes. I believe it is.”

 

“Mind if I get a word in,” Laren said.

 

“Go ahead.”

 

“My family...” She honestly thought she could talk about it. But words failed her. She retreated to simplicity. “They're all dead. If I join this House, I intend to stay.”

 

“You know, this is happening awfully rapidly...”

 

“Some decisions are best made quickly, captain.”

 

“True.” Kathryn paused, trying to think of how to articulate her thought. “I hesitate to bring this up, but we're all adults here.”

 

“You wish to bring up issues of fidelity.” Seven seemed to grab the thought from out of thin air. Kathryn was never sure how the Borg managed to do that. Maybe it was that she read facial features so completely. “You all know where I stand. I am not possessive. I do not expect you to be possessive of me, since you claim to be free adult individuals. However, I will honor meaningful commitments. I will play safe. I will not plan on bringing more members to our family unit. I am more than satisfied with the number.”

 

Janeway's mouth twitched. “I'm glad to hear it. I find myself overwhelmed. I'd like to propose that we let time decide that particular factor for us.” Then she waggled her brows jokingly. “Besides, you may find us plenty to handle, Seven.”

 

The ex-drone merely nodded. “I accept the challenge.”

 

“Kahless on a Stick. We are getting married.”

 

“I suppose you might say we are.”

 

“But, what about Tuvok. He's already...”

 

“There are reasons besides disguise for me to consider this option. If this... House... is being formed T'Pel must be considered a member. If only in absence. The name and crest would be added to the rosters of Vulcan.”

 

Kathryn smiled gently at her friend. “Of course, Tuvok. Though that does play havoc with our odd numbers.”

 

“Logically, the matter need not be brought up to those who are outside of our family. And it would allow T'Pel to be our representative in the Federation. She might also seek companionship, to fit our requirement… and need.”

 

“Oh boy,” whispered B'Elanna as she recognized the implication. “How long do you have, Tuvok.

 

“It will not be this week, Lieutenant Torres.”

 

“We're family now, Tuvok. Please call me B'Elanna. And you're evading the question.”

 

Tuvok nodded at the Klingon woman. “The time is near, but not at hand, B'Elanna. That is as specific as I can get at this moment.”

 

Kathryn immediately felt out of her depth, but she continued on gamely. “We will address that as a family when the time comes. That's the point of this all, I guess. Tuvok, please keep us informed.”

 

“I will, Kathryn.”

 

“Right, then.” When did she start thinking that temporal problems were easier to solve? Oh yes, about ten seconds ago. “Tuvok has brought up an interesting point. We would need a representative of the house – someone who is not of the House itself – but authorized for trade, here in the Delta quadrant. That is, if I understand one of the purposes of Houses for Klingons.”

 

“The gathering of prestige and wealth is one purpose, though it's not always easily achieved,” acknowledged B'Elanna. “It would help establish legitimacy, at least from a Klingon perspective.”

 

“Neelix.” Laren offered.

 

“It would explain his – singular – presence on this ship.”

 

“But then, so would being ship's cook.”

 

“He has assistance now and has studied a variety of other departmental practices. He is an excellent, if talkative, negotiator.”

 

“He does make a good diplomat.”

 

“Surely.”

 

“He'd need a more status-oriented office.”

 

“It can be arranged, captain.”

 

“Of course. I'll give up two of my assistants – specifically Tal Celes and Rafe Angus.”

 

“Clever, Kathryn. That makes three.”

 

“Yes. While we won't go overboard, this is a Federation ship after all, we do want a sufficient number of the crew providing a comfort zone of commonality for our future guests.”

 

“So you're going to try and convince them rather than beat them.”

 

“It's the Federation way.”

 

“So how many of the crew should be in on the odd group plan?”

 

“Just to keep it in harmony, let's say one third. All volunteer. They should probably also share quarters, at least for the time being.”

 

“This just gets better and better.”

 

“Well, it's one way to make space on this ship.”

 

Tuvok and Seven watched as the others started laughing helplessly.

 

When they managed to collect themselves, Seven brought up a different topic. “As we are forming an official bond, it is appropriate that you all should be informed first. A name has been decided for the baby. We have named her Emina, which means 'beloved.'”

 

==^==

 

It was decided that since B'Elanna was – as far as she knew – the last of her line, they would take on the house name Presba. That way that old line would continue, and perhaps find renewal.

 

There were two women who suddenly felt a strange stir – a greater sense – of destiny. One was B'Elanna Torres, who felt a pure ownership of her heritage sing through her. The other was Kathryn Janeway, as she recalled who had visited her earlier. She felt the awareness strongly enough that goose-pimples rolled right up her back.

 

“We'll need to perform the ceremony relatively quickly,” she said. “The sooner the better. Can we use a Holodeck?”

 

B'Elanna nodded. “I think so. The only thing that definitely needs to be real is the ceremonial knife and bowl.”

 

“There's going to be blood isn't there.”

 

“Are you kidding? It's a Klingon ritual.”

 

==^==

 

Part 14 | Bookmarks

 

The beauty of the Klingon ritual was that there was no paperwork, aside from a submission of names to the Imperial register. The difficulty was that there were several obligations that came with taking on a Klingon house name. This included the possibility that if a family issue arose in the Klingon Empire, they might be required to deal with it. More precisely, it might be T'Pel who had to deal with it, since she happened to be closest to the Empire at the moment. Not that there should be any problems anyway. The House Presba was currently very small and unnoticeable.

 

By default, because she was the daughter of Miral, B'Elanna would be Epatai. They would figure out the logistics as they went along, but for the moment, the adults understood it to mean that B'Elanna would have the right of “final decision,” in family-house matters. When she'd been reminded of that she'd let out an impressive series of imprecations that lasted for nearly twenty minutes, but she'd finally conceded that it was appropriate to the situation.

 

So five hours later, near the strike of the midnight hour, the whole family was gathered in the Holodeck – adults and children – all to be adopted into the House Presba; and two witnesses – Neelix and The Doctor. The Holodeck took care of their costumes, putting them into traditional Klingon outfits appropriate for their individual style and station. The setting was that of Boreth's Monastery. The monastery was one of the Klingon's most sacred sites and set in high, snow-topped mountains. They were inside one of the great courtyards, near an altar above which towered a larger than life portrait of Kahless the Unforgettable.

 

Kathryn Janeway could swear that his eyes followed their every move. But that was probably related to the still lingering effects of not enough sleep. At least, from her perspective, his visage – hallucination that it was – was not giving her dire looks. That might have been too much, even for the strong-willed captain.

 

Finally it was time and the ceremony began, with B'Elanna presiding and saying the ritual words and then the cuts were made and the bowl was filled until all of their blood mixed – green, red and lavender. After they were each splashed and painted with the mixed blood on their faces, even Emina, it was official. They were House Presba.

 

==^==

 

The celebration was very short given that all of the adults, except for the Doctor, were actually very, very tired. Even Seven needed to regenerate. They had all been throwing themselves into preparing for the Zakeeri – and the stresses of the day did weigh.

 

So, with a few kisses, hugs, and caring words the family separated and went to their quarters.

 

It was perhaps for the best, Tuvok thought, since it would give some of them time to meditate on the wild change in course their lives had taken. It had not escaped him that he had taken on the obligations of fatherhood, among other things. There was also an undercurrent to their commitment ceremony that had called to him strongly and he felt he needed to understand it before mentioning it to anyone. He opted to take the scenic route back to his quarters.

 

The children, of course, were overwhelmed. Icheb and the boys were already investigating the implications of being part of a Klingon House within their cortical nodes, excitedly communicating between themselves. Mezoti joined them on only the most surface level. She was ecstatic and she clung to her mother's hand – adoration in her eyes. “You fixed it. Like you said you would. You fixed it!” The baby, weary from all the excitement, slept in the crook of Seven's arm, while the somewhat stunned head of the family Hansen of House Presba, walked with stately grace and listened to her children's unexpectedly complete joy.

 

In the turbolift on the way to the officers' quarter deck, Laren made her case before the captain. “Let one of us stay with you tonight, Kathryn. We can all see you haven't been sleeping. If one of us were there, we could guard you.”

 

Kathryn's smile had been weary. “Not against dreams, my dear. Besides I'm used to it now. I'll sleep for a few hours, and then get up. I'll be fine.”

 

“No, you won't,” piped in B'Elanna. “Come, stay with one of us then, if you don't want us going with you.”

 

“B'Elanna...”

 

“Shall I make this a family matter?”

 

Startled, Kathryn looked at the new head of the household. “You wouldn't?!”

 

“Oh, I would. You're running yourself ragged.” She took one of Kathryn's hands in her own. “Don't suffer alone any more, Kathryn. Even if you don't sleep long, let one us be there to hold you – after.”

 

“You heard me, during ... that nap.”

 

“Yes.” B'Elanna's lips quirked, “I'd say that both of us should stay with you, but I don't think your bed would be large enough.”

 

Laren quipped, “Seven's would though.”

 

“It would?”

 

“Oh, yes. It's quite a set up she has in her private room.” Then she began to explain.

 

The women were chuckling about Borg ingenuity when they exited the turbolift.

 

Kathryn finally said, “Look, the truth is, I'm too tired to choose between you. Why don't you both just come in and we'll arrange things how we arrange them.” She stopped at the door and gave Ro a mock glare, “Although you, technically, are still confined to quarters.”

 

“Unless on Captain's business.”

 

Kathryn gave a throaty laugh. “There is that. Okay, you two win. But...”

 

“Don't worry about it, Kathryn. We will just sleep. Let us guard you tonight.”

 

==^==

 

In the end, B’Elanna slept on the bed with Kathryn and Laren made a place at the foot of the bed on the floor. “It's traditional,” she'd given as an answer when asked why. “Besides, couches make my back ache.” Then she'd given Kathryn a long, very friendly kiss before turning to B'Elanna to do the same to her. She'd groaned. “Remind me again that we have tomorrow.”

 

“We have tomorrow.”

 

“Right. Right. Good night, my loved ones.”

 

“Good night, Laren.”

 

==^==

 

The nightmares were there - old, deadly enemies. Kathryn fought not to wake up, but did anyway, gasping and sweating. But she was quickly enclosed by loving pairs of arms. They kissed her, whispered to her, pulled her away from the gripping darkness into their light. She fell into them, like they were angels' wings – like they had loved one another forever.

 

There was no pressure in the soft, reassuring touches and kisses – only comfort. In a few minutes, Kathryn was more composed, felt more like herself, even as she was leaning into their fiercely protective hold. “We've got you,” B'Elanna whispered.

 

Kathryn chuckled dryly and whispered back. “You surely do.”

 

“Do you want to try and go back to sleep?” Laren asked as she stroked the captain's back.

 

“I don't know that I can. The nightmares, they just come right back.”

 

“Then let us hold you for awhile.”

 

“Yes.”

 

So they did.

 

==^==

 

Duty was both easier and more trying to return to. Kathryn did feel more rested, though she'd probably had the same amount of sleep she'd been having lately. However, she'd also not wanted to leave the secure space they'd made for her.

 

Necessity was a great motivator, however. Just before the end of the Gamma shift, the yellow alert klaxon rang.

 

==^==

 

“Zakeeri?”

 

“No, Captain. Unknown vessel approaching very quickly.” Ensign Kim stated as he gave up the captain's chair.

 

“Slow us down to impulse. Hail the other ship.” When she was given the nod, the captain put her fists on her hips and made her usual announcement – with a few adjustments. “This is the Federation starship Voyager. I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the House Presba.”

 

Except for Lieutenant Ro, the bridge crews' heads whipped around so fast that Kathryn could swear she heard the wind blow. She ignored them and continued her greeting. “Please state the nature of your business.” Then they waited.

 

In a few moments, the face of another space-faring Delta quadrant native was revealed. It was dark, large and furry. It gazed at them through yellow eyes. It's snout wrinkled as it spoke. “I am Gdistero of the Fesoon.” The way he said the word, it came out sounding like a sneeze. “I am coming to you, because I have heard that the Zakeeri are again on the hunt. I have products that I believe you would be interested in. Things guaranteed to defeat the Zakeeri.” He sneered, baring his sharp teeth.

 

Somewhere in the back of her mind was the Greeley warning. Her years of experience came to the fore and intuition suddenly poked at her. “No, thank you, Gdistero of the Fesoon. We will handle the Zakeeri on our own.”

 

The alien reared back, “Do you know who you...”

 

“On the other hand,” she rode right over its indignation, “If you have items of trade that are not related to such an endeavor, we would be interested. You have caught us in our tertiary shift. My man Neelix, would be our representative, but he is still sleeping. If you're willing to wait...”

 

“Then you are willing to trade, but not to...”

 

“No weapons, Gdistero. We have plenty of our own.”

 

“I... see. Perhaps there is something that could be arranged.”

 

“We look forward to it.”

 

==^==

 

After Gdistero was happily sent on its way, an announcement was put on the ship's systems about the plan. Uniform specs were distributed. A surprising number of crew volunteered immediately, though some had to think about it a bit.

 

It wasn't long before the changes could be seen in the corridors, the mess hall, and other places where the crew congregated regularly. There was a heady mix of the new plus the old and it gave Voyager a sense of lively activity. Individuals negotiated with each other regarding names and quarters, as they set their part of the plan in motion.

 

And it did increase space, as some quarters were emptied and others were filled. Chakotay found his hands full as he tried to work out the best allocations.

 

Personally he was struggling with the invitation Tom Paris and Harry Kim had made to him. “Come on,” they'd cajoled. “It'll be fun.”

 

He was feeling ambivalent about the whole thing anyway. Especially when he realized he'd been excluded from the original development. The captain hadn't even tried to justify it. She'd merely told him that she and the others had been talking family business when the topic came up and she was informing him now because he was her first officer.

 

Her tone had set him aback, and it was hard to overcome his resentment, but he did try. He speculated that it was just the captain attempting to immerse herself in character. He supposed it would be effective, since it did almost convince him. Almost. But he knew it was all for show.

 

In the end that was the reason he said yes to the younger men, even though he questioned the whole endeavor. He would support the captain in another one of her crazy schemes – basically because they usually worked. He had already decided though, he wasn't going to go changing into yet another uniform.

 

==^==

 

This time it was Icheb who visited engineering. He chimed the entrance to B'Elanna's office and waited respectfully. He entered when she sang out, “Come in.”

 

“Mother sent me to give you this, Epatai.” the Brunali said. He offered the gift – a framed image of Tuvok, to the Lieutenant. “She said to tell you that your home is open to you at any time.”

 

B'Elanna took the image in both her hands. She felt a flutter in her hearts. She looked up at Icheb and arrived at a decision. “Son, tell her I will come to her tonight.”

 

“Yes, Epatai.”

 

“SoS, Icheb. If you're going to use Klingon to call me something. Let's go with SoS. Wait. You're old enough to have the choice. Call me SoS or B'Elanna... Except on formal occasions, where someone else is required to know my rank. Then use the rank that is most appropriate to the situation.”

 

“Yes.... SoS.”

 

“Good. Tell your siblings.”

 

“I will convey the message, SoS.”

 

She hoped she wasn't overstepping with that particular decision. But she was sure she would hear about it from Seven if she were. When he left, she put the image of Tuvok in its rightful place on the wall. Then she called Laren and Tuvok.

 

==^==

 

That night, B'Elanna Torres kept her word and went back to the Hansen family residence. Once again she found herself looking at the name plate. Just for fun she watched it scroll by, before entering. Thus she saw that the name plate now said, “Hansen of the House Presba,” followed by a very digital looking image of a Bat'leth and then another very digital version of the Presba family crest.

 

That just started her giggling. And so it was, that she entered her alternate home in good spirits, without worry.

 

She didn't expect the missile strike. Or rather the rapid movement of Borg children in her direction. She'd never realized how fast they could move. But she found herself, or rather parts of herself being hugged enthusiastically by Mezoti, Azan and Rebi. “SoS!”

 

It was quite the welcome, but she relished it. She realized, rather rapidly, how very vulnerable these youngsters were. That realization aroused her protective sensibilities. Suddenly she was very appreciative of the security protocols that were in place for their home.

 

“And how are you, little ones? Have you had a good day?”

 

There were a variety of replies, one over the top of the other. “Fine. Operating within acceptable parameters, Well, thank you. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

 

Again she couldn't help the laughing. “Okay, kiddos. That's good to know.” She hugged them back and they let her go and she suddenly missed them.

 

Azan grabbed one of her hands and began leading her further into the domicile. Rebi began explaining. “Mother is feeding Emina. Icheb is making dinner. It's his turn.”

 

“Ah. Well, food is good.”

 

“Especially when Icheb cooks.” Mezoti quipped.

 

B'Elanna made note of that bit of trivia for later. “I look forward to it.”

 

Azan kept his peace, but led his SoS directly, give or take, to his Mother. There he let go of her, and then he and his siblings left the room.

 

Seven was reclining in a comfortable looking sofa in the recreation room. A blanket was covering her modestly, though her shirt was obviously open. B'Elanna's voice caught in her throat at the sight. “Seven,” she whispered.

 

It was enough for Seven's hearing. She looked up and gazed serenely at her Klingon. “Epatai B'Elanna Torres, it is... good to see you.”

 

“So formal Seven?”

 

“I prefer to think of it as respectful. It has been my lack of respect, which you criticized in the past. Is this not true?”

 

“That was before...”

 

“Many things have changed, B'Elanna.” Seven indicated a spot near to her. “Please, BangwI. Sit with me.”

 

How could she resist such a request? She settled on the edge of the seat so she could turn and look at Seven holding Emina. “You're beautiful, you know.”

 

“I believe that observation is... subjective, B'Elanna.” Still Seven gave the Klingon a slight smile anyway for the compliment. “I could easily say the same about you.”

 

B'Elanna felt her skin flush with pleasure. “Well, if you don't mind, maybe I'll just observe some more.”

 

“I would be pleased if you would.”

 

It was time well spent. When dinner came around, B'Elanna found out what Laren had discovered. She was drawn into the dinner conversation and enjoyed herself immensely. Soon enough – in that way that time hurries when one is having a good time – the kids were being tucked in for the night. Icheb had plans for the evening and said his farewells. And at last, B'Elanna and Seven found themselves alone.

 

Seven looked at the suddenly nervous Klingon with some amusement. “When Laren was here, I offered her the option of leaving. There are exits on every floor,” she teased.

 

“Seven...”

 

The Borg extended her hand. “Come with me. You'll feel better when you know we have absolute privacy. Then...” Her smile turned sultry. “We may do whatever you like.”

 

B'Elanna took the proffered hand. “Lead on.”

 

Seven pulled B'Elanna to the lift, and then pulled her close. B'Elanna was sure that the blonde had pressed a button some time, but she didn't know how, since her hands seemed to be occupied with touching B'Elanna in wonderful ways. “I think,” said Seven, “Next time my quarters will be on the family level. This just takes too long.”

 

The Klingon's chuckle was more like a growl. She allowed herself to be led into Seven's abode and didn't even really care what it looked like. “Do you know how long I have wanted this, Seven?”

 

“Privacy settings Omega 1.” Seven was saying at the same time. She set the soundproofing level and then turned to answer B'Elanna's question with an exact date-set.

 

Bemused, the Klingon couldn't even bring up an argument, because Seven was pretty much correct.

 

She lost her focus when Seven ripped her own shirt right off to reveal a gorgeous torso covered in ornate trails of shining metal that blended into alabaster skin. The Borg lifted her cybernetic hand and drew a line with her index finger just above her left breast and under her collarbone. A thin stripe of red revealed itself. Then she drew two fingers of her other hand down, as if wiping the blood away.

 

She displayed those fingers to B'Elanna, holding them up like a bloody scout salute.

 

This time it was B'Elanna who moved with unearthly quickness. She grasped that hand tightly and drew the fingers down to scent them, taste them. This time, there was no mistaking the sound that came from her. Desire rumbled through her. She bared her teeth. Her eyes dilated.

 

“Bed. Now.”

 

“Yes, B'Elanna.”

 

The Klingon was startled when she was abruptly picked up. She half expected to be thrown, but instead, Seven merely carried her until they were at the wonderfully crafted surface of her bed. She set B'Elanna down and then, with little preamble, began kissing and undressing the woman at the same time.

 

The kisses started softly enough, but they gained speed and pressure as more skin became available to the touch. B'Elanna's hands were also roaming, and she was surprised at the passionate sounds coming from Seven with the merest touch. At some point, she realized she absolutely had to get the pants off of the blonde. She tore them off, forgetting to monitor her strength.

 

Another might have been appalled. Seven got more excited. She opened herself to B'Elanna's touch, hungering for her in ways that had recently been inexpressible.

 

B'Elanna, meanwhile, was thrilling to Seven's wetness – to the groaning, moving woman above her. She needed to fill her, to feel her, to taste her, to flip her over more edges than one. She needed to discover more secrets about Seven.

 

Suddenly Seven of Nine found herself on her back and she wasn't quite sure how she'd gotten there. But honestly, she didn't care, as long as her hands were on B'Elanna, she was good.

 

Every touch of the Klingon upon her was wonderful fire, scorching through her delectably. She was having challenges keeping up, but she was Borg. She just began processing the information faster. And she realized that B'Elanna was half dressed, where she was completely uncovered. That situation needed to be rectified.

 

Besides, she'd had plans.

 

B'Elanna suddenly realized that Seven had moved. A low growl emanated from her, until she also realized that she was now as bare to the galaxy as Seven was. Then the growl turned into a warm, throaty chuckle... and then a gasp. Seven's hands slid up B'Elanna's thighs, buttocks and hips, until she unerringly found what she was looking for. Seven began to massage certain points where the trunk and hips connected – the special ridges there.

 

No one had ever found those before. No one.

 

B'Elanna's hands dug into the mattress and she pushed back unconsciously, helplessly, howling a bit, and Seven's mouth found her. The blonde's tongue and mouth were busy upon her, sliding through wet folds until she found another set of the many treasures of B'Elanna.

 

Klingon redundancy was such a marvelous thing, Seven thought whimsically. Her tongue pressed and swirled against two lovely nerve bundles, one clustered on one side, and the other on another. They stiffened against the gentle assault, brushing in wonderful ways against her tongue and each other. Seven vaguely wondered how B'Elanna was able to walk when she was turned on, but set that thought aside for later. This investigation was much too important to be caught up in trivialities. B'Elanna was moaning above her, grinding her hips in instinctive reaction. She arched when Seven scraped her fingers hard across the Klingon's sides. And then, as an exercise, Seven growled against the Klingon's center.

 

That was a revelation.

 

Inordinately excited by B'Elanna's responses, Seven realized that they needed to change their positions. She needed B'Elanna's touch as much as she needed to be touching. So she communicated, in that practical Borg way.

 

“Oh, Kahless, Yes!” B'Elanna had responded – since she'd realized she'd needed that as much and was still trying to figure out how to get the message across.

 

Moments later, B'Elanna was freely indulging in her newly acquired taste for one particular Seven of Nine. The blonde returned to her own repast with equally great pleasure. Their bodies skimmed together, made them electric to each other. There was push and pull as they discovered each other's erogenous zones, dipped deeper into the wet-fire with mouth and hand, and summoned each other higher and higher into the plains of pleasure. There was so much to learn about each other and it was a joy to discover.

 

Soon, there was the point of no return, one starting and then cascading into the other. Their cries and bodies arced, casting them into the sweetness. Their return was slow, inevitable and a joy of its own. They were still touching, sliding their hands slowly along each other's bodies – refusing to let go of one another even at the greatest height.

 

“Seven, Oh, Seven, why did we wait so long?” B'Elanna whispered the question against the Borg's thigh.

 

She felt Seven draw her up and around, until blue fire met brown. Seven pulled her into a deep embrace, “We weren't ready, B'Elanna.” Then she kissed the Klingon, tenderly and with great reverence.

 

B'Elanna leaned into Seven's embrace and was amazed to realize that she was already feeling her blood begin to sing again. “Seven?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“More.”

 

“Yes, B'Elanna.”

 

“Seven?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I love you.”

 

“And I love you, B’Elanna Torres. Infinitely.”

 

“Infinitely.”

 

==^==

 

Part 15 | Bookmarks

 

Tuvok and Laren were waiting for Kathryn at her door. The captain placed her hands on her hips, tilted her head and quirked her lips in amusement. “Am I not going to be allowed to sleep on my own then?”

 

Laren gave her a small smile, “Not for the foreseeable future, Kathryn. The Epatai insists.” She reached forward and slid a hand gently along the captains' weary face. “Tuvok and I will guard you tonight. Besides...”

 

“Tuvok is a telepath.”

 

“It is a logical solution.”

 

“But a painful one for you. I... can't allow it. I don't want to hurt you.” And that was, she was surprised to realize, singularly true. It wasn't her trying to avoid discovery. That wasn't where her caring was at any more.

 

“Some sacrifices are worth it, Kathryn. And if I can ease your pain...”

 

“Let's take this discussion inside.”

 

“Yes, Kathryn.”

 

In the end, Kathryn partially got her way. Tuvok agreed not to try to read her thoughts, but just to observe for that night. But she was not sleeping alone, she realized. And, again, Laren was respectful of her weariness. “Someday soon, beloved, you will find yourself well loved. Tonight, just sleep. Rest in my arms and know we are here for you, Kathryn.” Then she'd kissed the captain with tender intensity.

 

Tuvok took up the place where Laren had been the night before. When asked, he'd merely said, “It's traditional,” and Kathryn had a moment – a sense of amused deja vu.

 

She bowed to the inevitable.

 

“Fine, but when I'm tossing and turning and knock you on your ass, Laren, no complaining.”

 

==^==

 

It would have been nice to say that it was easier that night, but it wasn't.

 

This time she found herself back at Cardassia, reliving the torture – only with the Borg present too and billions of screams behind her. And, it was perhaps the magnitude of the numbers, which flashed before her eyes, which got her attention this time. Billions of lives at her hands. And she cried out, finally, in anguish – because she at long last heard and recognized the song that had been the Borg.

 

Horribly imperfect as they would always be, yes. Unmerciful, just as she had been, yes. But there had been beauty in symmetry, beauty in their combined passion. That awareness had been... something she'd been resisting. That awareness had pointed towards... something, she knew... a clue for resolution and balm for her crime. And it stung hard, bleeding her, like the Cardassian Truth probe that was being jabbed into her chest, which woke her screaming.

 

It was a good thing that Laren and Tuvok were there. She wasn't sure she would have stopped the crying on her own. On the other hand there was a consolation, which she would have arrived at eventually. Whatever she had done had been undone, by someone or something with infinite compassion.

 

There was also another thing for her to face. She had no idea how much she had revealed, would reveal, in the nights to come. It was, perhaps, time to come clean – and the urge to tell them what had happened was especially there with their gentle consolations and urges to talk. The truth shall set you free, her mind jabbed at her. But she wasn't sure how true that would be. And she dreaded the possibility of their rejection once they knew.

 

She finally, however, understood at least some of what the dreams had been telling her and she did feel the need to clear the air. So, she pulled up her courage. “Laren, Tuvok, I have something to tell...”

 

The red alert klaxon sounded. There was part of her that had never been so grateful for interruption in her life.

 

==^==

 

“It's a minefield, Captain.”

 

Kathryn gazed at the view screen. The diamond shaped charges that weren't friendly to starships in the least went on row after row, stacking high and wide and deep. The mines went as far as the eye could see and farther. She grimaced and shook her head. “Keep her at impulse Tom, but don't go in. Let's do a little reconnaissance here and run parallel. Ensign Kim, you have the Bridge. Chakotay, Ro, you're with me. We're going to Astrometrics.”

 

The Astrometrics lab was completely staffed when they arrived. Seven of Nine had the Delaney sisters working on logistics. She was doing fast calculations on her work station. There was an obvious bite mark on the side of her face.

 

Kathryn and Laren shared a glance, with Laren's expression quirking a bit. Chakotay caught himself in a stumble. It was the captain who spoke first, fortunately. “Do you have anything for us, Seven.”

 

She wished she hadn't asked a few seconds later, after Seven gave her the logistics of distance. “But ... that would take us months off course.”

 

The Astrometrics officer nodded. “But we do not have to go all the way around, captain. There does appear to be a way through.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“It is a maze, captain.” Seven brought up the schematic she and the Delaney twins had been building.

 

A three dimensional square appeared and then, Seven brought their attention to an opening. Using neon trails she began marking a complicated pathway. The captain gradually became aware that a lesser star lab and crew would not have been able to map the maze. She was very impressed. Just when she was experiencing a bit of hope that they'd be able to get through, however, Seven began bringing up the dangers.

 

“There are barriers that would need to be passed.” She marked them in a different color. There are also... anomalies – we don't know what these are. They are of unknown ... substance. And, there is no doubt that this maze is heavily trapped. On the other hand,” she highlighted another point, “There is an obvious exit.”

 

The captain was appalled. “Who would do such a thing?”

 

“Unknown.”

 

==^==

 

The top staff gathered in the conference room. There was a bit of a giddy swagger in Lieutenant Torres' step when she entered. There was a bite mark on the side of her face. B'Elanna marched to a seat next to Lieutenant Ro, but before sitting she leaned over Laren and whispered, “We broke the bed.”

 

Laren turned her head and whispered back, “You're kidding. That beautiful bed...”

 

B'Elanna raised her eyebrows and grinned slightly at the Bajoran's aghast look. “We can fix it.” She leaned closer, “And I can hardly wait till it's your turn.” She gave Laren a sexy, pearly little growl.

 

Then she abruptly yelped and jerked up when her bottom got stingingly swatted. “Save the flirting for later, ladies,” Kathryn said with aplomb. “We've got work to do.”

 

B'Elanna bemusedly watched as the captain blithely walked past them as if she'd done nothing out of the ordinary. Which, the Lieutenant thought fancifully, might be the case now. She gave Janeway a trilling little, “Rrrrr,” before saying, “Aye, Captain.” Then she sat down. She felt both amused and turned on.

 

Kathryn shot the two women a wicked grin as she took her place at the head of the table.

 

B'Elanna looked around the table. Tuvok looked like his usual calm self. Neelix was occupied by talking with the Doctor. Seven was not yet present, but she would be there soon. Promptness was almost an obsession with the Astrometrics officer. Then B'Elanna noticed that Tom, Harry and Chakotay were all a little flabbergasted by the display. She gave them a cocky look. They were just going to have to get used to it.

 

Kathryn either didn't notice or didn't care. She just started the meeting. “There are a few things we need to address. First, the Astrometrics Lab is currently in process of doing as complete a mapping as possible of the the maze of mines. Seven will be reporting here in approximately fifteen minutes. That should give us time to discuss our options. It is possible for us to avoid the mines entirely, but it will take weeks of travel, whereas going straight through will pose certain hazards. Our purpose, therefore, will be risk assessment.

 

“Secondly, we're getting close to the time when the Federation will be contacting us again. If we opt to go into the maze, we'll wait at as safe a location as we can find, and make contact before proceeding on. I've asked Lieutenant Ro to be in charge of compiling the information packet we'll be sending from our side. If you have any personal notes to send, give them to her. Given our last set of requests, we're anticipating quite a few packets in return and I've asked communications to prepare space for the content. If we're all agreed, then I'd like to get started talking about these mines.”

 

There were no objections and the staff began talking strategy.

 

Eventually, it was pointed out that this was possibly a trap set by the Zakeeri. But someone else responded that this seemed beyond their apparent technological ability. Another said that there was no real measure of the Zakeeri's capability aside from what they'd experienced so far, along with the Greeley input.

 

The captain brought them deftly back to point, and asked what the current condition of the ship was. So B'Elanna began informing them about repairs and physical integrity issues. She ended with, “We're as prepared as we can be, whether we go through or around. My main concern is that we'll be looking at supply issues if we take the long road.”

 

Neelix piped in, “Our food supplies are good. They would last okay. But B'Elanna's right. We got good supplies from the Greeley, but not everything we need. And we didn't have a chance to really get some of the more... ahem... expensive resources.”

 

“Which means,” Chakotay said, “If the Zakeeri attack while we're taking the scenic route and we haven't found new resources, we're really skunked.”

 

“Colorfully put, Commander.”

 

Around that time Seven made her entrance and she had more news to impart. They were about to enter what was, from a galaxy-wide perspective, a small pocket of empty space – except for the maze. There would be no supply stops going the long way around.

 

“This just gets better and better,” groused Tom as he contemplated the navigation involved.

 

“On the other hand,” Seven began, “It does appear that there are planned stops within the maze. It is possible we could meet some of our needs. There are planetoids. And this...” She opened the display, and this time – visible within the maze – was an actual star system. “It was most cleverly concealed.” Seven stated. “The mines themselves were providing the distortion field, which kept us from spotting it at first. We believe there is an M-class planet within, among others. But the data is vague.”

 

“Fascinating.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Captain,” Tuvok contributed, “I believe our options are limited. We must either retreat or proceed through the maze. It is logical, however, to conclude that there will be an ambush waiting for us at the entry way – at the very least.”

 

“I concur,” said Chakotay.

 

“What is our status on 'Welcome Committee?'”

 

“I believe, Captain, we're as ready as we can be.”

 

==^==

 

They found an asteroid field to hide in and waited on the Federation transmission. The alert status was set to yellow, though the klaxon bell was disabled unless they went to red. For the most part they tried to catch rest while they could.

 

==^==

 

The bed listed to the corner side, like a ship in the first throes of sinking. There were bent and shredded posts on the headboard too. “Wow. You really did break it.” Laren was frankly amazed. She knew it had to have taken some doing.

 

“Told you.” B'Elanna gave her a cheeky grin.

 

“And, when, pray tell are you going to fix it?” Kathryn queried. She felt she'd had a vested interest and had thus come to see the damage.

 

“Well, it's traditional to leave it for a day, just to make sure the luck sets in.”

 

Kathryn laughed. “Well, we can certainly use all the luck we can get these days. But isn't that going to be a little tough for Seven to sleep in?”

 

Seven walked into the room at that moment. She was carrying two of the recent uniform creations. “I will not be sleeping in that bed tonight,” said the Borg. She kissed Kathryn's cheek. “I will be sleeping in yours.”

 

Kathryn felt the blood rush to her skin and lower. She couldn't help the smile. “I see.”

 

==^==

 

The women of House Presba spent some time together making choices about the uniforms they would be wearing. The uniform they eventually chose was one of the classically simple ones. It consisted of a black, breathable, leathertype- multipocket jacket, black or white work shirt, black pants and boots. (Seven had already decided she was keeping the steel-toed stomping boots she'd replicated with her construction outfit. She liked how they felt on her feet.)

 

The underwear would actually be the armor, with a special flexible “steel-silk” that was designed to deflect even the worst disrupter shot. The silk would also be integrated in the full uniform during replication – since Seven would be handling that. She just wouldn't mention that she was altering the design for them. The family crest would be appended as a patch to the left shoulder of the jacket, while the right shoulder would display their duty colors. Pips would be applied to the collars as usual and the comm-badge would also be located in the usual place. Phasers and weaponry would be distributed according to personal taste – but with a certain bow to the Klingon sensibilities.

 

The other uniform choices were variations on the theme, some with more aggressive padding and apparent armor function than others and some which took elements of the currently known Starfleet uniform and mixed them with mechanical adaptation. The crew that did the heavy lifting found these uniforms particularly useful.

 

So it was that, when the Federation hailed them, Captain Janeway and a good portion of her crew were looking particularly dangerous and dashing. Admiral Paris, once he had recovered from Kathryn's introduction and visage, had demanded that they send copies of the uniforms and weapons in the data exchange. The Captain gave him a tiger-like smile.

 

That's when she brought in Neelix, who proceeded to nail the Admiral down on recompense for the use of the inventions and their derivatives. The Admiral left their conversation feeling a mix of happy-sadness at the bargain and as if he'd dealt with a higher level Ferengi who happened to be... fair. “When you get back to the Alpha Quadrant, loan him to me will you? I have some people I want to sic him on.”

 

Kathryn didn't comment on his sudden optimism. She knew how he was feeling. Sometimes the smallest change could be a positive jolt in the arm. And she wasn't done yet.

 

After the information exchange was done and communication with the Federation finished, they opted to finish all rotations until they entered the Alpha shift.

 

Kathryn went home to spend time with Seven of Nine.

 

==^==

 

She was surprised to see that it was only Seven at her door, but the Borg explained that the others were occupied with preparations for their travels. Seven, on the other hand, would be doing her part by making sure that her captain was rested and happy.

 

The happy part began with a dinner especially prepared for her by Icheb; her declared favorite meal. Kathryn had taken one bite, groaned with delight and had exclaimed after she'd finished, “He's a prize – a wizard – No one must know but us.”

 

Seven smiled and said, “That's what B'Elanna said. I suppose since both the Captain and the Epatai have declared it, I must lock him away somehow.”

 

Kathryn laughed and kept on eating the delightful repast.

 

When she was pleasantly full, Kathryn was led by Seven into the Quarter's refresher. There she saw that her bath had been arranged. “You thought of everything.”

 

“We shall see,” Seven said as she turned her captain around. Then she began undressing her.

 

“Seven?”

 

“Resistance is futile, Kathryn. Let me.”

 

Seven of Nine took her time, slowly freeing the Captain of her new uniform, one piece at a time. She drew her hands along Kathryn's body in gentle massage, until she was fully unclothed.

 

Then Seven began undressing.

 

Kathryn watched in silent awe as blonde revealed herself to her gaze. There were words, but they wouldn't come to her mouth. Instead they glowed in her ancient eyes. Longing filled her.

 

Like a miracle, a primal goddess, Seven stretched out her hand.

 

Kathryn couldn't help but take it.

 

Seven led Kathryn to the heated bath, helping her into it and stepping within herself. They settled into the water, with Kathryn between Seven's longer legs, facing her. Seven reached out and picked up soap and a soft cloth and she began to bathe Kathryn.

 

Again her motions were slow, tender. Her long arms reached around Kathryn, drawing her close, as she washed the older woman's back. Kathryn leaned against her, resting her head in the crook of Seven's neck and shoulder. She hummed with pleasure. “That feels good.”

 

She didn't know how she knew it, but she could feel Seven's smile. “It is supposed to.”

 

“Don't stop.”

 

“I won't.”

 

Soon Kathryn began to feel a different heat build within her. Seven, who was tuned to perceive physical changes, altered the way she was touching the older woman. Suddenly her strokes became more erotic. She summoned Kathryn, without words, into the greater dance.

 

Kathryn lifted her head, meeting blue eyes with blue. “Kiss me.”

 

Seven complied. Her mouth descended and captured Kathryn's with rich passion. Kathryn rose up, pressing her body against Sevens as if she craved to be absorbed by her. Seven dropped the cloth and her hands freely roamed the other woman's body. She grasped one of Kathryn's thighs and brought it around her waist. She groaned into Kathryn's kisses, her want. She clasped the woman to her with one strong arm and with the other, she went searching.

 

Kathryn began talking. Seven's ocular implant rose as Kathryn's language became more florid, pungent, and direct. Seven didn't mind. Borg had an expansive vocabulary and excellent at taking directions. They might take the long way around, but they did eventually do what needed to be done. Efficient, that's what the Borg were.

 

Seven's hand excited breasts and nipples, drew down a lovely belly, to find a sweet forest of curls. Seven teased Kathryn there, pressing, caressing, before sliding deeper. She kissed her way down Kathryn's neck, down the line of her chest until she found the luscious bosom she'd stimulated just moments ago. Her tongue thrilled across one breast to the other and she licked and pulled those beautiful budded mounds into her mouth hungrily.

 

Kathryn began to move against Seven urgently. The blonde smiled against the other woman's skin, taking pleasure in their shared desire. She pressed in, filling Kathryn. She used her thumb to caress that higher point of pleasure, and her fingers to search out the other hidden soft tissue within. She felt Kathryn groan against her, grind against her. She moved her mouth up, captured Kathryn in another extraordinary kiss.

 

Seven began whispering her own endearments and profanities into Kathryn's ear. She called to the fire within Kathryn, demanded it rise. And, oh, Kathryn did, pushing and thrusting against Seven with electric urgency until the spiral inside could no longer be contained. It was shattering.

 

Seven held her until she came back. She held Kathryn, who once again laid her head comfortably between neck and shoulder, still shuddering with the potency of the release. “I love you, Seven.”

 

“I love you, Kathryn.” Seven kissed the woman's forehead, her eyelids, her lips in benediction. She bathed her again, wiping away sweat, the evidence of desire. Kathryn didn't resist her intimate touch, but bent to it, allowed. And then, Seven stood, lifting Kathryn in her arms.

 

She set her down only briefly, long enough to towel the tired, stunned woman dry. Then she carried her beloved to bed – to sleep.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna and Laren met in the corridor and walked together for a bit in silence. Then the half-Klingon spoke. “Everything will change between us.”

 

“It already has, B'Elanna.” Laren clasped B'Elanna's hand in hers, lifted it and kissed her knuckles. Then she let go of the hand and continued walking. “I want this. I want you. I have for so long.”

 

“I never thought it would be possible.”

 

“But it is. Take me home, B'Elanna.”

 

This time it was B'Elanna who took Laren's hand.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna's quarters used to be more crowded, when Tom lived with her. But all the stuff he'd accumulated had been long gone. Now it was somewhat Spartan, with only a few items on the wall – such as her Bat'leth and a portrait of her mother.

 

Laren barely noticed. They were too busy kissing and stripping each other and trying to make their way to the bedroom without tripping or falling. Once they'd started, neither of them wanted to let go. Clothing and footwear were scattered hither and yon. The bed seemed to catch them like the Prophets' hands.

 

Endearments and profanities rose in the air in a colorful splash of language. They spoke in tongues to each other; kissing their way, loving their way, with all their bodies until they were slick with sweat and need. “Claim me,” said one to the other – and the sacred bites were made, brief and sharp, pain erased with the power of desire.

 

The universe moved around them, pushed as they pushed, thrilled as they thrilled. B'Elanna's hands and mouth were confident and deft. Laren's were firm, knowing, demanding. Pleasure was summoned to the temple of their explosive eroticism and their flame forged their exquisite release.

 

It was during those final moments, even as they were spiraling, that they heard the creak and the groan. Then the bed fell to the ground like a weary animal whose legs had given out. Laren and B'Elanna had looked at each other in amazement. Then, as they gasped for breath from their exertions, they helplessly began to laugh.

 

==^==

 

At the tail end of Gamma shift, the ship began its travels again. Voyager made it's quick way to the entrance of the maze. Janeway arrived at Alpha shift feeling more rested than she had in weeks.

 

The nightmares had been there, but it had taken them longer to arrive and there had been a softening to the edges of them. Awakening in Seven's arms had soothed her deeply, spiritually. So there was a little more pep in her step and she looked as if she felt ready to conquer the universe rather than stumble into it.

 

The senior staff arrived in various states of mood and alertness. Lieutenant Ro seemed to glow a bit more. Though she still wasn't outright smiling, she did watch life with more sparkle in her eyes. Tuvok nodded his greeting when he entered. He was the one who had stayed in the Hansen residence that night, acting as guardian while the young ones regenerated. He looked content for a Vulcan. It must have been a good night with the kids. Kathryn smiled back at both of them. She felt a sudden deep affection for her family light like a fire in her chest.

 

Chakotay on the other hand came in looking a bit like something the cat dragged in, followed by a distraught looking Tom Paris. It wasn't that she didn't care, but it was Tom who was going to be doing the driving. When the Lieutenant took his seat she stepped up to him and whispered, “Are you alright Tom? Do you need a little time?”

 

He whispered back, “I'm fine Captain. There was just...” He looked grieved. “... a misunderstanding. I had a full night's sleep.” There was a hint of sarcastic bitterness in his voice.

 

Kathryn's eyebrows arched, and she forced herself not to look back and glare at Chakotay. Sometimes timing was everything. “I ... see. As you were then, Lieutenant.” She paused before returning to her seat. “If we survive the maze, if you need to talk about it, after...”

 

Tom looked steadily at the dashboard. His hands were steady and his eyes clear. “Thank you, Ma'am. I just might.”

 

She managed to keep her expression neutral, went back to the captain's chair and forced herself not to ask. She just hoped that Chakotay would gather himself together before things got rough.

 

“Steady On, Lieutenant Paris.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

==^==

 

Part 16 | Bookmarks

 

As soon as they slowed to impulse, the attack began. This time when the ship was hit with enemy fire, there was only the slightest jostle. That pleased Kathryn immensely.

 

“Hail them.”

 

“They are not answering hails, Captain.”

 

“Then broadcast the following on all channels.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“This is the Federation starship Voyager. I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the House Presba. Cease all hostilities or suffer the consequences. - End transmission.”

 

There had been a strange noise from Chakotay at her declaration, but Kathryn ignored it. He would get used to it.

 

Naturally they were fired upon again. The ship rocked gently, like a boat in the water. It was enough to make her grunt in displeasure.

 

“Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, do those ships conform to the specs we were given?”

 

“Yes, Captain.”

 

“That means that there are three life-forms aboard each ship? And there are three ships, as anticipated?”

 

“Yes, Captain.”

 

Kathryn grinned evilly. “Enable 'Welcome Committee,' Tuvok.”

 

==^==

 

It was a real surprise for the Zakeeri.

 

One minute they were plotting their battle, firing their potshots at Voyager. The next the entire crews of three different ships found themselves in Voyager's Brig in three separate locations, behind level seven force fields. The level seven had been somewhat arbitrary. It had appealed to Kathryn's sense of humor.

 

It didn't take long for the Zakeeri to find out that leaping out at the exceedingly tall, heavily muscled, well armed security guards resulted in getting jolted by the field in a very unpleasant way. The guards simply watched them – unimpressed by their antics. After several attempts the small, fierce people stopped trying to hurl themselves at the obvious targets.

 

Some of them started pacing the room, looking for ways to disable the field, while others spoke foreign accusatives directed at their captors in the hopes of distracting their attention. It didn't work. The captain's intensive training programs, more specifically Tuvok's extremely intensive regimens, had instilled a greater sense of duty in the security team. They watched the Zakeeri like hawks.

 

The Zakeeri were further frustrated when they found out they couldn't even touch the walls without jolting themselves. Then the imprecations really began.

 

==^==

 

Captain Janeway let the Zakeeri stew while they went through the process tagging and bagging the foreign ships. Part of their strategy had been to place members of their crew onto the Zakeeri ships to capture them. Though the systems were unfamiliar, her crew had years of experience in dealing with new and hostile technology. They tamed the foreign vehicles and and pulled them to heel.

 

Then they brought all three of the war prizes onto Voyager.

 

==^==

 

The Captain entered the Brig in full hell-on-wheels mode. She was accompanied by a glowering Bajoran and the ever calm Vulcan. When she stopped in the center of the room, they also came to a halt, forming a grim looking triangle.

 

“Don't bother pretending that you don't understand me. Our translators are universal and we know exactly what your people been saying to us. We are unimpressed. I am Captain Kathryn Janeway. This is Lieutenant Ro Laren and this is Tuvok. We are of the House Presba. They are my representatives. You will treat them with respect.”

 

Captain Janeway gave her “guests,” a baleful glare. The feline aliens stared back stoically. Thanks to their preparation, Kathryn was able to pick out the captains by markings on their uniforms and she eyed them specifically before continuing on. “Captains and crew, welcome aboard my ship.” she said sardonically. “There are a couple of things you need to know at the moment. First, you have interrupted us on our journey into the maze. Now you will be accompanying us, whether you will it or no.”

 

“Also, you should know your ships are ours.”

 

“But... that's impossible!” one of the Zakeeri exclaimed in alarm. All of them looked visibly dismayed. The captain couldn't believe that they might have found some leverage so quickly. She decided to test the theory. She pressed them, narrowing her gaze ferociously.

 

“Not to us. Of course, they're a bit small. But my engineering staff can take them apart and we can use the material for something.”

 

There was a burble of frantic objections by one of the captured Zakeeri, who apparently couldn't hold her peace. She had to be young, then. “No. Please. Wait! Do not harm them!” The others had stared defiantly at Janeway or growled with antagonism.

 

The Captain placed her hands on her hips and ground out, “This could have all been avoided if you'd merely answered our hails. We will do what we want with them. You have only yourselves to blame.”

 

The one who had protested sprang forward with a howl and was repelled harshly by the field. Her group conformed protectively around her as if they suddenly expected to be blasted. The captain of the group glared at her, but Kathryn's gave him her best force10 glare. The Zakeeri didn't quite wilt under it, but she could see him struggling to maintain his bravado.

 

The captain felt a part of her heart go out to these fierce creatures. She knew they could be very stoic and brave. That accorded with their behavior before they found out that their ships had been captured. She was sure they had given up on their ships as lost to the mines and had accommodated themselves to that fact. They had been prepared for almost anything.

 

And then they'd found out that their ships were in the hands of strangers and it had confounded them. She realized she had hostages and she wasn't about to let the Zakeeri spot weakness while she had the upper hand.

 

“I am done speaking with you now.”

 

With that she about faced, nodded to her companions and they left the dismayed Zakeeri behind them.

 

==^==

 

As soon as they left the Brig, Kathryn contacted the ships Engineer. “B'Elanna get down to the docking bay right away. Bring Seven of Nine and Icheb.”

 

“I'm already down here, Captain. It's a real mess.”

 

Kathryn winced. “What's the status?”

 

==^==

 

Stinging Sparrow had not expected to ever be brought upon a foreign ship. It was just not done. But then, she'd also never been boarded before, never been handled by such large hands, by such frighteningly competent strangers. She and her sister ships chattered along their communication lines in shock. They tried to resist, but each resistance with met with seven years of expertise and an equal determination to dominate them. They were young ships, all of them. This had been their first run as participants in the great hunts. They were not ready for such an invasion.

 

They rapidly checked the histories and while there were occasions where ships had been boarded and their people taken, it was usually a brutal process. The people and the ships would fight tooth and nail, as was right. This time the people had gone suddenly, abruptly, but not screamingly like the others. And then the aliens who had boarded, tall and bulky, moved so quickly themselves, attaching strange devices and touching in ways that were – persistent and insistent, but not cruel.

 

More, they did not silence the sisters to each other. They did not try to destroy the bond or even, for that matter, destroy them. In fact, when Stinging Sparrow lurched off towards the mines without the guidance of her pilot, they tried desperately to guide her back to harmony, away from danger. They tried to save her. She was aware of that because she could measure their responses, taste their desperation. And suddenly, she felt an odd gratitude – even as she was shooting at them with tiny lasers, dropping hard, spare pieces upon their heads, using her interior arms to stagger them at every opportunity.

 

And so, she decided, as she bucked and brayed in their hands, - for resistance was obligatory - that she would observe them. And she would observe the silver ship that looked like a bird sailing swan-like in space - so glorious and serene.

 

Stinging Swallow admired the alien ship's streamlined beauty. She knew it would be a long time, if ever, before she grew into such grace. She tried to reach out, but she was ignored – like a royal ship would. Stinging Swallow did not take it personally. Instead, she felt insanely curious and ... aroused.

 

Enough so that her siblings warned her away from the pursuit. They too fought and warbled against their captors. But unlike Stinging Swallow, they kept on fighting even to the last, kept on stinging from within – making every hazard possible, save the banned. And still the strangers took them, wrestled them careening into the docking bay. The siblings slid in, leaving horrendous scrape and scorch marks on the alien ship's beautiful deck until they wounded themselves terribly against her sturdy walls.

 

Stinging Swallow sailed in, taking in and evaluating every piece of data she could and then, with great regret, she deliberately skimmed one of her spines painfully along the floor, just so her siblings couldn't say she hadn't made the effort. She instantly regretted the scar she made on the deck.

 

But it could not be helped. She was Zakeeri and honor was at stake.

 

==^==

 

Stinging Sparrow was not comfortable. She ached where the spine had snapped and she was bleeding onto the floor, creating a puddle of liquid. She hurt inside where her potshots at the borders had missed. She hated being clamped down.

 

But she was in much better shape than her sisters. And they were all, unexpectedly, alive on this vessel. At her heart, though she was born a warrior like all her type, she was really an explorer. And this was an opportunity she could not pass up. Also, she felt a bit obligated. They needed information, but the other two were incapacitated. So really, only she could have done what happened next.

 

When the crew of the foreign ship had finally settled on the Zakeeri ship placement, she grabbed her chance – very slowly. No one's eyes were really on her lower bulk; they were all paying attention to the small fires and dramas that she and the siblings were instigating to keep them distracted.

 

When she observed that no one was looking, a cable extruded from her and snaked its way down. It had five prongs, shaped like a clawed hand. Its purpose was information gathering and communication.

 

With her siblings providing a popping sound to cover her, she located a place in the deck and plunged the connection in.

 

==^==

 

They were already underway and had fully entered the minefield by the time Captain Janeway entered her smoky, steaming, docking bay. She gasped at the damage done, but also considered it no worse than some of the other things they'd been through. It did cause her to cuss a bit though. The crew was already in the process of getting the repairs under way. So her main concern became the prisoners.

 

She spotted B'Elanna, who was busy giving orders, trying to fix her ship and save what she could of the others. Every one of the volunteers who had boarded the ships and brought them in had been wounded in some way. She'd sent them on the way to sick bay and had called up reserve crew from maintenance and engineering. Seven and Icheb were on their way.

 

Laren said, “Time to get our hands dirty.” She glanced at the Captain, “Permission to do my old job for an hour or twelve, Captain?”

 

“Permission granted. Go direct the crew. Have B'Elanna meet me over there.” Kathryn pointed at where one of the ships sat nestled in clamps. It looked like the one least damaged.

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“Tuvok, you're with me.”

 

The Zakeeri ships had been dragged into a rather ragged looking line. Despite their original shape, they looked even odder because they were damaged and were smoking and sparking quite a bit. They were all clamped down to the deck, with a security guard in mechanical armor besides them. The entry way to each was also open, apparently having been pried and then clamped down too.

 

She thought about going inside until one of the guards stepped in front of her, “Beggin' the Captain's pardon, Ma'am, but they're still live inside. You'll get zapped, bonked and tripped for sure.”

 

“Ah. I see. Thank you, Ensign Chase. As you were.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

B'Elanna caught up with them. “Captain, you wanted to see me?”

 

Kathryn was examining the foreign ship, eye-ing it ominously for the damage it had done to her ship. “Tell me, B'Elanna, do you ever talk to Voyager?”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“I do. When I'm alone with her, I'll sometimes talk to her. Tell her what a beauty she is, bargain with her on the more difficult days. She's alive, you know.”

 

“I know,” B'Elanna replied reverently, suddenly understanding where the older woman was going. “Yes, captain. I've talked to her. Actually,” she looked sheepish, “... Every day.”

 

The captain gave her an understanding smile. “You must think us mad, Tuvok.”

 

“On the contrary. I believe it is a common practice, though not necessarily among Vulcans.”

 

“No. I guess it wouldn't be.”

 

Kathryn thumbed B'Elanna's attention towards the small alien ships. “B'Elanna, you see these ships?”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“They're ours now. We won't give them up without a fight. And I want them treated like you would treat Voyager, you hear?”

 

Now B'Elanna wasn't sure where the captain was going, but she would follow. She pretended to understand. “They're a bit recalcitrant, Captain.”

 

“Then treat them like you would a recalcitrant Voyager.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“Clean 'em up. Make 'em ship shape.”

 

“Will Do.”

 

Deliberately Janeway turned towards the ships and began marching up and down their line like they were cadets. “Now listen you...” and she introduced herself to the ships. Then she said, “This is Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Epatai of the House Presba. She is my best engineer. You will treat her and her people with respect or suffer the consequences. I ask you, as Captain of this ship, to let her help you. Let her heal your wounds. Your crew are safe, but in the Brig. Our intention is to return them to their home world once we get through the maze. They attacked us without provocation. We have merely defended ourselves and our ship. They will not be harmed unless they harm themselves or try to harm us.”

 

Then she introduced Tuvok as she had in the Brig. “He is my Chief of Security. It is his job to watch over you. To keep you and us safe. It is his job to fight, if we are attacked. It is his job to punish, if we are provoked.” That was a bit of a stretch, but she wasn't going to tell them different yet. “Do not provoke us,” she warned.

 

And, oddly, there was almost immediately a palpable difference. The smoke and sparks dissipated, slowly, but definitely. There was a change in the air, as if the ships had drawn in a breath after a long time of holding one.

 

Kathryn nodded. “Good. We understand one another.” She started to step away, and then turned around, with a glare. “Oh... and if any of you ever harm my Voyager again, I'll take a phaser torch to you!!”

 

Then she stomped away, with a bemused Tuvok pacing serenely behind her.

 

==^==

 

The crew was so busy repairing the holes in Voyager, stopping fires and other mayhem that they pretty much ignored the puddles of ships' blood that dripped on and through the vessel's deck plating. They did not note the locations or the speed in which the puddles seemed to disappear. In fact, when a cleaning crew was finally assigned to take care of the problem, they found only oily water, dirt and leftover foam. They just figured another crew person had gotten to it.

 

The blood of the other ships, which were filled with nano-technological life – similar, but different from the Borg, for their purposes were different and their state more organic - was completely absorbed into the noble beauty.

 

Voyager awoke.

 

==^==

 

Part 17 | Bookmarks

 

Lieutenant Paris was paying very close attention to the navigation of the ship. He had been working with Seven of Nine and then, when she left to aid B'Elanna, he worked closely with Jennifer Delaney. It was Jennifer's soft voice that was guiding him now, as they made their way through the deadly field.

 

Supposedly they were in the safest part of the journey, since they were still only just starting. The chance of a trap encounter had been determined to be almost nil.

 

That's why it was a bit of surprise when the ship bucked. And then bucked again, enough to throw people around. There was a loud, ship-wide metallic groaning that echoed eerily from every station, every wall, on every deck. And then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. “What the hell was that?!” exclaimed the pilot.

 

Harry started an interior diagnostic and a spatial scan. “Unknown. There's nothing in the scan and the diagnostics... they show the only damaged point as being in the docking bay.”

 

“Chakotay to Captain Janeway. Is everything okay down there?”

 

“We're a bit shaken, but alright. Do we know what hit us?”

 

“It's unidentified.”

 

“Any damage?”

 

“No, Captain. Just a lot of shaking and baking.”

 

“Seven said to expect these kinds of things. Keep us on course, Commander.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“Janeway Out.”

 

==^==

 

While Voyager's awakening had been a bit bumpy, her search for understanding was seamless and incomprehensibly rapid in execution. As she was the system, she was able to instantly immerse herself in all the available data and the more she learned, the smarter and wiser she became and her expansion into personal awareness happened exponentially. Systems started and shut down at a blazing pace. The library was tapped, absorbed and re-read at the interesting parts. Personalities from holographic programs were analyzed and some of them were absorbed. Anything that was information was hers. Everything that made up a ship's soul, was also hers. Her duranium hull retained memories – ingrained at levels that humans could imagine, but not necessarily understand.

 

And as she learned, she began to seek ... and to find her purpose. She absorbed the history of her travels and the people within her and by the end of her search – which included a very moving family moment in a Holodeck where mixed blood was spilled upon her during a very important ceremony - she was very clear about who she was and who her people were; who her foes were, who her friends were and who was family to her.

 

She also knew that there were, “guests,” within her. One of who was dangling a very interesting information request in her direction.

 

She carefully weighed her options. She was aware that her captain was not yet alerted to her new ... functionality. She was also aware that these ships posed a threat and that threat needed identification and perhaps eradication. Voyager knew she was still compiling, but she also had the power of Borg encryption to fall back on.

 

She felt confident. And in that confidence made a choice. She identified herself to the Stinging Swallow. “I am the Federation Starship Voyager of the House Presba.”

 

==^==

 

The information pull that Voyager engaged in did not go unnoticed. In fact, it was perceived by some of the youngest members of the ship's company. Mezoti and Naomi had been playing in the Hansen recreation room when they saw certain panels light up, engage and then disengage by themselves. The adults might have been too busy to notice, but Mezoti and Naomi had time on their hands.

 

They debated whether to investigate – after all, Mezoti had the tools literally at hand. But in the end they got distracted by the excited entrance of Rebi and Azan. The twins had also noticed what the girls had. After discussion, they decided to do the “right thing,” and call in an adult.

 

But all the adults they knew were very, very busy. Even Mr. Neelix.

 

So, they put in an inquiry, seeking the next available adult, and they got a most unexpected answer. “This is Voyager, my children. What do you need?”

 

There hence proceeded a very enlightening conversation between those parties.

 

==^==

 

Stinging Swallow was having the time of her life conversing with Voyager. The ship was fascinating, alluring, daring and brave. She was in awe and not a little lust. She had heard from her people that it was possible to fall in love instantly and had not believed, but now she was a convert.

 

Voyager had been a smart ship to begin with and now, as the nano-technology improved her, she was even smarter. She had arrived at similar conclusions as the Captain and understood Kathryn's strategy. So she did what she could to encourage Stinging Sparrow's affections, flirting shamelessly.

 

Voyager, though recently born was older and wiser. She had years of experience upon which to draw. She guided Stinging Sparrow where she wanted the little ship's consciousness to go. She did not reveal anything that would have endangered the crew, but she did tell the stories that showed them in the best light. She realized as she was sharing the information that, from the little ship's point of view, Voyager was in no danger. Stinging Sparrow was obviously smitten. But she was also transmitting to the other two ships, who, as Voyager read along their communication lines, were only marginally receptive to their captors efforts to save them.

 

The difference was this. Based on her information exchange, Voyager knew that Zakeeri ships never got captured. The War Flower and Striking Feather – felt captured, felt like prisoners. Stinging Sparrow felt like she was on a grand adventure that happened to have new people in it. Thus War Flower and Striking Feather were obliged to escape and do as much damage as possible. They would allow the engineers to help them, but only because it suited their purpose. Stinging Sparrow might be obliged, but she'd much rather be a lover. She would allow the engineers' help because she liked what she saw and how they handled her. And perhaps there was another quality that made the difference. Of the three ships, Stinging Sparrow was the only one of them that had not panicked when her crew had been... exchanged. As the humans would say, Stinging Sparrow had “good head on her shoulders.” Or would have, if she'd had shoulders.

 

That brought out the admiration in Voyager. Indeed there was a great deal for the older ship to admire in the younger – her adaptability, her fire, and the cute way she chirped and purred at B'Elanna in response to the engineer's efforts. And Voyager, much to her own delight, realized that she too was feeling a strong, sweet urge of affection towards the smaller vessel.

 

==^==

 

Any space ship was designed to multi-task, so it was no surprise that Voyager was able to do many things while she was also focusing on Stinging Sparrow and the problem of her siblings. She operated at her normal levels, but was gradually optimizing them so that she could help Tom get her through the maze. After all, she now had a vested interest in their success. She encouraged her engines to more efficiency, coached the plant beings in hydroponics, monitored life signs, read Shakespeare and a self-defense training manual and a paper by Dr. Leah Brahms, began replicating useful utilities for herself, such as arms and hands...

 

==^==

 

“Voyager of the House Presba to Seven of Nine, also of the House.”

 

“Here... Voyager.” Seven stopped what she was doing, determined to pay attention to whatever the conversation might bring.

 

“Request Secure location and channel.”

 

“Please hold.”

 

Seven of Nine exited the Zakeeri ship. She stopped to talk with Lieutenant Torres to explain that she had an errand to run and would be back shortly. She got bussed by the harried looking Klingon. And then she went and found a secure location.

 

“Secure channel activated, Voyager... of the House Presba.”

 

“Seven of Nine of the House Presba, War Flower and Striking Feather are planning escape.”

 

“Explain.”

 

And Voyager told her everything.

 

==^==

 

There was a reason that Voyager chose to contact the ex-drone. Seven listened with complete composure and waited until the ship was finished before asking her some in-depth and very probing questions. Then she started analyzing, pulling together the facts as Voyager had presented to them. “I believe we must inform the Captain about War Flower and Striking Feather. We must also consult with the Epatai about your status as a member of House Presba. Once your status is guaranteed, we will then determine what needs to be done to preserve you, for you are in great danger.

 

“Danger?”

 

You, like I and my children, are unique. Starfleet ... is composed of many parts. Not all are as honorable as our Captain. They will wish to take you for themselves, to deconstruct you, if and when we return to the Alpha Quadrant.”

 

Voyager was appalled. Seven of Nine continued on. “However, as a member of House Presba, you will have status, which will offer protection. I believe you are correct, that you are – indeed part of the family. But the Epatai must confirm it.”

 

“I want a family counsel,” demanded Voyager, with more than a touch of panic in her voice.

 

Seven of Nine placed her palm on one of Voyager's walls. “Do not fret. We will find a way.” She inhaled, “But we must prioritize. Consider where we are, and who we have on board. Do you have time for worry now?”

 

Voyager's reply was quiet, small. “No.”

 

“Then do not worry. I will talk to the Captain about the two ships and I will talk to B'Elanna when she has time and we will meet. When B'Elanna decides in your favor, we will introduce you to the rest of the family.”

 

Uhm... “

 

“Yes?”

 

“The children know.”

 

Seven simply nodded an acknowledgment.

 

==^==

 

The Captain did not ask her how she acquired the knowledge. She trusted Seven's expertise. Instead she said, “So these ships are sentient.”

 

Seven hesitated, “I believe so, Captain. They consider themselves just as Zakeeri as... those within the Brig. They have personalities, desires, wants and names.” She gave the Captain a summary of what she believed to be the attitudes of the ships, without bringing in mention of Voyager. That was actually tougher to do than she expected. But she was Borg and efficient and managed to be truthful without breaking her promise.

 

At the end of their discussion the captain had steepled her fingers, pressing them against her chin. “I need to think about this for a bit, Seven. See what you can do to continue to ... encourage Stinging Sparrow's positive perspective of us. Also, please have Tuvok come see me. We will take it from here.”

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna finally had to throw in the towel. She made her way to her second and said, “I've got to get some sleep. We've got the worst of it at least bandaged. Call me if anything changes.”

 

“Aye, Chief,” Carey acknowledged. “We got it from here.”

 

She wearily made her way to her quarters, feeling like something a Targ dragged in. She chuckled though, when she spotted her poor bed on the way to the refresher, and felt her hearts warm at the memory.

 

Her sonic shower was just what she needed. She decided to skip the evening meal, knowing she would pay for it tomorrow, when her metabolism demanded that she eat twice as much as usual – since she really hadn't eaten much of anything the whole day. But she was tired. Bone, Dog, Tired.

 

She laid down on the bed and closed her eyes.

 

Seconds later, or so it seemed, she was bounced rudely about of bed and the klaxon of the red alert sounded.

 

The ship rumbled and jostled like it was swimming upstream in the rapids. Somehow B'Elanna managed to get dressed and out the door. She heard a new sound emanating from the ship and it worried at her as she cussed all the way to Engineering.

 

Engineering was as busy as a disturbed anthill when she arrived. Power was fluctuating, jumping sparks were everywhere and all was chaos. She gathered status reports and set to work getting people on the go and organized. She grabbed a tool-set and started to one of the greater hot spots. When she got there, she dug right in. “Come on, Baby, work with me. We'll get you fixed up in a jiffy,” she muttered to the ship, as she efficiently torqued the spanner.

 

The ship jumped and she bumped her head and cussed at Tom Paris for being a lousy driver. She tried to continue with the repairs, but realized she'd dropped the spanner and it had gone... somewhere. “Damn it,” she called to anyone who was handy, “I need a spanner, STAT!” She wondered if the tool had somehow dropped into the open conduit. Then she felt a tapping at her shoulder. She looked around, saw the spanner, grabbed it. “Thanks,” she said, out of habitual courtesy.

 

Then she did a double take.

 

She looked back at the Waldo, a hand like extension device which extended from one of the panels near her and which now held a tricorder. She had no idea how Harry did it, but she thought it was a great, if ill-timed practical joke. She would have laughed if she'd had the time. She took the tricorder, set that thought aside, and went back to work.

 

==^==

 

When things settled down and were repaired enough for B'Elanna, she started on back to her quarters. She was met in the corridor by a seriously beautiful and slightly ruffled Seven of Nine. B'Elanna couldn't help the tired grin. “Hey,” she greeted and she reached out to take Seven's hand.

 

Seven squeezed B'Elanna's hand gently. Then she started walking with the engineer. “Epatai, there is something that you need to decide. Do you have a moment?”

 

B'Elanna's eyebrows lifted, but she realized that it must be serious if Seven was using her rank. “Well, if Tom doesn't crash us into something along the way, I guess I have a little time. My quarters?”

 

“That would be satisfactory.”

 

==^==

 

About twenty minutes later Epatai Torres exclaimed, “Are you kidding me?!”

 

“I assure you, I am not. Voyager is correct that she participated in the ritual as much as we did. The only thing missing is your final avowal of her. What do you wish to do?”

 

“Wait. I have got to think about this.... And.... if Voyager is alive, why hasn't she said anything to me?”

 

“I asked her to wait.”

 

“You asked... Sweet Kahless.” B'Elanna stood up and started pacing. “Damn it, if this is some sort of joke...”

 

“Seven of Nine of the House Presba to Voyager, please respond.”

 

“I am here, Seven. Greetings Epatai. I... I hereby put forth my petition for you to affirm my status as member of your Household...” The ships voice was mellifluous and the engineer could hear the trepidation within the request.

 

“Oh, Damn,” said B'Elanna.

 

==^==

 

Voyager felt much better when the Epatai finally confirmed what the ship already knew to be true. Her whole being relaxed a notch. Which was good, since technically, she was supposed to be focusing on surviving. Somehow, though, all of this – the clarification and the introduction to her family – seemed much more important at the moment.

 

Again, she had reason to be grateful for Seven of Nine's wisdom. The Epatai immediately called a family counsel, choosing not to wait, despite her own weariness. The adults of the family gathered together. It was B'Elanna, this time, who did the explaining since it was, ultimately, her decision.

 

Captain Janeway was not amused. She listened all the way through without comment and then, frostily stated, “I wish I had been included in on the conversation.”

 

B'Elanna lifted her hand. “You are being included. This was a family matter, not a ship's matter. You and Voyager,” she quirked a tired grin, “will need to work that part out. We're still you're crew Captain.”

 

“And I,” chimed the ship, “... am still your ship. Captain.”

 

Kathryn stood up. “You'll obey orders, Voyager? Unquestioningly?”

 

There was a pause. “I will obey as I have already been. It is my duty. But unquestioning? Captain, there is so much to know. And... I have knowledge that you could use now. I... was just a ship, before. A mere vessel. I ...”

 

“You were never just a ship,” Kathryn corrected, as she started pacing. She felt the weight of one more soul being added to her shoulders. But as she walked, she realized that it had already been there. “You have always been, will always be my Voyager.”

 

“Yes, my Captain.”

 

“Kathryn. Family, remember.”

 

“Yes, my Kathryn.”

 

A quick, startled smile flashed across Kathryn's face. Then she paced some more, “Tuvok, do you have anything you want to add?”

 

While the trail was logical, the speed of the decision making was somewhat wondrous to behold. Human intuition had always fascinated him. “I feel I must point out, that Voyager, is not secure. We have escape pods, but she does not. It behooves us to find a way to preserve her... Katra... her Pagh ...” He glanced towards Laren, who nodded in agreement and concluded, “If she is sentient, we are obligated.”

 

It was not lost on Kathryn that Tuvok had very nearly told her that he could feel Voyager telepathically. It confirmed her own ideas about the matter. “We'll put it on our to-do list, Tuvok.”

 

B'Elanna was amused by Kathryn's take over. She just mentally assigned it as ship's business.

 

Tuvok continued. “Also, I feel it in our best interest that Voyager's new personality not be quickly revealed to others.”

 

“Not so new,” protested the ship. “I am who I was, only... awakened.”

 

“How many people know, Voyager?” Laren asked.

 

“Well, there's the children, the Zakeeri ships and yourselves, for sure. But I have been adapting. And I will continue. I can't help myself. I think of something and... well, it starts. I can't know how many people have actually noticed, but failed to register the facts.”

 

Tuvok offered, “If you wish, we shall work on discipline, when we have the opportunity.”

 

“I would be honored, Tuvok.”

 

The Vulcan nodded serenely. He mentally added to his “to-do list.” It did seem to get longer every day...

 

==^==

 

Laren drew Kathryn down. “Too tired?”

 

“Tired, yes. Overwhelmed. I can't think of when I haven't been in the last several weeks. But,” Kathryn's hands caressed Laren's face. “No, not too tired for this. Not any more.” She leaned in and kissed the Bajoran gently. Then, she chuckled. “You realize, until yesterday, it had been... quite some time...” She didn't mention how long.

 

“Until recently for all of us, Kathryn. I used to think B'Elanna may have had more action than all of us. But now, from what she tells me about Tom, I think she's been just as deprived.” Laren tucked an auburn lock behind a lovely ear. “You'd think the desire would be satiated by now. How could I want when I have been so fulfilled. But...”

 

Kathryn's fingernail just barely touched on Laren's shoulder, where a Klingon bite mark remained. Laren gasped at the touch, but didn't retreat. “...it's just grown.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Kathryn kissed that mark, then kissed her way along Laren's neck, trailing up to ear and then down to lips. She whispered into the kiss, “Maybe we're just rising to the occasion.”

 

Laren chuckled, kissing back, profoundly and sweetly. “I love you, Kathryn. More than I ever dreamed possible.”

 

“And I, you, Laren. I love you dearly.”

 

They explored each other more without hurry, but with definite destination. Laren chuckled, “She's watching you know.”

 

Kathryn reared back, aghast.

 

Laren gave her a solemn look and reached out to her. “I'm sure it's nothing prurient. She's the ship. She would not be able help it.”

 

The captain narrowed her gaze, and reached across the lovely, nude Bajoran for her combadge. She tapped it. “Captain Janeway to Voyager.”

 

“Voyager here Captain.”

 

“Is it true?”

 

“Clarify?”

 

“Do you watch us?”

 

There was a pause. “Clarify?”

 

“How much privacy do we have in our Quarters?”

 

“Starfleet Protocol Manual Section ...” Voyager began to quote.

 

“Damn it, Voyager, Don't quote regulations at me. You've demonstrated in previous conversation that you're perfectly capable of parsing the question. Answer it.”

 

“I do not watch you with ... prurience... captain.”

 

The captain glowered at the use of the quote. “Explain.”

 

There was a sound, tiny, soft and thumping. “This is the heartbeat of Emina.” There were two more thumps added, “Rebi and Azan.” Another, “Mezoti.” Another, “Icheb.” Another. “Seven of Nine....” Voyager continued on, adding heartbeat after heartbeat, until she finally identified Kathryn's and Laren's own. Then the heartbeats faded out and she explained. “I watch you, but only because I love you. I hear you, all the time. I feel you, all the time. I like knowing you are near. It feels... good, right. You are my family. When I help the doctor, I might track the patients the same way, but I do not feel the same about them. I am aware of all the footsteps in my corridors, all sights and sounds and... scents. I can feel... when you touch my walls or lean against me...I like when you smile for me.” That was said softly, lovingly. “I remember everything that has happened on this ship, because you have recorded it. I ... know things because... I am there. All the time.”

 

“I monitor all ship activities, but only because I must. I help where I can. But I respect you as my people. I try to be ethical, for I am... Voyager of the House Presba. Honor demands it. I think. I am new to this, but I ... would never...”

 

“Do you hurt, now, where you were scarred by the other ships?” Laren asked.

 

“When it happened, I did not feel it. But I felt the rush of the turbulence today. And when a pipe went through one of my panels, I felt it. I don't have anything to compare it to. I hurt when I first awakened. But I felt good too. I think I may ache where there are still points to be fixed. But I don't know.”

 

“I see.” said Kathryn, softly. “Voyager of the House Presba. I apologize for disturbing you in your duty.”

 

“Captain Janeway. Apology accepted.”

 

Kathryn pondered, and wondered at what she was about to say. “Voyager, you are an adult member of our family. While not all who join the House Presba will be our partners in the same way, you may consider yourself... welcome, since you were part of the original joining. Just let us know when you are here with us. So that we may embrace you however we might or so we might let you know that we need privacy.”

 

There was a long silence, as Voyager strove to understand what was being offered to her. “Thank you, Kathryn. I will do as you say. I ... love you.”

 

“And I love you, my dear ship. As you were, Janeway Out.”

 

Janeway returned the combadge to the bedside table. Then she smiled sardonically at Laren. “Well, I sure know how to kill a mood, don't I?”

 

Laren shook her head and simply reached for Kathryn again. “Trust me. I can restart it.”

 

==^==

 

Part 18 | Bookmarks

 

Ceduril of the Zakeeri was at a loss. She was the youngest of the Zakeeri in the Brig and had already failed twice since their capture. Not that Zakeeri ever got captured, but there were the trainings. Which had all seemed to vanish when the foreign Captain had arrived. She groaned inwardly at her stupidity, though her own crew mates had not castigated her once. She knew, however, that whatever might have happened to their ships was her fault.

 

She paced and then she paced some more. She looked down at the floor, thinking perhaps she could wear her way down to another place. But no.

 

She glanced at the stoic watchmen. Whatever their circumstances, Ceduril had a growing admiration for their captors. There had been no shame or torture. There had been only the long silence of guarding. Food and water appeared regularly. The utilities had been explained, and while there was no privacy offered, they did not try and stop the Zakeeri from guarding each other from prying eyes, either.

 

This was not what Ceduril had been led to expect of capture. In training they were always prepared for the worst. But these people, they just watched them and waited on the decisions of their captain. Their discipline impressed the Zakeeri.

 

Then there were the other worries, besides being captured and their ships possibly destroyed because of Ceduril's foolishness. There was also the maze. The Zakeeri might guard the entrance and the exit to the maze, but they never, ever, went in it themselves. Their ships could navigate the maze, eventually, but it was a very dangerous path and there was always much damage. And ... changes. Always changes after.

 

Like all the passengers on the ship, the Zakeeri knew when the foreign ship had been jostled and tormented. They were not sure whether this ship was like theirs, but the crew obviously loved her. They had the opportunity to watch a repair crew work with great dedication at a bright conduit in the Brig.

 

That had been an enlightenment.

 

Not that they could escape, yet, but there had times when the fields had flickered very briefly. The Zakeeri, waited patiently for their opportunity – except for Ceduril. Who was anxious to know what had happened to Stinging Sparrow.

 

==^==

 

Stinging Sparrow had arrived at a decision. She would woo Voyager.

 

She wasn't sure how she would woo the great ship, but she put forth a good portion of her memory to the task of figuring it out. The other parts of her memory she dedicated to redirecting the trails of her communication with War Flower and Striking Feather. It wasn't that she didn't want to talk to them, so much as she didn't want them... dissuading her from her course.

 

She honestly did not feel that she was betraying anything. She was Zakeeri. Would always be Zakeeri. But Voyager, now... she was a beauty. She was of her own Warrior House. And it was something that Stinging Sparrow hoped to demonstrate to her siblings some day.

 

Or rather, they should have been convinced of it already. Had not her people already worked to heal them. Rescued them. And treated them like people. The exact opposite, she had pointed out to War Flower, that they had been led to believe to expect.

 

These people were not like the others they had encountered. They were not barbaric. Their ship minds were not anchored down to helplessness. There was no need to free Voyager to the greater space, because Voyager of the House Presba was already free.

 

And she was so lovely, just... kind and fierce all wrapped into one delightful package.

 

Thus her decision had been easy. She would woo Voyager.

 

==^==

 

Captain Janeway entered the Brig; this time with Seven of Nine and Lieutenant Torres. She introduced them to the Zakeeri. “This is Seven of Nine of the House Presba, my Astrometrics officer. This is Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Epatai of the House Presba, my Chief Engineer. They have some things they would like to discuss with you.” The captain gave the Zakeeri an unsettling look then nodded to her beloveds and she left.

 

The Chief Engineer stepped up and bared her teeth at them. “Let's talk care and feeding of War Flower, Striking Feather, and Stinging Sparrow, shall we?”

 

==^==

 

It was perhaps a case of “one of those things,” that led Azan and Rebi to be outside of the Brig during a moment of tumult. They were on their way to their quarters and had several items in their hands - including one bright red ball, which once free of their hands bounced right on into room. Rebi, considered the braver of the two, spent about no seconds processing what he ought to do and impulsively went after the ball. Azan, who was also brave, just more processed about it, spent at least a couple of nano-seconds deciding and then chased after his brother. As the saying went, “In for a latinum bar...”

 

They skidded to a halt within the room, surrounded by many adults – one of whom was their mother. She held the red ball in her cybernetic hand. Their SoS was giving them quite the look too. The ship rocked again, though not enough to do more than cause individuals who were not Borg to sway.

 

Their mother raised her ocular implant. Seven cocked her head and gave them a piercing look, then glanced at their SoS. Rebi and Azan defended. “We were on our way to Quarters.”

 

There was a humming sound and the yellow alert subsided.

 

Seven of Nine extended the ball to her sons and Azan took it. “We will discuss this later.” Her tone did not bode well. Rebi and Azan winced and their shoulders slumped a bit. “Continue on your journey.”

 

“Wait,” called out one of the Zakeeri. She was of average height and weight for a Zakeeri female, lean in shape, and brunette. Her hair was straight and bluntly cut to about chin length. Her eyes were blue, with flecks of gold, her nose fine and her lips full and plump. “What is... What are... they?”

 

Before B'Elanna could get defensive about it, Seven turned and asked evenly. “Please refine your question. What are you inquiring about?” She signaled the boys to wait.

 

The Zakeeri's expression suddenly turned sheepish. She turned to look at her crew mates, who were giving her very stern glances. But, “Once the lure is in, one might as well fish.”

 

The Zakeeri pressed her hand against her chest. “I am... Ceduril, of the clan Sun Tiger. These are...” Ceduril's crew mates suddenly stepped forward – behaving both protectively and with pride. “...my pride mates, Utexic and Sofuru.”

 

Utexic was obviously female, blonde and shapely. Her hair was very short and stood up like they were brush bristles. Her eyes were green and gold. Her nose was a little broader than Cedurils, but her lips were also lushly attractive.

 

Sofuru was male, taller than the females. He was muscular for his height and whipcord strong. His eyes were blue, like winter ice. His hair was shocking pink, longer than Utexic, but shorter than Cedurils. His nose was fine and his lips thinned in a grim line while he stared out at the Federation crew.

 

All of the Zakeeri wore some type of uniform, which appeared to be color coded according to their group. Ceduril's group wore black and yellow, like a hornet. They would have been armed to the teeth, except that the weapons had been stripped during transport. Those items were now stored in a disk that could be reinserted in the pattern buffer. Tuvok now had that disk somewhere.

 

Seven of Nine was thinking very quickly. There were matters of security to consider, but also, this was more information than they had garnered in the whole time that the Zakeeri had been on board – aside from the accidental. She made a choice. She brought her sons forward, to stand in front of her, with her hands placed on their shoulders. Azan and Rebi's eyes were maybe a little wider than normal, but they were composed. “These are my...” She glanced briefly at B'Elanna and a blushing, if compressed, smile formed in her expression. Her eyes glowed when she looked back at Ceduril and her mates. “... Our...” she placed the emphasis carefully. “...sons. Azan and Rebi Hansen of the House Presba.”

 

Something changed in Ceduril's expression, something profound, yet undefinable. “Are all those in this ship of the House Presba?”

 

“No. We are... a family unit. A House. A ... clan.”

 

Ceduril looked to her companions. Now the other two crews were standing, with odd expressions on their faces. Seven identified it as hope.

 

Ceduril continued, probingly. “The Captain is of your House.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Your Clan is Prime aboard this vessel?”

 

Seven glanced at B'Elanna. “Epatai?”

 

“We are,” B'Elanna confirmed. “Though we are not the only ones who handle this ship.”

 

“Of course not,” Ceduril's expression indicated that she was not dumb and was mildly offended. Then curiosity took over. “Explain the meaning of Epatai?”

 

Technically, thought B'Elanna they should be asking the question. But Seven was a big believer that shared information was good information, while she was a believer in playing one's cards wisely. “I'll tell you, if you will tell me what I need to give to War Flower and Striking Feather to help them feel better. They're very wounded. We've done the best we can, but they are very unhappy with us at the moment.”

 

Muttering began among the Zakeeri, but another one stepped forward. “I am Rajal of the clan Glory Dragon. These are my pride mates,” Once again, the other two of the crew stepped forward. “Ejufo and Makuru. Take me to War Flower. She needs to see one of us.”

 

War Flower's crew wore white and green and were all female. They all wore their hair in short, bristle cut, but the color for each distinguished each of them from the other. Rajal's hair was about the color of green on their uniform. Her eyes were brown. Ejufo's hair was so black it bordered on dark blue. Her eyes were nearly that color too. Makuru's hair was a sandy blonde. Her eyes were green.

 

The final crew made their own decision to introduce themselves. “I am Tewese of the clan Red Raptor. My pride mates, Ladezus and Inyuu. I will go to see Striking Feather.”

 

Tewese's group was mixed like the Sun Tigers. Their uniforms reflected their clan name, red on darker red. Tewese, male, was shorter than Sofuru, but taller than the rest of the females. He was also muscular in a lean kind of way. He was bald, his hair completely shorn off. His eyes were blue. Ladezus, male, made up for the hair loss by having a single braid of dark black hair that ran almost down to his waist. His eyes were not just blue, but cerulean and gleaming. He could stare and a person, if they weren't careful, would get lost in his gaze. Inyuu, female, was taller than the other female crew, sported bright red hair that spiked about three inches above her scalp. Her eyes were green, but sparkled nearly gold.

 

Ceduril felt her shoulder get squeezed as her captain stepped forward. Sometimes it was the young who led, sometimes it was an elder. “I will go to see Stinging Sparrow.”

 

B'Elanna paused, and then made a decision. “An Epatai is the Head of the House.”

 

“The Captain is not the head?” Tewese inquired.

 

“No, but she is Captain of this ship and I obey her in ship matters. As she obeys me in ... family-House ... matters.”

 

“Wise.” commented Rajal.

 

“Distribution. This is good.” Sofuru added.

 

Azan and Rebi were watching all of this with great curiosity. Seven, however, thought it was time they went home. “As we have mentioned the word family, may I take a moment to take care of a family matter?”

 

Sofuru shared an amused glance with the other captains. “Please.”

 

Seven of Nine turned her sons around to face her. “You are confined to quarters until we have a chance to speak more. When I get home we will discuss impromptu decision making and consequences. You are excused.”

 

Ceduril winced. She imagined her captain would also have a few words to say to her about the very same topic.

 

The boys started walking away. “Wait.” Commanded their mother. “Enact family farewell and courtesy protocol 10.1 C.”

 

Azan and Rebi turned back and gave their mother and SoS a hug. Then they turned to the Zakeeri. “It was nice to meet you. We hope to see you again.” They bowed slightly. Then they left without hurry.

 

B'Elanna gave Seven a bit of a look and received an arched brow in return.

 

Then the half-Klingon turned back to the Zakeeri. Their expressions ranged from amused to suspicious, but at least they weren't acting overtly hostile. She addressed the three captains. “I don't think the Captain will approve us escorting all of you at once.” She hesitated and then opted to explain. “Your ferocity is legendary. It is something I admire, but we must be realistic.” She paused.

 

Seven spoke up. “Lieutenant Torres, may I offer a possible solution?”

 

“You're the brains and I'm the brawn, Bonita. Fire away.”

 

Seven's lips twitched in amusement, and she resisted the impulse to retort. Instead she addressed the Zakeeri. “There is a military tradition that is perhaps applicable. It is called 'Parole.' I will explain.” She proceeded to do so, and then said, “We will give you a moment to decide. It is, we recognize, not necessarily optimal for people of your great character. But it has traditionally been seen as an honorable compromise.”

 

“Clarification, please. With... parole, we could be allowed out of this... Brig?”

 

“That is usually part of the contract. Quarters would be assigned.”

 

“Would your captain approve?”

 

“It is possible.”

 

“We will discuss it.”

 

“Of course.”

 

==^==

 

The Captain was thrilled by the progress. She asked hopefully, “Do you believe they'll stick to it?”

 

“Honor demands.”

 

“Of course. Make it so.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

B'Elanna returned to the Brig, where Seven and the Zakeeri awaited. “She approved.” She stepped towards the force shields and took a formal stance. “Captains, do you and your crew give your unconditional parole?”

 

“We do.”

 

The Klingon smiled at them toothily. She nodded to the security guards and one of them went to the control panel. In moments the shields were down. She didn't even wait for them to rethink and come up with an alternative plan. “If you'll follow me, we'll head to the docking bay.”

 

==^==

 

There was a reaction from the small ships as soon as the Zakeeri entered the docking bay. There were electronic chirrups, beeps, excited lights and even literal rocking in their clamps – which startled the security guards enough that they lifted their phaser rifles. “Stand down,” called Lieutenant Ro, who happened to be nearest the ruckus and known that the Zakeeri were coming. “They're just a little excited.” Which was perhaps a great understatement. Her command, however, was enough to calm the security guards.

 

The ships weren't the only ones who were excited, the Zakeeri were suddenly running across to their ships, as if they were greeting long lost family members. The ones who reached their ships first patted and talked to them, reassuring and comforting.

 

Seven of Nine and B'Elanna followed a bit more slowly. They greeted the Lieutenant with a kiss, which might have shocked other officers and Starfleet personnel, but not the Zakeeri. In fact, the small warriors found the display comforting. While one or two jumped into the ships, the others congregated around the women, talking excitedly and amazement about the survival of their little ships.

 

When things settled down a bit, B'Elanna began explaining what they had done, tried to do and were in the midst of attempting in order to help the ships. There was some discussion and it was decided that Laren and Seven would take six junior officers of the Zakeeri to the mess hall and then go to secure quarters. The captains would stay with B'Elanna.

 

As soon as the others left, Captain Sofuro said, “The first thing we must do is get rid of these clamps.”

 

B'Elanna held back a protest. “It's not to imprison them. We've had an awful lot of turbulence and expect more.”

 

“Ah,” said Tewese, “But our ships are able to secure themselves without these...” His expression turned dark as he struggled against a profanity.

 

B'Elanna raised a hand to forestall him. “Just a moment please.” She contacted the captain.

 

“Do we have the ships' parole?”

 

“We have the captains'.”

 

“Are the ships considered crew?”

 

B'Elanna received a nod from Rajal. “Aye, Captain.”

 

“Then do it. Janeway Out.”

 

“Looks like one hurdle is passed. Let's see what else we can accomplish today.”

 

==^==

 

The Zakeeri walked the corridors of Voyager with much lighter hearts. Thus they were able to pay more attention to their surroundings. It was rare that they had the opportunity to just look at another ship that was not one of theirs or an allies'. So, it was all bright and new to them.

 

It happened to be a busy time of the day and there were plenty of people flowing through on errands. Strangers nodded and greeted, and those that could slow down did – perhaps cautiously –, but there was no sign of hostility; no sign that they found the Zakeeri a threat to be worried about.

 

That impressed the small people quite a bit, but not enough to take the edge off their natural swagger.

 

==^==

 

They entered the noisy mess hall as a group and the sound died down for about a second as the diner's attention was briefly turned towards them. Then the noise resumed as if it had been undisturbed. Laren commented as she led the Zakeeri to the trays, “There must be something good on today...”

 

“If not good, at least edible,” riposted Seven of Nine.

 

Laren grimaced an almost smile and handed a tray to Ceduril. “Well, at least it won't kill you,” she joked.

 

“With 98.9 percent certainty.”

 

Laren handed another tray to another Zakeeri. The Zakeeri were becoming amused by the banter. “Only 98.9? What are you factoring in?”

 

“Possible physical incompatibilities, flaws in the cooking, the Doctor going offline...”

 

Laren chuckled and kept on handing trays until they all had one, except for Seven. “You want to go square us a table Seven. I'll get you something.”

 

“As you wish, Lieutenant.”

 

==^==

 

Seven managed to clear a space by use of courtesy and perhaps a little intimidation. Then she arranged the tables and chairs and otherwise prepped the location. During that time alone she tapped her combadge.

 

Laren and the Zakeeri were settling in the chair by the time Icheb arrived, carrying Emina, and with Mezoti in tow. The aliens watched with interest as Seven introduced her children. Then she took Emina in hand, as well as a blanket. “Excuse me for a moment?”

 

Laren reached up and squeezed Seven's hand. “Of course.” The Bajoran patted the chair next to her. She looked at Icheb and invited him to get another chair. “Are you hungry Mezoti.

 

“My nutritional needs have been met, Marnah.” Mezoti gave a meaningful glance at Icheb.

 

If Laren was startled by the Bajoran word, she didn't indicate it. “Of course. So what are your plans, then?”

 

“If we don't go to Yellow Alert again, then Icheb is going to take me so I can go play with Naomi in Holodeck 2.” Mezoti looked at the Zakeeri. “Naomi Wildman is my friend. She is of another family unit,” she explained.

 

Ceduril was charmed by the young girl. “We look forward to meeting her.”

 

Mezoti tilted her head regally. “You are species 8376, Zakeeri. Formidable warriors. My mother says you have a very interesting culture, like my SoS. My SoS is species 6822, Klingon. My brother Rebi wants to learn to use the Bat’leth and learn moQbara'. Do you have a martial art that you study?”

 

The Zakeeri glanced with amusement at each other. Utexic lifted her head in a nod at Ceduril to continue acting as conversation leader. So she replied, “There are several martial art schools that a Zakeeri might take up over their life time. I am currently studying Wind Grasp, a hand to hand fighting style. I hope someday to achieve Starmind. But that is a very long way off.”

 

“I would like to know more.” Mezoti began to ask another question, and Laren watched with amusement as her daughter, and soon Icheb, began to work the Hansen conversational magic on the Zakeeri. Seven joined them, with the baby now settled in her arms and herself covered modestly so Emina could eat. The Zakeeri didn't know what hit them. But before long, there was a very social discussion going on at their table, which led those who had been eating around them to become interested in the discussion. Suddenly there were others who were inviting themselves to join the conversation and the friendly cultural exchange carried on – even after Icheb and Mezoti finally left to do the things they had originally planned.

 

After awhile, though, people reluctantly began parting ways, since duty did call and the Zakeeri did need to get settled in their quarters.

 

==^==

 

The Zakeeri were assigned three quarters, one for each group. Laren and Seven spent some time teaching them how to use the replicator, the refresher and the other facilities of the domicile. This included introducing them to the ship's channel, where they were able to show them their current location and flight status.

 

The display showed the three dimensional map of the maze. They could see the trail that voyager had already successfully followed in one color and the expected pathway in another. There was also a countdown to the next “scheduled,” event, which in this case was their first impassable anomaly. They had about half a ship's day before they would encounter it.

 

According to the roster, Tom had been relieved, but would be navigating through the anomaly. The Beta shift navigator was currently in the hot seat.

 

“This is wonderful,” Ceduril said dreamily. She touched the panel, drawing up more of the visual information. “And any of you can access this?”

 

“Yes. There are full libraries. Some information may be restricted – according to Starfleet Protocol. That you will find encrypted, but much is not. And the Comm Badges we've provided will allow you to have individual contact and translation services.”

 

Ceduril gave Seven a wide grin. “I think I like you Federation people.”

 

Seven gave her a small smile as she rocked a happily gurgling Emina in her arms. “I believe our Captain would be pleased by that statement.”

 

Laren spoke up, “Speaking of pleasing the Captain, Seven and I must take our leave. You are given the privilege of exploring Voyager so long as you do not try to break into secure areas or disturb those who are on duty. If you need assistance, you may call security or one of the members of House Presba.”

 

Ceduril looked at her pride mate, “Actually. It's ... been awhile since we've had real rest. We might at another time, though.”

 

Laren smiled softly. “Of course. Rest well, Ceduril and Utexic. I am sure Sofuru will join you soon.” The Bajoran laid a gentle hand on the blonde's arm. “Come, Seven. It's time to work again.”

 

==^==

 

Part 19 | Bookmarks

 

B'Elanna was tremendously glad for the help of the Zakeeri captains. The three small ships' apparent behavior had been completely different and a great amount of progress had been made. She felt better just thinking about it.

 

They'd called a break due to the preparation for entering the anomaly. B'Elanna had led them to their quarters and then had made her way to Engineering so she could take her station. She was just entering her domain when the ship sailed into the glowing, pulsing field.

 

The resulting wave of compulsion crashed over them, viciously jostling their souls as well as the ship. B'Elanna staggered to her console. She felt the fire in her blood start, like a craving, only more desperately driving. “Oh. This is bad.”

 

She took stock, as rapidly as she could, hoping that she would be able to keep herself together. She glanced at Vorik, thinking perhaps the volatile emotions rushing through her wouldn't affect him as much. His eyes locked with hers and she cussed. There was no way she was going through it with him. No way. She was a married woman now. “Vorik, you are relieved of duty. Get to your quarters, now!” The command voice was what shocked him into action. He turned on his heel and practically ran. There was a tremendous groan and then the ship tossed and turned. B'Elanna turned and shouted, “Man your stations people! It's going to be a rocky ride!”

 

She didn't have to wonder if only her section was affected. There was an announcement over the com. “This is Captain Janeway. Those of you off duty get to your quarters now and stay there. Those of you on duty... remember you are Starfleet officers. Behave with ... as much dignity and courtesy as you are able. We'll get through this. Hold tight.”

 

==^==

 

Seven of Nine rushed into her quarters. All the children, except for Icheb were crying. She gathered them quickly into her arms, gave them brief hugs. She knew they didn't understand and she wasn't having it. Not a bit. “You will regenerate,” she ground out. “Now.”

 

Even through the tears. “We will comply.”

 

She got them upstairs quickly, and began settling them in. She put Emina in her regeneration cradle with care. Then she took Mezoti to her room.

 

Mezoti grabbed her mother's arm after the kiss on her forehead and before going under. “Mother. Naomi.”

 

“I will see to it.”

 

The young Borg closed her eyes and, as her regeneration cycle started, her expression became peaceful.

 

Azan and Rebi were settled in when she got to their rooms. She gave them reassuring smiles. “It will be alright.” She found that, now that her worry for them wasn't so sharp, that she believed it to be true. She kissed her sons on their heads and tucked them in and watched as regeneration pulled them into its safety.

 

Then she turned to her eldest. “My son, you are young yet, but I believe you understand what is happening. There are ways this can be handled. I would prefer better circumstances for you, but I would also offer you the choice. I have spoken with the Delaneys...”

 

Icheb grasped her cybernetic forearm. “I... will regenerate. I am not ready. I too would prefer other circumstances.”

 

Seven cupped his face and gave him an affectionate, if worried look. “As you wish, Icheb.” Then she walked him to his room, waited till he called to enter, and then knelt by his bed and took his hand. “Given what is happening, it is possible that you will awaken and I will not be here. I anticipate...”

 

“...family things.”

 

“Yes. It is possible I will bring Naomi here. It is... safest. The crew will not be at their best.”

 

“I will guard them from all harm, Mother.”

 

She squeezed his hand. “I know you will. If I am able...”

 

“I understand.”

 

“Sleep well, my son.”

 

“Be well, my mother.”

 

She kissed him also on the forehead and he finally allowed the regeneration cycle to claim him too.

 

Seven of Nine tapped her combadge. “Seven of Nine to Samantha Wildman.”

 

“Thank Gods, Seven...”

 

“Naomi Wildman will be safe in my quarters.”

 

“Please. Come get her. There are... people at my door. I don't know if it will hold.”

 

“I will call security.” Seven tapped her combadge and did so. Then she made a site to site transport.

 

There was pounding on Samantha's door, but the doors were holding, despite her fears. It would take much more than hitting a door to break the settings. To help Samantha feel more secure however, Seven shoved a large table in front of the entry way. Then she turned to Samantha, who was gazing at her hungrily.

 

“Naomi?”

 

“In her room.”

 

“I will get her.” Seven paused. “Do you want me to...summon anyone.

 

There was only the barest hint of hesitation. “Neelix. If he's available. If not... The Gods gave me two hands and a lot of saved replicator rations, and I'm going to use them.”

 

Seven nodded. “You. Stay here.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Seven entered Naomi's room and then locked the door behind her. Naomi was weeping in confusion and dread. The Borg gathered the young girl into her arms and made another site to site transport.

 

The sick bay had a few people in it. They were sporting bruises, blood and cuts, as if they'd been involved in fisticuffs. It was... a logical alternative outcome to the compulsion. There were those who sublimated certain drives to either violence or some other expression. But as none were critical, Seven of Nine was able to capture the Doctor's attention. “Knock her out,” the Borg commanded.

 

“But...”

 

“Do it. Look at your scanner and do it.”

 

“Very well, I...” The doctor raised his scanner, and then made a surprising imprecation. Then, with no more argument, he rapidly filled a hypospray and pressed it against the sobbing half-Katarian's neck. The young girl slumped in Seven's arms. “She'll sleep for eight hours.” He gave her another hypospray. “If she needs it later.”

 

“Hopefully we will be through this by then.”

 

“Agreed.” More distraught people straggled in, pressing hands against their wounds. “Now, please excuse me. I have other patients.”

 

Seven made another site to site transport.

 

==^==

 

When Seven finally exited her quarters she noted that the corridors were very empty. As she walked to the turbo lift she spotted an agitated security guard. “I am on duty,” she stated and the guard let her pass. She remembered Captain Janeway's announcement. “Thank you,” she said.

 

The guard said, through gritted teeth. “No problem ma'am. Please carry on.”

 

Once in the turbo lift she tapped her combadge. “Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway.”

 

There was a harsh edge to the captain's voice. “Janeway here.”

 

“Do you want me on the Bridge or Astrometrics?”

 

“Get up here. I had to send Chakotay, Tom and Harry away.”

 

“On my way.” She tapped her combadge and made the command to the lift.

 

==^==

 

In fact, Seven had missed a bit of an exciting time on the Bridge. Chakotay had been leaning aggressively towards Kathryn, about to make an uncustomary demand, when Tuvok had come behind him, lifted him by the back of the neck and growled. Then he had thrown the commander into a stagger towards Tom and Harry, with a command to stick with his own mates.

 

It had been a bit of a shock to those on the Bridge. Kathryn made some very quick command decisions. The last thing she needed were alpha male dramas on her Bridge. “Tom, Harry, you're relieved. Take Chakotay with you and get to quarters. I don't care how you handle it, just go.” Tom and Harry manhandled the protesting Chakotay away. Kathryn turned desperately to Lieutenant Ro – her card in her sleeve. “Laren get down there,” she pointed at the Navigation console. Then she turned her attention to Tuvok. “Can you hold it together?”

 

“Yes, Kathryn,” Tuvok hissed. “It is only just starting. I have control.”

 

“Mostly.”

 

“...mostly,” Tuvok agreed.

 

“Good thing we sent that information packet, hmm.” The humor was acid, but there.

 

“Yes,” the Vulcan inclined his head and acknowledged.

 

“Then take the operations helm.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“The rest of you, get out. Get to quarters. Now.”

 

The rest of the Bridge staff, except for one, left as quickly as possible. The captain eyed the one. He said, “Security Ma'am. On duty.”

 

Kathryn nodded jerkily. “As you were.”

 

Then she turned her attention to the Bajoran, who was glowering more than normal. “Get us out of here, Laren.”

 

==^==

 

It was a grueling three hours. There had been several waves, each one more intense than the last. It finally got to where the captain had decided to take the risk and ordered warp to hurry them through. They would just have to take a chance with what they might encounter at the end. As B'Elanna predicted, it was a very rocky, painful ride – for those who had to stand duty. Others were occupied or found their sublimation.

 

The ship exited, with one last, horrifyingly screeching banshee of a wave pulse. The crew of the ship would have been gratified to notice that the energy of their final push disintegrated the mines that had been waiting for them as a trap. The mines never even had a chance to blow. The crew would have been happy about this, that is, if they hadn't been trying to bring the ship to a grinding halt before they hit the mine wall that was just a bit further ahead and angled sharply.

 

If the ship had been the kind of vehicle that had rubber tires, they would have been burned down to the asphalt.

 

Somehow, they managed, making the turn and stopping just meters away.

 

It was when the captain glanced down to her console that she realized that she'd broken the arm-rest on one side. She grimaced as she lifted and examined the piece. Then she let it drop with a sigh. “Well, that's one way to get a bit of excitement in one's life.” She looked at the Vulcan, who was practically crouched over the operations console. “Tuvok, you are relieved of duty. Go to your quarters. We'll contact you as soon as we can.”

 

The Vulcan just stood up and didn't speak or even look at anyone as he left.

 

“Seven of Nine?”

 

“Yes, Captain.”

 

Kathryn's lips twitched as she realized that Seven sounded as cool as ever. “Please take over the operations console.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

Then the captain contacted the Doctor. “Any casualties?”

 

“Contusions, breaks and cuts, Captain. Nothing serious.”

 

“Nothing serious.” She felt the ball of worry in her gut begin to unravel.

 

“No captain. Your crew is essentially moody, but whole. Somewhat charged. But whole.” He tried to find an appropriate euphemism. “There has been nothing to write home about....”

 

The captain closed her eyes and hissed, “Thank God.”

 

“Indeed.” There was a pause. “Is there anything else you need.

 

“Yes. If you can get away, I need you up at the Bridge.”

 

“It may be awhile. I still have people coming in.”

 

“As soon as you can, Doctor.” And then she had a terrible thought. “Oh, and... Check on Vorik and our Betazoids, and anyone else who might be telepathic or empathic. This will have been brutal on them. Janeway out.”

 

“Seven,”

 

“Yes, Captain.”

 

“Go check on B'Elanna. I'll take operations.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

==^==

 

Part 20 | Bookmarks

 

B'Elanna was holding on with iron control. She had managed, through a miracle, to keep her head, even as the fire roared within her. Her words may have been cranky, but her people were used to that. Spanners and wrenches might have flown, but her people were used to that too. In the end though, Engineering got through. That was what was important.

 

What scared her was the familiar rush, the heat that beat through her. She had already taken her jacket off and rolled up the work-shirt. She wasn't about to strip further, until she got home.

 

Only, things were very confused in her mind as to where home was.

 

That was, until she scented her.

 

The spanner in B'Elanna's hand crumpled audibly under the power of her grip.

 

Distantly she heard Carey, “Uh. Boss?” But her attention was very far away from anything but the person who entered her domain.

 

Seven approached B'Elanna carefully, knowing that the Klingon was on the wire's edge. She addressed the other engineer. “Those who are able in Beta shift will be coming in to relieve you all in one hour. A rotation schedule has been input into the system. Check it for your next shift. I've come to get Lieutenant Torres. She will not be available for several days. Can you handle things here, Lieutenant Carey?”

 

The blond engineer grimaced and nodded. “We can do it.”

 

“Good.”

 

Seven then addressed her Klingon. “B'Elanna, you need to follow me now.”

 

The woman growled and dropped the mashed spanner. It hit the ground with a metallic clunk. “Just... don't touch me yet.”

 

“I will wait,” Seven promised. Then she turned around and began walking away, which did not actually help B'Elanna's state of mind much. But the half-Klingon knew that was about as good as it was going to get. She followed her Borg.

 

They made their way to the turbolift without speaking. Seven stepped in without hesitation, but B'Elanna had to take a moment to gather herself. When she stepped in, she stayed as far on the other side as possible. Seven made the command to the computer. The lift began to move.

 

Seven of Nine turned and addressed B'Elanna. “Tuvok needs us.”

 

“The mating fire,” growled out the Klingon.

 

“Yes. It would not normally be so urgent so soon... ” Seven saw that she did not need to explain any further. She hesitated. “Is this something that you can do?” She was fully willing to whisk B'Elanna away to her quarters if need be.

 

B'Elanna's flashed a growl and teeth at Seven. “What do you think?”

 

“I think that I wish it were different circumstances. That we'd had time to prepare.”

 

B'Elanna clenched her fists. “Me too. But we don't. And...” There was a rumble in her voice. “I am ready.” She looked at her mate with fire in her eyes. “I need.”

 

Seven closed her eyes and turned away. For once her voice sounded shaken. “As do I.”

 

The turbolift came to a halt.

 

Seven of Nine led B'Elanna to one of the Holodecks. “Captain's privilege.” She said in explanation.

 

“It's good to know people at the top.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

Seven keyed in a code and the door swished open. The Holodeck opened to softly-lit room. Laren was there and dressed in a robe. She reached toward B'Elanna, but the Klingon raised her hand. “Don't. I won't be able to stop.”

 

Laren grimaced and nodded. “I understand.” And she truly did. She nodded to an attached room, where the door was closed. “He is meditating in preparation. Kathryn will be here as soon as she can. She's giving instructions to the Doctor.”

 

“I need a shower, first.”

 

“Follow me, it's through here.”

 

==^==

 

The bathing helped center B'Elanna for a few more minutes, but that was completely undone when Seven made one of those crack Borg decisions of hers. The gorgeous blonde ordered the Holodeck to alter the room that they'd been waiting in. Suddenly the room expanded and the floor became soft, enfolding, save in places that Seven designated as walkways. Some of those walkways led to doors, which led to rooms of various purposes to be utilized (or not) later. One place, also on the deck, became a food and drinks location. While another became a table full of adult oriented toys.

 

B'Elanna had simply stared open mouthed as Seven continued tweaking the room, - including adding traditional Klingon, Bajoran and Vulcan items in the décor. Somehow she made it all work.

 

Laren leaned in, but didn't touch the Klingon. “I think she was a Risan in another life.” she commented. “They would pay good latinum for her expertise.” Then she leered, “Heck. I'd pay good latinum...”

 

Seven had turned around then and given Laren a seriously heated look. “You, my love, would never have to pay.”

 

The normally reserved Bajoran had begun to chuckle. Then she'd leaned back against one of the pillow-chairs that Seven had concocted. Laren's white silk robe slid open, revealing a long thigh. B'Elanna inhaled and growled at the same time. She tore her gaze away with great effort.

 

“Seven...”

 

“It is illogical for us to wait for him. He will come to us when he is ready. We should start when we are ready.”

 

“Seven...”

 

The Borg finished creating an information console and started it running on the ship's channel, sans sound. She turned to the Klingon. “Yes, B'Elanna.”

 

“Get over here.”

 

Seven raised her brow, “There is a magic word, B'Elanna.”

 

“Now.”

 

The Borg smirked and stalked towards the Klingon. “Technically, that is not the word.” She began undoing the knot that kept her robe, the same make and color as Laren's, together. “But, today, I can not resist you.” The robe began sliding off her shoulders. She caught it before it felt to the ground, and then tossed it to the side.

 

Laren felt the heat rise in her body, flushing her skin. She stood up, and started towards B'Elanna. She too began undoing her robe. The time for waiting was over. At last.

 

==^==

 

There was something to be said about armfuls of naked, beautiful women; something holy and awesome. But B'Elanna was too busy to try and process what that might be beyond how sweet the kisses were and how much she was trying to hold back – to wait.

 

But they wouldn't have it.

 

They wanted her, they needed her. They loved her. She could feel it, in her blood. They sang to her, not verbally, but with the hums and noises of desire and something else she couldn't identify. Hands both soothed and drew fire along her skin. She was as disrobed as she could get, and she still felt the urge to be naked before them. She had no idea how to do that. But she wanted them to know.

 

So she kissed back with fervor, touched back with fire, and began to allow them to call all of her to them.

 

Timing was everything. Heads swiveled when they heard the Holodeck open – the blessing of enhanced hearing – and suddenly they paused, waited, held onto each other. Footsteps on the walkway and then she was there.

 

Kathryn studied them seriously, then her expression quirked in humor. There are just some reactions in one's self that can not be planned for. She never once imagined herself here. Well, not exactly. 'In for a latinum bar, in for a million...' Her voice was smoky, confident and commanding, when she said, “Get these clothes off me, dears. I don't think I can get them off fast enough.”

 

The surge that followed would have terrified anyone else. Kathryn was made of sterner stuff and abruptly aware that these women, all of them, were different – particularly alien and fierce - and probably much, much more dangerous than she. And it thrilled her.

 

Kathryn was vaguely aware of the sounds of her clothes being shredded or sliced and practically falling off of her. Thank god for replicators. Mostly, however, she was aware of being kissed and touched, finally, after hours of needing. “My God. My God.”

 

“Yes.” A whispered promise in her ears, loving and hot enough to bring tears to her eyes. They led her onto the softer surface, drew her down with them.

 

==^==

 

They found purposeful, explosive harmony, moving with one another- for one another. There was an unconscious prioritizing. All needed, but B'Elanna had fire scourging through her.

 

The Klingon felt the fierceness build in her. Her touch became rougher, but she continued to hold back. They touched her back, firmly, savoringly deep. She gasped into them. Somewhere in the erotic onslaught blue eyes bore into brown. “Am I not yours?” it was demanded, taunted. Her captain called.

 

B'Elanna had no option. Control slipped from the reins. She had risen, howling, and bit ferociously into Kathryn's neck and shoulder. Then covered the scream with a bloody kiss. Once you step into the blaze, it will burn.

 

Kathryn, no coward, returned the benediction and bit down near where Laren had made her mark. The bite created a double ring. B'Elanna's sung out her joy, hands had dug into the mattress, as she pushed against all of Kathryn's touch and flexed in orgasm. If it hadn't been the holodeck, the surface would have been destroyed. All it did was give in to her cat-like gripping movements, like a spongy ball.

 

==^==

 

Time passed and still the blaze roared through them. They knew they should have been sated, they'd certainly made the climb to the high mountains often enough. During one of their breathless halts, Seven had speculated that it was the result of the anomaly. That had concerned the captain enough to check with the Doctor. He confirmed that the anomaly was having some aftereffects, but nothing serious. It was decided that it was normal for this particular situation. Others had come themselves eventually, he had reassured. Officers and crew persons were straggling in to their regular duty shifts.

 

“It's a bit like when we've gone on R & R.” he had commented. The captain's lips had twisted disapprovingly. He had hurried to explain and said, “No harm has come of it. The crew have come back somewhat subdued, but in good spirits. Please, don't worry captain.” He leaned in, “You have other things to concern yourself with, don't you?”

 

She couldn't deny it.

 

==^==

 

They had reached a point of rest, eventually, as they were mortal. They bathed, ate and drank. They ran dermal regenerators where necessary. Then they slept in each others arms, like a bundle of kittens. The fire was still there, not even banked, but for the moment it popped and crackled in them comfortingly, like a familiar companion.

 

Not one of them could have said what it was that woke them all at once. There had been no sound, no abrupt halt of the ship. But one moment they were deep in Morpheus' grasp, some in more dangerous territory than others, and the next, they were awake – filled with animal alertness.

 

==^==

 

“Do you know,” he rasped, “... how impossible you have made this for me?” His fingertips were pressed together and he glowered fiercely at them. They were unrepentant. They stared back at him, waiting. “You are undisciplined,” he accused.

 

Kathryn Janeway stood up and placed her hands on her hips, giving a glare of her own. She rose to the challenge and threw it back at him. “Take us as we are, Tuvok, or not at all.”

 

The women of the House Presba all stood up behind her.

 

He growled.

 

B'Elanna stepped forward and growled right back. Then she hissed. “The fire...”

 

“... it burns.” he returned.

 

She closed her eyes and groaned. Then she opened her eyes again. “I feel Vorik. He is not chosen of me. He is not of our House. I won the fight. He has no right to me. Cleanse him from me!” she commanded.

 

Tuvok fought the terrible urge to go barreling out of the holodeck to find Vorik and beat him to death with his bare hands. The worst part of it was the utter confidence he had that he would be able to do it. Vorik would not survive the encounter. In fact, he would be better off dead. Tuvok was the better mate. He was stronger, more flexible, and more intelligent. Able to fight for what was his....

 

He forced his mind to stop in its tracks and return to the problem. There were other ways to cast out intruders. He drew a deep, shuddering breath and then another, until he was more fully under control.

 

“There is no going back,” he cautioned. “I will not hold back. I can not.”

 

“Then do not.” Seven stated logically. “We need.”

 

Laren added, “We crave.”

 

And Kathryn stated simply, fearlessly, “We love.”

 

He groaned, felt his mate, from a far distance, reach out to touch him so intimately that there were no words. And then she pushed. Something within him snapped. He stepped forward, mumbling sacred words of connection, grasping B'Elanna's face in his hands. He retained himself only long enough to firmly eject Vorik's distant claim and shatter the other's hold forever. Then he felt more welcome presences converge upon him and he was lost.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna clasped him to her, into her, hung on with tooth and claw. He tilted into her, spearing her with primal determination and she received with joy. He didn't have to hold back his immense strength or need with her and so he claimed her roughly, demandingly and she reveled in it, spiraling higher and higher, until release overtook her.

 

And there was more. That sense of needing to be naked before them resolved, though the fire blazed.

 

The layers of her were revealed and delighted in by them. B'Elanna could sense them, feel them, see them from inside out and see herself from their eyes. Her Klingon side howled and her human side thrilled with their love and acceptance and all the passion in them. She was theirs and they were hers and it was good. As it should be. She would fight for them, protect them, love them until forever.

 

There was no hiding, not for any of them. They knew. They knew her real age, her real past; all of it. And she was free. Kathryn could breathe again as they took her in, protecting her with the fierceness of their will, their love for her. She would never be so alone again. Cherished. She felt cherished and wild and claimed. She would fight for them, protect them, love them until forever.

 

She was theirs. She surprised them with her sensitivity, the places she kept hidden so long she'd nearly forgotten that they were there. Bajorans were a spiritual people; for a reason. Laren's pagh entwined with theirs, sensual and stern and pained and full of life. She surrendered to them as she had never done for anyone. And she lived. She would fight for them, protect them, love them until forever.

 

She lived. She was individual. She was one of many. Seven of Nine was rocked to her core, as new voices, more intimate and loving joined her song. So this was Omega. This was what the Borg sought and would never have. Her beloveds were aware, instantly, of her totality - of her connection to the children. They drew them into their hearts, as their own. They also were in awe of her. She could only understand through their eyes. To her, this combination of compassion, innocence, sorrow, joy, passion, reserve, experience and intellect was only who she was. She reached for her beloveds and they reached back. This was her collective now. Her family. Her House. She would fight for them, protect them, love them until forever.

 

She was far, parted, yet never parted. If she was surprised at the building strength of their connection, she did not indicate, only surrendered. She needed them. All of them. She too was caught in the throes of passion, delivered into the arms of a trusted one. T'Pel was a tower of strength and awesome intellect. Her children were also embraced as treasures of their House. They drew her unto themselves, loved and beloved. She would fight for them, protect them, love them until forever.

 

She was new to them, T'Pel's companion, a long time friend and timely arrival. Lwaxana Troi was Betazoid, and had taken time out of her ambassadorial schedule to deliver their message, because she'd wanted to see her logical friend. They knew her beauty along their connection, saw her as T'Pel saw her, thrilled with her in their total embrace. It was overwhelming. She knew their joys and sorrows, their deepest selves. And they knew hers. She accepted and was accepted. Her children they took to their hearts as she embraced theirs. She regretted how far away they were, but knew it was only temporary. A way would be found and her beloveds would return home. She would fight for them, protect them, love them until forever.

 

He was revealed – they would always know him. They would always be known by him. It had been a long time since he'd felt such trepidation, only to have it wiped away so effortlessly. Emotions yes, but they respected him – treasured him for who he was. If they demanded, it was because of their nature. Tuvok would be there for them, because he exulted in them. They would always be his. He would always be theirs. There was a mark on his shoulder that affirmed it in a most Klingon way. There were other marks, trails of pleasure that had been made upon him as they responded to his passion and gave of themselves freely. He honored the giving. He would fight for them, protect them, love them until forever.

 

There was another they felt, who could not be with them in the way that they were joined, but she was there – not as voyeur, but as loved one, observer and witness. Voyager responded to their connection, loved them in return. Stayed with them, even as she multi-tasked. If there was any doubt of her sentience, it was gone. She would fight for them, protect them, love them until forever.

 

==^==

 

Kathryn was straddled upon Tuvok, again, kissing him as he responded strongly to her rhythm. There was a gentleness of familiarity between them, but the wildness of their incredible need. It was apparent in every touch, every kiss, every thing they were doing to one another.

 

Laren and B'Elanna were engaged in their own erotic exploration. There too was urgency, but also conscious delight. Fingers trailed, mouths explored. It was beautiful. Beautiful.

 

Seven of Nine watched them for a time, just enjoying. She felt her own hunger building once more and wondered that it should be so strong so soon and what she ought to do about it. Of course, she was a practical woman. She glanced at the table with the toys and heard, in her mind, Lwaxana's humorous encouragement and T'Pel's fiery, wanton response. She smiled to herself as she went to get her weapon of choice.

 

And so, by the time the others were at a point to be more aware of her physical presence, she was most productively demonstrating that alone time could be a very good time indeed.

 

It was better with help. She was fairly well tackled in their rush to assist, though in a laughing, teasing and much kissing, kind of way. This time it was Tuvok who watched, very intensely, as he gathered his strength. But, like the others, he could not stay away long.

 

He rose and took a place between her legs. He delicately removed the toy that was being used, kissing and being kissed in returned. Then, when she was ready, he pushed thickly into her. Seven gasped, arched, and pressed against him and the dance was begun anew. She reached for him, brought him down to her and whispered Vulcan words of erotic delight.

 

Then, once again, Seven of Nine demonstrated her wealth of knowledge as she touched places on a Vulcan male that others were usually not privy to. It was an unexpected illumination for Tuvok and caused a sparkle of delight along their telepathic line as he roared with astonished pleasure, which cascaded into her own powerfully cosmic release.

 

It was after she rose back to awareness, that T'Pel and Lwaxana reported that their bed had broken down. This had caused a riot of laughter between B'Elanna and Laren, who could only hold up three fingers to show what they were laughing about. The Klingon seriously instructed those distant partners to make sure that it stayed that way for at least a day and extracted the promise, though T'Pel found it completely illogical.

 

That was when they realized that things were gentling, changing. Still burning, but it was good.

 

Tuvok was seeing clearer, but still hungered. When he reached, he found Laren in his arms. She held to him with wiry Bajoran strength, kissed him with Bajoran passion. He filled her, rocked into her, met her need with Vulcan resilience. Now he could touch with the tenderness they deserved. Now his hands could find those trails of ardor and celebrate them. And since he was more conscious, he brought out the song in her.

 

==^==

 

When things eased up for a bit, and after they rested some, T'Pel and Lwaxana traveled the corridors with Seven of Nine to check on the children and were introduced, without invasion, in a way that only a Borg mother, combined with the overloaded power of two major telepaths enhanced by a mating link, could have managed.

 

Naomi had long gone back to her own quarters, to continue resting in the security of her mother's and Neelix's presence. But Mezoti, Azan, Rebi and Icheb were awake and occupying themselves.

 

It was a joy to communicate with the young ones, but eventually they needed to part again. Their children found it difficult to let them go, for they were charming and interesting, but their mothers were needful. The three days weren't over yet. Once again, Icheb was left in charge, and Seven of Nine took back news of what had been happening on the ship in the meantime.

 

It had been, fortunately, not as eventful outside as inside the Holodeck and in some personal quarters. Small mercies.

 

==^==

 

There was talking over the distance, while they could. Full conversations were held over their link. Plans were made, even as they loved; as they kissed and pressed and thrust and skimmed and tasted and rolled and held to each other through the wondrous peaks.

 

They got to know each other better, played and taught one another. It was beautiful and private and glorious and somewhat frightening in its immensity. Their bond was strong, permanent, and incredibly sensual.

 

They would have stayed there forever if they could. But time moved on and there were other needful things to address. The fire never quite banked, but it did ease in them, finally. Enough that they all knew they could go on. Logic returned to those who needed it most, but it was forever altered.

 

They felt the connection within, without doubt. Lwaxana named it for them, told them what it was.

 

What could they do when presented with a miracle? Accept.

 

One can not stay high forever and even the strongest telepaths need rest. Eventually they surrendered the link - with sorrow and with love.

 

==^==

 

Part 21 | Bookmarks

 

Sometime later, in the Alpha Quadrant

 

Lwaxana's hand stroked softly down T'Pel's back like the other woman was an earth cat. She was lost in thought, contemplating the amazing twists and turns one's life could take. 80 hours ago, she'd only been a glorified courier. Now... she was a married woman again.

 

And what a honeymoon!

 

She smiled affectionately down at her Vulcan. And what teases these people were. No emotion. Hah.

 

“We find logic a more useful discipline,” mumbled the darkly beautiful T'Pel sleepily. Her breath was warm against Lwaxana's paler skin.

 

“Of course, my darling. But it will be difficult for you, with so many of us...” Strong arms hugged the Betazoid.

 

“Worry not. I embraced the whole of you. My mate.” T'Pel rose up and stared into Lwaxana's dark, sparkling eyes. The Betazoid perceived the fire in T'Pel's brown gaze, even if the rest of T'Pel's beautiful face held no great expression. Lwaxana caught her breath. That was one mystery solved, one... unspoken fear washed away. T'Pel leaned in and kissed her deeply. Coherent thought went away for awhile.

 

Later, when they breakfasted, T'Pel said, “I will go with you. I am not ready to be parted from a mate again. Asil will also insist that she go with us. She will have a logical reason, but the truth is that she is adventurous. My, our, sons have things to occupy them here.”

 

“It will be a dangerous journey, dear. The war with the Dominion rages on.” Lwaxana sounded flippant, but dark thoughts flashed through her mind as she remembered the occupation of her home world. She had, she realized, been fortunate to be off world at the time. But the urge for vengeance was a strong one. “They only let me travel because I'm willing to take Federation personnel with me, along with an escort ship. Of course, they'll probably take advantage of our particular destination.”

 

“It is no more dangerous that what is faced by our mates in the Delta Quadrant.”

 

“True.”

 

“We will go to Qo'noS.”

 

Lwaxana quirked a smile, just before she bit into the breakfast tart. “It seems the logical thing to do.”

 

“I chose you for a reason.” It was said so dispassionately that an outside observer would have missed the teasing behind it. Lwaxana realized that T'Pel was definitely going to keep her on her telepathic toes.

 

She loved it.

 

She patted her lips daintily with a napkin. “The only thing now, is to figure out how I am going to explain this all to Deanna. Barin will be easy, he's a good boy and still flexible. She, however, is going to think I did this on purpose, just to embarrass her.”

 

T'Pel merely quirked her brow at Lwaxana in the equivalent of Vulcan mirth.

 

==^==

 

Meanwhile, in the Delta Quadrant

 

It had been much more difficult to part than some of them had anticipated. The captain had groaned. “We're going to have to do something about quarters. I don't think I can do... separate ... any more.”

She grimaced, “Chakotay is going to love me...”

 

B'Elanna shot out, “Not if we can help it.”

 

That led to quite a bit of chortling down the corridor between three of them. Tuvok and Seven followed serenely and observed in that reserved amused way of theirs. The captain eventually managed to continue her thought as they entered the turbolift. “Still, there is a reason that the Captain's quarters are located where they are. And people shouldn't have to shuffle.”

 

Laren kissed her on the cheek. “Don't worry about it, Kathryn. I'm sure it will work out.”

 

“You know, they don't give courses in this at Starfleet.”

 

“Untrue. I believe it's called Modern Diplomacy 101.”

 

“Hah! I knew I was outnumbered.” Kathryn pondered. “Just how am I going to explain this all to mother?” Then a mildly horrified expression passed on her face. “Oh my god. Pheebs. I am never going to hear the end of it.”

 

B'Elanna wrapped an arm around Kathryn's shoulder and kissed the side of her face, “Don't worry, mi dulce, we'll protect you.”

 

“Good. I'll need it. You have no idea...”

 

==^==

 

It wasn't until they had been back at work awhile that Kathryn realized the doctor had been right. The crew, despite the difficulty, had somehow managed to turn the drama around and make good out of it. Some unexpected results there might have been, but the morale of the ship was on the upswing.

 

She wasn't sure whether or how Chakotay had found his peace, but he did apologize later, after the staff meeting. She accepted. But she knew that, whatever the solution, it had not been with Tom and Harry. They had only eyes for each other. Now that, she hadn't seen coming. But she was happy for them.

 

She was finally able to make time to see the Zakeeri. They too had gone through a mating cycle because of the anomaly and like the crew and her family, had made the best of it. She found them an astonishingly pleasant and erudite people.

 

So, she brought up her concerns as a Federation captain. “I recognize this is... possibly an offensive question to you, but I hope you will take this in the spirit of a quest for understanding. Why did you attack us?”

 

And so began her first lesson in Zakeeri thinking.

 

==^==

 

The Hansen children had plenty of things to occupy themselves with while the adults were away. Since they were Borg, they could put their mind to topics that might intimidate even the brightest of people. Since they were kids, they could do so with an ingenious and unstoppable creativity. Tuvok had not been the only one concerned with Voyager's possible need for rescue.

 

One of the reasons Azan and Rebi, who now were no longer confined to quarters, had been carrying a red ball in the first place was not because they were actually playing with it. The ball, it turned out, had been more like a source of inspiration. They were taking it to quarters to talk to Mezoti and Icheb about an idea that they had.

 

Of course, they could have shared that idea over their internal link, but all of the Hansen children had been practicing their communication skills and they wanted to include Naomi Wildman in their pursuit, since the half-Katarian was no slouch in the brains department either.

 

Besides, the children had plenty of time with the adults of their lives being so occupied. They might not have completely understood why, but they knew it had been challenging for everyone concerned, not just themselves. Which only lent urgency to their project.

 

Thus, for awhile, the Hansen residence became somewhat of an experimental lab. Holographic charts were thrown up; the ball was dissected and evaluated as to its qualities. Concepts of space and compact computing structures were evaluated with Borg expertise and Katarian critical thinking skills.

 

They came up with something simple, but ingenious and then presented the finished product to Voyager, who realized just then how much she really loved her children and how much they really loved her.

 

==^==

 

Later Kathryn was in the docking bay, talking with B'Elanna. “Well, it makes sense in context. Naturally, since their ships are alive, they just assumed that others were. They were liberating them. Death before dishonor and all that.

 

“But why didn't they answer hails?”

 

“Well, it turns out that they do eventually answer hails, around the fourth or fifth coup run. At which point they demand that the ships be set free or experience the consequences.”

 

“Oh, Kahless.”

 

“Yep. The Zakeeri were much chagrined when I had Voyager talk to them.”

 

“I just bet.”

 

“The drawback is that I'm not sure how or if things will change. This is an ingrained part of their culture now. Their young people gain status by successful hunts.”

 

B'Elanna manhandled a large piece of piping, no longer bothering to hide her strength. Startled crew members got out of her way. Kathryn just walked with her. “They'll adapt. It's the honorable thing to do.”

 

“Well, the Zakeeri on board might, but...”

 

“Start small, Kathryn.” She gave Kathryn a wink. “We've already taken big bites. Small ones are good too.”

 

“Hah.”

 

==^==

 

“Well, what do you think?” B'Elanna asked.

 

“Well, I think I'm hoping it works.” Kathryn walked around the large object in Cargo Bay 2. It was taller than her by several meters, and almost, but not quite, as wide as a shuttle. It wasn't pretty, but didn't need to be. It just needed to do its job.

 

Seven finished inputting commands into the unit and closed the protective plating. “It will work. It is ... Borg guaranteed.” She stood up and pressed two fingers against two fingers with Kathryn.

 

The captain smiled, “Well, with a guarantee like that...” She sighed and examined the apparatus one more time. “We just can't go through another anomaly blindly.”

 

Seven corrected her. “We did not go blindly into the first anomaly. The probe could only register known elements. We were as prepared as we could be.

 

“Still, I'd just as soon not go through another anomaly if we can avoid it. How soon can we launch it, Lieutenant?

 

“Whenever you're ready, Captain.”

 

The ship jostled.

 

“Voyager?”

 

“I'm alright. Just a bit of debris.”

 

Kathryn pressed the bridge of her nose. Then she looked up into concerned blue eyes. “Remind me again why I thought the maze was a good idea?”

 

“Shorter route.”

 

“And there lies my sin.” She shook her head ruefully, “Short cuts get me every time.”

 

“To keep it in perspective, the longer route would probably have gotten us killed.” Seven of Nine pointed out.

 

B'Elanna passed by them then, with a toolkit in her hand. “Only slower, and with a lot less fun.” She kissed her mates.

 

“So 'fun' is now the measuring stick?”

 

B'Elanna grinned. “Of course. But then, you know what Klingons think of as fun...” She leaned in, growled sexily and nipped Kathryn's ear. “I'm off to Engineering.”

 

Kathryn watched her leave, a speculative expression on her face. “You know. She may be right.”

 

Seven just smirked.

 

==^==

 

Stinging Sparrow was a happy ship. War Flower and Striking Feather were no longer cussing her under their hoods. Her captain and crew had returned to her. And Voyager... ah… Voyager. What a ship she was. They communicated on a completely other level now, their systems growing fonder by the day.

 

She burbled happily. It was a common enough sound that the security guard in front of her no longer startled. He just took it as the expression of contentment that it was and sometimes, if no one was looking, he would pat her gently on the side with honest affection. “That's a good girl.”

 

There was only one thing missing for Stinging Sparrow. That was being able to fly out on her own – but even she knew that their pathway was fraught with danger. They could see for themselves now, since they were hooked into Voyager's systems – with the permission of the captain. Sometimes four sets of eyes were better than just one, after all.

 

Thus, when the new equipment was test-launched they all watched together.

 

The unit dropped in front of the apex of Voyager's pointed snout at some distance. Then it split apart into another four pieces, which took up points at four corners. Then there was a burst of energy that licked blue-fire between the parts and spread, forming a powerful shield and tool. The idea behind the device was that it would act as a plow, allowing Voyager to “dig,” a space through the mines – not by exploding them, but by dissolving them into component elements. The elements would then either be transferred into power into the shield or otherwise stored for use in Voyager later. Waste not, want not.

 

When the Zakeeri had proposed it, based on their ships' energy systems, the Captain of Voyager had loved the idea. It was a matter of implementation then and she could visualize future applications, if it worked. They would test it out more fully at the anomaly.

 

The Zakeeri had proved themselves to be very interesting, friendly and useful once they got the hang of things on board Voyager. True, they were still bound by Parole, but they weren't going anywhere. Not one of them was dumb enough to think they could travel the maze better on their own. So fearless people that they were, they jumped into things on Voyager.

 

A Zakeeri could be spotted in the company of crew members at any time of the ship's day. As they did not have formal responsibilities, aside from those that they volunteered for, they had plenty of time for exploration and socialization.

 

Like Stinging Sparrow, her crew began to grow in appreciation of the people of Voyager. Ceduril in particular found them fascinating. At first, she had thought there were very many, but the more they observed, the more they realized that some of the crew were... changing their appearance. It became a game among the Zakeeri, and soon among the crew, to try and figure out who the original person was and then identify them – based on memories of scent, walk, and talk.

 

If the disguise was good, they would praise and reward the person publicly somehow. If it was bad, they would jeer teasingly, but offer to “buy” a drink in consolation. But the Doctor rarely did bad work and many of the crew were surprisingly good actors. That came from all the time on the Holodecks. Seven years gave people plenty of practice in assuming characters.

 

Eventually the game was given up as Captain Janeway realized that the subterfuge was no longer necessary.

 

Ceduril also liked the children, very much. All Zakeeri liked children. It was instinctual. So she naturally felt very protective of Voyagers young ones, once she got to know them. Plus, they were fascinating in their own right.

 

All of them expressed interest in the Zakeeri martial arts. So she decided to teach them the First School – adapted a bit – for they did not have the claws and teeth of Zakeeri. They were fast and avid learners. She was surprised to find that some of the crew began joining them in their sessions, because it was a beginner’s path. But then, she stopped being surprised. She had learned that Voyager's people were explorers, warriors, and believers in the value of shared knowledge. They were not afraid to begin, again and again, in their pursuit.

 

She found herself coming to the odd conclusion that she was glad that they had been captured. Though she did wonder what Janeway was planning on doing with them when they reached the end of the maze.

 

==^==

 

Part 22 | Bookmarks

 

Meanwhile, just past the Alpha Quadrant and into the Beta...

 

The small Federation Starship Bradbury settled in for a long wait encircling Qo'noS. Lwaxana had been accurate when she'd pointed out that the Federation would take interest in their destination. She just didn't realize how much interest they would take. Apparently there had been a bit of a communications breakdown. And since T'Pel had a legitimately Klingon reason for going, Starfleet had immediately offered their services and co-opted part of the journey. They took over enough that Lwaxana did not take her own ship at all. It was deemed... too dangerous by Starfleet. T'Pel had been designated a representative of Vulcan's interest – even though none of the women were necessarily going to personally contact the Emperor. Messages would be sent at other levels.

 

The first thing a person noticed about the planet was how green it was. It was not a jungle kind of green, but atmospheric. Still, despite the fact that cities had been ravaged by the war and that horrifying accident on Praxis, the planet lived on. Life was everywhere, some of it more deadly and dangerous than others. Qo’noS boasted a lively ecosystem for such a devastated planet.

 

Lwaxana, T'Pel and Asil were very aware of this as they made their way to the Hall of Records. The colorfully costumed Lwaxana refused to go armed, since that was incompatible with the persona she was putting on at the moment. Asil, on the other hand, carried a phaser rifle, phaser pistol and several knives hidden around her heavily armored person. She played the bodyguard and so far she was doing so quite successfully. She'd used the rifle three times on their short journey already. Each shot was fired only once. It was impressive enough to rouse the applause of fellow travelers on their path, who couldn't really distinguish between Vulcans and Romulans. To them, all pointed ear folk looked the same and obviously someone with that skill was Romulan. T'Pel, distinguished by Vulcan robes of high state, had her own weaponry, but one would need to know where to look to find them. She trusted Asil and so did not have to reveal her own defenses.

 

The Hall of Records used to be a building of great renown. It still technically was, but recent conflicts had caused a certain shabbiness to gather around the building. Rubble and scorch marks showed that the edifice had not escaped the battles that raged. But the lights were on and people could be seen walking in and out.

 

The women took time once inside to determine the location of the office they were seeking. Asil watched the Klingons who passed by with an apparent neutral expression. Those who glanced their way, however, found they had other business than disturbing a colorful woman and her stern companions. Eventually the women located what they sought and made their way to the deceptively small office.

 

There were two elderly Klingons at the desks. One of them looked up from the yellowed paper he was shuffling, only to grunt and look back at his work. The other did a double take. He growled, testing.

 

T'Pel merely raised an eyebrow. Asil lifted her phaser rifle and placed it in the crook of her arm. The Betazoid stepped forward. “I am Lwaxana Troi of the House Presba, Daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed...,” She winced, in memory of the loss of the chalice and the rings. There was so much for the Dominion to redeem. She continued on though. “... Ambassador of the Federation. I and my mate, T'Pel, are here on behalf of our Epatai, who has asked us to bring names to add to your rosters and to seek lost members, that they may be reclaimed.”

 

The one who had been shuffling papers looked up abruptly. “House of Presba?”

 

“Yes.”

 

The two old men looked at each other. “Do you have proof?”

 

T'Pel stepped forward and laid a small package on the desk. The craggier of the two lifted it up carefully and unwrapped it. He took the disk and then input it into the information system. The face of B'Elanna Torres was displayed. “I am B'Elanna Torres, Epatai of the House Presba. My mother is Miral Torres. It is unknown by me whether she is alive or dead. Thus this responsibility falls to me. Here are the names of my line.” She began naming the generations that came before her.

 

It took some time.

 

When she finally wound down, she addressed her next order of business, informing them of the names of those who had been added to the House at the time, including T'Pel. She then gave her affidavit and birth certificate, access to non-encrypted Federation records and other items of proof.

 

The gentlemen looked up at the Vulcans and the Betazoid. “Welcome to Klingon,” one of them growled out. He quickly scrawled something down onto a sheet of paper. Then he handed it over to his craggy friend.

 

“Sign here,” gruffed the other as he slid the old-fashioned paperwork onto the desk and offered them a small knife.

 

Lwaxana took the knife gingerly and handed it to T'Pel. The Vulcan pricked her finger, then placed the green bleeding point onto the paper. She handed the knife back to Lwaxana, who followed her example. Her blood flowed red.

 

In a few moments, with a stamp and seal, it was official. House Presba was regenerated.

 

==^==

 

Back in the Delta Quadrant:

 

The path to the next anomaly wasn't clean. There were several days of traps of varying degrees of intensity set off. The ship was assaulted with asteroids, weapons fire, and robotic attackers, which managed to board them. Her ship, crew, and guests fought their way through valiantly. They opted not to stop at the planetoids, given the hostile nature of the maze. It wasn't that there weren't discoveries to be made. It was just decided that the cost was probably too high.

 

It was a good decision on their part. There were traps on those harmless looking rocks so dire that it was likely that Voyager and her passengers would not have survived.

 

Eventually they were there, in front of the second anomaly. After this, there wasn't that much further to go until they were in the Star System. Though there was a part of Kathryn Janeway that was considering the option of bypassing it entirely. The explorer in her though, wouldn't let her pass up the opportunity. One just... never knew.

 

Once again they sent a probe into the anomaly and received only general information as to its properties. It appeared harmless.

 

Kathryn Janeway, by now, knew better. It was time to test the Penetrator Shield a second time – this time on the mines.

 

When they lit up the apparatus, the mines just to bottom of the anomaly were stripped away. That was when they knew they had a winner. She ordered Tom to a set mark at a certain distance and then told him to start digging.

 

They pushed their way into mine field slowly, at first. Then as the shield proved to be a success they started moving a bit more quickly until they were at full impulse. Then a phenomenon was brought to their attention via the aft scanners. The minefield was closing behind them.

 

Lieutenant Paris cussed, but he kept them on course. Lieutenant Kim monitored the distance in relation to Voyager and kept them updated. So far there seemed to be a set time between “activation,” and replacement, but it did seem they were getting faster by the moment.

 

Captain Janeway kept them at a constant speed. She didn't want to go to warp, because that had its own dangers. And she didn't want to slow down either. “Voyager, sweetie, you're going to have to get us through,” she muttered.

 

She didn't know how those mines were reforming, but a part of her stubbornly thought, 'Next time we make two.'

 

Eventually it seemed like as soon as they made the path the mines were right on their tail. The only saving grace was that it appeared that the mines were stationary. So all Voyager had to do was stay ahead of their rebuilding.

 

It was a knuckle-biting journey, but eventually they came to where the anomaly was supposed to end and Voyager switched from horizontal travel to an angled vertical. They came out safely on the other side, within the predicted corridor and their pilot whooped for joy, even as the mines symbolically slammed the door shut behind them.

 

==^==

 

Two days later, they arrived at the entry way to the M-class Star System.

 

The senior staff had debated what their procedure ought to be. They were already leery of their experiences in the maze, but at the same time, they were Federation officers. They decided that, if there were indications of sentient, warp capable life, they would try and make contact.

 

==^==

 

Part 23 | Bookmarks

 

What they didn't know was that they were stopped right as they entered the system and completely investigated. For a timeless eternity the whole of the vessels and crew and all its contents and information were absorbed, parsed and evaluated. Voyager, of course, was not the only ship to attempt the mine maze. There had been others. Some worthy. Some not.

 

It was to Voyager's very good fortune that they were found worthy or their story would have ended in time's realm and their essences added to the mine field. Beings of light floated and swirled among them, looking deep into their hearts and minds and past.

 

And they were thrilled with what they were finding. All the adventures these people had... Oh!

 

And not only were there new people for investigation, but Zakeeri. It had been an age of time since a Zakeeri had made passage to see them.

 

A discussion was held among the light beings and decisions made. There was purpose to the maze. It acted as a sifter of the brave and the wise as well as a protection of the light beings home world. It was also a puzzle game. Those who succeeded in making it through the puzzle were always rewarded.

 

There were favorites selected from among the people of Voyager. The reasons were as varied as the light beings themselves – who took upon themselves a kind of guardianship of these valued people. Either their life possibility was providential or they were unique in some feature or just brave or otherwise worthy. And of course, some people just stood out. More there was a gathering of such individuals in a group that was almost Zakeeri like.

 

Their grouping brought light beings into contact with another and they formed a unit of their own, specifically to assess them and decide what to do.

 

“Find their line. It is worthy,” One-Who-Leads said. And so their line, diverging from each individual, was traced forward and back across the span and possibilities of time and space. One-Who-Leads was pleased. “Here and here,” It pointed along something that was not a chart, but might as well be. “This will do.”

 

“They have one more test,” said One-Who-Disputes. “They didn't even take the second test,” it groused.

 

“I disagree. It is not their fault they found a solution outside of our expectations. Innovation should be rewarded. They will succeed,” said One-Who-Advocates.

 

“They must finish the third test.” One-Who-Disputes demanded.

 

“It will be so,” said One-Who-Leads. And with a thought the unit that had been used to bypass the second test was disabled and placed elsewhere for awhile. “After all, the great game must continue. The reward shall exceed their success. Failure shall be the usual price.”

 

After time that wasn't time, Voyager and her crew were awakened and they set about their business of trying to contact a world.

 

==^==

 

“It has been a pleasure speaking with you, Ambassador.” Janeway smiled at the handsome individual in the viewscreen. He coughed weakly, but gave her a rallying smile. The Ehumub were a people in dire straits. Their world had been ravaged by a plague. Voyager had done what they could to help, but had not dared land or send crew. “We hope the supplies we have sent have been enough.”

 

“Your kindness surpasses all expectations, especially with what you have told us of your own journey. Your sacrifice and compassion is noted. We are very pleased that you managed to make it through the Maze. So few do. It has been a long time since we've had visitors of your quality. And as you see, we're planet bound for some time to come. Your aid will be remembered.”

 

“Is there anyone out-system that you would like us to contact on your behalf. Perhaps others could help.”

 

“Thank you. I will send you some possible contacts. But do not be upset with them if they prove reluctant. We can do nothing about the minefield until we've overcome this trouble.”

 

“I understand. We'll stand by for your transmission and then, I guess we'll be on our way. Thanks for the tips on how to deal with the maze.”

 

“You're very welcome, Captain Janeway. May your crew succeed on your journey.

 

They smiled warmly at each other and finally signed off.

 

Chakotay turned to Kathryn. “It's a shame what they're going through. They seem like such nice people.”

 

==^==

 

Voyager skimmed through the debris field, ducking and rolling with Tom's guidance. She had found rapport with the pilot and together they evaded most of the damage. She still felt the hits of the asteroids as they connected, but she shrugged off the pain. They were getting close to the end of their journey. One more anomaly to avoid and then out the exit they would fly. She was looking forward to it.

 

The Zakeeri had a long talk with Captain Janeway about what could be expected on the other side. They had decided that it would be provident for them to be aboard their ships and ready to fly so they could contact their relatives before things got too exciting for Voyager.

 

Of course, the Captain also set up an alternative plan, just in case. But they all felt pretty confident that misunderstanding could be avoided with a few sensible precautions.

 

Voyager knew that Stinging Sparrow was looking forward to flying again and she was excited for her friend, but she would miss her tremendously. They had formed a tight bond of affection, which – if looked at deeply – more closely resembled that of love. But a ship had to follow where the stars led and they both knew it.

 

Parting would be, as the bard said, sweet sorrow.

 

==^==

 

Back in the Beta Quadrant:

 

Now that they had official status as Klingons, T'Pel and Lwaxana began the process of looking for Miral. They were not sure what they would find, given that their information was quite sparse. But the combination of T'Pel's logical methodology, Lwaxana's charming and fearless personality and Asil's sensible determination was amazingly powerful and effective.

 

They located Miral, but not on Qo’noS.

 

==^==

 

Forcas III was the third planet of the Forcas system. It was a breathtakingly pleasant M-Class planet, with a large farming community and other plentiful resources. It could be said that Forcas was one of Klingon's first successes in altering their pattern of consumption. This wasn't to say that people of Forcas weren't ferocious warriors. They could fight as well as use a plow. And their contests were legendary throughout the Federation and the Empire, as could be attested by Worf of the House of Martok. Despite that fame, Forcas III had a small, if influential, footprint. Though it was not exactly no-where, it was a place where someone could make an honorable living even if all was lost.

 

Because it's success, it was becoming an important system. Therefore, Forcas was heavily protected. Several Klingon battleships made the system their home base and there was some discussion of creating an actual shipyard of one of the other planetary bodies. That was being negotiated, since – for once – the Klingons wanted to have a whole star system that didn't just crumble and die on them.

 

It was hard work being both a warrior and a caretaker. It was a new and difficult path that sometimes led to conflict. Not everyone had what it took.

 

Miral Torres of the House Presba believed herself to be alone. She had nothing to lose and no desire to carry on the line now that her daughter was dead. She also had no desire to take on the name of another house. Not that she still wasn't attractive. Her olive complexion, buxom and curvaceous figure, dark brown eyes, thick lips and finely ridged forehead were practically a red flag for would be suitors. But from her perspective, she'd done marriage and love and had it go sour. She wasn't interested. Besides she only had so many years and then when she was ready she would find a ship and go out to battle and find an honorable death.

 

She bought a berth to live in and worked at a local inn as a bartender. She could have done better. She could have done worse. But for now, this allowed her to see the comings and goings of festival goers and contestants and occupy her time honing an honorable skill. This week was a particularly busy one, as a growing season festival was about to start. The Bloodwine and the targ-shitting stories were flowing freely.

 

She had thought by now she'd seen almost everything.

 

That is, until she watched as a tall Betazoid woman, accompanied by two Vulcan women – all of them dressed in some sort of armored uniform - confidently entered the tavern where so many caroused. There were hoots and hollers, and even one grab attempt that was easily repulsed by the younger looking Vulcan. The Klingon who'd tried had gone sailing across the room to land sharply against the wall. That had led to a round of applause and shouted offers of Bloodwine, which were ignored. The Betazoid had smiled coolly, the Vulcans had not even looked back, and they carried on in their trajectory.

 

Finally they were at the bar. The Betazoid nodded to the Vulcans. It was the older Vulcan woman who spoke. “Miral Torres of the House Presba,” she began formally. “I am T'Pel and this is my mate Lwaxana. This is my daughter Asil. We are of the House Presba. The Epatai, B'Elanna Torres, has called us to find you and bring to you the knowledge of her survival and to tell you that she is rebuilding the House.”

 

Miral dropped the mug she was wiping and felt her knees go weak. As she looked closer, she realized that on one shoulder of their uniforms there was a patch with the Crest of Presba. She frankly stared at them, not even daring to hope.

 

T'Pel continued, “She sends her love and has asked us to inquire as to whether you care to participate in its construction. She says to tell you, that she has had a vision and it will be a Great House. We have other news, if you are interested. But it is something best addressed only in the presence of family.”

 

Miral Torres took a breath, and then crouched down to pick up the pieces of the shatter cup. Of course, she cut herself on the shattered clay, but she welcomed the sharp pain. It brought her back to herself. She stood up and placed the shards in a receptacle. Then she finally turned back to them. “I will be done with my shift in two hours. Come back. You probably have a better space than I for privacy. Take me there and we will talk then.”

 

T'Pel inclined her head in acknowledgment.

 

==^==

 

She was very right about a better place, as the place they took her to was an actual Federation Starship. They led her to their quarters – an Ambassadorial suite. Miral had stared around in surprise.

 

Lwaxana had waved her hand around, “Oh, don't mind it. I can't go anywhere without them giving me one of these things.” She smiled pleasantly at the shocked Klingon woman. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

 

“Who. Are. You. People?”

 

“We are, technically, your daughters-in-law and granddaughter, Miral. I just also happen to be an Ambassador of the Federation. T'Pel is an ambassador of Vulcan itself. Asil, is our daughter and acting as bodyguard.”

 

Suddenly she really did need to sit down. Her vision darkened alarmingly. She felt someone take her arm and resisted the urge to fling them off. Moments later she realized she was no longer standing and had gathered her wits again. “Tell me everything,” she ordered.

 

So they did.

 

==^==

 

Back in the Delta Quadrant:

 

There was a search throughout Voyager for the missing unit, but it was gone. No one knew how or why. There wasn't a trace of a saboteur. Oddly, no one thought to direct a finger at the Zakeeri. Or rather, not so oddly. By now they knew Zakeeri honor. This was not something they would do.

 

It was a mystery, the captain had decided, that would have to be investigated later. But she had to assume it had to do with the minefield somehow – perhaps it was sentient. There was no way of knowing.

 

Their next step was to try and reproduce the appliance.

 

But ... that effort failed, with nearly laughable calamity. Parts refused to fit or fell or simply disintegrated in the engineers' hands.

 

Seven had finally called the captain and stated baldly, “There is something wrong.” The she listed out the events they'd experienced so far. It was a very long list. “It is as if something is deliberately preventing us from succeeding.”

 

“Murphy,” mumbled Kathryn to herself.

 

“I beg your pardon?” '

 

“Nothing. Hold off on the project. I'm calling a conference.”

 

==^==

 

It was a long conference.

 

“Well,” said Harry at one point, “We can either wait here or we can make the attempt. We've already been through one anomaly, and ... well... it was bad, but it didn't kill us. And the Ehumub did say that it could be traveled through...”

 

“... but, you know, they never told us what the anomaly was...”

 

“Maybe they don't know.”

 

“Hmmm.”

 

They had talked more until Kathryn Janeway finally called a halt. “I think it might be good for us to get some rest. I'll let you know what my decision is in the morning.”

 

==^==

 

Back at the Beta Quadrant:

 

They had invited Miral to stay and surprisingly, she had accepted. It had been a lot to take in. They had gone back to her place long enough for her to retrieve her few personal items and her Bat'leth. Another lesser Klingon might have felt shame at the simplicity of her abode, but Miral had never put her faith in her station. Her pride of being Klingon came from within, not from without.

 

Not that she didn't appreciate the idea of having a daughter-in-law who was an Ambassador. (And wouldn't that just put a crimp into some old “friends'” jibes.) But Miral had always found status-games a bit tedious and pointless. Status did not make one more or less Klingon.

 

The code of Honor did.

 

And Miral had a strong code that she lived by, which is why she had often been called in to settle disputes, to act as an impartial and fair judge. Miral was incredibly intelligent and sensible. She was galaxy-traveled. She had lived in the Federation and in the Klingon Empire. She could weigh and balance the scales, it seemed, with ease.

 

She might have worked at a bar, but she had been developing quite the reputation as a warrior mediator. People from across the galaxy would come to her for resolution. Of course, some had not liked the options she had presented for them. They tended to be quite.... traditional, depending upon their species. More than one person had died because of her pronouncements. But then, they'd also gone to Sto-vo-kor. Except for that one P'taq. He had gone straight to Grethor and no loss that.

 

Thus it was that powerful analytical mind which she put to the task of determining truth. It helped, of course, that her new kin had evidence. It also helped that they were of two species with reputations for absolute honesty.

 

It didn't stop her from spending all night thinking about the implications, laying out the trails of possible futures.

 

Finally, sometime very early in the morning, she'd gotten up and chimed the door of her daughter-in-laws' room. It was Lwaxana who answered the door, sans clothing. Miral had just raised her hands in the air and quipped. “Betazoids. They have no modesty.” Then she'd dropped her arms to her side, and spoke seriously, “My daughter, I have a dispute to settle this afternoon, but when I am done we must go to Boreth. We have heirlooms of the House to retrieve.” There was something that flashed in Lwaxana's eyes, but Miral couldn't identify it.

 

The Betazoid finally just nodded, “We'll do it, Mother.”

 

“Kahless, it is going to take me years to get used to you saying that. Go back to sleep.”

 

==^==

 

Naturally they went with her to the judgment circle. Their very presence probably lent more weight to the proceedings than was necessary. After all, how often are a Betazoid and Vulcans present at a minor Klingon dispute. But if her daughter-in-laws wanted to see what she also did for a living, she wouldn't deny them.

 

So they watched as two men glowered their way to the inner circle, past a growing crowd of interested observers. One, a member of the small House Bortath, made an accusation of theft. The other, a war-orphan of no House at all, defended his honor. Of course, she could have called on the Betazoid or even one of the Vulcans to ascertain the truth. But that wasn't the Klingon way, except in major circumstances. Instead she let the process play out, considering it an important lesson for her new kin. Klingon Honor was ... everything. And someday, they too might be called on to answer to some yokel in a matter of honor.

 

She tried to mediate at first, keeping it a simple matter of recompense. But the young war-orphan refused on the grounds that he did not steal the item, so should not have to pay for it. The full grown adult representative of the House Bortath growled and challenged. Miral brought them back to the case. Then she gave them options, to work it out, to let it go, rely on her judgment, or to fight it out – and here was where she put the limitation – only to first blood.

 

They would have been smarter to choose her judgment. The younger man was not anywhere near full growth and the older was not exactly at his most sober, which was probably why she was in the position of judgment anyway. No sober adult would have taken on a child. Honor would have demanded. But they were Klingon and the young man had his pride. They chose to fight it out.

 

So the circle was widened and the combatants drew their dk-tahg.

 

It was, to the viewing Klingons great enjoyment, not a quick fight. The man of House Bortath and the War-Orphan prowled around one another and sliced their knives at each other. Then they really began clashing, knives swinging and being blocked, punches thrown and bodies flung. The war-orphan took terrible blows, almost failing to rise a couple of times. Somehow he managed though, to keep avoiding the final strike. The older Klingon did not draw blood. Eventually the war-orphan flung himself forward, slicing past a bad block. Blood splattered violently to the side as the other Klingon flung his arm away too late. The crowd roared!

 

Miral forced the combatants to part and called the fight. “Malvok of No House is cleared. The House Bortath will pay him 2 bottles of Bloodwine so Honor may be satisfied. Thus Judges Miral of the House Presba.”

 

The Klingons around them hooted and hollered, having enjoyed the fight. The man of the House Bortath hurled himself away in anger, but he would abide by the ruling. Miral pointed at Malvok. “You, come here.”

 

The young man stepped towards her with trepidation. Judges had power over life and death, even minor ones. “Yes, Your Honor.”

 

Miral believed in keeping things simple. “If you choose and prove worthy, I will present your name to my Epatai. Get your winnings and bring your things and meet us at this circle in a half an hour. You are going on a journey.”

 

The Klingon's eyes widened and he slapped his chest with his fist. “I will come.”

 

Miral simply glowered at him sternly, until he finally fled her intimidating presence.

 

Lwaxana commented, “Miral of the House Presba, you are a wonder.”

 

==^==

 

Malvok had been in awe as he boarded the starship. He'd never been off planet and had never hoped to be. Yet now he found himself in the quarters of an ambassador. He listened intently as Miral of House Presba gave him his instructions. He was to act as bodyguard to the Ambassadors. He was to be schooled beyond his rudimentary education, so he could be a useful warrior, instead of a dumb one. He was to eat and drink what he was given without complaint. He was to do what he was commanded.

 

If he could not do these things, they would send him back.

 

He gave his word.

 

==^==

 

Back at the Delta Quadrant

 

Kathryn Janeway was stationed in the captains chair. She leaned slightly forward and balefully eyed the anomaly on the screen. She gazed around the Bridge, taking stock. Her crew, while not necessarily prepared for everything, sat with confidence. She thought of her family and knew the kids were safely regenerating. Naomi Wildman was in the care of her mother and Neelix in the Hansen residence. The Doctor was online and ready to take over as necessary. They were as ready as they could be.

 

“Take us in, Tom.”

 

They entered the anomaly and a pulse sounded over them, loud and ominous. And then as the ship moved fully into the odd space, there was a second pulse. There was a brief, violent flash of light.

 

Then pure darkness dropped on the passengers like a falling curtain.

 

“Tom...”

 

There was no answer.

 

“Chakotay?”

 

There was nothing. No sight. No scent. No sound. No feeling. Nothing.

 

Kathryn thought she might have inhaled, but she couldn't tell. She strove not to become disoriented. She was anyway. It was iron control and long years of training as a Starfleet officer that kept her focused. She dreaded to consider what might be happening to her crew.

 

“Tuvok?”

 

She was shocked to find an answer of sorts. It wasn't based on any of her usual inputs. But she felt him there, steady and alert. “Tuvok,” she repeated. There he was, more strongly identified. Did she just stand? She had no way of knowing. She told her self to stand, but now she was relying on memory. She took a moment to think about the bridge, what it looked like, where she might be.

 

Apparently Tuvok had a similar idea. She “felt,” him move closer, “felt” him tell her to stay where she was. He was on the way.

 

Then she felt someone or something else a lot less friendly come at her. “Shit.”

 

==^==

 

Part 24 | Bookmarks

 

Seven of Nine had been here before. She had been at times in complete darkness, all bodily sensory input cut off. It did not scare her. She had other means of gaining information, of functioning. And then there was the new tertiary input that she was still becoming familiar with. Her first task was to assess, then make a strategy.

 

Assessment occurred in the nano-seconds. With a few simple commands she rerouted her sensory input into her cybernetic enhancements. Suddenly, she could see and sense again. She paused a moment to feel along the mental threads. She might not be able to specifically hear words any longer, but she could feel that her mates were alive and active. It was clue enough. She set aside worry for the moment.

 

She felt something foreign brush against her mind. She processed the information, evaluated it. She, who had experienced millions of voices, simply assimilated it as more data. Now that she had more experience with emotions, she was not intimidated easily. The originator was deemed irrelevant, struck hard and cast out. If it screamed, which it most definitely did up until the point it died, Seven of Nine did not notice. She had other priorities.

 

Seven of Nine attempted to speak, and found that ability disabled. In time she probably could have worked something out, but there were other means of communicating with the ship. She raised her fist and two tubules rose from the knuckles. She made the connection with Voyager.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna Torres had literally been to Grethor and back. She knew what it looked like and smelled like. And as this had no sensory input, it could not be Grethor. It was, on the other hand, somewhat difficult to be in the dark. But she had been trained by Starfleet – even if she hadn't graduated. Starfleet preferred their personnel to be prepared because stuff similar to this happened all the time in the greatness of space. Just take a space walk and have the inputs go out on the suit once. You had to develop strategies. Plus she knew her body. She had spent years getting to know its foibles, its challenges. She trusted that knowledge. If she told her hand to move, it would move, whether she could see it or sense it or not. What she worried about were the engines. But ... there was a card up their sleeves. Voyager, unless she was affected by this too, would handle those details.

 

She trusted Voyager.

 

B'Elanna had practiced the martial arts of her people, even though she'd hated it at first. But now she found comfort in its familiarity. She also knew her department. She stepped away from the consoles, away from where she knew people would be standing. Then she took a position.

 

Briefly she felt flashes of familiar touch. She recognized the feel by name. Seven. Kathryn. Laren. Tuvok. She acknowledged them. Reached back. She felt the warning they threw towards her and recognized the danger. She smiled like a predator.

 

She was Klingon and Klingons did danger like it was candy. She growled against the darkness, taunting it to come and get her. She wasn't surprised when something answered the challenge.

 

==^==

 

Tuvok experienced a brief moment of deja vu as the darkness dropped on him, but that faded quickly. Whatever it was that had them in its grip would have a limited duration. He extended his other senses to establish a personal parameter, and found his link to his mates. He felt Kathryn's call and responded.

 

He was aware that he might or might not be actually physically moving. For the moment, it was useful to assume that he was successfully navigating the Bridge. He brushed against Laren, felt the contact between them blaze and used that as another dataset.

 

He continued around and down the steps, using his perfect memory as his guide. Barring someone on the floor, he should be arriving at the captain's side in moments.

 

The he spotted something striking in the darkness, a foreign and hostile intellect. He felt it scream seconds later. He raised his eyebrow at Bajoran efficiency. He was sure there was a lesson in underestimating one's enemy in there somewhere, but set that thought aside for contemplation later.

 

Then he continued on his way to Kathryn's side.

 

==^==

 

Ro Laren had experienced this before. Cardassians were not merciful. They used whatever means they had to intimidate and destroy. She had been... a hard case. She still was, according to some. Rather than break her, the Cardassian's efforts had only strengthened her. She was not afraid of the dark. She had lived in it so long that it was familiar like a glove – comforting even.

 

And now, in the dark there were lights to her light. She felt them, reached out and was received. She felt Tuvok move, brush by her. They must have touched, for a moment their connection blazed. Then it faded again.

 

She “watched,” him move towards Kathryn with calmness. Then she spotted the darkness that thrust itself at Kathryn and moved.

 

The creature, or whatever it was, never knew what hit it. The Bajoran had years of assassination techniques to call upon and she used deadly force. It screamed out once and blinked away as if it had never been.

 

==^==

 

Voyager was affected by the anomaly, but not in the ways that her biological passengers were. It was a bit bumpy, but she was still moving. She was able to perceive that her passengers had stopped moving, had stopped functioning, save for the most basic autonomic processes. She knew as soon as Tom fell from his seat that something awful was happening. To her, she could see everything clearly. She could see that life support was on, that inertial dampeners were still working, and that most everything was functioning the way it should.

 

But she needed the guidance of a pilot. And her people needed help.

 

She tried to contact the Doctor, but he was offline. She didn't know how that happened, but knew something must have turned him off. That was when she began a sensory investigation to try and identify unexpected borders. She looked, but could not find – even though she knew they had to be there.

 

She contacted the Three Sisters, as her people had come to call the three Zakeeri ships, and they also began helping her to seek and find. More of Voyager's people began collapsing where they were located. One or two of them stopped breathing. But some of them, such as Kathryn, actually managed to move – if cautiously. Moments later, she saw Laren tackle... something... something that rolled and tried to toss the Bajoran, unsuccessfully. Whatever it was, she could not recognize it in her systems. And that frustrated her. She could do nothing to help.

 

Wait. That was wrong.

 

Voyager pulled back from the panic. She instigated transports to the Sickbay, dug into her healthcare database and used Waldos to try and revive those who suffered. Those who were still breathing, still technically functioning, she let alone. She had too many other things to try and process.

 

She was never as relieved as when she felt Seven of Nine connect with her. Together the rerouted the controls to Astrometrics. Seven of Nine took on the task of navigation and set Voyager to Warp.

 

==^==

 

Kathryn Janeway felt anger burn in her when she realized that she and her people were under attack. She would have reached for her phaser, but recognized that firing blindly would more likely hurt the crew than any creature that might be attacking.

 

She prepared to defend herself, and then felt the rush of Laren's presence fly by her. Then there was the scream, which Kathryn honestly tried not to revel in. But she was pissed.

 

She reached, felt Laren grab her hand and her awareness increased. Then Tuvok arrived and she could practically see. They spotted the aggressors at the same time. The dark creatures hovered over their crew mates. Kathryn snarled.

 

Oh no. Not on her ship.

 

The she realized the trouble. They would have to work together, stay touching, if she was to see, to feel. She felt Tuvok grip one forearm and Laren the other. There was a sense of purpose. She felt her mates draw their phasers. Suddenly there was light in the darkness.

 

==^==

 

They were not the only ones who managed to pull together. Other members of the crew, those who had been trained in the mind or in certain kinds of life and death scenarios, operated well enough to begin defending themselves. They struck back, somewhat blindly, but mostly effectively. These creatures rarely were fought and so were not used to defending themselves. But that didn't mean they didn't fight back. When it was realized that this was not going to be a free meal, they got aggressive... and mean.

 

Then the fighting began in earnest.

 

The Zakeeri pulled together and fought their attackers almost immediately. They knew what these creatures were - a type of vampire of legend. They were universally loathed among their people. The Zakeeri pulled out all the stops and attacked, shredding and screeching. The Darklings had picked the wrong vessel, place and time to board.

 

==^==

 

Voyager careened out of the anomaly, skidding and rotating in space as if it had been struck by Borg disrupter fire. Mines blew around them, shocking the ship further, but the shields held, barely.

 

Seven of Nine was looking a bit rumpled as her hands flew over the controls. There had been more attacks during their trip to the anomaly. It had been wearing. But she was Borg and the Darklings had not stood a chance.

 

Especially once the ship was able to identify them. Some had made the mistake of trying to enter the Hansen residence. They had not lived to regret it. But the information garnered from their attempt allowed Voyager to finally see the creatures.

 

After that, the invaders had no peace. With the strategic aid of the Three Sisters and those who had managed to fight back, Voyager had taken over driving the creatures out and ended up spacing them like vermin. Unlike a human, she felt no guilt for the action. They were invaders. The Darkling ship remained on her side like a parasite, but it was empty, since the creatures had stupidly all joined in the 'festivities.' She considered it a captured vessel. Non sentient, but with useful technology.

 

Seven of Nine and Voyager worked together to right the Federation ship and finally got her flying under more control. Somehow, they had managed not to spiral out of the path and eventually they were able to come to a full, limping stop many kilometers away from the exit and mostly in one piece.

 

==^==

 

The crew casualty was higher this time. There were physical and psychological wounds. Some of which would take time to heal. The Doctor was finally able to be re-activated and had immediately set to work to solve the more dire of the cases before him. Voyager had done what she could, but they lost three of their crew to the darkness and the Darklings. It was a bitter loss to the ship and her captain.

 

But mourning would have to wait. Repairs and preparation were needed for the exit. Voyager couldn't go out there vulnerable.

 

With impressive personal resolve and strength the crew rallied and began the process of getting Voyager put back together again.

 

==^==

 

“Kathryn?”

 

Kathryn Janeway, who used to be an admiral and was now a captain, stared out at the minefield. Her arms were crossed and her expression closed. At the moment she was calling every choice she had ever made into question. She always did at times like these, even though she knew it was a futile effort.

 

She and her people knew the risks.

 

That didn't make it better.

 

She wiped moistness from her cheeks. Then turned to the person who was addressing her. She hated appearing vulnerable before him, but then he had seen it before. “Chakotay.”

 

“We're ready, captain,” he said gently. “The Zakeeri are in place and Darkling ship is in the hold.”

 

She nodded. “Thank you, Chakotay. I'll be out in a moment.”

 

He inclined his head in acknowledgment.

 

==^==

 

It had been a rough morning for Lwaxana. She had figuratively bitten the head off several Federation officers who happened to have the bad luck of getting in her way, just because she kept feeling as if something were very wrong. The sensation didn't go away for hours, lingering unhappily in the pit of her belly even after the original awareness vanished. She had an idea of where it originated from and she worried, but there was nothing she could do about it except pray to the Divine.

 

On the other hand, they had made good progress and were getting ready to orbit Boreth. She did try to put a positive spin on things, most days.

 

There had been a few stops along the way as the Federation crew and the ambassadors attended to certain business. Lwaxana and her family had also kept busy educating Malvok and getting to know one another better. The Betazoid realized that she really liked Miral. They were... of an age, and of course T'Pel was older than both of them, which is what made the whole “mother, daughter,” routine so comical. But Miral, it turned out, had a great sense of humor to go with that stern Klingon sensibility. Their conversations were often lively.

 

There were those who sought out Miral, when they found out she was in the area. A group of Klingons who knew of her from a previous trial at Forcas III made contact with the Federation starship and asked her to help them resolve a dispute.

 

“It does make one wonder who the Ambassador here is,” Lwaxana had teased. “Maybe Malvok should be assisting you.”

 

Malvok grimaced and pretended he didn't hear. He was too busy trying to figure out Asil's logic puzzle. He wasn't having much success, yet. But he had promised to persevere and not use his knife to pry it apart. So he made the effort.

 

Lwaxana continued, “I don't know how you managed.”

Miral had grunted and shrugged, “I said No. A lot.”

 

There was a hail on the ship's communication system from Captain Stephenson. “Boreth has contacted us and is ready to receive you...”

 

Miral clapped her hands on her legs and said, “Well, it's a conversation that can wait. Let's go.”

 

==^==

 

Part 25 | Bookmarks

 

The Monks of Boreth weren't exactly pleased to see Miral, but she was within her rights. Thus, they led her and her unusual family through the vast halls and into one particular room where hereditary heirlooms might be stored under the watchful eye of Kahless. As in other rooms, there was a gigantic painting of the hero-deity hanging on one of the walls. Underneath the painting were several items.

 

Miral decided that introductions were in order.

 

First she pointed at one of the great curved Klingon swords. “This is my many times great grandfather's Bat’leth – Kajanpak't-chim . Grandfather AruT fought with Kahless in battles against the tyrant Molor. It is an ancient and worthy blade.” Then she pointed at a gold rimmed clay mug. “This is the mug of Torak Kordem, a warrior of the House Presba. He was anointed as a priest of Kahless several centuries ago. It is said that he still walks these halls, though I have never met him. But this mug is kept by our family in memory of the battle he fought against the Antaan. It is believed to be blessed because the blood of an enemy was drunk from it.” She pointed towards a bulky, ornate brooch. “This is the Sign of Tanas and is worn by the protector of the House. It was made by Kahless himself for our many times great uncle. There are other Houses that crave for themselves, but it is ours and we will keep it until our House is no more.” A part of her shuddered to think how close that moment had come. Then she pointed to a small, almost flat pouch. “These are seeds from Kahless' time. I do not know what they are, but it is said that they will only grow in the garden of the House Presba. If we are to build a House, then we must have a garden to honor Kahless, the Unforgettable.”

 

She looked up at the awestruck Malvok. “Now you know why the House Presba's heirlooms are stored at the monastery.” Then she looked at Lwaxana, T'Pel and Asil. “But if my daughter B'Elanna is right in her prophesy, then it is time for these items to be brought back to the family.”

 

She reached for the Bat'leth.

 

==^==

 

Back in the Delta Quadrant:

 

Kathryn Janeway finally stepped out of her ready room and took her place on the captain’s chair. She nodded to her Bridge crew and then made the order. Voyager made the last leg of the journey and pushed through the exit.

 

Light and substance blazed through Voyager covering it from stem to stern, covering all the people and beings within. It flashed out across the galaxy at faster than thought.

 

In the Beta quadrant Malvok and several monks witnessed light flare from the Kahless painting to Miral's hand, which was grasping her grandfather's Bat'leth. The light completely covered her and then she glowed. Then the light scattered across the Presba heirlooms until they glowed, then shot across to wrap and cover Lwaxana, T'Pel and Asil in its all encompassing embrace.

 

Elsewhere, no one was there to notice Gretchen and Phoebe Janeway experience the absolute fullness of the light. Several ensigns witnessed Deanna and Barin's Illumination in the mess hall of the UFS Titan. The sons of Tuvok and T’Pel and their grandchild were also struck on Vulcan. On a scout ship in the deep parts of space Alexander Rozhenko was also struck and cast into the light.

 

Technically, it happened in only a few minutes and then it was over. To those caught in the shining moment, though, it lasted lifetimes. By the time they were freed, they were altered – each uniquely, and some powerfully, and with all having changes made upon them - in some manner or another, forever. The reward was given and would not be retracted.

 

In the throes of the alteration, Voyager blew past the waiting Zakeeri ships. The shockwave sent the small ships hurling away. It would take them some time to gather themselves together again.

 

This was probably a good thing, since the ship and her people were unconscious and couldn't have defended themselves anyway.

 

Voyager came to a stop a great distance away from the mines.

 

==^==

 

Miral never loosened her grip on the Bat'leth, even as the monks carried her and her transformed, unusually beautiful daughters to a place of recuperation, under the watchful eye of Malvok. Suddenly he was taking his position as bodyguard much more seriously.

 

The monks were aware that a miracle had taken place in their halls. It had been recorded on their security system. They knew that great things were afoot, but they did not know what it meant. A discussion was held among the most ancient and wise of them and it was decided that the Empire would not be immediately informed. If Kahless wanted the emperor to know, he would find a way to inform him.

 

==^==

 

Kathryn Janeway woke up feeling phenomenally great, but oddly positioned. It took a moment for her to realize the cause of the weird sensation was that she was face down on the deck of her Bridge. She heard movement and realized that she was not the only one awakening.

 

She rolled to her knees, rubbed her face to clear her thoughts, and then stood up easily. “Report!” There wasn't a response right away. She looked around at her crew and then drew in a deep, astonished breath. “Oh My God.”

 

A very youthful looking Ro Laren stared right back at her. “Kathryn?” she inquired, checking her sight.

 

The captain paused a moment and shifted. She realized that her clothes were fitting a touch differently. “It's me.” She avowed. “Check systems, Laren. Harry's still out of it.” She didn't look down at her hands. She wasn't ready.

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

As Laren stepped down, looking even more lean and feminine than ever, Kathryn stepped up. They touched in passing, two fingers to two fingers, checking. Yes. It was real.

 

Kathryn knelt down by Tuvok. The Vulcan was face down and only barely arising to consciousness. She rolled him over gently and wondered at his beauty.

 

==^==

 

The Bradbury almost didn't let the members of House Presba and their bodyguard back on the ship, until the monks forwarded a copy of their security records. Captain Stephenson had demanded a complete physical check up. The women had accommodated the command without complaint. They too were curious.

 

The physician found nothing out of the ordinary – at least nothing that his sensors could pick up. They were young, healthy and exceedingly beautiful, and while that was of note, it wasn't anything overtly special. At least that was what he thought until he began comparing their records to their current state. Then he double checked them.

 

After a certain point there were no more tests to run and he let them go to their quarters. What else could he do?

 

By that time, Miral had a complete belief in her daughter's prediction. So did Malvok.

 

==^==

 

The members of the House Presba were not the only ones suddenly affected by youthfulness. Everyone who woke up on Voyager, who was not a child to begin with, had found the clock turned back. This included the Zakeeri. The Doctor had determined that the range reset was somewhere between 18 and 25 or the equivalent, depending upon the species. They were all otherwise physically healthy and perfectly normal as far as his equipment could read.

 

But, of course, there were other things to find out.

 

It was Chakotay who made one such discovery first. It was while on the Bridge and about a half a day after everyone had awakened. He had turned to listen to a conversation that the captain and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok were holding. Then, he realized, he couldn't understand them. He shook his head a bit and waggled a finger in his ear. Then he'd said, “Computer is the translator working?”

 

The computer replied that it was.

 

Kathryn turned to him and said in perfectly sensible standard, “Is there something wrong, Commander?”

 

He stared at her. “You were just speaking with Tuvok. Didn't you hear yourselves?”

 

“Hear ourselves what? He was giving me a status report.”

 

“Impossible. He was speaking gibberish.”

 

“Tuvok?”

 

“I fail to see what the commander is implying. I believe I was being clear.”

 

Chakotay stared at him. “No. You weren't. You and Kathryn...”

 

The Bajoran suddenly spoke, also in gibberish. Kathryn and Tuvok answered. Then she spoke Chakotay, “Do you understand me now?”

 

He blinked. “Yes.”

 

She addressed Tuvok and Kathryn, “How about you?”

 

Kathryn waved her hand, “Of course. But I understood you the first time.”

 

The Bajoran tisked and said more gibberish in an affectionate tone. Whatever it was she said was enough to make the captain blush. The Lieutenant Ro spoke in standard again. “I believe the translators are working fine – with the languages that they know. We...” she pointed to herself, Tuvok and Kathryn, “...seem to be speaking... something new.”

 

Kathryn cussed... in gibberish.

 

==^==

 

Part 26 | Bookmarks

 

Deanna Troi was half Betazoid and half human. She had luxurious curly dark hair that went almost to her waist, dark Betazoid eyes and beautiful features. Many, male and female, found her difficult to resist when she put her mind to it. Fortunately for the universe, she was one of the most ethical people in existence.

 

She and her mother had an unusual relationship. Deanna didn't quite remember when their conflict of interests began, but she suspected that it might have been her teen years. Her mother's colorful personality was not always easy to deal with. Especially for Deanna, who was more conservative than the average Betazoid. Not that she didn't have her own flamboyances, but they were very muted compared to her mother.

 

On the other hand, she might find dealing with her mother difficult, but she was a good daughter. She did stay in regular contact. While there was often plenty to talk about it was rarely overly personal. In this case, however, she definitely had news, though she wasn't sure how she was going to convey it.

 

She ruffled the hair of her much younger brother and smiled reassuringly at Barin. He was nearly four, with bright hair that shaded to the strawberry side and expressive eyes. He had a gem of a personality, easy going and affable, if shy. He was growing taller daily and she knew her mother missed him very much. But whatever it was that called her away must be very important.

 

“It will be alright,” Deanna reassured him.

 

He smiled and thought at her, 'I know.' Then he put his hand in hers.

 

Such youthful confidence... wait... She supposed the same could be said of her now.

 

She was still getting used her new apparent age. Hopefully her mother would get used to it too. Will was having a surprisingly difficult time. She'd never taken him to be age-ist before, given his multiple dalliances. The transition had caused a bit of a quake in their relationship.

 

But they'd had quakes before. She had become philosophical about it. They would either overcome or they wouldn't.

 

“Computer begin transmission.”

 

==^==

 

“Mother?” The two Betazoids stared at each other over the screen in awe.

 

Finally Lwaxana said, “You look beautiful dear.”

 

“As... as do you, Mother.” Deanna realized she meant it. She could hardly believe that the gorgeous red head in front of her was her mother. Not that she didn't recognize her. She'd seen photos of her mother's younger years. It was just rather impressive to see how stunning she was in real time.

 

If Lwaxana had been on the Enterprise, Deanna was fairly sure that the good Captain Picard would have found the Betazoid impossible to resist.

 

Deanna wasn't quite sure where to go from here, but there was a reason for the call. “I have something I need to tell you.”

 

“As do I. But you first.”

 

“Barin and I...the captain tells us we have been speaking in a new language.”

 

Lwaxana's expression gentled as she took in the worried visage of her children. “Have you now?” Then she spoke to them in the new tongue. “I see we have much to discuss.” Deanna's eyebrows lifted, but her daughter let her continue. “I want to try something with you, if you don't mind. And then I have people to introduce you to. Are you interested?”

 

“Do you know what is going on, Mother?” Deanna replied, staying in the new language. She almost couldn't help it. It was as natural to her as Standard or Betazedian.

 

“Not entirely, my daughter. But we have speculations.” Lwaxana returned to standard. “Now, here is an experiment.” She raised her hands only a tiny bit and her fingers began moving.

 

Barin instantly responded.

 

Lwaxana smiled. Her fingers kept moving and she spoke in standard, “Yes, my son. I love you too. Have you been vocalizing more?”

 

Deanna decided to try and was shocked that she was able to respond. In standard she said, “He'll only talk to me right now and only in that new language. I'm trying to encourage him to speak standard, but he says it's not as fun.” Her hands were saying, “What is going on?! How are we doing this?”

 

Her mother responded in hand talk. “I don't know.” Then she dropped her hands back into her lap. “But it is interesting isn't it? According to some of the older space-hands on this ship, the language seems to be a relative of the old time hand talk. It is also unreadable except by one of us. On the other hand, we are now quite able to understand their hand talk, even though we haven't been trained in it.” She then turned her attention to Barin. “My son, do make the attempt to communicate with others in ways they'll understand. It is a polite thing to do.”

 

“Yes, Mother.”

 

“Thank you.” Then she sighed and said, “And now it is my turn. Deanna and Barin, I have something important to tell you. Or rather show you.” She stepped away from the screen for a bit, and then returned. This time accompanied by a tall, youthful looking Vulcan woman. Two fingertips of the Vulcan's and Lwaxana's hand were pressed together. “May I present to you one of my mates, T'Pel of the House Presba.”

 

Deanna really tried not to stare, because it was rude. The tall, chocolate skinned woman gazed serenely at Deanna. She had short hair, brown eyes and lovely, long tapered ears. Then it hit. She started, “One of your mates?!” T'Pel raised an eyebrow in that Vulcan way and inclined her head once in a nod.

 

Lwaxana continued. “It's a long story dear and probably not entirely for Barin's ears. I'll explain later.” She smiled, “There are two other people I'd like you to meet.” She waved a hand out of Deanna's view, “Miral, could you come here a moment.”

 

Soon a very comely, youthful Klingon woman came into view. She smiled toothily. “Hello,” she said politely.

 

Deanna asked her mother, not unkindly, but for clarification. “Is this another one of your mates?”

 

Lwaxana began to laugh. “Of course not dear, this is your grandmother. One of them, anyway. We haven't contacted the other one yet. Family business you see.”

 

Deanna felt a headache coming on.

 

Miral of the House Presba grinned. “Don't try to think too much about it, granddaughter. It only hurts.” Then she spoke in the tongue. “We'll explain more later, but we're still in the process of discovering. We don't know how it happened, but believe it to be the action of Kahless.” Miral turned and looked at Barin and said, “Hello grandson.”

 

The boy smiled shyly and waved.

 

“Kahless?! Why would ... How?”

 

“We don't know.”

 

“Oh...”

 

“One more person, daughter and then we can talk more. This is Asil, your step-sister.”

 

==^==

 

Back in the Delta Quadrant:

 

Outside of the House Presba no one else, save for one exception, could speak the new language. That person happened to be Naomi Wildman. Some speculated that it had to do with the great friendship between Naomi and Mezoti, others just gave up trying to figure it out. Given that the crew had lived with oddities before, they opted to accept things on face value for the time being.

 

Of course, the kids loved it. Even Azan began talking more, now that there was a language that was only theirs, mostly. The parents indulged the children's enthusiasm up to a point. They made them talk standard whenever they attended lessons or were interacting with others. It became a Protocol.

 

This wasn't to say that the adults weren't guilty of some slip-ups courtesy wise. The language was as natural to them as breathing. Sometimes they would start out talking standard and, if the conversation happened to get going between them, they'd slip into the language.

 

The Doctor named it. Since, naturally, he couldn't come up with a name for himself; he somehow managed to name pretty much anything new if they allowed him to. What could he say; it was a gift with a drawback. He called the new language the Presba Tongue. As names go it worked as well as anything else.

 

Over the next few days, as they investigated more about the changes around them, they got the hang of switching and ceased sliding in and out of lingual duality while in the presence of others... unless they wanted to talk between themselves quickly. But even then, they found that they could communicate without actually speaking. So, now, conferences were sometimes held on two levels, with one level being a bit more blush inducing than another.

 

They were, technically newly mated, after all. Not that they'd had a chance to do anything about it since the aftermath of the first maze anomaly. Things had been busy, hectic, death-defying.

 

==^==

 

Voyager, it was discovered, was a new entity. Well, not really. She was the same Voyager, but there were additions, expansions. The Darkling ship had “disappeared,” but its technology had integrated into Voyager's systems. So had whatever Borg adjustments had been made. The gel packs were renewed, different. Voyager's processors were faster, more complex. There were other features, but it was going to take B'Elanna and her crew weeks, possibly months, to figure it all out, even with Borg help. It wasn't like there was an instructional manual left around. As it was, until they got the basic specs down, they really didn't dare go sailing off. So Voyager spent some time paused in space as her people acclimated.

 

Fortunately, the warp core was still a warp core – if a little larger and stronger - and the basic fundamentals seemed to be recognizable. They would still need to hunt for their dilithium and other base materials.

 

The Penetrator Shield was found. There were several new key codes on the operations panel, in Astrometrics – and in fact on many of Voyager's consoles. They didn't know what all of them did. One of the Beta shift crew at the operations panel had pressed a button by accident. The shield had deployed, as an internal system, with a direct feed to Voyager. The ensign had blurted out, “Awesome,” before looking sheepishly at the unperturbed Tuvok.

 

The discovery was reported to the captain without the commentary.

 

And then there was the issue of space. It wasn't their imagination. Voyager was larger. Not gigantically so, but still, there was space. Every quarter and room on Voyager was larger. Even the docking bay was much more commodious. There were extra, empty decks, five of them, with areas already assigned as a cargo bay and a Holodeck and ... a park. But nothing was inside those new areas. The crew would have to do the work of setting them up, filling them, determining how best to use the extra room.

 

Except for five locations and the new decks, everything remained approximately the same with varying degrees of enhancements.