Wonders of the House Presba

 

Book 2:

Transitions

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
Book 5: Parabola

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.)

 

Bookmarks:

 

Thank yous 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 1 | Bookmarks

==^==

Summary: The effects of the changes, which happened in Modifications, begin to be felt in various quadrants. The Orion Syndicate is poking holes in the Universe just to find a short cut to the Gamma Quadrant. The House Presba becomes involved in a fight of Honor in the Beta Quadrant.

 

Slash multiple – het, f/f, m/m

 

Begin Transitions

 

Things were quiet in the Delta Quadrant at the moment. Captain Kathryn Janeway was walking the corridors as she was wont to do once she woke up from her nightmares. At least now when she awakened, someone was there with her. They would kiss the tears away, hold her, and things would proceed one way or another from there.

 

There was no pressure from her loved ones. They didn't try to cure her, but simply made themselves available. Like her, they knew there were valid reasons for the dreams. Sometimes she even went right back to sleep, knowing they watched over her – always. Other times, she went for a walk. It had become a habit that she and the crew enjoyed. It gave her time to think, to reconnect with where she was in time and space. And to reconnect with who she was.

 

Just a few short months ago she'd been a white haired Admiral of Starfleet in a struggling Federation. But due to her own need to meddle and fix the past, she'd found herself in this new reality. Where once again she was captain and once again she was faced with choices. Only, things had not gone quite according to plan. She'd intended to do better. And on the whole, she thought things were better for the ship and her crew. But those changes had come at high cost – in lives and fundamental alterations in the fabrics of their lives.

 

Some results, admittedly, were better than others. In this Universe, she had a full blown family. She was still amazed at that; still wandering around with wonder at it all.

 

She had a momentary mental jab, as she reminded herself once again to have a little talk with Chakotay.

 

Her mates were becoming a bit antsy with the way he was behaving. And she was aware that the attention he was pointing her way was making them more than just a little uncomfortable. She felt it in them.

 

It wasn't that she and her mates were mind readers or constantly in one another's mental space. The bond wasn't about telepathy, at least not in the usual sense. That only seemed to happen during actual mating or emergencies. There might be other points of mental touch, but they were still exploring their relationship. It was still new.

 

At the moment, it was more of like a unique sense of each other. Their thoughts were their own, remained unshared in general. But at the same time, there were points of crossing, like when they made love or when the urgency of the bond was upon them. It was less telepathy and more what she understood empathy to be. They felt one another, inside up to a certain point. And yet, they did not necessarily take on the other's feelings. If Janeway was cranky, it did not make her mates testy too. If Janeway had desire, they did not necessarily spark instantly to attention.

 

And if there were points where their empathy deepened, sometimes, well, she couldn't explain the how and the why, except in part. If Tuvok was near, touching them, their connection increased. It made sense, since he was a touch telepath. And she could hear him, if he put his will to it, whether he was touching her or not. But that was not all the time. Emergencies. Important events. The mating fire. Calling to one another. That was when the bonding connection seemed to increase its bandwidth, so to speak. Otherwise, it was just a low-level hum of life; a very pleasant brightness.

 

One thing about it, she did find herself experiencing a level of trust she never thought would be possible for her as captain. She trusted her mates, both as family and as members of her crew.

 

But it didn't change her problem. Her mates were being affected by her first officer's behavior and there was a gathering storm of conflict that might be headed Chakotay's way if he didn't cool it with the come-ons. Lately he'd been hinting that now that the adventure with the Zakeeri was done she didn't need to carry on the charade any more.

 

He simply didn't realize yet that the ship had sailed.

 

And what a journey it had been.

 

A sultry smile curved on her face for awhile. Months ago that would have seemed out of place to a passing crew person. But most, aside from the oblivious Chakotay, knew where that smile was coming from. In fact, quite a few had similar kinds of moments themselves for their own loved ones. The maze of mines had been life altering.

 

It could have been just as joyful for Chakotay if he'd been open to it. Certainly the opportunity had been presented to him. He just chose a different path.

 

Now though, he was pushing for a bruising, by one of her mates - probably not Seven or Tuvok, though she could be mistaken about that. She still remembered how Tuvok had flung Chakotay about during the anomaly. And Seven of Nine was much more passionate than she sometimes appeared. But it was Laren who saw Chakotay behaving in disapproving ways daily and it was wearing on her. And B'Elanna was Klingon, more so now than before the events of the Maze of Mines. One of these days he would say the wrong thing and she'd be lucky to keep him in one piece and then she'd have to throw one or both or all of her beloveds in the Brig. There were just some things that captain's orders couldn't prevent.

 

That thought made her sigh. Not that there hadn't been moments within herself that only strength of will had kept her rational and her knife out of his back. She thought briefly of her right boot and the sheathed blade hidden there and was briefly grateful for that distance. If her knife had been at her belt... she shuddered to think. Lately she had been experiencing strong swings in emotions. That could be the result of anything. It could be that she was not sleeping completely through the night. It could be that there physical changes that she hadn't adjusted to. It could be Kahless had poked a hole in her normal complacency. Or it could just be one of those things, because sometimes Chakotay was maddening. She was just noticed it more lately.

 

Thank God they weren't married.

 

Yep, she was going to have to have a serious discussion with her First Officer. She'd just have to remember to prioritize it. There were so many other things on their plate right now – between acclimating their new Zakeeri crew to discovering the new qualities of Voyager to building that wonderful Park upstairs. If the new hydroponics garden was any indication of what was to come, she really looked forward to being able to walk there. Kathryn had let the crew talk her into waiting on visiting the Park. Though, as captain, she did like to check in on things. She stayed apprised by talking with her officers, Voyager and following ship's gossip, which indicated that marvelous things were happening. On the other hand, if it went on too long, she'd take advantage of captain's privilege and go look anyway.

 

But she would hate to disappoint her crew. And she did have so many other things on her schedule anyway.

 

Thinking of schedules, at least now she was able to begin allowing time for family rather than emergencies. And she found it amazingly fulfilling. If someone had told her that a real family life could be built on a ship, especially with her responsibilities, she would have scoffed. She could only vaguely remember being on a ship as a young child. Most of her childhood had been spent growing up in a traditional home in Indiana. She knew that had to do with decisions her father and mother had made about quality of life and education. She could not fault them for it.

 

But, she was beginning to realize that there were valid alternatives. And perhaps it was easier because the full weight of motherhood was not solely on her shoulders. In fact, she barely felt the weight of it at all. She knew this was due to the unstinting efforts of her mates, who were aware of her responsibilities as Captain. And so they worked it so all she had to really worry about was indulging their children and only rarely disciplining. Which was good for her, since she very much loved seeing their children enjoy themselves.

 

On the other hand, she would and did do what needed doing as it was called for.

 

That incident in the Painted Dogs' quarters had been out of hand. Funny, but wrong. Harry, Tom and Icheb had painted the novice Zakeeris' quarters and everything that wasn't locked up tight - a bright neon yellow . She wasn't sure how Harry and Tom had led the normally reserved Icheb down the rosy path, but she knew what to do to make them pay for it. She put them on maintenance detail for a week – with Lieutenant Ro in charge of the assignments.

 

They had all groaned at that particular announcement and rightly so. Lieutenant Ro happened to know, very well and personally, all the worst possible jobs that could be found on a Starship. She had them digging through the muck in no time.

 

In fact, Kathryn speculated that it was possible that their dear Laren had managed to get Voyager in on the endeavor. Voyager had a real knack for creating grunge.

 

She'd also had a long talk with Voyager about reporting vandalism on the ship after that particular prank. But then had to acknowledge that there were issues of privacy and security. Voyager promised that she would not let anything that was dangerous happen, but unless Kathryn wanted her to be a spy, she might want to reconsider the demand that Voyager report every little misdemeanor and joke.

 

The captain had realized the ship had a point. Especially since she knew that there were certain “crimes” that were traditional and kept life on a ship interesting, such as the ship's still and certain types of pranks. That didn't mean that Kathryn would stint on the disciplining when necessary.

 

She had, though, been very sure to hug Icheb when he returned home rumpled, dirty and smelling like a Larganian Sewer Rat. She'd wanted him to know that though he must suffer the consequence, she still loved him.

 

At least, she hoped that was the message she'd gotten across. After all, a captain did not hug the person they were punishing. Only a mother did. This... parenting thing... was still new and strange to her. But she thought she did the right thing.

 

It was at moments like those that she honestly wished she could just call up Indiana and get some input from an expert.

 

==^==

 

The Federation Starship Bradbury, currently located in the Alpha Quadrant, was in Gamma Shift. Gretchen liked this time of “night,” when things went quiet on board the normally bustling vessel. Even though the ship was comparatively small, there were still plenty of things for the crew to do. Even then, Gretchen was fairly sure that this was not how Captain Stevenson intended to spend his time, given the War with the Dominion.

 

But here they all were, heading towards an another necessary destination. She thought perhaps they were heading back to the Beta Quadrant and the Klingon Empire. Miral Torres of the House Presba had business in that direction and... two of her daughter-in-laws, also of the Klingon House Presba, were Ambassadors.

 

It felt s strange to think that. Two of... six. Five daughter-in-laws and one son-in-law. Seven total in a group marriage forged over an incredible distance and odder circumstances.

 

Gretchen Janeway's mind boggled.

 

What surprised her was that she believed it at all. After all, she only had the word of a Betazoid, Two Vulcans and a Klingon. Yep, only the word of the most honor-bound species in ... well... anywhere. That sort of cut the legs right out of disbelief right there.

 

And, apparently, as the mother of one of the members of this marriage, she was an honorary member of the House.

 

Wait. She wasn't entirely sure of that.

 

It was probably just what Miral had said before. She and Phoebe had been affected by an indescribable phenomenon. Whether that meant they were also of the House might be up for debate. No one had said specifically.

 

One of the changes induced by the phenomenon included that her body was decades younger. It was still a shock to look in the mirror and see herself as she was, so very long ago. And even that was new... improved. It was more than she had been. As Lwaxana had pointed out, the same had occurred for all of them. They had none of them looked this good when they were younger.

 

Gretchen was not acclimating to it as well as one might think. Her friends might think it was wonderful. But some things shouldn't just be dropped on one's shoulders overnight. On the other hand, Phoebe seemed to take it all in stride. But then, she'd been much younger to begin with. Damn it.

 

Gretchen felt a real loss. She'd really liked the way she'd looked before the change. She missed the wrinkles, the way her skin flexed in amusement. She wasn't vain, but she'd known that she had remained attractive, but with that hint of wisdom that age gave a body. Now one had to look carefully to spot that she had already lived a long life and had time's lessons well in hand. She'd earned her status as crone.

 

Then there was this... constant need to be doing. She'd always been an energetic woman. Now it seemed like she was overflowing. And all the things she would ... traditionally ... be doing, were far away in Indiana.

 

Not that she hadn't done star travel before. She did like her vacations and she had been married to a Starfleet officer, after all. But there had always been something for her to do, what with the kids and all. Now though, she was at a loss.

 

She supposed she could have gone to the Holodeck, but fake cooking was still false. And replication was not the same. The quarters were as clean and tidy as the maintenance crew could make it. Ambassadors did not have to worry about picking up after themselves. Though her daughter-in-laws were naturally tidy anyway. It didn't change that her kind of usual contribution wasn't needed. She could, of course, do other things than cook and clean. She'd had an occupation before wife and mother. At one time she had been a renowned mathematician, but that was some time ago. She'd kept up with the reading, but hadn't really put her hand to the wheel since Katie was in diapers.

 

She supposed, if she had to identify what she felt, she would have to call it boredom. This was why she was walking around in the dead of night.

 

But she refused to name it, for one simple reason. It was always bad to get bored in space. Troublesome things happened then.

 

So she walked and tried to think of something useful to do with her time, now that she had so much more of it to look forward to.

 

==^==

 

Seven of Nine had been awake for forty two hours, thirty one minutes and sixteen seconds. She felt wide awake, fresh, ready for ... anything. She could go for another day or two and feel just fine. If she slept or ate she could extend the time. If she regenerated, she could start the whole cycle over.

 

At the moment her children and her mates, except for Tuvok and Kathryn, were either sleeping or regenerating according to their personal schedules. Tuvok, like herself, could go for long periods of time without sleep. It was a mixture of discipline and his physiology. Kathryn had nightmares, which led her to sometimes not being able to return to sleep.

 

Technically, though, most of the adults were sleeping less these days. And not just from all the hard work they were putting in. They had more stamina. Which was fortunate, since that stamina was being put to use in a variety of ways these days.

 

Recently they'd gone through a literally life changing adventure. Alterations had been made to those who traveled through the Maze of Mines , including the ship, Voyager. Seven of Nine was no exception.

 

She was aware that it was possible that she could go even longer without sleep. She simply did not care to test the theory out just yet. She had other things on her mind.

 

Not the least was how best to wake up one of her mates.

 

One of the side benefits, or possibly drawbacks, depending on the day, was the increase in libido. There were times where she could hardly control herself. And she was the master of self-control.

 

At the moment she was experiencing a low burn, but it could torch to something much more intense if one of her mates just looked at her in a certain way. Or if she decided to inspire it.

 

Seven of Nine entered the Nest.

 

The Nest was another one of those mysterious adaptations Voyager had undergone as a result of the maze. It had been designed specifically for the adult members of her family. She wondered, sometimes, why. But at other times, she absolutely knew the reason. They needed it. Whoever, or whatever had changed them, had known the consequences of the changes and had accommodated them. Which meant there had been a thought process behind the changes. Which led Seven of Nine, again, to consider the why of it.

 

Miral, B'Elanna's mother, thought it was an act of Kahless. Seven thought it was something done by the makers of the maze for their own purposes. The question of who or what made the maze and the why remained. But the answers were something that she had set aside pursuing. For the moment.

 

The Nest was a large room with solid walkways around a soft, plush center. Doorways to the adult's quarters and a few other specialized rooms, which they had yet to truly explore, were set around unique space. Seven had already made some adjustments in the design of the space, but they were minute changes.

 

Seven paused outside of B'Elanna's room. “Voyager,” the tall, shapely blonde said quietly, “Is B'Elanna Torres awake?”

 

“Seven, she is not awake. Do you wish me to awaken her?”

 

“I wish to awaken her, but she is in her room. I do not wish to invade her privacy.”

 

Voyager actually chuckled. “Well, I doubt she would mind if you invaded her space, Seven. But I understand. What do you wish to do?”

 

“Kidnap her.”

 

“You want to me to beam her into the Nest,” Voyager interpreted.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Hmm. I'll do it, but you take responsibility. This isn't exactly an emergency.”

 

“To you it is not.”

 

“Ah. Please hold.”

 

A few moments later, B'Elanna's sleeping nude form, along with the pillow her head rested upon, was beamed onto the soft part of the nest. She stirred, but did not quite wake.

 

It was a near thing, but the Nest was safe. It was always safe. B'Elanna knew that deep within. More, she knew that Seven was close by. And a part of her settled in and she went right back to sleep without worry.

 

Seven watched her Klingon slumber. She felt affection build with each soft snore. She also felt the heady warmth of desire thrill through her. Carefully, softly, like she was stalking prey, she made her way towards B'Elanna.

 

She was about to try an experiment, to test out their connection in a new way. Experimenting was something she personally enjoyed very much. Because of the changes she and her family had been through, Seven had been investigating the mind and body connection and come across some interesting studies about touch, senses and empathic awareness. She also drew upon the information database within her cortical node.

 

The Borg had difficulty assimilating telepathic and empathic species, but they did collect data whether integration was successful or not. She could not help how the data was acquired, but she could make sure it was used to good purpose. That had become one of her personal goals since finally accepting that Voyager was her current collective. The purpose amplified with the addition of her family and House. Although, she did admit to herself that this was perhaps a great stretch of the meaning.

 

Seven knelt down gently, slowly, so that the bedding barely moved. Then, when she felt comfortable, she hovered her hands just above B'Elanna's skin. Without touching the Klingon, she drew her fingertips in circular motions just above dusky nipples and focused intently on feeling and imagining what she wanted to occur.

 

B'Elanna's nipples rose as if Seven had pinched them. The half-Klingon gasped softly, sleepily. She arched upwards and Seven raised her hands with the movement and moved her fingers as if she were strumming the stiffening buds. B'Elanna responded with a hungry little rumble.

 

Seven nodded to herself, smiled slightly. She drew her hands in a hovering trail along B'Elanna's belly. There she paused, just above the skin and she caressed the point above her Klingon's belly button, then lower. She circled one hand above soft curls. Her fingertips might have brushed the edges, but she didn't fully touch the skin.

 

B'Elanna's legs parted slightly.

 

Seven licked her lips and decided that the results of her experiment were... good enough for the moment.

 

She lowered her cybernetic hand and delicately drew down the moistened crease of her Klingon. She kissed those ready nipples, softly licking around the aureole, then sucking at the tips lightly.

 

B'Elanna groaned, mumbled.

 

Seven didn't stop. She played in the growing wetness, enjoyed the way her mate responded to the physical sensation. B'Elanna was beginning to awaken, so she deepened the motion, deepened the pressure she was using.

 

The half-Klingon went into a lazy stretch and said her name.

 

Seven kissed her way up from nipple to collarbone, to neck to jaw to lips. B'Elanna was awake enough to respond with warmth and hunger. The kiss deepened and Seven still moved her hand in that wonderful intimate space.

 

B'Elanna lifted her hips, granting better access. Seven accepted the unspoken invitation and moved her hand where B'Elanna wanted it. She began to thrust and search for the inner pleasure point she knew was there. She also used her thumb to stimulate the dual sweet points until B'Elanna was writhing in pleasure.

 

Seven began whispering sultry words of eroticism. It was low enough that only B'Elanna would have heard her. She told the Klingon how much she loved her, wanted her, needed her. The she made the demand.

 

B'Elanna felt the rush of erotic bliss flood through her and she arched. Her toes and fingers curled into the soft bed, gripping it. She called Seven's name as the ex-drone drew out her pleasure until she could take no more. Seven, who sensed her stopping point, withdrew, but only enough to pull B'Elanna into an embrace.

 

The Klingon slowly came down from the heights. Seven of Nine caressed her gently. B'Elanna finally, genuinely opened her eyes. She smiled warmly. “Good morning, BangwI.”

 

Seven of Nine smiled back, her need met.

 

==^==

 

The Captain eventually arrived at the Docking Bay, where stepped in without hesitation. No one was leaving through the docking port or arriving. There were no alarms. The door wasn't locked.

 

She was greeted with happy burbles and chirps by some of her newest “crew.”

 

When the Zakeeri came to join them, they brought with them six living ships. They were special kinds of beings, capable of up to Warp 5. Three of the Zakeeri ships were roundish with oddments and ends and three were sleek and silver, like Voyager. The Three Sisters, as the sleeker ships were called, had accompanied Voyager through the maze of mines and had been transformed. One of the Three Sisters, Stinging Sparrow, was a “special” friend of Voyager's. Voyager, it turned out, had also been transformed by the experiences within the maze and had acquired sentience.

 

All of the Zakeeri ships were full members of a mated clan group. Six ships on Voyager meant six separate clan groups. Stinging Sparrow was part of the clan Sun Tiger. War Flower was part of the clan Glory Dragon. Striking Feather was part of the clan Red Raptor. Laughing Hornet was part of the clan Star Fist. Dancing Hawk was part of the clan Painted Dogs. Kicking Phoenix was part of the clan Leaping Stars. Stinging Sparrow, War Flower and Striking Feather were the Three Sisters. Laughing Hornet, Dancing Hawk and Kicking Phoenix had not yet earned a group nickname. But eventually the crew would come up with something.

 

Kathryn greeted the small ships, touching and naming each one as she passed by. She spent a few minutes talking to them like she would Voyager. They didn't answer her in the same ways, but they did respond with chirps and beeps and happy ship noises when she was around them. That was absurdly pleasing to her, given how recent their addition was to her crew. But she found that “mothering,” these small vessels seemed to work wonders for her morale and theirs. So she attempted to apply the same kind of parenting logic she tried with her children. It seemed to work.

 

Each of these small ships, which were larger than the Delta Flyer, but small enough to fit a berth in Voyager's docking bay, had their own captain. Though the captains were now called Commander while on Voyager, since there could only be one captain on Voyager. It saved confusion. After much deliberation she'd decided to make all six ships a squad, with Commander Sofuru as the team leader. That seemed to suit the Zakeeri just fine. They had joined Voyager for a variety of reasons, but mostly for the adventure.

 

Not that there had been much in the way of adventure in the last month or so.

 

Which was fine with Kathryn. They'd needed the time to train, learn to work together as a crew, get to know the ship again, and start developing some of those new decks that Voyager had mysteriously gained as an “award,” for making it through the Maze.

 

Not that she was complaining. Voyager had plenty of space, for once.

 

After spending time communing with the little ships, Kathryn started back to her quarters. She hoped to catch a small nap and breakfast with the family before duty this morning. If she managed that, she'd be ready for anything.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna greeted Kathryn warmly when she spotted her. The Klingon was at the table, digging into some scrambled eggs. She had a PADD in her hand, but set it down. “Would you like me to...”

 

“I can get it.” Kathryn paused near the other woman long enough to kiss her. She had intended the kiss to be quick, but as soon as their lips touched, B'Elanna had pressed for more. The kiss deepened enough to give Kathryn tingles and then, with a wink, the Klingon released her.

 

With a bemused smile on her face, Kathryn went to the replicator. She was suddenly in the mood for scrambled eggs too.

 

A brief flash and a swirl of light later, Kathryn was able to take her tray to the table. She had come to appreciate having working replicators again. Though she'd made Seven recreate a certain blend of coffee for her, just so she could have it now and then as a reminder of how lucky she was.

 

She sat to B'Elanna's right, and began to tuck in. And, surprisingly, she had timed things perfectly. Normally she was very early or a little late. The kids started making their way to the dining area – where they got kissed and cuddled just for waking up. The other adults, it turned out, were already at work for various reasons. Sometimes duty called at odd hours on a starship.

 

So Kathryn and B'Elanna got the kids, from Icheb on down, nutritionally and emotionally edified. Then they sent them off to their various learning tasks. Neelix stopped by, just after breakfast and as the older kids were leaving, to pick up Emina. Now that he only had to look in on the Mess Hall to check if it were running, he had a little more time on his hands. He was, as he had been for Naomi, an eager “uncle.” He looked quite the sight toting the youngest in the sling, but he now shared Seven of Nine's point of view that body contact was an important thing for babies.

 

Suddenly B'Elanna and Kathryn were alone. The half-Klingon tilted her head and touched her fingertips to Janeway's cheek, just under one of her eyes. “You didn't get much sleep.”

 

Kathryn shrugged. “For the usual reasons. I'll be alright.”

 

“I know. How long do you have?”

 

Kathryn checked the time. “About an hour before I have to get on shift.”

 

B'Elanna took her hand and squeezed it gently. “Come with me.”

 

“I can sleep on my own for twenty minutes, B'Elanna.”

 

“Who said anything about sleep?”

 

Kathryn blinked, then smiled. “Oh.”

 

==^==

 

Part 2 | Bookmarks

 

B'Elanna led Kathryn through her own room and straight into the Nest. She grinned at Kathryn's expression. “I promise not to rip off your uniform.” Then she leered. “But only if you take it off...”

 

The captain laughed. Then she began divesting the evidence of her authority and laying her clothing on an available table.

 

B'Elanna only took off her jacket and boots. Then, when she saw that her love was nude, she reached out her hand to grasp Kathryn's again. She was always impressed with the mixture of strength and delicacy that made up the compact Human. Sometimes just looking at Kathryn took her breath away.

 

She led her mate to that place of softness that was theirs and laid her against plump pillows. Then, she knelt, leaned in and covered the other woman's body with her own. Kathryn gripped her shoulders as she kissed her, tasting her with deliberate intensity. Kathryn's clasp tightened pleasantly, her nails beginning to dig enough to draw a moan of desire. “Kahless, I love you.”

 

It was always said with a sort of amazed surprise that she should be so lucky. Perhaps because she was still astonished and awed that they could do this, that they could be so free with one another when months ago, they had barely spoken to one another past professional topics. It seemed like a delicious miracle.

 

B'Elanna drew her lips and teeth down Kathryn's jaw. She inhaled deeply, drawing in her mate's scent. She said in the family tongue, “I love the way you smell. I love the way you taste. The way you walk. I could watch you for days.” She husked. She bit softly against the curve of Kathryn's neck, not piercing. This wasn't a time for hard bites, but a time for quick loving. “I'm going to take you, my mate. I'm going to make you fly. Do you want that?”

 

She pulled back to gaze into stormy blue eyes. Kathryn's growled, that now familiar noise of desire that always sent B'Elanna over the wall. “Yes!”

 

The Klingon growled back. Her hands slid strong and sure along her Human mate's chest and torso. She sought and found Kathryn's breasts, where she paused to knead and fondle while their kisses blazed through them. There was an abrupt tearing sound and B'Elanna sat back briefly. She looked at her shoulder, and then at the abashed expression Kathryn was giving her. Then she grinned wildly.

 

B'Elanna grasped the offending sleeve and yanked, until it was torn off. Then she grasped the other, and yanked that one off too. She nearly tossed the scraps away, then she paused and gave her captain a considering look. She cocked an eyebrow. Kathryn's laugh of perception was delicious.

 

In moments, Kathryn's wrists were bound, not too tightly, but enough to keep her from ripping any other piece of clothing. The captain, who had been a prisoner in a Cardassian camp, could free herself any time. The knots were that loose. B'Elanna kissed Kathryn's knuckles, then lifted the woman's hands above her head and back a little, until Kathryn could grasp a small bar above her head. There were several such items that were strategically placed around the soft-nest. Those bars were embedded into an indentation, rather than stuck out where one could hit one's head and very useful to those who needed them. Of course, they'd had to replace a few. But that was what you got when a woman with a cybernetic hand was one of your mates.

 

When she knew Kathryn had a good grip, she began again. This time B'Elanna started by stroking her tongue around and along beautiful full nipples. She loved those nipples. She sucked them in, nibbled them lightly, drawing out moans and graphic vocalizations of pleasure. B'Elanna adored that about Kathryn, that surprising vulgarity was such a contrast to her normal composure.

 

The Klingon's hands stroked Kathryn's torso, then her legs. Kathryn had opened up invitingly and B'Elanna's found a moist forest of auburn curls in which to play. B'Elanna praised that state in Klingon, knowing it would turn her Kathryn on even more, even as she began to press in, filling Kathryn. Some words the captain had taken time to learn. Their house was multilingual in many ways.

 

B'Elanna kissed a heated trail down Kathryn's body, nipping here and there along the way, seeking and finding a lovely wet point to rest her tongue. Then she began to have a second breakfast, one that she had been craving even more than food. She hummed and growled into the repast, pulling Kathryn into nature's demanding call and response.

 

She felt the shudder begin before Kathryn began crying out her pleasure. Rolling waves of joy shocked through their link. B'Elanna closed her eyes and basked in the start of the glow, slowing her touch and drawing the out that pleasure which was Kathryn's. Then, when she felt her mate begin to slide back home, she crawled back up. Gently she helped Kathryn release the bar, though the woman was still gripping strongly and breathing hard. Kathryn's opened her eyes long enough to smile in wonder at B'Elanna and received a tender, lingering kiss for it. B'Elanna undid the binding, one handed, while she gently stroked the length of her lover's body. “I love you,” whispered Kathryn.

 

The Klingon gathered Kathryn to her, whispered her love in return, and they wrapped their arms around one another and rested.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna was feeling very chipper when she entered Engineering. She nodded and smiled to some of her crew before she stopped by the project wall and read off the current checklist. Some of her engineers were working with members of other departments in developing the Park. She touched a few target points on the wall console and noted times and dates. Things seemed to be progressing nicely. She checked the other projects and spotted one that looked like it might need her personal attention, so she tagged it with her name.

 

Then she went into her office to grab her tool belt. She smiled unconsciously as she passed the wall with her family photos. That wall had been somewhat of a catalyst in her life. B'Elanna strapped on her tool belt and then headed back out. She'd had a good morning. Now it was time to see if the mood would last while she made some repairs.

 

==^==

 

When Kathryn finally entered the Bridge she was in a good mood. The nap she originally planned had turned into something much more interesting and she was feeling rested, exercised, and sated – always a wonderful combination. She greeted everyone on the Bridge pleasantly, though she also greeted two with a spicy exchange of fingertalk. Then she finally sat down in her Captain's chair. “What have we got, today Chakotay?”

 

Her first officer smiled at seeing her happiness, frowned at that she was still carrying on the charade, and then smiled again when she sat down besides him. “Astrometrics reports that there is a Nebula about five light years from here that you might be interested in exploring. It appears to have a few unusual features – including a bit of stormy weather. Megan Delaney says the “fireworks,” should be safe to view at the fifty kilometer mark, if you want to get a close up.

 

Kathryn considered. “It might be good training for our squads. Get them out there and let them stretch their wings a bit. We'll follow along and meet them there at a designated point. Have Megan pick it and send the coordinates up here. Speaking of training...”

 

Chakotay picked up right away. “They're doing great. Much better than anticipated. There's still been a bit of hazing, but nothing as extravagant as that Painted Dog incident.”

 

“Good. Good. Keep 'em on track Chakotay.”

 

“Will Do.”

 

Sometimes it was best to grab the bull by its horns. Sometimes it was best to lead with flowers and sweet grass. “Ah, yes, speaking of on track. Chakotay, do you have a minute to meet me in my Ready Room. I have something... important... to discuss with you.”

 

“Of course, Kathryn.”

 

==^==

 

They sat down on a couch, not too distantly apart. “Chakotay, there has been something I've been meaning to address with you for awhile now. We've been friends a long time.”

 

His smile crinkled at the side of his eyes. “Seven years, at least.”

 

Kathryn smiled back warmly. “At least.” She clasped her hands together. “Do you trust me?”

 

“I... Of course, Kathryn.”

 

“Good. Because I trust you.” She looked briefly out the port window. “Not that we haven't had our moments, but on the whole we have learned to rely on one another. I would hate to lose that friendship. Wouldn't you?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Chakotay, you're aware that I'm mated? Most of the ship is, by now.” Actually, it could be argued that the whole ship had been part of the experience. But she didn't want to confuse her friend. “But I think... and I hesitate to address this, since it is emotional territory, but I do not believe that this fact has completely registered with you.”

 

“Kathryn, we've left Zakeeri space. Surely you don't have to carry on the charade any longer.”

 

“It's not a charade, Chakotay.”

 

He just blinked at her.

 

She tried a different approach. “While all my mates have passion, I have two that are more inclined than others to just space you and have done with it. If you can't believe that I am, in fact, part of a House, you must at least consider the thought that my mates consider it to be true. They are taking certain actions on your part towards me quite personally. I must ask you, for your sake, to cease and desist.”

 

He blinked more, but there was now a different expression on his face. “I... hadn't thought of it that way.”

 

She quirked a smile at him. “I am aware. That is why I'm pointing it out to you, as your friend, and as your concerned captain.”

 

Chakotay had no reply to that.

 

“I would also like, since I'm doing this anyway, to address notions of stupidity.”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“I have always thought of you as an intelligent man. In fact, you have a great wisdom that I have admired. But I think, sometimes you become limited in your vision and that affects your choices. All this time you have encouraged me to create relationships with those who were available. Yet when such a relationship made itself available to you, you chose a different path.” She raised her hand to forestall an argument. “You have that right. But you should be aware that I, personally, think you lost out on something potentially wonderful.”

 

“It just... wasn't my style.”

 

“Do you think my current family situation was mine?”

 

“I.. No, captain. It was the last place I saw you going.”

 

Ah. Now he was acknowledging it. Good. That was the goal right there. She smiled softly, thoughtfully. “I never even saw it coming, Chakotay. But I'm glad I took the chance. And I wouldn't trade it now, for anything.” Then she looked him in the eye. “Or anyone.”

 

Chakotay couldn't find an appropriate response to that. Kathryn continued.

 

“I hope you find your joy, Chakotay, but you need to let what could have been go. I value you too much to play that kind of charade with you. It would devalue what we truly honor about one another.”

 

He looked a bit pole-axed. She couldn't help him past that. “Chakotay, my good friend and first officer, you are dismissed.”

 

He didn't quite stumble out, but she knew he would be on autopilot for a bit. She didn't leave the Ready Room for awhile herself.

 

==^==

 

The Federation Starship Bradbury slowed to impulse just inside of the Beta Quadrant. They were responding to a hail from a Starfleet shuttle that had recently been received. The captain called Ambassadors Troi and T'Pel to the Docking Bay.

 

Lwaxana was had been trying on new types of outfits, spurred on by the young Phoebe, since they shared colorful tastes. And these days the younger fashions actually fit to her body. The Betazoid found it all quite amusing. At the time of the captain's request, she and Phoebe had been trying on some scandalous swim suits. The captain's stunned reaction had been ... flattering and memorable.

 

Not that he was the one she was interested in pleasing these days. No, Lwaxana found it highly enjoyable to light up T'Pel's eyes in that... certain way. And she tried her very best to do it often.

 

Lwaxana had changed into something a little less revealing, but equally vibrant by the time the more moderately robed T'Pel was ready to leave their quarters. Phoebe excused herself to go work on a piece then. Miral, Asil and Malvok were off somewhere practicing a Klingon martial art. Gretchen had gone to watch. Lwaxana was aware that her human mother-in-law was still finding these radical changes quite challenging.

 

Lwaxana could understand it. In the dead of night, she sometimes foundered herself. But she was lucky to have the lovely and ever logical T'Pel to rely upon for comfort. The Betazoid reached out with her fingertips, and found them touched and herself well loved, once again.

 

Together she and her mate made their way to Bradbury's Docking Bay.

 

==^==

 

It wasn't often that Deanna shocked her mother.

 

But she was gratified to see that it was possible, even if it were due to somewhat unhappy circumstances.

 

She led her younger brother down the steps of the Shuttle. Once he hit the deck, he burst into a run and made his way straight towards their mother. He flung his arms wide and was received in a complete and loving hug and kiss by his mother.

 

Lwaxana took her son's hand, then stood up and, as Deanna drew closer, looked into her daughter's dark eyes. She didn't press her mentally. She knew Deanna hated that and today, apparently, was not the day to tease.

 

Her daughter greeted T'Pel graciously and then finally spoke. “I'm sorry we didn't call first, but our departure was abrupt. Will needs space.”

 

“We are honored that you chose to come to us,” said T'Pel gently. “You are always welcome in our abode.”

 

There was a dangerous quiver on Deanna's lower lip.

 

“Come, my daughter,” Lwaxana distracted. “Let these Starfleet types bring your belongings and let's take you to our quarters.” She started walking, heading towards the exit. Deanna looked a little startled by the change in mood, but T'Pel merely raised an eyebrow and began following her most exuberant mate. Lwaxana began a rapid fire one person conversation, “Of course, we're going to have to have Captain Stevenson expand our quarters again. It will be no problem. His engineering crew is very efficient. We'll also have to talk to Miral. We were on our way to Ab'Liav Tertius. It's an old case that she's put on hold because one of the challengers refused to show. But now that she has access to a ship, she says family honor requires that we at least try to find this Baron Tulek of House Qua'lon. Apparently he originally agreed to abide by her ruling. She even has paperwork, if you can believe it. Klingons so rarely do that sort of thing, but Miral, she is a very unique Klingon. So we're going.

 

“Fortunately, it is a minor system fairly far away from the Dominion and hasn't really been touched by the war, according to some sources that Asil dug up from somewhere. After that is all resolved, well, the Federation wants us to head back towards the Klingon capital for some reason, but I am half tempted to just hire a new ship and send them on without us. Surely by now they have worked out their differences and apparently they've been fibbing to us about how dangerous it is out here. Why we haven't encountered one Dominion ship or even a Federation Scout ...”

 

==^==

 

The semi-coherent diamond shaped nebula was green with lightening on the inside and red with flame on the outside. They actually stopped to observe the phenomenon several thousand kilometers away to give Astrometrics a chance to assess the nebula a little more. As promised, there were some beautiful fireworks. There were also strong Omicron emissions, which in itself had made the short journey worthwhile. “I feel a bit of a fishing trip coming on,” quipped the Captain. “Let's have a quick staff meeting and see if we can arrive at a plan. I'll be in the conference room. Call the Zakeeri ships back. Chakotay, you have the Bridge until the meeting. Let's say, fifteen minutes?””

 

“Aye, Captain,” answered Chakotay gamely. He still wasn't quite acting like himself, but she knew he would recover. He would just need a little time. It wasn't like they hadn't had their shake ups before.

 

Fifteen minutes later the senior staff gathered together and began animatedly talking strategy. It was Harry who came up with the winning idea of trying out the Penetrator and seeing if it would work. The shield matrix had been used as a sort of absorption shovel in maze of mines. It had worked very well when they first used it, but other than an accidental deployment later, they hadn't tried the Penetrator since.

 

Janeway was open to the idea. The ship shield strength should actually be quite solid enough even if the Penetrator didn't work. So they worked on a secondary plan for scooping a good supply of the energy source, just in case. Janeway trusted Seven of Nine and B'Elanna to see to it.

 

Later, when the staff left, she took a moment to check with Voyager herself. “So, what do you think my sweet ship?”

 

“I look forward to it. I think this Nebula is interesting. As a proto-star it is quite normal, but it is also very visually striking.”

 

Kathryn Janeway smiled warmly. “That it is. We will soon be getting a close up, so prepare yourself.”

 

“Of course, Kathryn.”

 

==^==

 

“Deploy Penetrator Shield,” the captain ordered.

 

With a push of the button, the blue shield burst out and about Voyager.

 

“Half Impulse. Dead Ahead.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

The ship moved forward into the Nebula. Plasma flashed and splashed against the shield like water balloons bursting. The shield turned even bluer and there was a hum, not unpleasant. “What are the readings?”

 

“Absorption rate 20%... 30%... 40%... 50%... rising steadily, captain. Automated Storage containers are receiving in Cargo Bay 1. Absorption rate 100%. Containers at 10%”

 

“Stop Impulse. Halt ship. We'll stay here for a moment and see if we can fill her up.” There was a pause. “Shields?”

 

“Holding steady, captain.”

 

The captain nodded to herself. “This is good. This is very good.”

 

Hopeful smiles began sliding across more than one face on the bridge. The ship rocked as plasma struck it, but it rocked like a ship on a calm sea rather than a starship caught in a storm.

 

“Storage containers at 50%.”

 

There was an unexpected sound then. An alert blurted on one of the consoles demandingly. “Captain, we're getting a strange reading here.”

 

“A problem with the shields?”

 

“No, captain. In the core of the Nebula. There's...”

 

A rush of light flashed, turning the Penetrator shield color white. The ship quaked and rumbled, tossing her passengers against their seats. “Reverse, full impulse.”

 

Voyager pulled back quickly and in good time. Another shockwave pulsed out from the center of the nebula.

 

“Astrometrics.”

 

“Here, Captain.”

 

“What is going on with the proto-star? Did the Penetrator shield cause this?”

 

“The shield is not the cause, but these are not standard readings for a proto-star. There is an unusual rise in ... tachyon ... emissions. Captain, I suggest we retreat.”

 

Kathryn grunted, “No kidding.” Then she ordered, “Pull us back, Tom, 1000 kilometers.”

 

“Aye Captain.”

 

“Harry, keep the Penetrator on until we're out of range.”

 

“Astrometrics to Bridge.”

 

“Bridge here. What else have you got?”

 

“There is a rift forming in the center of the proto-star.”

 

“Oh that is just dandy.” She closed their contact and grimaced at Chakotay, “You know, one of these days, we're going to find a nebula that is just a nebula in the Delta quadrant.”

 

Her first officer quirked a grin at her. He couldn't help it. “Well, Kathryn, I wouldn't bet on it.”

 

She just shook her head ruefully at him. “Neither would I.”

 

“At least we got some supplies out of it this time.”

 

“True. True. We're still ahead of the game.”

 

“Astrometrics to Bridge.”

 

“Go ahead.”

 

“There is an object in the rift.”

 

“Will it come up on the monitor yet?”

 

“Doubtful. We're tracking though. We'll notify Lieutenant Kim's console when the image will be available.”

 

“As soon as possible please.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“Well, now, this gets more interesting. What do you think is coming through that rift?”

 

“Won't know until we find out.”

 

“Chakotay, your helpful commentary is why I hired you.”

 

“Knew there had to be a reason I agreed to ride on this boat.”

 

“Oh... Voyager is going to get you for that one. I wouldn't want to be you tonight.”

 

He finally cracked and laughed. And then so did she. That's when she knew it was going to be alright between them.

 

“We've got zoom on the view screen, captain,” announced Harry.

 

“Show us what we've got.”

 

It was still a fairly fuzzy image, but they could identify two small silver objects against a dark background within the rift.

 

“Is it me, or do those shapes seem... familiar?”

 

“At this point they seem like two dots to me.”

 

“Astrometrics to Bridge.”

 

“Here, Astrometrics.”

 

“We've got a positive ID on the objects in the rift. Also, they are moving towards us, rather than away.”

 

“I feel jaded.”

 

“Why is that, Captain?”

 

“Because my first thought was, 'Of course they are.' Forward the I.D. to Harry's station please.”

 

“Will do. Astrometrics out.”

 

“Holy Cats,” Harry blurted.

 

“That was a new one. What have we got Harry.”

 

“Well...” He hesitated, “... There's a Federation Scout Ship... and... a Klingon Raptor.”

 

“A Raptor? Those haven't been used for over a century.”

 

“How current is the Federation Scout Ship?”

 

“Very, Captain. But, I think there must be something wrong, because they should be able to outgun a Raptor.”

 

“I take it the Raptor is chasing the scout.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Prep phasers...”

 

“Captain, there's a third ship, unknown class. It's big though. Chasing both the Raptor and the Scout.”

 

“I'm beginning to get a better picture here.” She grimaced and made a decision. “Tom, prepare to go in. Harry, get the Penetrator working again.”

 

“Aye, Captain,”

 

“Astrometrics, we're going to need a navigational plot through the nebula. We've got two ships in crisis being chased by an unknown third vessel.”

 

“Working on it.”

 

“Tom, as soon as you have a course, take us in.”

 

“Tuvok. Prep Phasers and photon torpedoes.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“Lieutenant Ro, we don't know what condition those other ships are in. Prep tractor beam, just in case.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

“Tom, get us in there.”

 

==^==

 

Voyager drove in through the nebula like a shark through a fiery sea. The Penetrator shield did its job, absorption and protection, slicing the path open for them before their regular shields could even be touched. Voyager used the extra energy to build a bit of speed and fortify her phaser banks. It actually felt kind of good. Ticklish.

 

The Six Zakeeri ships joined in a link with her through Stinging Sparrow. Their input was invaluable as she made those small adjustments that kept a ship whole. They also helped manage the absorption flow.

 

The closer Voyager and her crew got, the more apparent it was that the two ships had not actually been in conflict, despite first appearances. In fact, they were lucky to be in any sort of shape for running. The scorch marks, the dents and breaks made that evident. They also could now make out the markings on the bigger ship – a square shaped skull and crossbones.

 

“Orion Syndicate,” gasped out the Captain.

 

“I wonder if they're the one's who opened the rift?”

 

“We don't have time to find out.” She directed her attention to Lieutenant Paris. “Listen up Tom, whatever you do, don't go into the rift. We don't know what time it is over on that side. You're going to have to keep us on this side.”

 

“Understood captain.”

 

“On the other hand, let's see if we can sting those people enough for them to lose interest in those other ships.” She grimaced. “Tuvok, fire phasers at the Orion ship.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

There was a burst of fire, short and sweet and potent. It struck the enemy vessel, but didn't appear to do much to it.

 

“Try again, up the power.”

 

There was another burst and this time the strike seemed more effective. They actually saw the Orion shields flicker.

 

“Captain, the other two ships, they're not looking too good there.” Ro stated. “Sensors indicate a warp breach is imminent on the Raptor. The Scout isn't in much better condition.”

 

“Lieutenant Ro, gather up some security guards and get to the Transporter room. Beam who you can aboard. We're going to have guests. Possibly Klingon and unfriendly.”

 

“Aye, Captain. We'll have to drop shields during transport.”

 

“Arrange a shield rotation with Tuvok. Voyager can handle a short amount of exposure. Strip weapons during transport. As for the people, medical help first. Get their cooperation if you can. Klingons might not appreciate the welcome, but they weren't exactly winning the battle anyway. Brig 'em if they try and slug someone.”

 

“Aye, Captain.” There was a whoosh at the door as Lieutenant Ro exited the Bridge.

 

“Okay, can we tractor in the scout, Harry?”

 

“I think so, Captain.”

 

“Do it. They'll have to forgive us later, if they live.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Tuvok, keep firing. Add photon torpedoes when you're ready.”

 

The result of that command was immediate, two torpedoes fired, then another two.

 

Kathryn turned and looked at her Security officer. He gave her the raised eyebrow, implying that nothing unusual was happening. But she thought she saw something darken in his eyes.

 

Oh, there was a story there.

 

The first round hit the Orion ship and obviously shook it. She saw that they were firing back, but it appeared to be random. “They don't see us.”

 

“So it appears.”

 

“Interesting.”

 

The second round hit the Orions hard; there was a burst of flame that arced out into space before it snuffed out.

 

The tractor locked onto the scout ship, just as the Klingon ship seemed to catch that flame and explode in response.

 

The wave front of the explosion appeared to push the scout ship forward to them and Kathryn decided to take advantage of it.

 

“Back us out Tom.”

 

“Scout ship may not be able to take the impact of the Nebula.”

 

She tapped her comm badge, “Lieutenant Ro, prepare for more guests. We don't think the scout ship is going to make it.”

 

“Aye, Captain. Transporting now.”

 

A few tense moments later, the scout ship began to obviously quake. Lieutenant Ro contacted the Bridge. “All aboard, captain.”

 

“Tom, cut her loose. Get us out of here.” The tractor beam disengaged just in time as the scout ship shattered brightly into a zillion pieces.

 

Voyager turned and began heading out of the Nebula.

 

“Captain, we're being followed.”

 

“Are they shooting at us?”

 

“Yes, captain. But they're still firing blind.”

 

“Are they through the rift?”

 

“Almost, Captain.”

 

“Well, I don't know what's kept them from seeing us when we can see them, but I'm guessing they won't be blind for long if they make it through. Tuvok, fire at will.”

 

There was a burst of fire, photon and phasers that ripped through the nebula towards the rift. The Orion ship was just crossing the rift and managed to hit Voyager with a disrupter beam. Captain Janeway's ship fired again. This time the explosions weren't minor and the Syndicate ship didn't survive the experience.

 

Voyager, however, was tossed forward, with her nose tipped down and her Nacelles hanging up, as if she were a human in a handstand. The shields held, but the whole ship was jounced hard and rough right on out of the Nebula.

 

Moments later, Kathryn was climbing back up into her chair. Harry, who'd managed to get to his console, reported, “The rift is completely closed, Captain.” He looked up at her. “It's like it was never even there.”

 

“Thank you, Harry,” She praised. Then she commented to Chakotay. “Yes, one of these days, we're going to encounter an ordinary, regular, simple nebula in the Delta Quadrant.”

 

==^==

 

Part 3 | Bookmarks

 

“Status,” Kathryn inquired of Lieutenant Ro. They were standing just outside the conference room. Their guests were now gathered in the room, along with six security guards.

 

“We got them all. Had to send four to sick bay. Three Klingons, one Human. The Klingons... are a bit of a surprise Captain.”

 

“How do you mean?”

 

Laren raised her hand and touched her forehead. “No... ridges.”

 

“Interesting.”

 

“Also, surprisingly polite and, dare I say it, dashing. They flirt like hell. We've had more trouble out of the Starfleet Crew.”

 

“Really?”

 

“We're too young to really be Starfleet.”

 

“Ah. I suppose I should have thought of that. But you know, I forget.”

 

Laren chuckled, “We all do. We're used to it. Mostly.”

 

“Mostly. How's the body language?”

 

“They're grouping together, waiting to see what happens next. I've got the Star Fists watching them, along with Ensigns Chase, Booker and Simmons.”

 

Captain Janeway's lips twitched. The Ensigns were notorious for being very tall and very big, in a muscular no-nonsense kind of way. “No wonder they're being polite.”

 

Lieutenant Ro nodded sagely. There had been a reason for her choices.

 

The Star Fists were fierce-looking Zakeeri. Zakeeri were approximately 1.08 meters high on average. Not very tall at all. They were hominids of feline descent and – as a race – had been, according to their legends, altered by the makers of the Maze of Mines several times.

 

What they lacked in height, they made up for in other ways. All one had to do was look at them and know they were not to be trifled with. Xepal, the commander, was female, taller than her mates, and had dark hair and unusual grey eyes. When she snarled, her nose wrinkled down like a tiger's. When she grimaced that way, she showed sharp, dangerous teeth. She was formidable of personality. Dekut, her first mate, was male and muscular. He was her opposite in coloration, dark skinned, blonde and brown eyed. Kuva was her second mate. She was the most naturally colorful and exuberant of the Star Fists. Her hair was shocking pink and her green eyes often sparkled with amusement.

 

At the moment that Captain Janeway, followed by Lieutenant Ro, entered, those eyes were sparkling with grim intensity at the Starfleet crew. Xepal was stepping away from a woman, an ensign,. The woman looked to be in her mid twenties, tall, brunette and supple – which meant that Xepal had to leap to make that contact. The ensign was cupping the side of her cheek and looking at the Zakeeri in shock.

 

Xepal, of course, wore the rank of Commander in an obvious place on her collar – if the Starfleet crew had bothered to pay attention. She also wore one of Voyager's uniforms, with a broad red patch on one shoulder. She was saying, as she stepped back, “You will speak with respect.” Apparently there had been some sort of dispute.

 

Well, at least the ensign wasn't dead or bleeding, thought the Captain philosophically. She also knew that the Zakeeri wouldn't have made the strike without a reason. The ensign must have really pushed.

 

Ensign Chase announced, “Captain on Deck!”

 

It was a very formal announcement, but not unusual for Ensign Chase. He was a big, but polite young man. He liked to watch over his captain.

 

A proclamation like that always brought an automatic response to those who had military background. Suddenly all the drama dropped as people abruptly straightened their postures and assumed attentive positions.

 

The captain strode to the head of the table, but did not sit down. There weren't enough chairs. So she stood before her normal seat and gave all of them a stern glancing over. It was austere enough that many of the officers flinched.

 

Finally, when she knew she had their absolute attention, she began. “Welcome to the Federation Starship Voyager.”

 

“Voyager! But that's in the Delta quad...” blurted out one of the ensigns from the scout ship. He looked ... disbelieving and appalled. She narrowed her gaze at him and the rest of what he was about to say died on his tongue.

 

“I am,” she continued on, still staring at the young man who interrupted her. Then she brought the look around to all of them. “Captain Kathryn Janeway of the House Presba.”

 

The Klingons suddenly had odd expressions on their faces. The Federation crew looked a bit pained.

 

“And you are, indeed, now in the Delta Quadrant. Your ships are lost and your choices few. You are not prisoners,” Again with the disciplined, cautioning glare, “...yet. I expect you to comport yourselves as officers aboard this vessel. Quarters will be assigned, as your senior officers and I discuss what will happen next. We'll do a more formal debriefing tomorrow, after you all have had a chance to adjust. You will then make reports for the ship's logs. Captains and first officers are to remain. Commander Xepal,” And she emphasized the word commander for the sake of the female ensign, who blushed and winced as she realized a new thing. Might as well nip that attitude right in the bud. “... and the security team, please escort the rest of these individuals. Ensign Doyle will begin assigning quarters. It may be a few hours before the quarters are available. Fortunately,” There was a whimsical twist to her lips, “... we have plenty of space. Commander Xepal, give them the grand tour. Lieutenant Ro, you're with me.”

 

Moments later, the room was cleared except for six individuals. The captain nodded at the others. “Let's be seated.”

 

==^==

 

She had the Starfleet officers introduce themselves first.

 

Thus, it started out with Sarah Tucker, a sandy-blonde, blue eyed, thirty something human woman of average height. She had been Captain of the Scout ship Steele. She was not, currently, a happy person. But then neither would Kathryn have been. On the other hand, she was a luckier captain than she knew. At least she was alive. Kathryn wondered if they were going to bump heads, but she hoped not.

 

Tucker's first officer was Commander Steve Magnum. He was also human, in his mid forties. He was tall, olive skinned, blue eyed and dark haired, with a handsome profile. There was something mischievous in his eyes and she wondered if she should let him near Tom and Harry. It was just that kind of look. Kathryn set that thought aside for later.

 

Then it was the Klingon's turn. The captain introduced himself as Veckma and his first officer as Mek. He didn't offer any House names, so it was possible that they didn't have one. Then again, there might be other reasons for their silence. If she remembered correctly, the Klingons at that time weren't exactly vociferous about their heritage and ways of life.

 

As Lieutenant Ro had mentioned, these Klingons did not have the famous ridges. Their skin had a definite copper tone, their eyes were dark and eyebrows flared up, like wings. The men both wore neatly trimmed beards and haircuts. Veckma's beard was double pointed and brown, while Mek's was dark and somewhat curly. They sat with great confidence, comfortable with their own presence. She could observe the usual Klingon fire in them, but it was apparent that they held it in check, waiting. They wore a uniform that hadn't been seen in centuries.

 

She wondered, briefly, why they hadn't been more... feisty. But she knew that Klingons, based on her own lovely mate, had their own mind about things. It would become apparent eventually.

 

The Captain laid it out for them starting with how long Voyager had been in the Delta Quadrant and ending it, somewhat, with how long it might take for them to get back. Then she gave them their choices. They could travel on with them or be put out at the nearest port. She had seen feisty during her report, but it turned out that it wasn't the Klingons who had a lot to say.

 

For the umpteenth time Kathryn Janeway was interrupted.

 

“You'd abandon us...” Captain Tucker was about to roll onto another steam ridden reply.

 

Janeway answered tartly. “I have been lenient so far, but you are pushing it, Tucker. We do have a brig on Voyager,”

 

The other woman's mouth snapped shut.

 

Janeway continued reasonably, “I prefer to think I'd be offering you a good option, if you didn't care to stay on my ship. Certainly at a port there are plenty of ships available for purchase. We would be willing to assist you in that matter, get you a used one for a reasonable exchange. You'd be free and clear then to do what you wanted. On the other hand, if you think I'm just being terribly unfair, I could put you in some escape pods and send you back into the Nebula, if you'd prefer.”

 

“Uh.... no sir.. I mean.. ma'am... I mean Captain.”

 

The Klingon captain was watching all of this with some mirth and a great deal of interest.

 

The Captain continued. “It's not a decision that needs to be made immediately. But you, Commander Tucker, in particular, might want to consider that in one week's time Starfleet will be contacting us.”

 

“You have contact with Starfleet?”

 

“We do.”

 

Sarah found that she didn't have much to say to that.

 

“Captain Veckma, if you and your crew stay aboard you would need to be willing to abide by Voyager's rules. I recognize that this all must come as a greater shock to you than to my Starfleet compatriots here,” she indicated the distressed Starfleet officers with a tilt of her head. “But the Delta quadrant is still far from the Klingon empire. If you accompanied us, we would see to it as many as possible got home.”

 

“That is a brave promise Captain Janeway of the House Presba.”

 

She inclined her head. “It's one I've made before.”

 

“Have you kept your promise?”

 

She really wanted to tell him, 'twice,' but held her peace. “It's in process.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Lieutenant Ro's gaze slivered sharply at the Klingon. She opened her mouth to say something, but caught Kathryn's hand talk first. She grimaced and settled down.

 

“There is thirty light years to go, Captain Veckma,” Kathryn continued. “...but we will make it home one way or the other.”

 

“Covered in glory?” He asked it sarcastically.

 

She answered very seriously, “Ask the Zakeeri.”

 

“The who?”

 

“Do you recall Commander Xepal?”

 

“Ah. Yes. I see.”

 

“The Zakeeri recently joined us on the way to the Alpha quadrant. One of their specified reasons was that we are on a grand adventure. There will be plenty of glory for everyone. And plenty of death. The Delta Quadrant is not exactly peaceful.”

 

Suddenly the Klingons' visage lightened and that amused cast returned to his features. “This is good to hear. May I ask you a question?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“You say you are of the House Presba. That has a very Klingon ring to it. Your Starfleet,” He nodded at the Captain Tucker and Commander Magnum and borrowed the captain's word, “...compatriots, tell us that the Klingon Empire and Federation are...” He paused as if struggling hard with the concept. “...allies. It is why we joined with them in our escape.”

 

“That was very practical and wise of you, Captain Veckma. And yes, it would be true. The Federation and Klingon Empire have had a compact since 2293.” She paused, giving him a chance to digest that date and its implication. “Also the House Presba is a Klingon house.”

 

Commander Mek sat back, stunned. Captain Tucker's and Commander Magnum's expressions glazed over. Captain Veckma gave her a long, probing look before finally saying, “We will consider it.”

 

“That's all I can ask. You would be welcome. We are not a Klingon ship, but we value the principles of Honor and the Way of the Warrior on this vessel.” Her lips quirked, “I would appreciate if you would hold off on trying to take over the ship. I'm not sure Voyager would appreciate your efforts.”

 

The Klingon blinked at her, wondering if she had read his mind.

 

She lifted a hand, “I was joking.” Then her gaze narrowed, “But I mean it. Don't challenge me. You won't like the results.”

 

He sat back. “Ah. I see.” Perceptive woman. He smiled at her toothily. He was liking her more and more.

 

She turned her attention back to the flabbergasted Starfleet officers. “As for you, the same options apply. If you choose to stay, you'll obey Voyager's rules. We're a bit more... ” Kathryn found herself thinking back to something Seven of Nine had mentioned to her. “... wild west around here. I know you were on military footing, due to the Dominion War, but this is different.” She sat back in her chair, “Also, for the sake of clarity, you captains will be addressed as Commander from here on out. There is only one captain aboard this vessel.” There was a clear snap of command in her voice. But it gentled. “For now, you are considered guests. This will give you a chance to evaluate my ship and crew and see if we're up to your... standards.” She gave them a wickedly stinging look. The Starfleet personnel flinched. The Klingons didn't. “I'll give you until after we contact Starfleet to decide. If you opt to stay we'll decide what departments will benefit the most from your expertise. If not, by then we should be near the Ubiyak system. Neelix tells me they have a very nice Space Station there. Now with that addressed, your quarters should be ready. Lieutenant Ro?”

 

“Aye, Captain. If you all will follow me please.”

 

==^==

“Your captain is very formidable.” Commander Veckma commented as they walked through the corridor. They were going to stop at the medical center first so they could see their injured.

 

“She can be.” He was learning that the beautiful Lieutenant Ro could be a woman of few words.

 

“You are also of the House Presba?”

 

“I am.” She turned it right back around at him. “Have you got a problem with it?”

 

“No. No. I've just... never met a woman with your type of ridges before.”

 

Ah, there was that flirting again. “There are a few of us Bajorans on board. You'll meet more of us.”

 

“Bajoran.” The word was tasted, savored. Then a question was posed, suavely and bluntly. “Do you like Klingons?”

 

The stern woman's lips quirked briefly and she flashed a look at the questioner. “You could say that. One of my mates is Klingon.”

 

There was a pause. “One of...” He wasn't the only one surprised.

 

“The House Presba has unusual origins on this ship. If you're curious, you can speak to our Epatai about it. She...” Again there was that quirk that almost made a smile, “... explains it well.”

 

“I... see,” The Klingon drew a strange reassurance from this odd mix of dangerous undercurrent and weird almost familiarity. “Then the crest I see on your shoulder, it is Klingon.” He was just checking. He remembered the Captain's claim.

 

“Very.”

 

“On a Starfleet ship.”

 

“Yes.” As if that were nothing unusual.

 

“The Captain, is she Epatai?” That would make sense from a certain point of custom.

 

“No. Our Chief Engineer is.”

 

The Bajoran kept walking as the Klingon and the Starfleet officers stalled as they absorbed that information. Then the Klingon growled a bit and smiled at his First Officer. These Starfleet were definitely different than the ones they knew back home.

 

==^==

 

They were greeted by a grim looking blonde man. In the distance they could see an equally bleak balding man who was wielding a medical tricorder over one of the casualties. Waldos and other apparatus were moving with purpose about him, aiding him in surgery on three different persons. The fourth was unconscious, but apparently not dead. The white sheet rose softly with that being's breath.

 

Lieutenant Paris held his gloved hands up. The apron he wore was stained in red and lavender. “I'm sorry. We really don't have time to talk right now. So far, all patients are alive. That's the most I can say.” He nodded towards the sleeper. “She's going to be okay and we figure she'll be conscious in about eight hours, if you want to come back when she's awake.” He looked at the Klingons and stated baldly, “She's one of yours. You can look at her if you want, but don't try to wake her. She shouldn't be moved for awhile.”

 

“Thank you...”

 

“Tom. Lieutenant Tom Paris. If you'll excuse me.”

 

“Of course.” Then Veckma looked to Ro, who nodded. The Klingons made their way to see their crew person.

 

“He's not medical,” Sarah Tucker said, indicating Lieutenant Paris. She'd caught sight of the flash of red on his shoulder. Now that she knew what to look for...

 

“He's our Navigator. We lost our medical personnel when we arrived in the Delta quadrant. Except for the Doctor over there.”

 

“I see.” Then she blinked. “Wait a minute, isn't he...”


“He is our Doctor and has seen more in seven years than most.”

 

“Uh...”

 

Lieutenant Ro turned and finally really focused on the Starfleet people. “Look. There is a lot to get used to around here. But it's a good crew. The captain is ...” The Bajoran paused, realizing she was getting her ire up for the wrong reasons. She revised her impulse. “ What I suggest you do is check the public logs. That will tell you more than I can possibly convey. As the captain mentioned in the meeting, we didn't start out with a lot.”

 

“We have a doctor. And a medic.”

 

“And a counselor,” added Commander Magnum with an interesting expression on his face.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“They weren't actually part of our crew. We were taking them to the front before the Orion Syndicate snagged us in a temporal trap.” Commander Tucker grimaced. Then she sighed. “It's not been a great set of days.”

 

Lieutenant Ro was suddenly grateful she'd backed off. She touched the Commander's shoulder. “I understand. Do you think the Doctor would be interested in coming up here and helping?”

 

“She's already here.” The Commander nodded at one of the tables where the Waldos and the Doctor were furiously engaged in surgery.

 

“Oh, that sucks.”

 

“It does.”

 

“Let's get Ensign Hughes up here, though. He can definitely help. It'll make him feel useful.” Commander Tucker paused. “... with the captain's approval, that is.”

 

The Lieutenant gave the Commander a long look. “She'll approve.”

 

==^==

 

After visiting with Commander Chakotay, Xepal took the Starfleet and Klingon crew on a whirlwind tour of Voyager. She marched them quickly enough through the corridors, stopping briefly to show them points of interest, such as the Mess Hall or Hydroponics. By briefly, one meant that they halted long enough for her to mention what they were. She figured, if it was important to them, they'd remember how to get there. Or ask someone.

 

They eventually made their way to engineering, where Xepal halted so abruptly that the group was forced to form around her. She asked Lieutenant Carey, “Is Lieutenant Torres available?”

 

Carey, who had two pieces of equipment in his hands and a metal tool in his teeth jerked his head in a diagonal upwards movement. This caused Xepal to look up. “Ah. I see her. Thank you. Kuva, please let the Chief know we are here.”

 

There followed a bit of acrobatics as Kuva chose to forgo the usual means of getting up to the second level. The security guards exchanged amused glances with each other, but otherwise acted unperturbed. While the guests had a moment of awe. Kuva wasn't exactly noiseless, though she could have been. Instead, while rapidly ascending she called, “Lieutenant Torres, may I have a moment of your time.”

 

There was a thunk and a loud curse, then an object went flying over their heads to seriously dent the plating on the next wall. “Damn it Kuva!”

 

There was a light laugh from the Zakeeri, but then a moment of talk. “Captain sends her regards and guests on tour. Xepal has brought them to meet you.” She leaned in closer and whispered. “There are some Klingons. But they don't look like you.”

 

Now B'Elanna's curiosity was tweaked. “I'll be right down.”

 

Kuva then leapt down the great distance to land at the spot where she'd left the guests. “She'll be right down,” she said, as if nothing unusual had happened.

 

Ensign Booker said, “You know, you could have used the comm badge.”

 

“And where would the fun have been?”

 

“Ah. I see. You just enjoy endangering your life.”

 

Kuva waved airily. “Path of the Warrior and all that.”

 

The security team grinned at the Zakeeri. The Klingon weren't sure if they should grin or not, but wanted to. The Starfleet crew from the Steele were too busy trying to catch their breaths to worry about such unimportant matters as jaunty dialog.

 

Kuva turned around as the sound of footsteps on the stairwell announced a change. “Ah, speaking of warriors...”

 

B'Elanna Torres descended down the engineering stairs in no hurry. She was dressed in a work shirt with the sleeves torn off. Her jacket was tied off at her waist. She was wiping her hands, but there were smudges on her face, arms, and clothes. It only made her that much more attractive.

 

“Klingon,” whispered one of the guests. “She's...Klingon.” There was just a hint of passion in that whisper.

 

There was a growl and then a leap. Suddenly the Chief Engineer was right there. Her teeth were bright and sharp, so was her gaze. She had moved so fast they hadn't tracked how she'd arrived. “Yes. I am. Want to make something of it?”

 

The startled group were silent. Xepal decided now was a good time to introduce the half-Klingon. “This is Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Chief Engineer to Voyager. She is also Epatai of the House Presba.”

 

There was combined sound that suddenly emanated from the group of Klingons. It was not disbelief, but wonder. They broke into excited chatter, bouncing Klingonese off one another so fast that the translator could only catch part of it. Just as suddenly one stood out from the crowd, apparently appointed.

 

“Epatai,” he bowed. “We are honored to be in your presence. We have a question.”

 

B'Elanna grimaced at Xepal for starting this. Then she made a motion with her hand. “Go ahead.”

 

“Are you mated?” He stepped forward a little. “If not...”

 

Before he could get much further, there was a burble and then another, and he realized that there were chuckles coming from the people manning stations around the impressive warp core. Then he realized that the chuckles were expanding, like an energy stream crossing into another, until the second deck was also caught up in the laughter. Then Xepal, who terrified him, began to outright laugh – which only frightened him more. He fully expected to be struck down right that very moment.

 

It went on until the only ones not laughing were the Klingons. Even the Starfleet crew had started to laugh, though they couldn't have told anyone why.

 

B'Elanna just crossed her arms, rolled her eyes and waited it out. “Give them a moment, they'll get over it. To answer your question. I am mated.”

 

Some wag shouted down, “... and how!”

 

Suddenly there was another roar of laughter that seemed unstoppable.

 

Finally, Xepal managed to get control of herself, enough to wipe her eyes and say, “I'm sorry. That was just so unexpected.” The commander gathered her thoughts. “To explain further...” she turned to B'Elanna, “...if you don't mind...”

 

“Go ahead.”

 

Xepal continued, “Epatai Torres is Bonded in the Zakeeri manner. She has several mates. Six I believe.”

 

“Wait.” B'Elanna stopped the Zakeeri, “How did you hear about that?”

 

“This is Voyager. Seven bonded is the logical number for a ship this size. Or do you only have four mates?” She looked at B'Elanna expectantly, daring her to make Xepal wrong.

 

“Oh. Right.” B'Elanna paused and then decided, 'what the hell.' She grinned slightly. “Yes. There's seven total in the group. Five here and two in the Alpha... well, they may be in the Beta Quadrant by now. They were going to search for Mother.”

 

The Klingons eyes were round and wide. “Six...” He was still catching up.

 

“Seven, total in the group.” confirmed Xepal with a nod to herself. She wasn't grinning, but her eyes were twinkling. She'd won a bet.

 

“Seven?!”

 

“Yes.” B'Elanna affirmed.

 

The Klingon looked back at his crew mates then at her. He took in a deep breath. “Epatai...I believe that I withdraw the...”

 

“Don't worry about it. Any other questions?”

 

“Many. But... I don't think I'm ready to ask them.”

 

“Understandable.” Then B'Elanna smiled wickedly. “Would you like to meet my kids? I think Seven of Nine has them working out in the Holodeck.” She turned to explain to Xepal. “Rebi has been anxious to start swinging a Bat’leth and got Ceduril interested. So Seven proposed to ...”

 

“Wait. I thought you said there were seven mates...”

 

“Yes.”

 

“But you are using Seven as a singular...”

 

“Seven of Nine is one of my mates.”

 

The Klingon who had been chosen was suddenly wishing he hadn't been. He closed his eyes for a moment. “I...”

 

“Xepal, why don't you take these lovely people out of my engine room and show them a Holodeck or something. I really do have things to do.”

 

“Right Chief.” The Zakeeri commander, now back to her usual stern self, turned towards the group. “Well? Come on.” Then she marched them back out into the corridor.

 

==^==

 

Part 4 | Bookmarks

 

Xepal eventually did get them to the Holodecks on deck six, after taking the long fast route around. They'd met a group of the Glory Dragon Riding Club (GDRC) coming out of one deck. Those crew members had been laughing and joking on their way out. One of the newly popular uses of the Holodeck had become motorcycle or hotrod tours through the more scenic sites in the galaxy. The GDRC had formed when the Zakeeri had discovered the joys of hotrodding with Tom Paris. Then others had joined in and the group had expanded. It was a fun, convivial way to tour known space and visit places never seen before by many.

 

The GDRC stopped long enough to say hello and describe what they were doing to the mystified Klingon and the suddenly enthused (if out of breath) Starfleet officers. This was, after all, something familiar to them. Also, the encounter with the Chief Engineer had an unusual calming affect on everyone. The Klingons had been reassured since B'Elanna was obviously a Klingon of Status. The Starfleet personnel had been reassured by the easy laughter and relaxation of the obviously busy crew. They realized, perhaps subconsciously, that they really were not prisoners.

 

Once the Glory Dragon Riding Club finally departed, on the other side, out of the other Holodeck, Seven and family and the clan Sun Tiger began to exit. Everyone, except for Seven, who was carrying Emina, were holding Bat’leth – some smaller than others – and looked very mussed, scraped and happy. Xepal, specifically asked them to wait for a moment, so they could be introduced.

 

There was a sudden murmur from the Starfleet crew, who couldn't decide whether she was Borg or what. Seven of Nine didn't exactly fit the usual profile. Their quick and overly noisy conversation led to a bit of unusual sound from the taller security team members. It took a moment to realize that they were facing grunts of disapproval and lifted weapons. The Zakeeri made no obvious moves, but there was an extra hint of danger in their body language.

 

A red-headed Betazoid woman, who had no pips on her uniform, took immediate control of the Starfleet group and she demanded that the ensigns knock it off. Which, oddly, they did. Then she apologized to Seven of Nine for rudeness. That caused the ocular implant to rise, but otherwise Seven's expression remained reserved and calm. She accepted the apology. It also caused the security crew to relax around them again.

 

What was difficult, for the Betazoid at least, was to watch the happy expressions on the children's faces completely alter. They too took on composed expressions. Where there was joy, there was now somber and distant and coldly calculating observation.

 

A few ensigns were going to get kicked in the emotional shin later.

 

The Klingons, who had no idea who the Borg were, only saw a beautiful woman and lots of children. One of them said, “The mate.”

 

Another said, “One of the mates.”

 

Another, full of wonder and not a little turned on said, “You must be very fertile.” There was a purr in his voice. Enough of one that he got elbowed.

 

“Respect for the Epatai's mate. That is, unless you want to fight six challengers.”

 

“Uh...” He was thinking about it...

 

Seven of Nine cocked her head and an amused smile graced her face. But before she could answer, Xepal took on the task of actually introducing this part of the House Presba and the Sun Tiger clan.

 

The Klingons were charmed by the whole thing. They were fascinated by the children, who were each holding their own weapon. (Except for Emina, who was nestled against a warm breast and asleep, and that sight was disappointingly under the cover of a blanket. The blanket, due a fit of whimsy, had little pastel Bat’leth and dk-tahg decorating it.) That was an obvious evidence of the fitness of the parent to the Klingons. One of the first duties of a mother was to train her children in the ways of defense.

 

Then there were the Zakeeri, who behaved – as they were discovering on their tour – a little like the more familiar Lynxians. Only, without the fuzziness and the ears. A Lynxian might tempt you to cuddle. A Zakeeri, they were coming to understand, would cut your arm off before you thought of the notion. A Zakeeri with a Bat’leth was a wonder to behold. Especially since they looked so enthusiastic. That is, until the Starfleet crew had grumbled.

 

Now the Klingons turned, almost as one, to give that small group – except for the Betazoid – the evil eye. The Starfleet personnel shifted uncomfortably under the narrowed Klingon gaze.

 

Before things could get too tense though, Mezoti was the first to throw down the conversational gauntlet. She was impetuous that way. “Species 6822. You look different than my SoS.”

 

Distracted, one of the Klingons crouched a bit, to get on eye level with the child. “Do we now.” He growled playfully at her. “Do you know what we are?”

 

The young girl cocked her head and gave him such a look. He realized that she was evaluating him, assessing him deeply. She didn't smile, but she didn't retreat either. When she finally spoke, it was with great authority. “You are definitely Klingon. But different.” Then she asked a question and her expression began to warm up again. “Do you have a Bat’leth? My SoS gave me this one.” She hefted the small weapon, carefully, up for the Klingon to observe.

 

He grinned at her. “It seems like a fine weapon. I am grieved to say that my Bat’leth has gone the way of my ship.”

 

“My Mother can make you a new one, if you ask. She is very good with metals.” Mezoti offered. Seven of Nine turned to look at her daughter, but held her peace. It wasn't as if Mezoti wasn't speaking the truth. “Or Marnah can, but she likes to make the smaller knives.” Mezoti patted the hilt of a small blade at her side.

 

Azan and Rebi were about to join in, when Seven of Nine exercised parental authority. “My children, this conversation must wait.” She turned to Xepal and her group. “Perhaps we should go to the Mess Hall. If you care to join us,” and she included all of them in her invitation. “...we can set up the tables. It will be... less inconvenient for those who are trying to pass.”

 

Sheepishly, two crew persons, dressed in medieval costumes slid past the group towards Holodeck 2. “Thanks, Seven,” one of them offered as the doors swooshed open.

 

Again with that beautiful, gracious smile. “You are welcome.” Then she turned to look expectantly at the group.

 

Well, who would be dumb enough to pass up an invitation to lunch from her?

 

==^==

 

Seven's pace towards the Mess Hall was much more accommodating to frail mortals. For once, since their dismissal from the captain, the Starfleet officers felt like they could breathe. They could register the details. This time they encountered more people going to and fro. Some would stop to talk briefly with the people they knew and greet the people they didn't know in a friendly way. Some offered sincere condolences on the loss of their ships.

 

When they arrived, both the Starfleet and Klingon crew were feeling more personable towards the crew of Voyager. Not one of them thought this whole introduction to the ship and crew might have been manufactured by Xepal. There had been a reason she'd kept them moving. A weary people were too occupied to cause (a lot) of trouble and an encounter with Seven of Nine and her children could be very good for the soul; brisk in a good way, like early fall weather or a solid tub scrubbing.

 

By now, anyone who was in the Mess Hall had gotten used to what could almost be considered a ritual. People actually got up from where they were eating and started pulling tables and chairs together. Some of them sat down at the much longer table, anywhere they wanted, as if they'd been invited. Others got up and shifted their tables closer. Those who weren't interested or had their own conversations to attend, simply stayed where they were.

 

Xepal watched the reactions of the strangers carefully. She noted the Betazoid's amazement and the Klingons switch up to another level of confidence. The others looked a might confused, but they were gamely playing along as they picked up their trays and just randomly accepted what was put there. Xepal might not have made such a choice herself, but a distraction was a distraction. And the guests were still doing exactly what she wanted them to do. Keep 'em moving. Keep 'em confused. They're less likely to try and grab a gun that way.

 

The guests settled themselves around the table where ever they could find a space. Xepal noted that with the Voyager crew randomly interspersed between them, the guests almost immediately blended in. With a smile, Xepal took a portion of the current meal for herself; selectively, of course.

 

==^==

 

Ab'Liev Tertius was a blue planet in the yellow star system of Ab'Liev. From a human perspective, the third planet was very earth like, with vast oceans and comfortable sized continents. For all that, the system was only sparsely populated, since it was only recently added to the Klingon Empire. Some past advanced race had wiped the original population out, by whisking the primitives away. It had been almost... Borg-like. Whomever it was had never returned to the system. Nor had they marked it. The only remnant of the original species were some ancient clay vessels in sparse locations. The Klingons had found and claimed the whole system. And then it had been gifted entire to one Baron Tulek of House Qua'lon as a matter of honor for something his great, great grandfather was said to have done. Technically, just holding the system made Qua'lon one of the high middling houses, not quite minor any more and not quite major, since a major house had to have an accumulation of Honor, fame and wealth in enough combination to really be able to affect the Empire. It would make sense then, that a Great House, was a major house taken to a whole other level.

 

The Baron was an old school Klingon, economically speaking. He “employed,” slaves. He believed that carving out the resources from a planet like gutting a fish was a practical approach to resource management. He and his family partied like it was 2499 and went out on “glorious” hunts every now and then. From a Klingon perspective, Ab'Liev Tertius had a wealth of nasty predators, which were mean and vicious enough to test the metal of any warrior. It wasn't exactly a “settled,” planet.

 

Fortunately, for the third planet, the Baron had not yet begun digging into its soil. Why should he do that, when there were other resource rich planets and planetoids to plunder in system? He anticipated a long, prosperous life for himself.

 

Over the long haul, it wasn't looking too good for that particular system.

 

Upon their arrival, Miral Torres of the House Presba put in a call. It was received, but not answered. So she put in a second call and started making tallies. Even minor judges had certain authorities granted to them and once she had a certain tally point, she could take action. So now, it was a matter of waiting to see what the honorable Baron would do next.

 

==^==

 

The right thing for him to have done was to contact her and arrange to meet his contract. It wasn't like it was a huge amount for a person of his wealth. But it was somewhat substantial for the person to whom it was owed. Which is why she felt obligated to try.

 

The way it had fallen was this, the Baron was slumming on Forcas III. He had participated in a few tournaments and had ultimately lost. He'd then joined the general carousing that happened at such tournaments and decided to gamble.

 

And lost.

 

For whatever reason he had refused to pay. Instead he claimed the other party had cheated.

 

Which is what had led them in Miral's direction. She had adjudicated like she usually did, seeking at first a middle way. But since they were Klingon, they opted to fight.

 

The Baron had lived and lost and still refused to pay.

 

So, Miral had gone to the next step of contacting the House of Records and submitted the judgment along with a list of witnesses. The problem was, since she was a minor judge, if she wanted to make the ruling stick – outside of Klingon Honor that is – she was going to have to enforce it herself or go through the full boring method of ... paperwork. She wasn't sure how far she would go with it, but Miral had always been stubborn and a bit different.

 

Now, the resolution of the matter was all still quite minor. Even if Baron Tulek refused to pay, his House could – technically – fulfill the contract and the issue would be done and handled. But Klingon tradition required that she at least try to get Tulek to honor his commitment.

 

Some people just let pride and wealth get in the way of the path.

 

So, with the fifth strike on the page, Miral of Torres contacted the House of Records again.

 

She hadn't expected any particular results. She was just keeping the record hall apprised. Her next step would be to physically visit the House and see if she could get entrance. Or, barring that, see if she could find a willing cousin who was honorable.

 

What she received though was a surprise. Later that night, she was contacted by an elderly looking Klingon who asked her a few pointed questions about the House Presba. For instance, was it true that there were now more than ten members of the House Presba.

 

Well, she had to answer yes. Even though there was quite a distance between them all at the moment.

 

Was it true that the House Presba now boasted two Ambassadors? One from Betazed and One from Vulcan? Miral had said yes again, and though she tried to explain how that really didn't mean anything ... he had cut her off.

 

He then asked her several more confusing, but answerable questions, until he finally asked her how long she had been a level seven judge.

 

She answered him and explained that she had been a bar tender and had done the judging part time. It had started as an accident, a favor for a friend, and she'd only been doing it for going on six years or so.

 

“You look younger than I expected. But I've heard good things about you,” the man gruffed. “I hear that people seek you out. I hear that you are fair and brave and take on challenges that others have avoided.”

 

“I've said 'no' often enough,” she'd said, folding her arms and narrowing her gaze. Now she knew something was up.

 

“Well, I've got something you won't be able to say no to. It comes from higher up than me.”

 

Mentally, Miral began to cuss. But she held her tongue. She knew whatever it was, she wasn't going to like it.

 

Then he told her that there were other problems with House Qua'lon besides the one little case that she was chasing. In fact there was a full double handful of files of “little” cases and a handful of larger cases, which topped with hers made it just that much bigger. And, since she was the only one who had the hearts to pursue matters - and that for a smaller case - then she might as well handle the rest of it too. He'd be sending along files and more documents, which she would be responsible for parsing, mediating, adjudicating and whatnot. Then he had told her that, given new information about the House Presba and the huge case load regarding House Qua'lon she would need a higher authority.

 

He said he'd discussed it with the other judges...

 

Other judges?!

 

...and there needed to be no doubt that she had a right to pursue the case on behalf of the Empire. Thus she was no longer a level seven judge, but a level two with all the duties, responsibilities, rights, and privileges there of.

 

She'd tried to stall him with a “Wait a minute. That's quite a jump there. I'm a competition and minor disputes judge, not a ...”

 

But she before she could say more the gruff man had taken a sizable stamp and pounded it hard onto document of some sort. The loud bang sounded like a knell of doom. The thing is, with Klingons, once authority is given, it stays. Miral was no longer a minor judge. She was now a higher middling one. Just a few steps away from an Imperial Judge.

 

It took everything in her not give evidence of the shakes that rushed up from her feet, legs and spine.

 

“Try to do your usual mediation first.” He said, sounding a bit like he'd seen such a thing first hand. And it was possible. It was possible. She never stopped an audience from gathering on Forcas III. He continued helpfully, “Hopefully someone in that House isn't a complete moron. Give them a chance to have an out with dignity and Honor. But if they won't take it, do what you must.” He gave her sharp-eyed look, “You may seek assistance from whomever you need, kin or otherwise, to in order to resolve this matter quickly. You may utilize the power of the Full Circle of Honor, if necessary. If it comes to a battle circle, the champion will receive ownership of the whole system. Understand? You'll see why when you read the files. What the Empire giveth, the Empire can take away. This is why it is better to win one's own battles. What one wins oneself, one can keep. Now, say thank you,” the elderly Klingon had said, giving her a stern, intimidating glare.

 

At that point it all clicked and she realized that she had to be speaking to one of the Great Judges.

 

She somehow found her voice and managed a bow. “Thank you, Your Honor.”

 

“Go fix this for the Honor of the Empire. That PetaQ has caused us more trouble than he's worth. Quapla!” He grinned at her, then the communications cut off.

 

She had to sit down for a moment after that. Then she realized she already had been. “Oh. Kahless.”

 

==^==

 

Lwaxana Troi was dressed in an incredibly skimpy forest green robe when she answered the door. It was parted in ways designed to distract even the most unaware person. “May I help you, Ensign?”

 

The young man in question, who may have seen in a lot in his time, but had rarely encountered an ambassador who looked as good as Lwaxana, forgot to mention why he was there and shoved a PADD in her general direction.

 

She laughed in amusement at his retreat and stepped back into her quarters.

 

“Mother, you are a cruel woman.” Deanna, who was dressed just as skimpily in a different color robe, scooped another spoonful of Sundae. Lately she'd decided to embrace some of the more ... relaxed Betazed ways. She figured she'd get over the impulse soon enough.

 

“I prefer to think of it as enhancing my ambassadorial status. A little good will goes a long way.” There was a thoughtful pause. “Besides, most Humans, aside from our Janeways and your father, need a reminder now and then that they aren't the only superior beings in the Universe.” There was a hint of longing in Lwaxana's emotions.

 

“There is that,” responded her daughter acerbically. Deanna still wasn't very happy with one particular Human at the moment, but she did look up from her dessert. “You miss...” She had to run through their names in her mind. “...Kathryn very much.”

 

“I miss them all, darling. T'Pel makes it bearable. As I make it bearable for her. And I know... they miss us just as much.” There was a delicate shiver and she glanced at her bedroom door with a hungry look. Then she brought her expression back to its usual genteel mask. “I do not think it would be... doable... without her.”

 

Deanna radiated concern.

 

“Don't worry, daughter,” her mother said in Presba Tongue, “We'll be alright.” Lwaxana sat down besides her daughter and scooped a little ice cream for herself. Then, after delighting in the taste, she decided to take a look at the PADD. She read through the message quickly. “Interesting. I think I'm going to have to disturb T'Pel.”

 

“Like you weren't going to do that anyway.”

 

“True. But it was for an entirely different reason.” She glanced up at her daughter, who did appear to be feeling somewhat better. “Hang around a bit dear, you'll probably be interested.”

 

“Oh, I wasn't going to go anywhere. Mr. Sundae and I are going to have another date. A very short and chocolaty one.”

 

Lwaxana laughed and leaned over and ruffled her daughter's lovely hair affectionately. “You do that dear. But, honestly, there are others whom ...”

 

“Don't say it. I'm ... not ready to give up on Will quite yet.”

 

“Did I say you should? On the other hand, I will say, until T'Pel, I'd never considered a woman as a mate. I’d slept with some lovely women in my time, but that was for fun. Nor had I considered the option of many versus one. But knowing what I do now...”

 

“Did I ever tell you about a vacation I had with Beverly Crusher a few years back? We visited Risa.”

 

“Darling.” Lwaxana pressed her hand to her own barely covered, amply endowed chest in mockery. “You have scandalized me.” Then she smiled warmly. She was just honestly glad they were finally talking again. And all it had taken was a miracle. “I look forward to hearing all about it. But first... let me go disturb my mate and our lovely In-Laws. We have a message from Admiral Paris.”

 

==^==

 

Miral was still in her office, staring at a blank screen when Phoebe found her. “Miral? Are you okay?”

 

“What?”

 

“Are you okay?” Phoebe drew closer and actually knelt besides the obviously shaken warrior. “What happened?”

 

“I'm a judge.”

 

Phoebe took a moment to patch that with what she already knew. “Well, we've seen you work on a couple of cases...”

 

Miral gripped one of the forearms of her daughter-in-law's sister. “No. I mean they made me a ... real... judge.”

 

“Who?”

 

“They did. The Grand Court. I...”

 

“Miral?”

 

“There is a problem with the House Qua'lon so big... that they made me a real judge.”

 

Phoebe wasn't sure how to handle this. But she realized that Miral wasn't quite focusing yet. And this was a Klingon. She took a moment and gathered her thoughts. “What can we do to help?”

 

Miral looked at her and blinked. “Do you know how to wield a Bat’leth?”

 

“Uh... not yet.”

 

Miral began to chuckle, but not in a really laughing kind of way.

 

Phoebe thought now might be a good time to bring up a new topic. “Miral. Lwaxana sent me. Admiral Paris has sent a message that she thinks you might want to hear.”

 

“I can send people to Rura Penthe and no one would ever question the decision.” There was a dangerous tone in her voice. “I hold life and death in my hands. I...” and there was a bit of a snarl, scary and intense. “I have to wear robes.”

 

“Miral. You are an honorable person. You can be trusted to do the right thing. Whatever this ... Grand Court did... they did it because they know that you will do what needs to be done. And...” Phoebe gripped Miral's arm tightly in return. “You have us. You have your family Miral. You're not alone in this. We will do whatever needs to be done to support you. Right?” She shook that arm. “Right? That's what this ... House Presba thing is all about right? I mean I know I'm not part of the House and all, but you're family and where I come from Family does for Family.”

 

Miral suddenly focused on Phoebe, the artist who didn't know how to use a Bat’leth yet, and drew in a breath. “Who said you were not of the House Presba? You speak the tongue. Kahless himself has marked you. You're of the House. Never doubt it.”

 

Now it was Phoebe who had a moment. “I...You'll have to tell Mom. She thinks we're just... that ... I mean we're not Klingon. We're not even..”

 

“Phoebe...” this time Miral took the younger woman's face in her hands. “Family does for Family. And your names will go on the records. You and Gretchen will not be left out. We'll make sure of it.” Miral closed her eyes for a moment, considering. “Let's go see what news Lwaxana brings us and then we will discuss it more.” She glanced around her office space, which suddenly seemed much more necessary than it had ten minutes ago. “We'll discuss everything. Yes?”

 

==^==

 

Admiral Paris' message had to do with an offer to transfer any messages to Voyager. The message had actually been for T'Pel, Phoebe and Gretchen, and he had taken advantage that they were all gathered in one handy location. Little did he realize...

 

Naturally, those on board the Bradbury had a few things to say to their kin on Voyager. They would come up with a coherent message together.

 

They sat around the comfortable wide family area in various states of dress. After Lwaxana's news, Miral shared hers and then the conversation really began.

 

“You know,” began Deanna thoughtfully, “now you don't have to go see them. They are obligated to come see you.”

 

Miral gave her a curious look.

 

The Betazoid counselor went on. “Send a messenger. Malvok maybe. Or maybe Asil or both. I'd go if you wanted. But you... you are Her Right Honorable now. They come to you and go where you say to go. Set the date, place and time...”

 

Miral began to nod, seeing where her granddaughter was going with this.

 

Gretchen spoke up, “I know you have to read the records yourself, but... I am good with numbers, if you need that kind of help.”

 

“I will need that kind of help. He's a gambler. Who knows who else he has stiffed. Or how his business has gone. I'll have to look at more than just his files. Also, Gretchen, you are of the House. I told Phoebe. Now I tell you, so you will worry no more.”

 

Gretchen absorbed that and felt an odd lightening in her chest. She hadn't even known it was important to her. “I will do my best to honor this House, Miral.”

 

“Your existence honors it.” Miral smiled and spoke warmly, sincerely, “Not all House matters are dk-tahg waving, fight in the circle kinds of things. Sometimes it's the way flowers are arranged. Or an equation is made perfect. Your contribution to the House is and will be important, Gretchen.” The Human woman blushed under Miral's direct gaze, but nodded her understanding.

 

Now Asil spoke. “You mentioned that you plan on investigating Tulek, and by extension, his Household affairs. If you would like, research is something I am very good at.”

 

“You are also very good at swinging a sword. I may need that skill more. I may need to appoint a champion and our choices are limited. The judge who contacted me implied that a member of House Presba would be suitable. If it came to that. I would rather you practiced as, if I need you to to be my champion, I would want you to win the battle. I will not be able to act as champion since I am the judge.”

 

“Wait a minute, I thought I'd be the one learning how to use a Bat’leth,” Phoebe joked.

 

“Oh, you'll learn it alright. All of you will. For the sake of the House. But if I put you in the circle now, what would you do? Throw paint at him?”

 

“Well, there is that. Although I'm renowned for the way I throw paint.”

 

“Which brings me to... We are beginning to draw attention. The judge asked me some very interesting questions during his interview with me. House Presba has a bit more ... status than we used to. We will have to be very careful. Presba is still a minor house, but it could go either way now. We may find more important persons trying to contact us. Some more interested in our welfare than others.”

 

“Do I need to ask the captain to beef up security?”

 

“Not yet, but we may soon need to consider a family residence, its location and... acquiring servants. It's a Klingon status thing. I'd rather not have them, since then you must care for them.” They looked at her strangely. But said nothing. That was one of the things she liked about her new family.

 

“Do you want the residence in Klingon space or Federation?” Lwaxana asked. “I have contacts.”

 

“Klingon would be best, but it wouldn't hurt to have both.”

 

“You already have a residence in Federation space.” T'Pel pointed out. “On Vulcan. Our home is large enough to qualify.”

 

Lwaxana gave her mate an incredibly affectionate look. “And, if Betazed is ever freed, there will also be the Home of the Troi's. Troi of Presba has a very nice ring to it.”

 

“Yes. It does.”

 

Miral grunted. “I should have known to talk to you all first.”

 

“So, I'll look for property in Klingon space.”

 

“Yes. Though I should mention, should it come to taking to the circle of Battle, the stakes are very high. Winner takes all.” Miral now looked at T'Pel. “I am playing with my grand daughter's life and now am asking if you, her mother, T'Pel will take on the task of research in her place.” The Vulcan nodded gracefully.

 

“Also, though I hesitate to say this, I have a small nest egg. We ought to look into... investments in other kinds of properties.”

 

“Business types of investments?” Phoebe suddenly looked crafty. “I have a few... contacts. I had to do something with the money I was making with my artwork,” she explained.

 

“Miral, you do not have to worry about financing. There are...” Lwaxana looked at her daughter, who nodded serenely. “... things you ought to know about the Trois. You, my dear mother, are aligned with the Fifth House of Betazed. Our family wealth was not solely inheritance, nor was all of it based Betazed. Dear, you are rich.”

 

Miral blinked for a bit. “How can I be rich?”

 

“Family members draw a stipend. I added your name the night after...,” Lwaxana actually blushed and glanced meaningfully at T'Pel. “ When we found Gretchen and Phoebe I added their names too. When Betazed is freed, the name of House Presba will be aligned with the Trois. It will be Troi-Presba. It is not unprecedented, and should not make as great a stir as it might have in the past. Betazed will need its allies. It is unfortunate, but my people are not too happy with the Federation at this moment. T'Pel has already put the name Presba in the Hall of Records on Vulcan. Of course, I won't go into what investments T'Pel has made on our behalf since. You may recall that the Epatai did put her in charge of such matters.” Lwaxana smiled and touched her fingertips to T'Pel's. “My mate happens to be a financial wizard. This family does not lack for funding. Nor for options of defense or offense. The only reason we are on a Federation ship is that they needed us. Not that we needed them. You understand?”

 

Phoebe gave T'Pel a speculative look. “A financial genius. My dear sister T'Pel will you look at my finances and make it all better?” T'Pel raised her eyebrow, but she nodded. The Vulcan was a woman of few words. “Thank you. I'll show you in the morning.” Phoebe grimaced at her mother. “Don't give me that look. I know everyone likes to pretend the Federation lives only off its replicators, but really there are some things only money can buy.”

 

“I remind you that there were no replicators in my house, Phoebe Janeway. That's not what the look is about. I am...” Gretchen smiled whimsically, “... just seeing you in a different light. I had no idea you were part Ferengi.”

 

“Oh, sweet Kahless.” Miral needed a moment.

 

After that, they began to talk about the message to Voyager.

 

==^==

 

Part 5 | Bookmarks

 

Kathryn Janeway could not have verbally told anyone how she knew. But she was aware, before she witnessed. She glanced back, turning in her chair, and saw them staring at each other. So she asked, since she could.

 

“Ready Room or Home?”

 

They look back at her, needful, yet both somehow managing that blank poker face. Her decision was easy. “Commander Tuvok and Lieutenant Ro, you are dismissed. I'll see you in three hours.”

 

One of them had to stay. She was captain. That was just the way it was.

 

Thank god they didn't argue with her. They just left. The turbolift doors shushed them away from her view.

 

Chakotay leaned over. “I can...”

 

The growl she directed at him was abrupt, wounded animal dangerous. He stat back, stunned. She reminded herself, again, that he didn't know what it was like – couldn't know. “Don't push.”

 

She settled back in her chair, just trying not to feel them for a moment, waiting for the distance to make it a little better. It never did. She should realize that by now. Once it started, it flowed over them all, like magma. And all it could take was a look. They would be conversing normally and then something would spark. She had no idea how Lwaxana and T'Pel handled it, because it was hardly bearable that they were so far away when it was like this.

 

And she knew... she knew ... that there was no distance that was far enough to not need them.

 

As individuals they had great self control. If needed, there were ways. She could have made them stay and they would have done their job as if nothing were firing behind their eyes. But it hurt and there was always a payment to the Universe to be made.

 

In her case, she focused very hard on being the captain. There were so many things that needed doing. She listed them out in her head, slowly; reminded herself to go to sick bay before heading home. There were wounded to see.

 

She turned, “I'm sorry Chakotay. It was a family thing.”

 

He nodded, this time without giving her that weird look. This time he just accepted what she had to say. Thank God. He never knew how close he came to being dead.

 

So many times. It hadn't just been Laren and B'Elanna. But she would never tell him that. He was her friend, after all.

 

“I need to go to my ready room for a moment. I'll be back.”

 

“Of course, Captain.”

 

One of her assistants, Ensign Anderson, was in there. “Coffee, Black.” The captain paused, “Please.” Then Kathryn Janeway went and sat at her desk. Only three hours. She could do three hours.

 

==^==

 

They used the second floor entrance, the one keyed only to the adults. Anyone could exit, but only the adults could enter at that point. There were many days when they praised that arrangement. The next door they picked was the closest – Tuvok's room. He was the one who often had to leave running. Security was that way sometimes. He never locked his door any more. He was more secure in his new abode than he had ever been elsewhere. There was a benefit to having Borg as family.

 

They brushed up against each other, stumbling through without any thought of doing so, stripping off each other's clothes. Each touch was more heated than the last. Each kiss more furiously intense.

 

Many assumed Vulcans only had sex once every seven years. It was a common misunderstanding of the mating drive. Like other sentient species, they were able and did often make love with their mates. The drive was to find and claim the mate and to conceive. The privilege and reward was to love the mate, afterwards. It was part of what made distances so difficult.

 

It was a real sacrifice. No human would ever under.... no.... that wasn't true. Fact. There were two now. Two who understood completely. And one was making the sacrifice of time for them. It was very Vulcan of her.

 

Another, logical like he, yet overflowing with emotion, would be there soon. He looked forward to it. He growled, unsmiling, but needful against the Bajoran's kisses, returning them in full.

 

Somehow they made it through the door to the nest. Her legs were clamped about him now and he was pressed deep within her. He carried her easily. She was weightless in his arms when it was like this.

 

Logic did not cover this part of the Vulcan world. It never did. Never had. It was one of the great secrets.

 

He held her against a wall, filling her, moving with her need. She called to him. They called to him. Always behind his eyes. Always in his heart. Always.

 

Across space, he felt the shadow of T'Pel. They reached to each other, touching and being touched. He felt the reflection of Lwaxana through her and she felt the reflection of their mates through him. It was just ... more of a whisper... than when the Ponn Farr raged through them. Words wouldn't carry. Only sensation.

 

And this was close. This constant urgency of a fire that was never quite banked and always glowing was so very near to that primitive yearning that it always caught him by surprise. It was as if...

 

He had no real label for it. And thinking was quickly vanishing for him. Now all was moving, touching and tasting.

 

They had a bond, he and his mates. They had a bond and a need for each other. And it was all he needed to know at the moment.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna had just been crouching down to open a console when the rush hit. Her hands flashed out and grabbed the bottom edge of the console. She held on tight and it buckled under her grip.

 

That was the third one in two weeks.

 

Once she was ready, she stood up and tapped her comm badge. She made a couple of orders and logged out for the day. She knew she wouldn't be coming back soon, unless there was a red alert.

 

She gathered her tools into the wrap and took it with her.

 

The turbolift, thank Kahless, was empty. She contemplated just stripping. But, at the next stop there were other passengers waiting. Seven of Nine, two of the guesting Klingons and a well known family friend. B'Elanna couldn't dredge up a smile. Her attention was focused firmly on her mate.

 

Utexic took one look at her; even as the Klingons were abruptly inhaling and getting that certain look in their eyes. The scent of instant arousal was a hard one to ignore. B'Elanna's lips curled away from sharp teeth. Seven of Nine made a growling, soft noise that thrilled through pretty much anyone who was present. The Zakeeri grasped the arms of the Klingons and yanked them back before they could think they were invited. “We'll take the next lift, Epatai. Take your mate and go home. Right now.”

 

“We're going,” she growled. She held her hand out and Seven of Nine clasped it as she stepped into the lift. Then B'Elanna yanked the gorgeous woman into her arms. They were abruptly kissing, hard. There was the sound of shredded cloth and Seven of Nine's back was exposed to view.

 

“Of course, Chief.” Utexic bowed and her grip forced the Klingons to do the same. “Happiness to your Clan.”

 

The turbolift doors shut and the Zakeeri breathed a very big sigh of relief. Then she abruptly let go of the startled Klingons. There weren't many who could just yank a full grown Klingon around. “Gentlemen, I just saved your life. You owe me a beer.”

 

Inside the Turbolift, Seven of Nine pulled back long enough to place a lock on the doors. They wouldn't open until they were at their floor.

 

Then she and B'Elanna went right back to the heated embrace.

 

Seven experienced amusement at her Klingon's hastiness, but kept it to herself. Instead she simply pulled B'Elanna's shirt out of the tuck and then snaked her hands up the warm torso of her beloved. “I have mentioned that I love the way your skin feels before, but feel the need to reiterate it now. B'Elanna,” she whispered, “I love the way you feel. I enjoy running my hands on the surface of you. The sounds you make because of the way I touch you...” She purred directly into the Klingon's ears, “...drive me wild.”

 

In the past, if someone had told B'Elanna that she would find herself in a turbolift being touched intimately by Seven of Nine, she would have laughed outright. Now she just melted, groaned into ex-drone's sensual exploration and words. B'Elanna's fingertips were drawing their own trail along Seven of Nine's skin, seeking out the responsive implants spread in places along the ex-drone's back and spine.

 

Seven shivered at the physical contact, roused and kissed B'Elanna harder.

 

There was a chime and they were suddenly at their floor.

 

B'Elanna forced herself away from her mate.

 

With surprising dignity they exited the lift. B'Elanna looked slightly mussed. Seven's shirt remained torn at the back.

 

The individuals who waited at the lift for their ride made no comment. They were getting used to it.

 

==^==

 

The captain stood over the bio-bed looking at the familiar face. Of all the people in the galaxy... “She looks good.” she commented, more to herself than anyone else.

 

“They made them get rejuvenation, before sending them out on the front lines. She could have waited, but it is...was... getting bad out there. She was an admiral, but she took a cut in rank so she could get out there.”

 

Kathryn's expression quirked in humor. “She would.” Then she looked up at the Betazoid and didn't bother mentally hiding. That surprised the young woman. “Counselor Priam Nael,” she acknowledged. “Welcome aboard. I wish I could say that under better circumstances.”

 

“I...” The good counselor was still processing what she'd just learned. “Thank you, captain.”

 

Hmmmpph.”

 

Kathryn stared down at the other who once had been an admiral. “The choices we make can have interesting consequences.” She closed her eyes against a shiver of need. “I'm going to have to leave soon. I just wanted to see for myself.”

 

“I understand.”

 

Again there was that quirky half smile. “Of course you do. I understand that more than I used to.” The captain glanced at the occupants of the other beds. She'd stopped to observe them earlier. Dr. Pulaski had been her last visit.

 

She glanced back at her friend, a physician who worried and was still hovering. “He is an excellent Doctor, isn't he?”

 

Counselor Nael glanced back and smiled. “He is unique.”

 

“I know. All my people are. I value them greatly.” She sighed. “I suppose, depending on what you all decide, I'm going to have to urge him more strongly to pick a name.”

 

“Captain...”

 

Kathryn raised a hand and shook her head. “It's not a statement meant to pressure a decision. Just commentary. Planning.” She touched Kate's face gently.

 

“Of all the people.” She looked back at the Betazoid. “I suppose it's lucky we haven't met yet, isn't it.”

 

Counselor Nael felt a bit out of her depth, but she was trained very well and could think on her feet. She pulled herself together and answered quickly. “Yes. Captain. It is lucky.”

 

Captain Kathryn Janeway dropped her hand and stepped back. She smiled at the counselor as if she didn't feel the pain and let go of another piece of her past. She brought her barriers up, laying those thoughts back in the depth of her consciousness. Then she turned around and left the sick bay. She didn't look back.

 

==^==

 

Otherwise the week went by quickly. The Zakeeri clans basically took over introducing the Klingons to Voyager's community. There was enough compatibility that the uninjured Klingons were kept pretty entertained and busy. Some of them even formally joined the Glory Dragon Riding Club. There was talk of asking the Captain to form a second squadron based on the club. One for away missions as well as fighting.

 

The Starfleet crew, except for the commanders Tucker and Magnum, Dr. Pulaski and Counselor Nael, treated the week like a surprise vacation. No one begrudged them. The Dominion War was obviously wearing on the soul of the fleet.

 

Dr. Pulaski was too busy healing and bitching to be on vacation. She was visited once by the captain, who'd kept a composed countenance the whole time during a “release me,” tirade. Then the good doctor was given the gift of a force five captain's “you will stay in sick bay or suffer the consequences,” rant that was somehow directed at all of the patients, including three Klingons. The Klingons had been amazingly intimidated by the smaller woman. By the time she was done no one wanted to test her out.

 

The doctor took it surprisingly well considering. Maybe it had been the undeniable, but inexplicable tone of affection in the captain's voice that had done it. Or maybe Dr. Pulaski was just irascible and bored and needed the entertainment. Either way that rant had given Dr. Pulaski something to think on. Captain Janeway had called her Kate in a mysteriously familiar way at least once during the dress down.

 

Counselor Nael wanted to work. She was given an office on one of the new decks created as a temporary accommodation and she began counseling immediately. It was no surprise that there were people who needed, desperately, to talk. And the normalcy of the process helped her to find her own ground again. But if the Long Table was being set up in the Mess Hall, she made sure to turn the open sign around and head out. That was quickly becoming where she did her real work.

 

Commanders Tucker and Magnum were focused on finding a “way back.” Kathryn Janeway didn't spend time trying to convince them of what they could or could not do. They'd find out soon enough. She understood the need. It had been her bane for years. Besides in the unlikely event that they planned on hijacking anything, well, there was always an airlock. Voyager kept an eye on them as well. Sarah Tucker was no Ransom. She was still strong in her ideals.

 

As for the Voyager crew, aside from the visitors, things were business as usual. Work was work and training and evaluation continued. They were still looking for a long term port of stay since there were yet more important changes to make to Voyager. The captain still wanted that ablative armor.

 

Those of the guests who wished to participate in jobs and training were invited. Those who didn't weren't pressured.

 

==^==

 

Commander Sarah Tucker was having difficult days. It wasn't that the crew of Voyager were unpleasant. Or even that Captain Janeway was an overseer. In fact, now that Sarah had a chance to calm down about everything, she realized the Captain had been very practical in her approach to the problem. And kind.

 

It was just difficult to face that she, Sarah Tucker, had lost her first ship. Not only lost it, but completely demolished that faithful little scout. It was for a good cause, yes. It saved lives, yes. But her ship... her poor ship.

 

And then there was the crisis at home.

 

There had to be a way to get back. There was a war on and she had people who had been depending upon her.

Getting help to the right people at the right time had been one of the reasons she'd accepted the position in the first place. Before that she'd been fleet Marine and had fully planned on going out in a blaze of glory. But duty had called her to something different.

 

She knew that the Voyager crew had been through the process of trying to figure a way. But that did not mean they hadn't missed something.

 

She had come to admire Commander Magnum's unorthodox style. He had a brain behind the brawn and she trusted his evaluations. He'd been first officer of the scout before she'd taken the position of Captain. And he hadn't given her an ounce of grief over it. That was unusual in anyone. But Steve, she'd found, was an unusual man.

 

So she and Steve dug through Voyager's copious database. There was so much. Seven years worth of information that showed the struggle. It was amazing and disheartening at the same time.

 

Sarah was slowly coming to realize just how hard these people had fought and continued to fight to get home. There was so much to admire and yet she was still so angry. Worse, she knew she was behaving badly around others, snarling and not at all like her usual amiable self.

 

Not one of them, not even her old crew, took her to task for it, which only added to her guilty burden.

 

A part of her could have... okay... did .... blame Janeway. After all, if Janeway hadn't pulled them in, they'd all be...

 

...blown to bits and space chunks.

 

That didn't help. There was a niggling part of her that thought it might have been better. The rest of her knew that what she wanted to do was blame somebody for the mess she'd gotten herself into with those Orion Syndicate pirates. She had yet to face that because of her actions a good fifty plus people were free and alive.

 

Counselor Nael told her it was just part of the grieving process and Sarah ought to trust her own process.

 

But at the moment, she wouldn't trust herself with anything more than a PADD. And she had trashed plenty of those against the walls anyway.

 

==^==

 

Of course the whole week couldn't go by without the Delta Quadrant granting them a shake up. The Kazon who attacked were far from their normal territory, and there were a lot of them.

 

“Send out the squadron,” Captain Janeway had ordered. Having the might of the flying ships added immensely to Voyager's firepower. Besides, the Zakeeri were very skilled pilots. Of course, it was a bit like watching Chihuahuas take on Dobermans, but the Zakeeri knew what they were doing.

 

The Three Sisters and the other three Zakeeri ships took flight from the Docking Bay, flying out like bees from the nest. There was chatter as Sofuru directed his squadron into battle and the teams responded. Then the cajoling and taunting began as the Zakeeri opened the lines so that the Kazon (and Voyager) could hear them.

 

The Zakeeri tossed insults like candy at a parade and the Kazon, who were prideful, took after them for it. Which was fine, since the smaller ships weaved in and out of Kazon fire like they were dancing.

 

The Kazon would turn and lumber after the smaller ship, which was the intent of the flyers, and then the Zakeeri would make their own hard strikes – often diving into the flames right after with complete fearlessness.

 

Every shot fired at them was one not fired at Voyager. And the little ships, and their people, loved Voyager. They would defend her to the death. Not that any of them intended to die. There was a reason that Zakeeri were cocky. They were very good at what they did.

 

Voyager, meanwhile, was doing her part. She wasn't taunting the Kazon into firing, but she was defending herself. She helped with managing the power allocations to shields and phasers, since she could do that faster than a human could. She helped tactical by highlighting vulnerable spots on the Kazon ships. Then, she stayed out of Tuvok's way, since he had a very precise and effective process for strike backs. But she watched him, in case she ever had to do it herself. Learning was always something that Voyager was doing.

 

She and Stinging Sparrow had a running commentary going on of their own. Voyager could estimate within a certain percentage the next viable location of a Kazon vessel in relation to the smaller ones. She passed that information on as quickly as she could. Yet Voyager also tried not to back seat drive, since the little ship needed to be able to trust her own flight plan. So she didn't say things like “Duck!,” though she often wanted to. She loved the Zakeeri right back.

 

The Kazon were not completely inept. They wouldn't have survived so deep into the Delta Quadrant if they didn't have skills. One Kazon vessel got blazing little shot across Stinging Sparrow bow. Right after that an unannounced lance of light burst forth from Voyager to sting the Kazon right back. The power of it had sent the now toasty looking Kazon ship spinning away from the battle.

 

A rumpled Captain Janeway clenched her teeth to keep from saying anything. She couldn't blame the ship, but there would be a bit of talking about appropriate use of fire power after the battle. More, she wanted to know where the extra energy had come from and how they could harness that lance more effectively. It had not exactly been a phaser blast.

 

Things were sparking and people were looking jostled by the time the battle was over, but Voyager and her crew won it decisively.

 

The Kazon declared themselves done and went limping away to lick their wounds. The Zakeeri, surprisingly, did not jeer at the Kazon for losing. Instead they applauded them, as if they'd been merely been playing a game of ball.

 

Which, maybe from the Zakeeri perspective they had been. Sofuru had personally sent out a message of praise. “You fought well. You will be honored in song and story. If we meet again, we will drink and have a meal.”

 

The Kazon had responded surprisingly well to that and it was probably the best ending to a battle with the irascible aliens Captain Janeway had ever witnessed.

 

==^==

 

The Klingons of the destroyed IKS Gortuk gathered in the Holodeck. The Holodeck was set to display a typical Klingon Pub, which was a borrowed file from the Epatai. She had wanted them to be comfortable on board the ship and had known they might need a place to relax that wasn't quite so... pristine.

 

The ambiance of the Serpent's Stein was appropriately grungy, pointy, and dark. They'd gone ahead and deleted all the holo-Klingons except for the Barkeep and they'd made him a mute. For the time being.

 

Now they gathered in the pub to talk, really talk about what they wanted to do next. Bloodwine was served and snacks were set out. Several of the Klingons sat around with their boots on the tables and cup in their hands. The talk was loud and boisterous until Commander Veckma called them to order.

 

“Today,” he began, “there was a great battle.” He looked around at the silent group of men. “And we missed out on it.” Now there were disappointed rumble. He continued. “We have had time now to see what these people are like.” He lifted his fist and shook it. He growled. “The Gortuk is no more. You have followed me well. My question for you is, will you follow me again?”

 

There were shouts of approval.

 

==^==

 

Later that week, Commander Sarah Tucker stepped out of the Ready Room with a dazed expression on her face. She then said, “Captain Janeway, the Admiral would like to speak to you now.”

 

The smaller woman nodded. “Thank you, Commander. Lieutenant Ro you have the conn. Ensign Anderson, you're with me.”

 

Kathryn entered the ready room and sat down at her desk. Then she greeted Admiral Paris and they exchanged a few pleasantries. She did tell him about the Ensign's presence, and asked him if it was top secret. He said it wasn't. “Now, Admiral. Perhaps we might cut to the chase.”

 

“The problem is, the chase is somewhat convoluted, Kathryn. Here's what is going to happen. The scout crew and the medical staff are now yours. Put them where you need them.” He lifted his hand up before she could interrupt. “We'll be sending more accurate personnel files your way now that we know they're safely in your hands. You don't know how happy we were to hear that there were survivors. From our end it looked like they were terminated. Are the Klingons going to stay?”

 

“We don't know yet. I've offered them the opportunity to leave at the next port. But we do have an active recruitment system now, so if they join us, we're prepared.”

 

“Seems fair. Give them what they need, if they go. Whenever they're actually from, they're our allies now. Even if it's a bit shaky.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“I have encrypted files for you. Some Fleet and some personal. I recently contacted,” he tugged at his collar a bit and she thought she could see a faint red coloring to his cheeks. “... your mates on this side of the galaxy. They have sent you several packets that you'll want to see. But ... uh... I suggest that you watch packets 5 and 6 in private.”

 

“Admiral...”

 

“Starfleet has to check its messages Kathryn.”

 

Kathryn grinned. “Well, fortunately, most of the adults in my family aren't shy. As long as it doesn't make it to the Porn section of LCARs I guess we're alright.”

 

He managed to color even more.

 

“Is there anything else I can,” she hesitated to do it, but couldn't resist. She dropped her voice a bit, “...do for you.”

 

There was a pause. “You are an evil woman, Captain Janeway. Deplorable.”

 

She tilted her head in a nod. “Thank you, Admiral. So are we status quo?”

 

“Almost. Be aware that we think there is something going on with the Orion syndicate.” He raised his hands. “I know, it's almost redundant information. But you might find it useful. We think they are trying to figure out a way to get to the Gamma Quadrant.”

 

“They want to ally with the Dominion? That is surprising. Normally the syndicate tried to play itself as neutral. More parties to buy and sell to... ”

 

“Not so surprising once you realize that they recently changed bosses. The syndicate is being run by a Cardassian family. We are working on who, but the Syndicate has been much less discriminate about who they attack or how they get their slaves. The Steele isn't the only scout ship we've lost to them. With the war on haven't got the man power to go out and really make them pay for it. So we're building a tally. But that doesn't help our people now. It's more frightening when you think that they're trying to open up portals to the other side of the galaxy and...” he grimaced. “... possibly succeeding. They may already be in the Delta Quadrant, Kathryn.”

 

“And it suddenly explains the tachyon emissions. Do you think they're trying to change history?”

 

“If they were, they would have done it by now and I don't think we'd be having this discussion. No. I think that they're still just trying to find a short cut.” He spotted Kathryn's wince. “That hit a little home there, Kathryn?”

 

“You could say I had an epiphany during the Maze of Mines.”

 

He began to chuckle and then, when the laughter was done said, “So what are the goals now?”

 

“Oh, we're still going to get home. But, I'd like to be smart about it, if I can be.” She sometimes wondered about that part.

 

“So you still plan on a major stop then?”

 

“I was. But I'm hearing something in your voice.”

 

“If you can hold off for awhile longer, I'd like you to consider patrol instead. Keep heading this way, but watch for any anomalies that remind you of what you spotted in that Nebula. There's a chance that the location wasn't completely random. Put your best minds to figuring out what the signs might be.” He'd been about to say Borg, but had come to the conclusion that changing the term might be more politic.

 

Counselor Nael had reacted badly when he'd called Seven of Nine “that Borg.” In fact, she'd given him a lecture he was never going to forget. She'd had pointed out that he wouldn't be talking to any of them if Seven of Nine hadn't been aboard. She'd also given him a quick and dirty evaluation of the state of the crew. Which only made him long for the seasoned crew's expertise in the Alpha Quadrant.

 

Damn, but they could use them.

 

On the other hand, he was a believer in right place, right time. If Voyager was in the Delta Quadrant there was a bigger reason. He might not know what it was, but his personal belief system had yet to be shaken on that matter.

 

“How do you want us to handle the pirates, Admiral? Catch, Destroy and Release or Capture and Kill?”

 

There was a hesitation. He couldn't recall Janeway being that blunt before. But he knew she'd changed in these last couple of months. “Just ... if you can stop them do it. I will trust your judgment on the matter. Keep in mind they're working for the Cardassians now. That does, technically, make them enemy combatants. Do what you must. And, if you think you can use whatever it is they're doing to help you get home, use it.”

 

“We'll consider it. If it's viable.”

 

“Fair enough. We'll send you the necessary files.” He tugged on his collar again. “On a different topic, It would help if you're going to be sending any uh... messages of a ... more personal nature, if you could please mark the ones that are... Uhm...”

 

“Tell you what, we'll give you a sign so you can identify the packets that are for our mates-eyes-only. How about little red hearts with arrows through them.”

 

“You're all heart. I am moved by your compassion.”

 

“Well, I suppose I could put the mark of Risa on them if you prefer, but...” Then she turned a bit and spoke to her assistant. “Say, Ensign Anderson, do you have an idea on what we could use?”

 

Argh,” the Admiral said. He had forgotten the Ensign was there.

 

“Well,” said Ensign Anderson, “There's Seven of Nine. She could encrypt the really racy ones so they're unreadable except by your mates.”

 

“There is that. How about it. Borg encryption for the really important files. Starfleet encryption for the Federation files.”

 

“You're killing me here, Kathryn.”

 

==^==

 

Part 6 | Bookmarks

 

Steve found Sarah in the Mess Hall. It surprised him to see her sitting at the Long Table. But the surprise was modified by the size of the obviously intoxicating drink in her hand. He wondered where she'd procured it and then watched as an ensign stopped by to pour a little more into the woman's drink. The ensign also left a basket of fries, breaded meat-something strips and some other vegetable looking item in front of her.

 

Sarah gave Steve a slightly buzzed smile and waved him over to sit with her. “Come and see me for awhile, Commander,” she slurred.

 

“You're looking better.” He opted for diplomatic and then sat down in the seat besides her. He grabbed a random fry and bit into it. It wasn't bad. He grabbed a few more.

 

She didn't notice. She was drinking in rather healthy gulps.

 

“Sarah?”

 

She looked at him. And waved her hand. “I can explain,” she sloshed. “Medicinal. Doctors orders.”

 

“Pulaski.”

 

“God Bless her. God Bless Doctor Pulaski!” she lifted her cup and there were hear-hears scattered through the room, probably by people who didn't even know the doctor.

 

“Yeah, we'll see if you're still saying that in the morning.”

 

“I lost my ship. I have a right to get drunk at least once.”

 

“She said so, huh?”

 

“Yup.” Sarah inhaled a bit and wiped her mouth with her arm. Then, looked at the food in front of her as if surprised. “It actually looks edible.”

 

Steve waved a few fries and then bit into them. “They are. And, I can't say that I disagree with the good Doctor's professional assessment. You've probably needed a good drunk on for awhile.”

 

“I don't get drunk.”

 

“Really.”

 

“Never have. Nope.”

 

“If I told you that you were toasted right now, would you believe me?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“What does the Doctor have you drinking?”

 

Uhm....” Sarah wasn't exactly firing on all her pistons.

 

“I'll ask you tomorrow.”

 

“Do that. I'll 'member then.”

 

“I'm proud of you, you know.”

 

“Really?”


“Yes. Really. You did an upstanding job. Any other time you'd have a medal for what you did.”

 

“I lost my damn ship, Steve.”

 

“You would have lost it anyway. And this way... this way she went with dignity.”

 

“Did she?”

 

“Yes, Captain Tucker, she did. You did good.”

 

Sarah looked a little watery there for a moment. Then she set her cup down and hitched up her trousers on one side. “Well,” she said after a moment, “Let's hope I do better this next go around.”

 

Commander Magnum took up Sarah's cup and said, “I'll drink to that.” Then he took a bit of fire of alien rum into his own belly.

 

“Hey. Get your own!” Sarah waved to the young ensign. “Bartender. Get this man his own drink.”

 

Yep, he thought later, as they staggered through Voyager's corridors, Sarah was drefinately dunk.

 

==^==

 

The captain decided to hold off on creating staff positions until they were positive about the number of people who would be staying on board. She noted that Commander Tucker and Magnum had lost that certain look in their eye and so she worried less about “bad things,” coming from their direction. She did opt to post a notice that this would be a good time for the new additions to the crew to indicate preferences in areas that they would like to serve.

 

That announcement prompted more anonymous suggestions for positive change on Voyager. She promptly handed those over to Lieutenant Ro, commenting, “It's so nice to have assistants these days.”

 

Laren had taken on the task with much more grace than she had in the past. She had really started to adapt to her new roles on the ship and found, surprisingly, that she enjoyed them. It was, perhaps, the company that she kept.

 

It helped that she was feeling much more sanguine with working with Chakotay. The First Officer had officially stopped by the Captain's Family Quarters to apologize to the mates. He'd even brought chocolate and a few other gifts.

 

Then, being gracious people by nature, the House Presba had offered the chance to share a meal with them, which he readily accepted.

 

“It's Kathryn's turn to cook. Usually the others do, but she insisted tonight, so it ought to be a treat,” commented Lieutenant Ro blithely.

 

Chakotay didn't know whether he ought to warn them or run fleeing. But he put on his game face and said, “I look forward to it.”

 

He spent time in the family area, comfortably talking with individuals as they flowed in and out. Azan and Rebi plopped themselves on the couch opposite of him and asked him frankly about his tattoo. He explained the custom of his people and why it was important to him. Then they really began to quiz him about his people and beliefs. Mezoti drifted by, stopped and sat down in a comfy chair and she also started asking him questions and then offering some opinions.

 

B'Elanna joined them. She held a wiggly Emina who was currently in an exploratory stage and playing with a cube puzzle. As a Borg, the puzzle was already solved in her head. As a baby, she was still developing the motor skills to go with the knowledge. Plus, there were other ways of discovering things. There was much slobber as she tasted the object as much as she twisted, turned, and played with it - as she listened.

 

Before he knew it, Chakotay was completely involved in the conversation. Time passed quickly. Soon they were called to dinner.

 

“Ah, Chakotay!,” Kathryn said as she took him by the arm. “It's good to see you. Come, sit.” She led him to a place at the table.

 

Tuvok was on duty, so the Vulcan was not present. Everyone else, however, except for Kathryn and Seven of Nine sat down. They were the ones who began delivering the meal.

 

He watched in awe as plates filled with delectable food was placed in front of individuals. It was a traditional roast beast meal, with gravy, potatoes, vegetables, bread, etc. It smelled wonderful.

 

He was frankly shocked.

 

His mouth watered a bit as each entry was delivered. His plate was delivered last.

 

He was aware of the family's attention on him as he looked down at what he had come to know as Kathryn's cooking. Smoke rose from the blackened, practically melted into plastic, main course. The greenery looked scorched and crisped beyond recognition too. The potatoes were charcoal. The gravy was thin, like soup. The bread, he knew, would be rock hard.

 

His expression said it all. With great strength of will he looked up and said, “Thank you, Kathryn.” His eyelids twitched, just a little. “It looks lovely.”

 

He lifted his fork and knife and prepared to cut into the beast.

 

Kathryn couldn't contain herself. “Oh.... Stop. I know, it's horrible.” She started to laugh. “I really shouldn't have offered to cook tonight, but I was feeling left out. The whole rest of the dinner looked like that too. Then Seven came by and rescued me. I couldn't resist, when I heard you'd be joining us, just to see your face.” Then she grinned, “Which was priceless, by the way.”

 

The laughter began in earnest around the table then.

 

“Gotcha, tough guy,” B'Elanna chuckled. “You're lucky Kathryn's got a soft spot where you're concerned. I would have made you eat it. You've been a real PetaQ to deal with lately, you know.”

 

He managed to look sheepish. “I am aware, B'Elanna.”

 

Kathryn stood up and removed the plate in front of him and came back with the decent meal. For which he was truly grateful.

 

Kathryn said, with some actual regret, “I guess I'm just going to have to exclude myself from the cooking list.”

 

“You have many wonderful attributes Kathryn, but I do believe that would be wise,” commented Seven of Nine serenely as she cut Mezoti's roast beast. “Cooking is not something that you seem to ... come by naturally.” Seven handed the plate back to her daughter. Mezoti flicked a thankful glance at her mother and then began eating.

 

“So politic, Seven. But unfortunately true. I think Icheb must have gotten those genes.” She smiled warmly at her son, who smiled back at the joke.

 

B'Elanna commented. “I'm amazed you survived at the academy.”

 

“Are you kidding? I ate at the mess hall. Or my room-mates cooked. Once I became captain I didn't have to cook at all or I could survive on the rations. Though I have mastered eggs, toast and juice.”

 

“And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk,” piped up Azan and Rebi

 

“And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk,” agreed their Mom.

 

“Well, now we know you won't starve to death if we all suddenly disappear.” Laren teased and the conversation devolved into frivolity from there.

 

By the time he left, Chakotay was back in the family's good graces. After all, if he was willing to try to eat the Captain's cooking he was indeed a good friend and had a sense of humor to boot. As for himself, he found that many of his misconceptions had been shattered and his mind was wrapped around the idea of Kathryn and her family better.

 

==^==

 

When the messages to the family were parceled out and read, there was much happiness to be had.

 

B'Elanna was overjoyed to find that her mother was alive, well, and still loved her. She was overwhelmed to find out how busy her mother and her mates had been. She was also deeply impressed by her In-Laws.

 

All of the family were amazed to find out that the phenomenon that had affected them had also affected their mates and kin across the galaxy. And they shared the wonder of it.

 

The kids enjoyed the messages from their mothers and their grandmothers across the galaxy. They also found out one of the side benefits of having family who were currently at a distance. They carted away the stories and Holodeck files for further “research.”

 

Seven of Nine adored the naughty files. Loved them. And so did the mates. How could they not? (Well, aside from Tuvok, who wouldn't have admitted it. But they still knew he liked them.) The question became, how did Lwaxana get T'Pel to agree to it. But that was a mystery to solve later..

 

But what Seven really adored was what Lwaxana and T'Pel had done with the files.

 

She readily agreed to create encryption that would be guaranteed to keep Starfleet busy for months trying to crack them. Since they all knew they would look. Only Starfleet would find a “gotcha” file at the end of that particular quest. Instead, she proposed they follow the example sent by Lwaxana and T'Pel. Their mates had included compressed files in with the racy holographic messages. Those files had been chock full of important family information, as well as messages conveyed only in Presba tongue, which apparently had gone unseen by Starfleet. Like Seven, Lwaxana believed in the power of distraction. And it had apparently proved true.

 

Seven was fully willing to continue the methodology. But the Captain was very specific that certain kinds of fun should only be between family. They would put the x-rated kinds of files under compression and use innocuous messages as the means to convey them. But they would also be under Borg Encryption, as promised.

 

The next day there were certain 3-D images of the raunchy variety set up in the Nest. And holographic images of the more tasteful variety set up on a certain Chief Engineer's wall.

 

==^==

 

The Ubiyak system boasted a large blue star, five major planets and three smaller ones. The fourth, fifth and six planets were settled by the Ubiyakians. The sixth planet was the one that boasted the star port. It was a large oblong shaped satellite. When approached from a certain angle, it looked like the planet was smoking a cigar.

 

By the time the arrived in the system, Captain Janeway was convinced that the Klingons were going to go their own way. Captain Veckma had kept his decision a very close secret. She fully expected to see the whole lot of them packed and at the transporter as soon as they docked.

 

She was so wrong.

 

What happened instead was that she was approached by Commander Veckma with a request to purchase, not one ship, but several small vessels for the purpose of creating a second squadron.

 

“But what about captaining your own ship.”

 

“Did I mention how I came to captain the Gortuk?”

 

“No. I don't believe we've had that discussion.”

 

“There are three ways to become a captain in a Klingon fleet. One, you are assigned by the Empire. Two, you take command because of necessity. Three you take command because you have won it by combat because the other captain was a failure. My rise to power was due to necessity. Our original captain was killed by the Orions. He died bravely, but slowly. I was not even the first officer. Our first officer also died bravely, but slowly. As did our second and our third...”

 

“You're painting a very grim picture for me here.”

 

“Yes, you begin to see. I was a soldier, captain. True, we Klingons like power. And a captain must be strong. And I was strong for my people, because that was how it needed to be. But I only wanted to fight battles, not be in charge of them.”

 

“So how long did you contemplate taking over my ship?”

 

“About a day and a half.”

 

“What changed your mind.”

 

“You are a good captain and you have an honorable crew. It would have been a waste.”

 

“Not of effort.”


“No. But we like your type of Starfleet. If there had been more of this in our time...”

 

The captain bit back the reply that according to history there had been much more “of this” in their time. Then she reconsidered her assumption. Voyager and her crew really were in unique circumstances. Instead, she nodded. “I see.” Then she looked at her clasped hands and considered. “How many ships for this new squadron and... where are we going to put them?”

 

==^==

 

Not long after her conversation with Commander Veckma she was visited by Commander Magnum.

 

The debonair officer asked her, “Did I ever mention that I was a supply officer in another life?”

 

“No. I don't believe you've mentioned that.”

 

“Mr. Neelix and I have had a very interesting conversation about departments on this ship.”

 

“I feel a request for a new department coming on. Will I regret it?”

 

“I can make no guarantees Captain. You would have to see my record to determine that. But... I will say that I've always found a way.”

 

The captain paused before answering. “I will consider it. Commander Magnum, may I suggest you spend time with Mr. Neelix while we're at port and see if this is something you really want to pursue.”

 

He gave her a flashy grin. “Aye, Captain.”

 

He started out, then stopped and snapped his fingers. “Oh, I forgot to mention. You were right about us being on a war footing out there. Have you considered Marines?”

 

“I beg pardon?”

 

“The thing is, you have the troops, what with the Klingons and the Zakeeri and and at least ten of our ensigns. And true, you're making some of the Klingons flyboys, but not all of them.” Then after her semi-started expression, he gave reassuring look. “Or so I've heard.” He cleared his throat. “Anyhow, you might want to look at Sarah's... I mean Commander Tucker's files, Captain. You'll find them interesting reading.”

 

“I'm sure I will. Thank you again, Commander.”

 

He flashed her a rakish grin and she thought, 'Yep, I need to keep him away from Tom and Harry or we're in trouble for sure.' Then he stepped out.

 

==^==

 

Just when she was sitting back with a nice cup of coffee and a new file about the Orion Syndicate, she was visited by the Doctor.

 

“Captain, if you have a moment?”

 

The captain set the PADD down, turned and indicated a chair.

 

“Thank you.” He paused. And then the holographic man inhaled. “Captain, ... Kathryn... I was wondering. We currently have enough medical personnel on board to ...”

 

She raised a hand. “I haven't had a chance yet to chat with Dr. Pulaski or Ensign Hughes. Have you?”

 

“Dr. Pulaski and I have had many late night conversations, yes. Ensign Hughes not so much.”

 

“And your perception?”

 

“She's a very good Doctor, captain. I... admire her greatly.” He cleared his throat. “I guess I'm worried about being replaced.”

 

“You could never be replaced, Doctor.”

 

He smiled at her reassurance. “Thank you.”

 

“There is the problem of names.”

 

“Ah, yes. Well, as I mentioned, I've been talking with Dr. Pulaski and she made a very practical suggestion.” He fidgeted. “Kathryn, what do you think of the last name Zimmerman.”

 

She pressed her fingertips together. “That would be your father's name.”

 

“Yes. Do you think he'd be upset?”

 

“I believe he'd be honored.”

 

He smiled more. “I hope so. I would like to ask that you formally change my records to show that my last name is Zimmerman. I'm still working on the first name.”

 

“I'm sure you will come up with something.” Kathryn smiled. “Dr. Zimmerman, would you be willing to take a commission? I have a feeling issues of rank might be coming up as well.”

 

“Yes. Captain. I would be interested. I also have a proposal.”

 

“Go ahead.”

 

“Should you create a medical department again, I suggest that you have Dr. Pulaski head it.”

 

“Not you?”

 

“I'm a great doctor. I am a great pitch hitter when we've got command issues at hand. But ...”

 

“You just want to practice medicine.”

 

“Yes. You understand.”

 

Kathryn considered. “How will this affect the projects that you've been assigned.”

 

“I believe that it will only help, Kathryn.”

 

“I'll consider it.”

 

“Thank you, Captain.”

 

“Dismissed, my friend.”

 

He was smiling broadly as he exited.

 

==^==

 

This time the family had to forgo taking shore leave at the same time. There were just too many things that got in the way. The Captain and Lieutenant Ro were having to do a working leave. Tuvok was running security for the ship. The kids were accompanying Sofuru, Ceduril, and Utexic to various sites of interest about the Port, since it was practically a historical artifact. The Port was over three hundred years old and had quite an interesting history and plenty of play spaces.

 

B'Elanna and Seven found themselves on their own on the station. They decided to go see the sights together, since their shore leave schedule matched. They spotted friends and crew people from the ship during their walk around, sometimes stopped to talk with them, other times just waved.

 

The station, like many of its type, had stores and shops to visit, restaurants to eat at, diversions to divert one. Of note was the Station Park and since the ship was developing one of its own it had become a popular visiting spot by many of Voyager's crew. There were kilometers of space dedicated to a forested lake that included “wild,” creatures of non-threatening varieties. At the park B'Elanna and Seven spotted several variety of furred and feathered animals. They also found a lovely secluded knoll. That was what came from stepping off the beaten path now and then. Of course, it was hard to get lost on the station. To find the path again all they would have to do is contact the station's computer for directions.

 

B'Elanna and Seven stopped at the knoll, to sit a moment in the grass and hold one another. It had been a hectic week and they needed the time. Holding one another led to kissing one another. Kissing one another felt wonderful.

 

Urgency built in the kiss and hands began to rove under clothes. They pressed against each other needfully, hungrily.

 

It became a game, unspoken, to see how much they could stimulate one another without actually taking the clothes off, without driving their hands lower. Their bodies shifted, until they embraced with their legs as well as their arms.

 

B'Elanna lay on top, her fingers scraping against the blonde's stiffening nipples. Seven pressed hard against B'Elanna's thigh and deliberately slid along it. The Klingon laughed and slid her lips along the gorgeous neck, nipping and kissing. She whispered spicy Klingon to her Borg, and thrust her own hips down Seven's thigh, rotating her pelvis a bit.

 

Their kisses deepened and B'Elanna could feel her excitement grow. Her lips drifted to the implant on Seven of Nine's jawline and she began to focus on it, running her tongue sensuously along its line, even as she and the blonde ground against one another. Little red lights began strobing along the implants surface.

 

Seven of Nine began to moan and B'Elanna knew it was time. She stopped her own deliberate slide and pressed into Seven with her thigh. As the Borg's hips lifted, she grasped them and pushed her, guided her into a grinding rhythm. “That's it. Yes.” She offered Seven the invitation, the call to release. Her words were raw and excited. The more she felt Seven move against her, the more aroused B'Elanna became. Finally B'Elanna could take it no more. She gave the command.

 

Seven arched into her and B'Elanna caught her cry in a kiss. All she had to do was move and she felt herself topple into pleasure's sure grasp in response.

 

Later, as they held onto one another and realized that they were going to have grass stains, she joked, “Now this is my kind of shore leave.”

 

==^==

 

True to his word Commander Magnum accompanied the good Mr. Neelix on his procurement runs. This included going to the Port's used ship lots when it was announced that the Klingons would be staying on board. There he saw the Talaxian's abilities really kick in.

 

The fuzzy alien ran rings around the salesman. He started simply, first by looking very hapless, then turning suddenly sharp. He also performed like the bumpkin, banging on a ship's sidewall, only to have a piece fall down at the perfect moment. Then he managed to drive down the price by having their accompanying Klingons growl their disapproval when the price remained too high.

 

Steve loved watching Neelix work and he knew now why Janeway had come to rely on the perky little alien. He was going to be a fun one to be around. Steve was convinced they would work together well.

 

By the time Voyager left Ubiyak, they had three Klingon approved new/used battle flyers, one small troop transport ship, several new species of plant garnered specifically for the Park, which Captain Janeway still hadn't seen, and other assorted supplies and personal knick-knacks. It had been a profitable, if not overly extended stay. Everyone, including Voyager, was feeling chipper and ready for the next round.

 

==^==

 

Kathryn Janeway felt a great amount of nervousness about the next scheduled meeting. Her consolation was that Ro Laren was in the room with her. The practical Bajoran was working over at the assistant's desk when Dr. Kate Pulaski entered the room.

 

Dr. Pulaski had a vibrant, formidable energy all her own. She had short blonde hair, blue-eyes and Kathryn personally knew that those freckles went all the way down. Dr. Pulaski was very intelligent, to the point in her dialog with others – sometimes pungently so – and not just merely capable. There were texts that she'd written that were required reading for every medical professional in Starfleet.

 

Captain Janeway greeted her warmly. She tried not to let it be too warm. But, in another Universe and time, they'd found much in common. She knew she was pretty much unsuccessful in her attempt when the doctor said, as she was sitting down, “Alright, I have to know. Where do you know me from? I have been wracking my brain and can't think of when we've ever met.”

 

Kathryn felt a bit like she was moving on sandy ground for a second. And she glanced at Laren, who gave her a reassuring look. Then Kathryn returned her attention to the irascible blonde. The captain clasped her hands together and gave Dr. Pulaski a long evaluative look.

 

And she knew she had to tell the truth. Kate was never good with dishonesty. Never.

 

“You're going to have to file this information away in that beautiful head of yours and never, I mean it, not ever reveal what I'm about to tell you. You are not to put it in your logs. Not to speak of it to anyone outside of family. Except for Counselor Nael, who is also under an injunction of privacy and security.” The Doctor blinked. Laren stopped pretending like she was reading her PADD. Kathryn felt time stand still for a moment.

 

Then she began to talk and she told Kate everything, up to the now that they occupied.

 

The blaze that followed was probably shorter than it could have been. The slap was even quicker. The whoosh of the door as the good doctor stalked out in a rage seemed even faster than that.

 

“Well. That could have gone better,” Kathryn said weakly. She pressed a hand against the sting on her jaw.

 

Then she felt Laren's arms wrap around from behind and heard her soft whisper. “And it could have gone worse.” The Bajoran rested her face against the un-slapped part of Kathryn's. “It would be a lot to take in, wouldn't it – to hear of a love that lasted in the end.”

 

“I grieved for her.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I never thought I'd see her again. It just never occurred to me. I mean, she was dead. And when I came back, I just didn’t see how it would be possible.”

 

“I know.” Laren kissed Kathryn's jaw. “Give her a little time.”

 

“And she's right to be pissed. I mean, I came back for the ship, for Voyager, but not for her.” The captain winced and then snorted. “You have no idea how long she can hold a grudge Laren.”

 

“Oh? Really?”

 

Kathryn grimaced, “Okay, well maybe you do ...” They touched two fingers to two.

 

Laren chuckled against her ear. “Don't give up hope, Kathryn. Maybe... her destiny has changed. Maybe she'll find someone in this Universe. Maybe Seven won't be happy until there is Nine of us. You just don't know.”

 

The red-head turned to look at the brunette and chuckled. “Seven won't be happy unless there is nine...” she started to chuckle. “You know, that’s....” She stopped what she was about to say and looked deeply into brown eyes. “I'm luckier than I have any right to be.”

 

“I feel the same.” They kissed then, affirming the bond.

 

“I guess I'll have to make appointments with Dr. Zimmerman if I want medical attention.”

 

“That might be wise.”

 

Then the captain grimaced. “You know, this wasn't what the meeting was supposed to be about. Damn. Now we're going to have to schedule another one.”

 

==^==

 

The next meeting was colder than an ice storm at the North Pole, but they got through it. Captain Janeway offered Dr. Pulaski the job as head of the medical department and was grateful when it was accepted. At least Kate wasn't threatening to go back to Ubiyak. Though, if she had pressed, Kathryn might have let her.

 

The Doctor did add some stipulations to the deal. The first was that she wanted more trained personnel. She agreed to do the training herself and she wanted to hand pick the people. Kathryn agreed to four persons, but no currently positioned senior staff and Zakeeri crew.

 

The second stipulation was that Kate didn't want to see or speak to Kathryn outside of professional contact for an undetermined length of time. The captain agreed, but pointed out that they were invariably going to bump into one another. “Just stay out of my way,” demanded the physician. She could not, despite herself, ignore the wound that flared in the captain's eyes. But Janeway apparently could and Pulaski could pretend.

 

“Of course,” the captain had said evenly.

 

The third stipulation was that Dr. Zimmerman receive a rank of Lieutenant Commander, effective immediately.

 

Kathryn Janeway agreed again.

 

The final stipulation was that Kathryn would “owe” her another demand or pass out of a problem, to be addressed at a later time.

 

Once again, the Captain agreed.

 

“You're giving in too easily.”

 

“We haven't had a genuine medical team in seven years, Ka... Dr. Pulaski. My people need you. I...” she didn't say it. She wouldn't say it. After all, how could it be believed? “I have every confidence in you.”

 

“Right. Am I excused?”

 

“Dismissed.” Sometimes it was okay to be captain. Sometimes it really sucked.

 

==^==

 

Part 7 | Bookmarks

 

Reading Commander Magnum's file had been a mixed bag. At points she'd actually laughed out loud, at others, she'd groaned or wondered how he managed to stay in Starfleet without being cashiered. Now she was absolutely positive she should not let him near Tom and Harry, but knew at the same time it was going to be inevitable. She was just lucky that Commander Magnum used his powers for good. Mostly. What was that comment line again from one of his previous commanders? It was something along the lines that Commander Magnum was the only person he knew would be receiving a commendation at the same time as his court martial. High, damning praise.

 

In the end, she decided that an actual supply and procurement department would be useful for the growing crew. They would need to coordinate with maintenance. Neelix would need to be in the department, since he had been their official scrounger and prime negotiator for a long time, but Commander Magnum would be in charge of the actual department. A part of her dreaded what it would mean to have a whole department dedicated solely to procurement. Another part, knew this was exactly the right thing to do and probably would have been done sooner if they'd had the people to spare for it.

 

Now they did.

 

When she asked the Commander how many and who would he like to staff his new department he'd had a PADD ready. She found his choices interesting. Two Klingons, one Talaxian, one Zakeeri and two Humans from the scout ship. Neelix had been a given.

 

“Neelix does not have an official rank. Are you okay with that?”

 

Commander Magnum waved off her worry. “Of course. He'll be perfect. He can't be court ... I mean, he'll be of great assistance in our more important cases.” And before she could respond to that Freudian slip he went on, “And I'd like to also ask for a buffer set of crew of five, non-official members of the department. Part timers, if you will. Heavy lifters.”

 

She gave him an inscrutable look. “I'm going to have to say no to the Zakeeri. Unless it's a part time position. All Zakeeri are part of a full team within the squadron. On the other hand, you are aware that this is a mixed crew. You might wish to speak with Lieutenant Ro about resource and floating personnel.” He gave her a toothy and completely un-reassuring smile. “Fine, after you talk to Ro, talk to Chakotay about officially assigning these crew.”

 

==^==

 

She gathered Commander Tuvok, Commander Tucker and Commander Sofuru together to discuss the notion of Marines. In the traditional sense, Marines used to be an aquatic force that later evolved into expeditionary strike or ground forces. They now had enough personnel to create a decent strike force, something that was different than an average Away Team or Security mission.

 

“At this point I'm finding it difficult to imagine how we would use them. We're not exactly world building out here. But my...” she felt silly even saying it, “... my gut says this is the time. And I would hate to fail to use the resources we have. We've got enough Starfleet and Klingons aboard who qualify and I am sure they would rather stomp the ground than fly around. Certainly it would be beneficial to have them around during boarding attacks, that happens often enough. And I'd like to see our efforts more coordinated during those times, anyway. That's part of why we've all been training so hard lately.

 

“I am bringing in Commander Sofuru into the conversation because he already has training set up for the squadrons and might provide some expertise. Also, the Zakeeri have been working closely with security, who tend to be our first responders and, again, Tuvok has expertise in training. I urge you, Commander Tucker, to take advantage of our resources.”

 

“Wait a minute. Are you saying...”

 

“Commander Tucker, you are now in charge of Voyager's Marines. Congratulations.”

 

For once, Sarah Tucker was speechless.

 

==^==

 

Commander Steve Magnum wasn't bored yet, which was an unusual sensation for the energetic man. He was still getting to know the ship and its rhythms. There was, surprisingly, not much of an underbelly to be found on Voyager. Oh, there were small things, like the betting pools and the ship's still. But those were open secrets, and he knew the Captain had to be aware of them.

 

But there wasn't that... usual... underclass. There wasn't the dissatisfied. There wasn't a secret band of miscreants. Oh, there had been. He'd heard the stories. But eventually time or effort had either molded them into real crew or they'd been weeded out by Darwin, battle, or some other deadly circumstance. Not that there weren't pranksters or individuals up for specialized adventures, but they were integrated into the ship's life. Their focus was morale and group survival. Voyager's crew, except for those who were new, were like a well honed weapon – sharp and at the ready. They were also family.

 

On the other hand, they were a welcoming group. They had their cliques, but their constant contact with other peoples kept them flexible, fluid. Still, it felt weird to be the 'new kid.' He hadn't been the new person on a ship in a long time. He'd been an established first officer for several years now. It was habit for him to find the strengths and weaknesses of a ship and to keep an eye on them or utilize them as necessary.

 

He had realized before he'd gone in to interview with the captain that first time what he'd been doing. He'd been evaluating the ship and it's crew. And he'd become aware of the supply problem after conversation with Neelix.

 

And now it was official. He had a place on the ship. It was his duty to make something of it.

 

He was thinking about that when he made his way to the Mess Hall for dinner. He opted, this time, not to sit at the Long Table, though that was entertaining in and of itself. No, he had plans to make and a department to put in place. He realized, suddenly, he was going to have to ask for an office. Maybe one in the new Cargo Bay. And then there was inventory. Neelix would probably have a head start on that. Then there was setting up protocol...

 

“Hey, I hear you're the new supply guy.” Commander Magnum looked up to see Lieutenant Paris smiling at him. The other man had a dinner tray in his hands.

 

“That would be true.”

 

“Mind if I join you? I have some ... ideas.”

 

“Ideas?”

 

“Well, you know, we've been out here seven years. I'm sure all of us have some things that we'd like to see... happen in procurement.”

 

“Interesting. Sure ... may I call you Tom?” The blonde man nodded. “Have a seat. Tell me your ideas.”

 

“Great. Mind if I call Harry over?”

 

“Harry?”

 

“Yeah, he's my guy.” Tom made a happy sound. “We should have realized earlier, you know, but... it took the anomaly to really bring it out for us.”

 

“Anomaly?”

 

“Well you've heard about the Maze of Mines?”

 

“Only briefly. I'd be glad to hear more.”

 

Tom smiled in acknowledgment, then wave waved his man over. “Harry, Laren was right. We've got a real supply officer.”

 

“That is good news. Congratulations.”

 

“I'm not sure congratulations are in order yet. I was just realizing what I had taken on. Take a seat. Tom was about to tell me some of his ideas.”

 

“Well, you have to be careful with Tom. Some of his ideas lead to ... interesting places.”

 

“Then it's a good thing I like interesting.”

 

==^==

 

Commander Tucker entered the newly minted department. The area was completely dark. “Lights on full.” It was also nearly completely empty. It was a fairly large space, nearly the whole of one of the empty decks. The captain hadn't stinted. Though she had warned that if space became an issue they might have to renegotiate.

 

Sarah wandered the area, pondering how best to start. She realized she had a real challenge ahead. She had a team assigned to her already, though she could put out for volunteers. The team would be a mixed crew, including trained Klingon Marines. There might be some similarities, but Sarah didn't doubt there would be differences too. She knew she would have to train them, break them of any bad habits, instill the good ones. She would have to use everything in her arsenal.

 

It would be a real challenge.

 

Now that she'd had a little time to think on it, she realized she wanted this job. And more, she wanted to succeed at it. She had heard the doubt in Janeway's ... no... that wasn't right. She was going to have to stop that. Captain Janeway had never had Marines on her ship. So she just didn't know how to use them yet. But Sarah... Sarah came from a long line of Marines and knew what Marines could do. She would make them indispensable and Jane... Captain Janeway would be glad she'd made the right choice in Sarah Tucker.

 

==^==

 

The Estate of House Qua'lon was impressive. The manor was modern and large, with statuary and a palatial yard. The entry way had statues of Kahless and one of the major Klingon Heroes in a traditional dual guard set up. It was designed so it would seem as if Kahless the Great were looking down on the person supplicating for entrance and meant to intimidate.

 

Vulcans do not do intimidation, so there was no response in Asil beyond noting that it would be a logical location for a security device. Malvok had taken to following Asil's impassive example. Not that he wasn't a passionate man, but he'd had ample opportunity to watch Asil and come to respect her approach. Thus, he too made no obvious display of awe.

 

They were both dressed in the family armor, with the Crest of Presba displayed on one shoulder. Malvok's was perhaps a bit more ornate, since his was more Klingon in style. But they both wore weapons of varying degrees of sharpness and complete lethality.

 

They announced themselves to the house A.I. and waited. After fifteen minutes, Asil extracted a PADD from a pocket in her uniform and then connected it to the bell-panel of the house. With it, she accessed the House Qua'lon's computer and left a short message about when and where the Honorable Judge Miral Torres of the House Presba would be willing to see them. In that message was included certain documents proving rank and citing case numbers.

 

The members of the House would not be able to deny receiving the message because Asil recorded the time and location of delivery, as well as set the message to audio over the House intercom, replay and loop continuously over any other content that might be displaying at the moment. It would only end if someone confirmed receipt with the Bradbury.

 

With the message delivered, she tapped her comm badge and she and Malvok were whisked away via transporter.

 

==^==

 

Like a Baronial estate often had, there was a town associated with the House. Miral Torres claimed the small town hall as the place of judgment. The townspeople responded a bit differently than the House Proper, though they could have been hostile. Oddly, they were surprisingly cooperative, but then Miral Torres made reasonable requests.

 

All Miral asked for was room enough to judge or engage in combat. All Klingon city halls were designed to meet that need. She also gained permission for the federation crew to visit the small town for a little leave, which increased the coin in the town treasury. To avoid a conflict of interest, however, she and her family stayed either on board the ship or worked at the town hall.

 

Asil and Malvok spent time in the combat arena, practicing and getting to know it's parameters. It might be their only advantage if it came to it.

 

==^==

 

Miral Torres had been practicing her new calling by wearing her robes during “work,” hours. She was still incredibly uncomfortable with the power that had been handed to her. But she intended to honor its obligations.

 

She had set aside a daily allotment of time for the investigation during which she and her family had worked on the case. And what a case it revealed itself to be. As indicated, Tulek had ducked out of a myriad of obligations of honor, had gambling debts of frightening proportions, and had unusual business practices. On the plus side, some of the business issues appeared to have settled to something of a more honorable nature once House Qua'lon received Ab'Liev. The problem was that there were still some shady deals occurring and each deal shaded darker than the last. There were, from T'Pel's reports, some indication that he had contact with the Orion Syndicate. How deep that contact extended was not apparent. But it was obviously enough to get the Empire interested in his dealings.

 

At first she wondered why she had been given this task and some other agent of the Empire wasn't handling the issue. Then she realized that things must be getting very ugly with the Dominion War. It meant, she was the only one.

 

She hated that she had brought her family into danger, but now honor and the empire demanded that she see it through.

 

The House Qua'lon resisted for almost two and a half days. Fortunately for them they had three. It wasn't even Tulek who contacted the Bradbury, but one who claimed to be of his relatives – a young woman. She was speaking in whispers.

 

The communication had been transferred to the office at the town hall. Miral Torres looked sternly at the girl, never revealing her consternation. She knew that the loop of information Asil had installed would cease as soon as the young woman's transmission was over. She also knew that this child of House Qua’lon might face a terrible retribution for her action. On the other hand, it could be that Tulek himself had set up the situation.

 

She asked, “Who decided to make this contact. Be truthful.”

 

Naturally the girl claimed that she had arrived at the decision on her own. What else was she going to say?

 

“I will see your uncle at the appointed time and place. He may bring counsel and two witnesses. No more.”

 

“Yes, your Honor.”

 

The young woman was going to have to deal with the consequences, either way.

 

==^==

 

In the Delta Quadrant, just inside a red star system, Voyager continued on it's journey. They had already by-passed a likely M-class planet, one that wasn't too far from Ubiyak. But they were on patrol.

 

There had been no sign of the Orion Syndicate.

 

It had been a week since Kate Pulaski made her demands and she had arrived at some interesting choices. One of the candidates entered the Ready Room and stood at attention. His words at entry, however was not that formal. “Mom, Marnah. Do you have a moment?” Icheb probably could have used the comm badge to speak with them, but he wanted to see their reaction personally.

 

The two women had looked at each other, and then both stood up and made their way to the more informal part of the room. Kathryn reached Icheb first and put her hand gently on his back, to guide him. “Why don't you come sit down with us son and tell us what is on your mind.”

 

Icheb nodded and they sat down.

 

Icheb sat on the edge of his chair, facing them. He clasped his hands together and placed them in his lap. He decided just to say it. “I was recently approached by Dr. Pulaski to be a member of the medical team. She offered training and an immediate rank as ensign in Starfleet. I wanted to come talk to you first before I accepted the offer, since her body language indicated that there might be some conflict of interest.”

 

There was a bit of silence, but not too long. Laren asked, “Do you want to train for medical skills?”

 

He turned his attention to his Marnah. “I thought at first I would be more interested in Engineering. I am Borg, and have many abilities preprogrammed. I also find that other pursuits can be boring. Engineering is often challenging and interesting. But so is the medical practice. They are similar in nature. My thought was to do perhaps do a bit of both. As I grow older I will not require as much time regenerating and yet I will have long periods of activity, like Mother. It would be good to have both skill sets firmly within my grasp.”

 

“As well as the rank,” Kathryn said with some amusement.

 

Icheb nodded serenely, “That is true. I believe, however, that I would bring honor to the commitment.”

 

Kathryn reached and patted her son's hands. “I know you would.” She looked at Laren and felt wonderfully pleased that Icheb had come to talk to them as parents rather than as Starfleet. “Have you talked with your other parents?”

 

“Yes. Father believes it to be a logical choice. Mother supports it. SoS would be sad to see me leave Engineering and said she might borrow me from time to time, but she also has expressed confidence in me.”

 

“Icheb, you have my blessing,” Laren said.

 

Kathryn closed her eyes and then opened them with clarity of thought. “And mine.” Then her lips quirked in humor. “Besides, I've always wanted to say that I had a son who was a doctor.”

 

==^==

 

Like Commander Magnum's selection, Dr. Pulaski's choices were exotic. There was, of course, Icheb and Dr. Zimmerman, and Ensign Hughes. But she had also chosen one of the Klingons, Dr. Dezhe, who happened to be the medical officer aboard the IKS Gortuk. She had also been the one of the wounded and Kathryn shuddered to realize how close they had come to losing two Doctors that day. The final candidate was Bajoran, Crewman Bev Natal whom Dr. Pulaski felt had promise. Captain Janeway approved them all as part of that department and approved the curriculum that Dr. Pulaski set for the trainees.

 

Icheb was going to be a very busy young man for awhile.

 

==^==

 

Shockingly, Tulek showed up at the courtroom and he followed the direction to only bring a counselor and two witnesses. The odd thing was that the counselor and the witnesses were not Klingon.

 

Not that they had to be, but it was just odd.

 

The counselor appeared to be human, but there was just something off with his coloring. He was taller than Miral, but not as tall as Asil. His skin was walnut dark, and his eyes brown. One witness was of similar coloring, though female. The other witness was rarely seen within Klingon territory. It was a Brecon and as soon as she saw it, Miral had a bad feeling. Brecons were golden skinned, very tall and had four arms. They normally worked with the Federation and were amiable enough. But this particular Brecon looked as if he liked to chew other people's arms off for breakfast.

 

She grimaced and made the decision not to be intimidated by the PetaQ. They were the ones who had to stand until she told them to sit. Tulek was the one on trial.

 

There was a small audience, of course. And then, there was Gretchen, who was acting in a secretarial capacity, to her right. And T'Pel and Lwaxana, both in their ambassadorial robes, to act as witnesses on her left. Asil and Malvok were standing just to the front, staring forward towards the accused. Asil had chosen to use the traditional Vulcan Sword and Shield. Malvok had his Bat’leth cradled in his arm.

 

Miral raised the Gavel and slammed it down onto the table. “Be seated.”

 

==^==

 

The charges were read and then it was time for Tulek to offer what he wanted to say. Tulek was, from a Klingon perspective, a handsome man. He had strong, wavy ridges on his forehead and a muscular physique. He had a deep, rumbling kind of voice. “I refute all charges and have asked my counsel to provide evidence.”

 

The counselor was reaching into his case. And, without looking to her left Miral knew that Lwaxana was already standing and shouting a warning. Asil had started forward, raising sword and shield. Malvok was pulling out his pistol.

 

There was sound and light. Asil was thrown back against the judicial desk. She lay completely still. Malvok got off one shot and was hit by two blaster bolts. He was dead when he hit the ground

 

The alien spoke haughtily. “Don't make us shoot you too your Honor. We need hostages.” Miral glanced around the room, noting that all of the audience members appeared to be dead or dying. She looked to her right and saw that Gretchen was standing, but not moving. She looked to her left and saw Lwaxana and T'Pel also standing. There was an unusual look on T'Pel's face and Miral recognized it as fury.

 

Miral turned to the 'counselor,' and growled, “You will pay.”

 

“No, Your Honor. But someone will. They'll pay cold hard Latinum for you four. You're all gorgeous.” He waved them down.

 

Tulek interrupted. “Wait a minute. Kill them!” He pointed Miral in particular and was just getting started on his reasoning when he was hit by four bolts of blaster fire.

 

The alien counselor looked at the Brecon. “Reallly, Fedal. Four shots were unnecessary.”

 

“He talked too much.”

 

“True.” The counselor pressed a button on his belt and his features began to shimmer. Suddenly his skin and hair turned a pale green. “Ladies, if you'll come this way please.” He waved them forward with his pistol.

 

Then when they were in position, a transporter beam carried them all away.

 

==^==

 

They were taken from the transporter room to the medical bay almost immediately. There they saw items that looked like they would probably be terribly painful if utilized. On the other hand, the tools weren't used on them. The only thing the medical person used was a tricorder. And then, all he'd said was, “Hmm. Interesting.”

 

Then he walked away.

 

Oddly, the women weren't fearful. Shocked maybe. They certainly knew they were in trouble, but they were not afraid. This was perhaps because they had Lwaxana with them, who, despite the usual ethical protocols, had immediately opened up a telepathic pathway between them. Survival required flexibility in thinking.

 

T'Pel offered an analysis of crew strength, just based on the number and the size of the medical bay. 'Fifteen at most.' This was confirmed by Lwaxana who did a quick and dirty “head” count. She also let them know what dire thing they planned on doing next.

 

'They're going to try and implant a locater beacon in us. Also, some sort of pain inducer. And then...' They all saw the pictures in their heads. It wasn't pleasant.

 

'They haven't bound us.'

 

'We haven't resisted yet.'

 

'We will.'

 

'Yes.'

 

Their quiet conversation was interrupted by a new person, stepping into the medical bay. “Captain says we're under way. They're going to try the unit. You might want to buckle up.”

 

The doctor grunted an acknowledgment.

 

Lwaxana reported. 'He has no plans to “buckle up.” He is going to have an injector in his hands in a few seconds. But he expects some sort of jostle.'

 

'I will take care of the guard.' Miral added to the conversation. She didn't care if it had four arms. It was going to die today.

 

'I'll take care of the doctor,' added Gretchen. 'What? I was an admiral's wife. I know a few things. Besides, have you noticed that you've been feeling like you're always holding back?' There was a pause and then an acknowledgment. Gretchen continued. 'Then ladies, I suggest we see what we can actually do.'

 

They waited for their moment.

 

==^==

 

Their moment came when the floor seemed to buckle under their feet. Miral made her leap, faster than even she expected. Gretchen was making her own move, and broke the good Doctor's hand before shoving the appliance through his eye. She just wasn't quite sure how she'd gotten to where he was standing. She wasn't even sure where that growl had come from, except that she knew it was her making it.

 

The Universe was fluxing around them as the dead man toppled. She didn't stop. She turned and saw that T'Pel had one of the Brecon's arms in her hands. The arm was no longer attached to the Brecon. The Brecon was on the ground with its head askew. Miral now had two pistols in her hands. Lwaxana had closed her eyes and her hands were outstretched. There were howls of pain emanating through the walls, which had turned invisible enough to see through. The howls seemed to become part of the walls themselves.

 

Gretchen, who was still feeling very feral, ground out, “Remind me not to piss you off.” Miral tossed Gretchen and T'Pel a pistol. T'Pel stayed by Lwaxana, but Miral and Gretchen headed out the door.

 

There were wild noises and then sounds of blaster shots being fired, then Miral poked her head back in. “Come ladies. You don't want to get stuck in here.”

 

T'Pel guided Lwaxana out, two fingers to two fingers. Lwaxana kept her eyes closed and focused. They made their way out to the corridor and more sounds of despair rose from elsewhere in the ship. As the ladies found them, they shot them.

 

It wasn't about vengeance, thought it could have seemed that way. It might have been about honor, but that thought wasn't highest in their mind. It was strictly about survival. The things these beings intended were not good and not to be trifled with.

 

Besides, there were other problems to consider. They made it to the Bridge and spotted the captain who had played counselor. Technically, if it had been vengeance, they would have kept him alive to pay for his crime later. But as it wasn't, he was the first one they targeted with a blaster. By the time they were done, every single Orion Syndicate member on that ship was dead.

 

Their next problem was getting control of the vessel.

 

None of them really had training in flying a starship. T'Pel had some skill with flying a shuttle. Gretchen had some skill with mathematical plotting. It was the closest they were going to get.

 

T'Pel sat at the navigation console and began evaluating it. There were familiar and unfamiliar items on the console. She observed one particular set of numbers rapidly sliding by on screen. “It is on an automatic heading. I am unable to stop it. But it does look like it has a count down.”

 

“How many minutes.”

 

“Seconds.”

 

“How many....”

 

There was that buckling again and then it felt like the Universe fell apart and put itself back together again. T'Pel and Lwaxana screamed from the shock of a Universe's worth of separation and collapsed.

 

==^==

 

B'Elanna Torres did not want to open her eyes. She never wanted to open her eyes again. She knew if she did, she would be opening them to a Universe gone wrong. Inside she felt raw, strange and pained. Inside, she still felt them. Where they should be. There was an echo and a hollowness, as if a part of them must still exist, but ... not here. It was... too far... to even guess where they might be. Always there had been a sense of...direction. Now? When she “touched,” that space it was like a compass arrow flipping around and around seeking to find its north. The sensation even made her a dizzy. The pain of it made her ill.

 

Where were they? What had happened?

 

She felt, rather than saw, the light being flashed above her eyes. “Get that damn thing away,” she croaked. Her throat hurt. She couldn't think of why.

 

She felt a response, familiar, along her mated bonded and nearly sobbed with relief. Seven was awake. Aching, but there. B'Elanna willed her eyes open.

 

The view was all much too mundane to feel as horrible as it did.

 

She looked to her left and saw Laren in the bio-bed next to her. She gasped, tried to sit up and felt strong hands push her back. “Stay down, Lieutenant Torres.”

 

B'Elanna winced, unprepared for the sympathetic tone in Dr. Pulaski's voice. Though, perhaps she shouldn't have been.

 

“Can you tell us what happened.”

 

“I... don't know. Our mates, in the other quadrant... they're not there. And, it hurts.” A wracking sob shook through the half-Klingon. “I need...” Her hand stretched out towards Laren. “We need each other. Get us closer. All of us.”

 

She didn't expect to be believed, but was relieved when she felt the bio-bed begin to move. There was a sound, as it connected with the other bed to form a larger whole. Laren, didn't open her eyes, but rolled and was suddenly in B'Elanna's arms, weeping. “ Connect them all,” ordered the Epatai, trying to be strong. “And check us over. If we're not dying send us to the Nest.”

 

“The what?”

 

“Voyager knows.”

 

B'Elanna closed her eyes then, and didn't say anything more.

 

==^==

 

It was not the introduction Voyager would have wished. She was still getting to know the good Doctor, but since it was brought up, she took it on faith. “Voyager of the House Presba to Dr. Kate Pulaski.”

 

Hesitantly, the doctor touched her comm badge and wondered silently why she was the one who always ended up dealing with sentient A.I. “Pulaski here.”

 

“Doctor, when you're ready, give the command and I'll take it from there. Are there any specific care instructions you wish me to oversee?”

 

Dr. Pulaski looked at her patients, all five of them. “Rest, food, drink. Sedatives, if they need it.” She was going to make an assumption, “Keep track of basic biological signs. Let me know if anything more serious happens. I don't like what I'm seeing right now. But...”


“I will, Doctor.” there was a pause. “Call on me if you need me. I can also be of service during medical emergencies.”

 

“That's good to know. I'd like to talk more with you at some point. Soon. I have some questions.”

 

“Of course, Doctor. I will make myself available. After I have the adults settled and my children's care seen to.”

 

==^==

 

There was no indication of recognition that they had been moved, other than that they moved closer together – huddled together. They might have slept, but indications were that they were conscious. Voyager crooned to them. The ceiling and walls of the Nest opened to allow Waldos to slide through. She shuffled pillows around them for their comfort. She'd removed their clothing during transport, seeing it as a barrier. The mates needed nothing between them at the moment. She reset the temperature of the Nest to something warmer.

 

In the other part of the family quarters, she let the children know that there was something unknown that had hurt the adults. That it might be a while before they saw them. She didn't know how long. They made arrangements for care.

 

==^==

 

The next day there was an emergency transmission from Starfleet.

 

Kathryn Janeway didn't even know how she managed to get dressed, let alone to the Ready Room. After a moment she realized Voyager must have dressed her and “walked,” her down the corridors. She remembered the shocked look of the crew she'd passed. So she knew she looked terrible. But she knew the crew needed to see her, even if she looked like she'd been punched one too many times.

 

Asil didn't look much better. Despite the neutrality of her expression, she managed to gaze back at Kathryn as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Her arm was in a sling and her eyes looked bruised.

 

“It was the Orion Syndicate.” That brought out a frightening snarl in Kathryn. Asil went straight to the point. “They kidnapped them. Their transportation was non-standard. They never went to warp. There was an energy signature.” Asil gave a universal variance, a percentage of shift. It was a number that was recognizable to the Starfleet officers and not many outsiders.

 

“You're telling me that they're in another Universe.”

 

Admiral Paris popped into view from another channel. “ You know which one, Kathryn. We are beginning to get the idea that they Universe hop as their shortcut.”

 

Right at that moment, Katherine didn't care about the mechanics. “Paris, you are blocking my view of my daughter.”

 

The Admiral blinked. “I ... uh...”

 

Kathryn drew in a shaky breath and tried to remember that she was Starfleet for a moment. “I apologize Admiral. My mates and I are in a very shaky state right now. I want to rip someone's throat out and I'm very close to not caring whose.” She closed her eyes, drew in breath.

 

They had known. They had known that their mates weren't in the Universe. Now they knew where. And they knew why. She tried again, tried to be civil.

 

“What we really need is information, I suppose. Please, send me everything you have, Admiral. I mean everything. And we'll stop them. We will stop the Orion Syndicate from mucking about with people's lives like this. They'll wish they'd never been born.”

 

“Kathryn, don't do anything hasty.”

 

“Admiral,” She restrained the quick and mean answer, fought it back. “It won't be hasty, but if I can manage it, it might be total. You have to tell me now. Did you mean it when you said it was up to me? You said the Orion Syndicate were enemy combatants. More, if they took my mates and my mother and mother in law on purpose, they have declared war on House Presba, a Klingon House. That will have... consequences. So, tell me Admiral...”

 

“Kathryn...”

 

“Give the order, one way or the other, Admiral. Now, while I can make the choice to obey it somewhat rationally. What are my orders, Admiral Paris?”

 

He paused and looked grim. “I meant what I said. Seek, find and capture and/or destroy, Kathryn. Try to capture the leaders alive, but if not, make sure they can't hurt anyone else. It's not just your lives or your parents. They're messing with the balance of power here. It's trillions of lives, Kathryn, if they succeed. The Federation... we've got real problems here. The infiltration of the Dominion really shook things and it's not gotten much better. The war is taking its toll, though we're keeping it out of the news as much as possible. And then there's...” He couldn't say it over the broadcast, “There are always certain parties that have their own interests and it's not helping. Now that the Cardassians are controlling the Orion Syndicate, they have to be stopped. If you can do it, then stop them as cold as it gets.”

 

“You're telling me war. If I go in, it'll be tooth and claw, Admiral. I am not in a merciful state of mind here. Be very sure.”

 

He looked to the side, and Kathryn realized for the first time that he wasn't the only one seeing this transmission. Then he looked at her. “We're sure.” It had to be Admiral Nechayev then. She just knew by the way he said it. It was someone he trusted and someone high enough to share the order’s consequences.

 

Kathryn shivered. “That.... is what I needed to know, Admiral. Now there is one more thing. Do your orders for patrol stand? If not, then there are preparations that we need to make. Because if I find them, I want the Syndicate to know they were spanked hard and remember it a long, long time, and my ship has to be ready.”

 

“Do what you need to do. I'd prefer that you continued on. I think you'll have more of a chance of contact that way. But space is big. It was only a chance. We'll send you what information we have. I am sorry, Kathryn, for your loss.”

 

She visibly shuddered then managed a distant graciousness. “Thank you. You have been a good friend and I'm sorry for...

 

“No need to apologize.”

 

Kathryn nodded. “Now. Could you please let me talk more with my daughter?” There was open, wounded need in her voice.

 

The Admiral nodded. “Of course.”

 

When Asil was back on the screen Kathryn said, “Asil you did good. If we are able, we will find your mothers and bring them back to this Universe. ”

 

Asil looked pained.

 

Kathryn sighed, then she said, “Look, stay on the line a moment. I'm going to bring your other parents in. They need to see you themselves.”

 

“Then I will bring in Deanna, Barin, and Phoebe. They will draw comfort from seeing you too.” That was as near as Asil would come to admitting she had any emotions about this loss.

 

==^==

 

Part 8 | Bookmarks

 

It was awhile before Lwaxana and T'Pel really came back to them. There were moments in the beginning where they thought they were going to lose their daughter-in-laws permanently. Gretchen had never been so grateful to see the obsidian eyes of a Betazoid.

 

There was a depth to them that hadn't been there before, but Gretchen didn't comment on it. Instead she gripped the hand of her daughter-in-law and held it tight. “The item that brought us here burned out. But we'll find a way.”

Lwaxana's already gaunt expression flexed.

 

Gretchen glanced at T'Pel, whose eyes remained closed and expression was not exactly composed, but no longer in that long grimace of pain any more. She was being held firmly by Lwaxana.

 

It had taken them a half a day to figure out that Lwaxana and T'Pel needed proximity. They had put them in some quarters, after stripping out anything that might remind them of where they were. After that it was a matter of checking in on them, bringing food and drink. Sometimes the food was still there. Sometimes it wasn't. That was what gave them hope.

 

Gretchen continued. “We have news. We were contacted by a Klingon Bird of Prey. I... I need you to look into me and see, Lwaxana.”

 

The Betazoid groaned and closed her eyes.

 

Then they flew open with a startled curse.

 

“They have not touched you?” She knew they hadn't, but needed it confirmed anyway. This time she took in what her mother-in-law was wearing. Her eyes skimmed over the other woman and then narrowed.

 

“No, they haven't.” Gretchen blushed, but not about Lwaxana's frank assessment. Gretchen knew that she was wearing something provocative. It was appropriate to her apparent station. “Miral has been very protective. We.. uh... She's... my mate.”

 

Lwaxana raised her hand and cupped Gretchen's face gently. She didn't smile. “Show me?”

 

==^==

 

After locating quarters for Lwaxana and T'Pel and getting them settled, Miral and Gretchen had taken on the dirty job of gathering up the bodies. At first, they thought about making some sort of effort at a funeral. After all, even Orion Syndicate mothers must love their kids. But the truth was, it just wasn't in them. They stripped the villains of important things, like the captain's thumb or other units that might help them get the ship's system started. (Gretchen was convinced that she could probably reset the system to recognize them as the owners because mathematicians use computers and sometimes took the long way around. But it would work. T'Pel would have done it quicker, but she was not available.)

 

They spaced the Orion Syndicate people with nary a tear. Then they picked quarters to stay in. Miral chose the captain's in a fit of Klingon logic. “I killed for it. It's mine.”

 

Gretchen didn't feel like arguing. She just did what she knew how to do. Cleaned it out and put on some new sheets.

 

She'd intended to stay in the domicile next door, the one between T'Pel and Lwaxana's and Miral's. But they'd had a pretty long day by then. Even with all that excess energy she usually carried around, she found her eyelids drooping while they were eating. She didn't remember how she got into the bed or even how it came to be that she was undressed.

 

But that was how she woke up.

 

Miral had slept on the couch.

 

Unacceptable. Although, looking back Gretchen probably should have been grateful. Instead she got a bit of a tirade going. Which had been stopped cold by Miral's reasonable question. “Are you saying you want to sleep with me?”

 

Well there were several ways that question could be answered, couldn't it? And it all stymied the shorter red-head, because the short answer was yes.

 

Miral chose then to remind the red-head that she was Klingon and Gretchen, with her fuse lit, had forgotten she was naked. She'd been yanked forward into strong arms. “Be very sure this is what you want,” the Klingon had growled. Then she'd kissed Gretchen silly and let her go. “I will not be sleeping in any way with you unless it means something.”

 

Miral left the room.

 

It had taken Gretchen a little time to gather herself together. But she did. She replicated an outfit fit for doing things. And had taken time to clean Miral's robes. She took those up with her to the Bridge, thinking Miral might need them for some reason. Or maybe she'd want to burn them. Either way it was an inexplicable decision.

 

They started at the Bridge. Gretchen was able to use the Captain's thumb to start the process and by the middle of the day, the ship was singing to their tune. Mostly.

 

They ended up in the engine room, because a control panel said there was a problem and the computer was finally being helpful. Now they had access to the PADDs and tricorders and all the other equipment of the ship. Which meant, if they were creative and followed directions, they could possibly get somewhere.

 

They'd found the unit or rather what was left of it. The boxy appliance was melted on one side, and there was a burn mark on the wall beyond it. It had apparently blown up with the last use.

 

“Well, 'Captain,'” Gretchen had teased and grumped, “What do we do now?”

 

Miral had given her a sharp glance. “We do what we must. First we figure out where we are. Then we decide where to go next.”

 

Gretchen, who liked to think she did have a brain, nodded. “I know. I really do...I just...”

 

She felt a warm hand grasp her shoulder. “Gretchen.” The smaller woman looked up and Miral continued. “I trust your strength and your intelligence. You would have said the same thing.”

 

“Yes. But I'd still rather be baking cookies.”

 

“I like your cookies.”

 

Gretchen's vision blurred and she fought back the tears. “I want to go home.”

 

Miral, who was no less upset at their dilemma brought her into a hug. Gretchen didn't even ponder how the Klingon knew, she just returned the embrace. She felt pressure on her brow from a kiss. Miral said, “We will find a way.”

 

==^==

 

There was plenty of data available about their location and it was not good news. Miral and Gretchen learned that they were in a completely different Universe, where humans were slaves and Klingons were masters. The politics of the Universe were complex. The history even more so. But they took the time to read through as much as they could.

 

“It's so different,” Gretchen had exclaimed.

 

“It's hardly different at all,” Miral had corrected. “Klingons are still Klingon. Their ways are familiar to me. It's more like... we've gone back a hundred years.”

 

Gretchen's lips twitched. “So you're saying they're traditionalists.” She looked back at the view screen they were utilizing. “But the human history... it's so far beyond what I know... I would never...”

 

“Yesterday.”

 

Gretchen winced. “That was different.”

 

“Yes. It was. You were defending yourself. But imagine now, your ancestors. When I lived on earth I read your human history. It was not all flowers and sunshine, my Gretchen.”

 

Gretchen was caught off guard by the use of her name as a possessive. She refocused. “We're going to have to plan and decide whether to try for civilization or make it on our own.”

 

“Do you know how to mine and process dilithium?”

 

“No.” Gretchen answered weakly.

 

“Neither do I.”

 

“Do you want to settle on a primitive planet with only this ship as our resource?”

 

“No.” Gretchen narrowed her gaze and knew where Miral was headed with this. Then her lips quirked into an ironic smile. “You are mighty logical for a Klingon.”

 

Miral growled lightly at Gretchen. “It's one of the things you appreciate about me.”

 

The red-head closed her eyes. She'd felt that growl go right through her. “Miral...”

 

“Gretchen. We do not have time to waste.” Miral took her hand. “If it were up to me, I'd do it right. I'd take you to the Opera House on Qo'nos. I'd treat you to dinner in New York. I would spend my days and nights reading poetry to you. I would take you to Risa for our honeymoon.” She shook Gretchen's hand for emphasis. “But that would be in a different Universe. Here...”

 

“Here I am Human.”

 

Miral's gaze was concerned. “You are more than Human, Gretchen. You are chosen of Kahless. But the people here, they do not know this.” She leaned in. “I want to protect you, Gretchen. Everything in me calls to you. Haven't you noticed?”

 

Gretchen could not afford to go into denial. She whispered, “Yes. Yes, I noticed.”

 

“We must decide how we want to do this. And, it requires a quick decision, because who knows who will contact us first. You now know the concepts and what we face. Do we want to be mates, working together? Or do you...”

 

“Mates.”

 

“Gretchen.”'

 

“Mates.”

 

Miral could see the stubbornness winding its way into the other woman's eyes. It was one of the things she loved about her. “Are you sure you are not Klingon?”

 

“I'm of the House Presba. Technically that makes me...”

 

Miral pulled Gretchen close and kissed her, at first softly. Gretchen moaned and drifted deeper into the loving touch. “Mine,” finished Miral.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Do you know the Klingon Oath of Marriage, Gretchen?”

 

“You'll have to teach me.”

 

==^==

 

Gretchen was pleased by the simplicity of the words, and a little scared of the bite to come. But she trusted Miral. That was the point. She trusted this Klingon woman with her life.

 

jIH dok!” Gretchen shook a little in Miral's grasp.

 

But her voice was completely calm, firm with choice. “Maj dok!”

 

Miral drew her closer and Gretchen turned her cheek. She felt the warmth of the Klingon's body and breath. Then there was softness, a kiss. It surprised her enough that she almost missed the pain. She cried out, but otherwise responded by gripping the taller woman's shoulders. She felt the brush of Miral's tongue against her cheek and shuddered.

 

Then she turned and faced Miral, who presented the side of her face. Gretchen kissed the woman's cheek, then bit as firmly as she could. She felt blood rush into her mouth, warm and oddly sweet-salty. Something inexplicable happened, something she could not describe, but knew. Miral was hers. Always. Forever.

 

They kissed then, forgetting that they had intended to continue their research after the oath. But the bond was forged and the sudden need came first. It was as if the Universe knew how quick they needed to be and smoothed the way for them.

 

==^==

 

Need.

 

It had not been what Gretchen expected. Miral's touch had been strong, straightforward, and demanding, but never cruel. Wherever her hands moved it was fire. Wherever kissed, desire blossomed.

 

The Klingon guided Gretchen, opened herself to the Human, taught her the great secrets. And Gretchen delighted.

 

It was as if their touch and taste was made for each other, it was so profound.

 

They moved with each other, against each other, for each other. Pattern and breaking patterns, kissing and knowing. Filling. Oh, the filling and ever the need that spiraled higher until the fire melted their wings and made them sing out each other's names during the fall.

 

==^==

 

They “lost,” hours in one another, but knew it for necessity. Survival was the only thing forcing them to part. They needed to check on Lwaxana and T'Pel. The need to plan remained and it had to be a good one, just in case they were in this Universe for longer than a few days. They missed the input of their daughter-in-laws, but planned for them, based on what they now knew. T'Pel would need to play servant to Lwaxana's Truth Seeker. Truth Seekers were feared through out the Quadrants. For good reason.

 

It would be a difficult role for Lwaxana. Truth Seekers were not known for their kindness and Lwaxana was very kind. But she was also strong. And together with T'Pel they would make an intimidating team, one unlikely to be challenged.

 

They made costumes. Uniforms actually, for the roles they would play. Miral taught Gretchen traditional mannerisms. They would have to hope that, should T'Pel and Lwaxana come out of that which held them so painfully, there would be time to “train” T'Pel.

 

==^==

 

They'd finally got the ship moving and pointed towards a logical point in the Beta Quadrant on the fourth day. About six hours later, an several light years forward, a Klingon Imperial Cruiser de-cloaked in front of them.

 

Their ship, the newly named Klingon Justice, was boarded by five people; the first mate of the Cruiser and four guards. Despite waving around weaponry, he was greeted by an amused, patient Klingon Captain and her mate. The amused part lasted until one of the guards made eyes at the Human

 

“You had better look away while you are still able,” Miral had snapped at the Klingon. “She is mine.”

 

“Sell her. I will pay...”

 

A dagger appeared in his throat, startling the other guards into stepping away from him and taking their attention away from Miral and Gretchen. Miral moved away from her chair, put Gretchen behind her and now had a blaster in her hand at the ready. “This is my ship. You will show respect.”

 

The First Mate had turned then, raising his own blaster, only to do a double take. He had glanced down at the seat besides the captain's chair. He cleared his throat. “Are those... are those your robes?”

 

“You can call me Your Honor.” Then she smiled. “I know you did a scan of the ship. Perhaps you noticed a Betazoid presence and her Vulcan?”

 

The Klingons paled.

 

Miral waved her hand dismissively. “Oh calm down. She's asleep. We'll keep this between us.”

 

“Uh...”

 

“Look,” the captain who happened to be a judge went on, “I had business to attend to when my crew ... fell ill. Had to space the lot of them.”

 

Now the Klingons looked a bit queasy. Miral growled. “Don't be stupid. This isn't a plague ship. Or I would have warned you.”

 

“Of course, your Honor.”

 

“Now. You have a couple of choices. You can keep waving those weapons around and piss me off. Or... you can join me for dinner and you can catch me up on news of the Empire. What is it going to be?”

 

It could have gone either way, but something in the way she looked at them made him think. He adjusted his hold on his weapon. “Dinner.”

 

Miral pointed at the body. “Do you want that?”

 

The First nodded at one of the guards and the guard leaned over the body, tapped his chest and said something to the other ship. The body and the guard disappeared in a flash of light.

 

Miral turned to Gretchen. “Go and make food.”

 

Gretchen didn't look at the Klingons as she passed, but made her way to the dining area. And there she created a truly Klingon meal.

 

==^==

 

By the time Miral and the Klingons arrived at the dining hall, Gretchen had set the table. There was a mix of human and Klingon delicacies. Miral's mate had made things that she knew her Klingon would like and just hoped that the others had similar kinds of taste buds. She even made oatmeal raisin cookies, even though they weren't exactly home cooked, they would do. She'd also prepared plenty of liquid refreshment, including prune juice, bloodwine and water (for herself, if it should come to it).

 

At first the Klingons had hesitated, until Miral started helping herself to the deviled eggs. Then they started trying some. Then they really fell to it, digging into the meal with a will. As they became more comfortable they began to talk.

 

By the end of it, the Imperial Cruiser offered the Captain a crew and Miral was obliged to take them. Also, contact had apparently been made with the Empire, where, it seemed, Miral's word of honor had been accepted. She was now a judge in two Universes.

 

==^==

 

“I'd have preferred slower. So would she. We weren't even at the courting stage yet.” It was a mild protest against the inevitable.

 

“Traditionalists,” Lwaxana tisked, though she too would have been considered one fairly recently.

 

Gretchen closed her eyes and leaned into her daughter's sympathetic touch. “Yes.”

 

“I will come to the Bridge.”

 

T'Pel shifted and opened her eyes. They too were deep and dark. She said nothing.

 

“Correction. We will go to the Bridge.”

 

==^==

 

Sometime later, the turbolift door to the bridge opened and three women stepped out. Lwaxana was the first to enter. She was robed in the traditional black and silver of the Truth Seeker, but wore a glorious pendant. She also wore the Crest of Presba on the shoulder of her robes. She was followed by Gretchen, who was wearing a see-through forest green tunic and tights combination. Gretchen was barefoot. As was T'Pel. The Vulcan also wore robes, though they were of a more diaphanous nature and vibrant compared to what Lwaxana was wearing. They too had the crest on their clothing. One would have to look at them to find it, but it was a dangerous occupation to look at them.

 

Never the less, the Klingon who now crewed the ship did turn to assess Lwaxana briefly. Very briefly. They hurriedly turned their attention back to their jobs. There was just something in her eyes. “Captain Torres,” greeted the Betazoid pleasantly.

 

“Lwaxana Troi of the House Presba. I am pleased to see you can join us today.” There was no sarcasm in the Klingon's voice. She raised her hand towards Gretchen and indicated a place near the captain's chair.

 

“I thank you for your patience.” Lwaxana said. Gretchen moved without haste, settled down besides her captain and curled her legs under herself. She looked comfortable and alert.

 

Captain Torres waved it off. “You could not help the illness. Too bad about the rest of the crew.”

 

Lwaxana's lips twitched. “Too bad. It was so... catchy.” She paused. “And you, captain?”

 

Miral spoke gruffly. “Fine. Fine. I've got a new crew now.” Her hand rested on Gretchen's hair and she began gently, absently stroking through the beautiful red mass.

 

“So I see.” The Betazoid noticed a seat by the captain and received a barely perceptible nod. She made her way towards it. T'Pel followed. But rather than sit besides Lwaxana, she stood and stared out at the view screen. “So where are we off to now?”

 

“It seems we have been hired, Lwaxana. The Empire saw us with this fine Klingon ship and thought we might be useful. Also, a commander of our rescuing ship noticed my robes. We're being sent to put someone on trial.”

 

“How very interesting.” Lwaxana smiled coldly and curious Klingons who happened to glance back shivered. “I am overjoyed to know that we may serve.”

 

==^==

 

Will Riker contacted Deanna and it did not go well. In the past, he would have been all over the adventure in the Klingon Empire. But being a captain had changed him. And there was something else going on.

 

Deanna knew it as soon as she saw him.

 

She tried to explain why it was important that she stay. She tried to explain that she was now a member of a Klingon House and had certain obligations. She tried to explain that her mother was...

 

“I don't know you any more,” was one of the phrases that got tossed out during the “discussion,” and not by her.

 

She had quietly replied, “Perhaps you never did.” And soon after, that was that.

 

She turned to Asil and grimaced. “He's definitely seeing someone. The guilt was staggering. That 'I don't know you anymore crap?' It was smoke and mirrors.”

 

“What will you do?”

 

“What else? I will stay with my family.”

 

Asil nodded. “Good.”

 

They could have gone back to Vulcan or to another place in the Alpha Quadrant, but after discussing things, Deanna, Asil and Phoebe opted to stay in the Beta quadrant – even though they had to buy a new ship to do it. From a Klingon perspective it made sense. It was fully expected that they would, at some point, take up matters with House Qua'lon. And they intended to do it. But there were ways and then there were ways.

 

And breaking House Qua'lon and the Orion Syndicate wasn't their first need. They began searching for a base of operations, otherwise known as an “estate.”

 

==^==

 

After their contact with Starfleet, Kathryn had been teleported back to the Nest by Voyager's own authorization. She hadn't been looking too steady on her feet. It took a couple of days for the adults of House Presba to gather themselves together again. When they came out of the Nest their eyes were filled with a frightening depth. People walked and talked carefully around them, even the pranksters of the ship.

 

It was probably a good idea, since the Captain had been all too serious when she'd described the savage impulse within them to the Admiral. Part of their time had been spent working through that feral desire. It never quite went away. But they did manage to find their way back to a semblance of normal. Still, they did not come out of the Nest the same people that went in.

 

Someone less wise than Counselor Nael might have suggested trying to vent those emotions on the Holodeck or to talk it out. But instead, Counselor Nael had taken to leading the Long Table discussions while Seven and her mates were occupied with healing. The children of the House Presba had needed the outlet and while they did not talk much about what was happening to their parents, they also participated without hesitation on other topics. This reassured the crew, which were still worried for their captain and crew-mates. The Zakeeri in particular seemed very aware of the problem and had an intuition of what might be the cause.

 

Physically the Captain and her mates checked out fine. In fact, other than not eating as well as they ought, they were in phenomenally good shape. Dr. Pulaski and Zimmerman cleared them for work.

 

==^==

 

Eventually, Captain Janeway called in the senior staff for a meeting. That is when the staff found out what had really happened. Kathryn was getting to the part where, if an Orion ship was found and captured, she and a select few would go and retrieve...

 

“Voyager to Captain Janeway.”

 

It was unusual behavior for the ship to make contact in such a visible way. But that in itself made it important to reply. “Janeway here.”

 

“Thank you,” the ship began. “But I think you are missing something in your planning.”

 

“Missing?”

 

“Yes. You are planning on ditching at least 90% of your resources and that is ... inadvisable.”

 

Kathryn blinked. “I'd hardly call it...”

 

“I'd actually call it 98%, Kathryn. Probably more, but I'm being generous, because I believe in you. But your crew are a resource. I am a resource. If you and say, I don't know, four other people go over to the Orion Ship... that is... if you manage to capture it and if such a ship should appear in the Delta Quadrant, that is the least percentage of unused resources.” Voyager's tone rose. “Now I've been listening to you and my family cobble together a plan, and have held my peace...”

 

“Voyager,” there was a warning tone in the Captain's Voice.

 

“Well, don't I have a say? Am I not part of the Prime of House Presba?”

 

Some of the senior staff looked startled, but not all of them. The Captain's expression gentled. “Of course you are. But...”

 

“And aren't your crew loyal? Do you think they would want to see you go off on your own to your probable death?”

 

“That is not the point.”

 

“No, the point is that you think that you can do this without us. And it is a stupid plan.” Voyager ground out.

 

“You tell 'em, girl.” Dr. Pulaski prodded, which earned her a glare from the Captain. The doctor merely raised her eyebrows, folded her arms and sat back in her seat.

 

“I made a promise to bring these people home, Voyager. My family and I have no right to...”

 

“Your family has every right to ask for help. Anyone has that right. And what about us? Just how well do you think the crew will survive without you? You have a huge knowledge and skill base that keeps me running in your household alone. More, do you intend to leave the children behind? Who will take care of them? You haven't even asked if the crew would be willing to fight for you. To join you. You haven't even asked me what I thought. I could have told you that the Zakeeri would fly to any Universe you picked, to fight with you. I could have told you that the Klingons in this crew long to be part of a ...” Voyager pulled herself together. “Look, my dear family. You have been out of your heads for the last little while, even with the most logical of you doing some of the heavy thinking. I figured your scheming was probably a good sign, because it meant you had decided to live. But do you really think you're the only ones who have been planning and preparing? I have access to all of the information in my database... I bet you I could help you come up with something better than what the Orion Syndicate has. But you haven't asked me. Heck, I might have...”

 

“Voyager...”

 

“If you're going to tell me I don't have a say, then you won't be hearing from me again, Kathryn.”

 

That comment derailed Kathryn for a moment, even though that wasn't what she was going to say.

 

B'Elanna cleared her throat. “May I speak?”

 

Janeway nodded.

 

Voyager then said, “Of course, Epatai.”

 

“Voyager, how do you feel about visiting another Universe?”

 

“I am overflowing with joy at the thought.” There was a growl behind the comment. “I want to fetch back our family members. I want to make the Orion Syndicate pay through their nacelles. I want to deliver my people safely home, but safety is not why we are out here. Honor demands that we, and by we, I mean myself and the crew, be given the chance to prove ourselves.”

 

“And the children?”

 

“My ... Our children wield Bat’leths B'Elanna. Remember? Do you want them to believe that they had no place, no right, to fight for their family? Besides, how safe have they been on this journey so far anyway? Is it any less or more dangerous? It's just the unknown. But it's always the unknown.”

 

There were glances around the table, not just between the family Presba.

 

Captain Kathryn Janeway took a deep breath. “Voyager?”

 

“Yes, my Kathryn?”

 

“I am sorry for not including you.”

 

“You are forgiven.”

 

“Chakotay?”

 

“Yes, Captain?”

 

Kathryn looked at B'Elanna and communication took place silently. Then the others of the House joined the discussion. There arose a consensus. Kathryn finished what she had been about to say, “Please put the gist of this discussion up on Voyager's channel. Tell them what happened; tell them that rescue involves finding and capturing an Orion Syndicate ship or finding our own way to the other Universe. Tell them that we may not make it back, but we would make every effort. Make the information about the other Universe public on this ship. Tell them that any plans and changes would be made with their input. Inform our crew that they have a say and let them vote. It will only be volunteer and it will be unanimous. Give them twenty four hours to respond. Either we all go. Or... none of us do.”

 

There was silence around the table. “Aye, Captain.”

 

==^==

 

Part 9 | Bookmarks

 

A week later they were still in the Delta Quadrant and Captain Kathryn Janeway was filled with wonder. Given the number of persons in the crew she had fully expected that the vote would be split. It was an inevitable that there would be differences about the choices. She'd known how dedicated her crew were to returning home.

 

She and her family had not gone stumping. If asked, they wouldn't even share an opinion, only the facts as they knew them. They did join the Long Table again, though this time they too just randomly chose seats like the other crew. Now it wasn't the family holding court, but the crew of the ship having an extended conversation that could go... well... 24/7. The table had become a permanent fixture and people could be found there at any time.

 

Counselor Nael had been there that first day they had awakened and the days following. Somehow she was always there when one of them found time to be at the table. They talked with her casually, only briefly touching on what happened, but enough to give her a sense of the depth of the wound. She was amazed that they were walking, let alone functioning. But she had always been impressed with the strength that could be found in other beings.

 

Kate Pulaski even joined the table now and then. At their first encounter Janeway had immediately stood up. Kate had snipped at her, “Oh sit down.” And that had been it. The Long Table was considered sacred, neutral ground.

 

Well mostly neutral. Dr. Pulaski did keep Kathryn on her toes with some rather heated debates while at the table. No subject was taboo with her. And she asked probing, nosy questions about family arrangements. Kathryn found herself *having* to speak honestly about them. Including the stuff that mystified them.

 

Kate still didn't talk to her in the corridor or otherwise outside of professional needs. Then again, she double checked Dr. Zimmerman's work anytime Kathryn came into Sickbay for her follow ups. That was all under the heading of keeping the captain well.

 

Ironically, the dichotomous behavior caused the captain to remember why she'd loved the woman in the first place.

 

The vote, when finally tallied, was unanimous. Once the announcement was made, suggestions for accomplishing the mission immediately began pouring in. If the captain's half-smile was a bit watery when she handed the responsibility of parsing them to Laren, no one commented.

 

==^==

 

After much discussion, this time Voyager was included in on it, it was decided that patrolling for an Orion Syndicate ship was not their best use of time. The percentages just didn't support it. While stopping at an M-Class planet and installing ablative armor, weaponry and other kinds of updates did make sense, either way it jumped. They calculated the time necessary to make the full installation and update the little ships too.

 

Four months. It would take four months to complete the project, but they would also be looking at ways to get to that other Universe. Add two months for training. Roles might need to be taken or the Marines might need to be called in.

 

Four months was forever. Six months would be an eternity.

 

But it could have been a year before they spotted an Orion Syndicate ship anyway. If there were any that made it to the Delta Quadrant again.

 

They backtracked back to that last M-class planet, deciding it was worth it to utilize known space and contacts. It was close enough to the Ubiyak system to make port stops worth it.

 

Then they got to work.

 

==^==

 

They had decided that, if they were going to be working in this Universe, they would do an honest job of it.

 

Thus, by the time they arrived at Forcas III, Miral, Gretchen, Lwaxana and T'Pel had taken time to get to know the Universe and its ways a bit more. In a way it turned out Miral was correct; the laws of this Universe were pretty straight forward. If it weren't for that wrong turn that humanity took along the way, many of them might even seem familiar.

 

This is because, if a society is to last, there must be stability.

 

Despite propaganda, Klingons did not just go around arbitrarily fighting for the right to a position, not even in this Universe. There had to be a good reason for the removal and replacement. Miral was safe as a captain, because she was good at it and she was Her Honor. Lwaxana was safe, because she was a Truth Seeker and no one messed with Truth Seekers. No one. And a Truth Seeker in combination with a Vulcan as a personal slave/mate? If Klingons had a version of making the cross at trouble, they used it – when they thought the Truth Seeker couldn't see.

 

Personal slave/mates did have traditional rights, as well as responsibilities. Rank has its privileges and Gretchen was Miral's and T'Pel was Lwaxana's and no one questioned it. Especially after that opening incident. The crew agreed that the guard deserved what he got for being unobservant in the first place. The bite mark on Gretchen was obvious when you managed to catch sight of it and Lwaxana sometimes led T'Pel around with two fingers.

 

Besides, Gretchen was a good cook, from a Klingon perspective. She was valuable simply for what she could do with Gagh. And the crew would kill for those cookies. Heck, they would defend the ship against all comers for those cookies. It would be a shame to cause any problem that meant that the crew of the Klingon Justice had to rely on replicators, like their buddies on other ships. They treated her, and the silent, distant, brilliant T'Pel like ship's pets and they would guard them with their lives.

 

It was safest.

 

On the other hand, most slaves did not have that kind of protection and the members of the House Presba were frankly grateful that there were none of the other types on the ship. It would have weighed on their conscience, because they had already committed to survival first.

 

They would not try to interfere with the progress of this Universe. If someone were to ask them their opinion, Lwaxana and Miral would be honest. Because it was their duty as Truth Seeker and Judge. They had decided to take a particularly Klingon approach to their problem. All of them would strive to act in such a way as to bring Honor to the House Presba and from that point every decision they made would make sense.

 

==^==

 

Forcas III was a dismal place, gray where it should have been green, smoggy with industrial fumes and grime. This world had not been transformed by the necessity to preserve their worlds. In this Universe the tradition for consuming the planet still held strong.

 

It pained Miral to see the planet like this, when she knew what it could be. But things were as they were. The four women and two guards transported directly to the Judgment Hall.

 

They were aware that it could be a trap, but had decided, based on the surface thoughts of the crew, that it was unlikely. Still, this time there was more preparation. The dishonorable behavior of Tulek was also foremost on their minds. Thus, this time, Miral wore weaponry over her robes - knives and phasers and she carried her Bat’leth. The guard didn't act as if this was unusual at all. Lwaxana had one phaser located in her robes. T'Pel and Gretchen had weapons of non-obvious quality about their persons. Nothing metal. Nothing that would set off a perimeter alert and all traditionally legal for personal slave/mates.

 

Personal slave/mates were obligated to defend themselves from strangers. That was what made them unique. They could use tools at hand, their own bodies, and those weapons that were approved by their masters and legal to the system. As they were in the Beta system, technically, they could wield a Bat’leth if their master/mate gave the order.

 

The idea being that, if a slave was that close to the master, then the master had better be able to trust them.

 

If not, then there was no point in having them.

 

The Judgment Hall was similar to the one in that small town in Ab'Liev. There was the hall and there was the circle. In the Hall there was already an audience gathered. There were a variety of species, but mostly Klingon present. The wealthier, as indicated by their dress, and the elders, as indicated by the color of their hair, were towards the front. Again, another myth dispelled. There were respected elders in Klingon worlds. Otherwise, how would tradition be passed down? It's just that when Elders felt their time had come, they sought death in battle, either hunting, war or ceremonial.

 

The accused was not yet present, but the accuser was already at their table. They stood as Miral entered the room, their gaze passed right over Gretchen as if she were of no importance, and their eyes widened when they spotted Lwaxana and then T'Pel. The accuser and their counsel began talking animatedly with each other. They abruptly went silent as the women passed them.

 

Miral took her seat and stabbed one of the sharp points of the Bat’leth into the floor besides her chair causing it to stand vertical besides her and making it easy to grab. Gretchen settled besides the seat on a pillow on the floor. Some bright person had thought to call ahead and mention that Her Honor had a Personal Slave/Mate. It was a luxury, which only added to the illusion of status. Or maybe it wasn't such an illusion. After all, someone had to pay the Judge to be there.

 

Lwaxana and T'Pel were settled in a similar arrangement to Miral's left.

 

One guard took position on Miral's right and the other took position on Lwaxana's left.

 

Miral glanced around, then folded her hands together and sat back. Then she introduced herself. “I am Miral Torres of the House Presba. I am a level two Judge.” There was a murmur of awe and surprise. “This,” she indicated the Betazoid. “Is Lwaxana Troi of the House Presba, Truth Seeker.” Now the murmurs doubled in their noise level. No one had ever heard of a Betazoid as part of a Klingon House.

 

“Silence!” The Hall went quiet. “I have been called to render judgment in a case between Aatan of the House Kamarg and Tel Peh of Bajor. As no one has bothered to tell me what the dispute is about, I will hear from both sides. Bring in the accused so we may begin.”

 

==^==

 

Aatan of the House Kamarg was short for a Klingon, but he stood proud at his height. He was also lighter featured, with dark eyes and brown curly hair. He wore his beard trimmed, but his hair wild. He wore traditional armor, black and metal. His counsel was similarly dressed and featured. He was perhaps a cousin or brother.

 

Tel Peh did not wear armor. In fact, the man was barely wearing anything, from a Klingon perspective. Tunic and slacks covered his quivering, pale body. Chains covered his wrists and ankles. If he had been of the slave races he would already be dead, but as he was a member of the coalition, he was to be given a fair trial.

 

The city guard guided and slightly pushed Tel Peh into place at the accused's station.

 

“Tel Peh of Bajor, where is your counsel?”

 

“Uh,” the shaking man looked around the room. “I don't have any...”

 

“Was counsel offered?”

 

“No. Your Honor.”

 

Miral growled unpleasantly and Tel Peh started back. The judge tapped Gretchen on the shoulder. “This is my personal slave/mate. She is an informed counselor and bears my House Name.” Suddenly those who overlooked Gretchen were rapidly examining their assumptions. “Will you accept her as your counsel?”

 

The man looked almost as if he wanted to say no. Who wanted a slave as...

 

But Miral ran over his thought process unmercifully. “Or are you too proud, Bajoran? I will tell you now, no one else will speak for you.” She grimaced toothily at him. “And I remind you, this is a Klingon trial.”

 

The Bajoran gulped. “I... I humbly accept.”

 

“Wise of you.” Growled the judge. Then she touched the slave's shoulder, “Go, my mate, assist the man. I will give you three minutes to interview him.”

 

The red-head stood up, turned to Miral and bowed, then walked to the accused's side. There she bowed to the Bajoran. “This humble slave is available as counsel. Does the accused have anything which he wishes to reveal to her so that her assistance may prove useful?”

 

The accused shot a panicky look at the judge, then blurted, “I'm innocent.”

 

“All are innocent before the court, sir, until proved otherwise. But Klingon justice is swift. Do you have evidence to prove your innocence?”

 

“I... no.”

 

“If you would tell me the history of your troubles? I am afraid I must remind you that we are under a time limit.” Gretchen's calm tone settled the man a little. He began to speak, quickly, packing as much information as he could in his description. At the end, with a few seconds to spare, the red-head thanked him for the input and told him she would do her best to help him where the law applied.

 

“But, the Truth Seeker...”

 

“She is here to insure that the truth is given by both parties as they see it, to apply punishment for lying or to apply punishment if the judge declares that as the penalty. She is not here for your convenience or to free you. The judge may decide to put you to labor for causing her to be here in the first place. Or she may enact the challenge as a means of mediation and give you a chance to fight for your freedom or to die with honor, and thus clear your name. It is the Klingon way and her right.” The man paled. “On the other hand, I am here to assist you. I can provide counsel and arguments in your favor, if you will allow it.”

 

The Gavel banged. “Court is now in session.”

 

==^==

 

After the trial was over and Tel Peh lay dead in the circle, certain audience members approached the bench. By that time Gretchen had joined Miral again. Miral's hand stroked comfortingly through her mate's hair. It had been a quick, but upsetting battle for the red-head. Not that she hadn't done an upstanding job as the counsel.

 

But Tel Peh had not proved the wisest of men and had deconstructed the careful arguments that Gretchen had made on his behalf by jumping the gun and demanding a mediation. If he'd been a little patient, he would have been a free man – all accomplished without dishonoring either party. It had been obvious to anyone who had been watching.

 

As it was, Aatan had actually bowed to the slave as well as the judge before taking his leave.

 

Now some of the town elite came to pay their respects. One of the Elders, a shaggy silver-maned male, said, “I was doubtful of your choices at first, but now I believe I understand. No one can claim that you are unfair, your Honor. And your test of the accused was most profound. It is too bad he was a fool. The town will pay your fee and ship's costs.”

 

Miral thanked them and directed them to T'Pel. “She handles the family finances, gentlemen. Unless you do not care to associate with a mere slave.”

 

The elder glanced meaningfully at the body now cooling on the ground. “We, your Honor, are not fools.”

 

==^==

 

It was old. It was dilapidated. It was perfect for the price. Especially considering what they planned on doing with the territory. The planet was lush and habitable. The moon also had atmosphere, forest and water. It had been mined, but not depleted. The Klingon House that originally owned the planet and its moon fell on hard times before they could ruin it and the price had gone down the longer it remained empty. The system was located far enough from the Dominion Border to be considered somewhat safe. The “colony” it had been had long since departed for greener pastures closer to Qo'nos, but the infrastructure remained.

 

Asil, Deanna and Phoebe would begin to build their base here and see where it led.

 

==^==

 

The M-class system had a classic blue planet, with large land masses and beautiful azure oceans. This was the first time landing since the alternations of the Maze of Mines and there was some trepidation given Voyager's new size. But the ship remained streamlined, ready for air and space.

 

Before landing a defense satellite system had been put in place. It was small, but it would be adequate for notification. It would also serve as a communication tool, since not all the materials needed for repairs would be in Voyager's exact location. As soon as the prep-work was completely they began.

 

They entered the atmosphere like a new sharp blade slicing cake.

 

The Zakeeri ships followed Voyager down, flying around her like sparrows around a hawk. All of the little vehicles loved it and they zipped about, enjoying the free fall sensation. Stinging Sparrow kept up a running commentary to Voyager about everything she was seeing, from the long green swaths of jungle, to verdant plains with herd-beasts galloping, to the blue ribbons of rivers. It was partly because she enjoyed it, but also partly to act as a comfort to Voyager.

 

Voyager had realized this was the first time she'd ever landed as a conscious being. She'd been very nervous about the process. More so than even her crew. She listened to Stinging Sparrow like a lifeline. She also paid close attention, not just to her surroundings, but to the way Tom was handling her, guiding her along. She realized that there might be a time when she needed to land herself and though technical manuals were very helpful, there was skill involved. And intuition. Oh she hoped she had that kind of intuition if it came down to it.

 

The ship coming down for a landing was an awesome sight. There was a rousing cry from Sofuru and his squadron as Voyager landed squarely and safely on the planned location, a nice, open meadow not far from an open lake. Stinging Sparrow sent out a hug along their special line. “You did it honey! Told you!”

 

Voyager simply sighed in absolute relief.

 

The Zakeeri ships did not go back into the Docking Bay. They and the non-sentient shuttles would be acting as extra “hands,” in the project. They were excited about the project because it was new and they'd be able to fly around, maybe go to Ubiyak to pick up materials, run special errands to other systems... There was much to look forward to. It was Voyager who was going to be landlocked. Already the stabilizers were extending deep into the ground.

 

Voyager would be helping too. The crew was becoming habituated to her assistance already, as she extended her Waldos to pick up tools, help crank a wrench, pour a vial at just the right moment. She would be invaluable in her own adaptation. She was beginning to understand the process of her nannites more, so she trusted that any changes she needed made, would be accommodated and possibly blended right into her system. She was personally looking forward to the armor, though she wondered how it would be adapted with her Darkling technology.

 

Portals on the ship popped open with hisses, venting the ship and letting in the fresh air. Certain members of the crew busily disembarked, carrying large and small objects. Soon they would be building the temporary shelters and units that would be needed for the duration. Other members of the crew began setting up a wide security perimeter, placing specialized units around the area that was going to be occupied. Others began the first steps on the long process that was essentially a ship redesign. Soon, within the still busy corridors, there were sparks flying, panels being removed, and coils and parts being pulled into view.

 

Voyager suddenly felt naked and vulnerable. This would take some getting used to. Fortunately for her, Stinging Sparrow was there to hold her figurative hand.

 

==^==

 

“We should name it,” said B'Elanna. She and Seven of Nine were deep within Voyager, making some of those inner adaptations. Kathryn was on an away mission to Ubiyak, with Commander Magnum, Tom, Harry, Mr. Neelix and Ro Laren. Tuvok was running his security team ragged over an incident with a local pachyderm, the security net, and one of their smaller equipment bunkers.

 

“Name what?” asked Seven as she reached into another blue-lit space and made new connections.

 

“The Planet. Don't you get a little bored with the scientific description?”

 

“No,” answered the ex-drone. “But that is because I prefer precise designations.”

 

“A new name could be precise.”

 

“Perhaps you ought to bring this to Commander Chakotay's attention.”

 

“Could you hand me the Link-Kit. Yeah, you're probably right. I'll talk to him tonight at the cook-out.”

 

==^==

 

“You can leave it to us,” Commander Magnum said to a completely not-reassured Captain Janeway. “We'll get the blocking manifold, the tri-sonic glazer and those other components you were wanting.”

 

“Do nothing illegal.”

 

Commander Magnum managed to look wounded, “Of course not. It will be ours fair and square.”

 

Kathryn tried not to wince at her Supply Officer’s phrasing. “I don't want to have to pick up the items at the back of a dock somewhere either.”

 

“We will be discrete, yet open.”

 

“Alright.” She looked at the four men. Then nodded. “I'll trust you. Ro and I will go talk to the station master and then drop some notices on the Ubiyak Net. You see what you can get for us.”

 

“Will do.”

 

They split off to their own paths.

 

==^==

 

The cook-out was going strong by the time B'Elanna and Seven finished. They grabbed plates full of food and mugs full of something sweet and light. Seven checked in on the children. Icheb was playing Volleyball. Azan and Rebi were building some sort of sport diving platform, with the encouragement and help of some enthusiastic crew. Mezoti, Naomi and Emina were with Ceduril and Utexic, playing Yadok. Well, Emina was doing more “assisting” by randomly moving or taking the small statue-like pieces completely out of the game so she could examine or chew on them.

 

Sofuru was telling wild stories that had the girls completely amused, but not distracted from the game. Seven and B'Elanna joined them and began eating their meal.

 

“Sofuru, I was talking with Seven. What do you think about naming the planet?”

 

“I think you should talk with Chakotay. He'd put it up for a vote.”

 

“That's what Seven said.”


“Your mate is wise, Epatai. That's why you chose her, yes.”

 

B'Elanna looked amused. “Honestly, I'm not sure how much my choosing came into play in it. But...,” she turned a serious gaze to Seven, “...I am so glad she chose me.”

 

They touched two fingertips to two.

 

==^==

 

“What ... who... is this?”

 

“Well, you may recall that we couldn't find the equivalent of a Heidrickson Quantum Calibrator? Well, this,” Commander Magnum slapped the tall, lavender being on the shoulder, which was quite the reach, since the creature was several feet taller than the Commander. “... is Dandwenny. He is a Kutwutchu.” The Kutwutchu gave a small bow. His long white hair flowed gently about his broad shoulders. His smile was very human-like. He wore a simple brown smock, which covered him from torso to his upper thighs. Steve continued his introduction with, “He is much better than a quantum calibrator because he can make them. Well, and a few other components we need. He has agreed to accompany us to the planet, if we allow him to bring along his ... uh.... family.”

 

“His family. How many are we talking here. Two or three?”

 

“More like twenty.” The commander paused and then apparently recalculated. 'Well, possibly fifty.”

 

The captain's eyes widened.

 

Commander Magnum hastened to reassure his captain. “They'll be coming on their own ship. Trust me. It'll be worth it. Oh, and... you may be hearing from the Station Master about a small misunderstanding in the Sania Pub. We greased... I mean, we did resolve the matter with the pub owner, but Dandwenny's original owner...”

 

“Owner?!”

 

“... was a little put out when we won him and his family at cards. Now, we won them on the level, but the owner was a bit upset, because I suppose he thought we shouldn't have. Well, and if we'd stayed with his deck we probably wouldn't have. But we're in the clear, because Riclaw was clearly cheating and got caught, but there was the matter of the broken tables and chairs afterwards.”

 

“Are you telling me...”

 

“Oh, and, of course, being Starfleet, I set Dandwenny and company free as soon as we got them. Right there in the Pub. Which Riclaw wasn't to happy with. Thus the tables and chairs. Dandwenny is coming of his own will.” Again Commander Magnum slapped the creature's back.

 

Dandwenny raised a long, delicate looking hand. “We are pleased to be free. We go with you. Our debt paid in full.”

 

“You don't owe us for setting you free,” started Kathryn grimly.

 

“It is balance. Payment made to us to aid you. And new home offered. Is true we may stay on your planet if we go?”

 

“Our Planet?” She gave Commander Magnum a stern look, but realized she couldn't say it wasn't.

 

Lieutenant Ro said, “Which has only recently been named. Voyager's Rest has plenty of room for colonists.”

 

Kathryn was desperately trying not to pinch the bridge of her nose. A part of her mind was thinking of all the ripples she had made so far in this Universe and wondering. She couldn't quite summon even a fake smile, but she nodded. “Of course you will be welcome. You'll have to abide by our rules, but we appreciate all assistance.”

 

Now Tom spoke up, grinning. He had a gloriously bruised black eye. “See, Steve. I told you.”

 

Harry grinned too. He also sported an impressive shiner. Neelix looked liked he'd been used to scrub someone's backside. Steve Magnum looked fresh and un-mussed, except for his comm badge, which appeared to be hanging on by a thread, and the back of his hands, which were bright red.

 

Now Kathryn wondered at what Tom had been confident about , but decided to roll with it. She had been the one who wanted more engineers. “Welcome to the crew, Dandwenny.”

 

==^==

 

Natok was a scout and he was there at the bar fight. It was he who witnessed the clever way the Kutwutchu was set free and the stalwart bravery of the fighters. Being small, he was easy to miss, though he did participate in the battle, since it was an honorable one. He had grabbed up four sturdy pieces of wood, which were longer than he was, and had waded into the fight like he owned it.

 

People's shins suffered, then other sensitive points, such as their crotches - or whatever would make them bend enough for him to get a good whack on the head or faces. Natok had always been very efficient in his fighting.

 

Afterwards he followed the Kutwutchu and it's new friends through the port. There he saw that they met with a female, who at first looked distressed and disapproving. But then her attitude changed. He warmed to her when he realized that the people who acted honorably were not, in fact, in trouble.

 

After that meeting, Dandwenny then departed from the group to go to his ship. Natok followed, for the port that the Kutwutchu ships were located at were where he and his tribe lived. The tall beings had caught their interests, which is why he had been following them in the first place. Now he could report that he and his tribe would not have to cause damage to Riclaw and free the Kutwutchu. It was already done.

 

==^==

 

Summer was in full swing on Voyager's Rest. The sky was blue, the trees were green, and weather sublime. A village had formed around the ship. It was a mix of crew and other beings who – on their own journeys, because they were paid for services, or other circumstances – stopped and joined them in the renovation of the ship. Voyager's Rest was also becoming a popular stopping point for ships along the way, a mini vacation spot of sorts, since they were between the Ubiyak system port and Hla system port. So on the one hand there was the busy bee type activity going on with Voyager and on the other a thriving resort by the lake filled with all kinds of beings.

 

The Long Table was now established in two locations. One was in the mess hall and the other was located half in and half out of a habitat near the lake. Counselor Nael could be found at one of the Long Tables or in her office depending on the time of day.

 

The Kutwutchu had adapted quickly to their new home. They had added their cultural flair to the growing colony and the buildings around Voyager and the resort were taller, with open walkways and peaked rooftops reminiscent of the temples of Japan. There were gardens, for vegetables and for visiting. There were small fountains and statuary. It was actually quite cozy and yet ornate at the same time.

 

A small tribe of creatures caught a ride on the Kutwutchu ship and found themselves on a world that seemed made for them – if a little more dangerous than the Ubiyakian Park. The creatures found the treetops commodious and were instantly mistaken for local fauna. That was fine with them, as there were certain benefits to not being noticed. However, it didn't stop them from “helping,” the colony and Voyager in their own way. It never once occurred to the Kutwutchu to mention the stowaways to Janeway. They were too busy integrating into crew or colony.

 

Some of the Kazon that Voyager had battled just a few months ago were encountered again. Zakeeri from Voyager's Rest went on errands with Commander Magnum Ubiyak Port regularly. There they encountered seven younger individuals of the tribe who wanted something different for themselves. The Zakeeri did as they promised and treated the youngsters to a meal and drinks. So, three males and four females, followed the Zakeeri home like lost puppies. In fact, it was pretty much the Zakeeri making “Can we keep them? Pleeeaasse?” kinds of arguments to the captain that persuaded her to let them stay. She made it clear that like all her crew, they would have to obey the ship rules, follow the ship protocol and keep the Prime Directive when encountering less technologically savvy races. She emphasized that this meant their previous tribe.

 

A young Kazon male looked at her and said, rather bluntly, “We have no tribe, but Voyager. You are Maj.”

 

She shook her head and gave a stern glance to all of them. “No. I am Captain. On Voyager I am higher than Maj.” Then she said, “Welcome Aboard.”

 

Then she turned to head of the Glory Dragon's and said, “They're your responsibility. Take them to Chakotay and get them into the program.”

 

The Zakeeri merely smiled fiercely. “We have discussed their possible roles on the ship. They will make great Marines. You will not regret it.”

 

Captain Janeway surely hoped not. On the other hand, a part of her was encouraged. Her ship was becoming more like a Starfleet vessel ought to be, with plenty of species working together towards a common goal. It was also possible it would be good to have Kazon on the ship if they ever had to negotiate with species again. That is, if their tribe was at peace with the other. That being the problem with trying to negotiate with Kazon.

 

She did tell the young people though, “Don't feel bound to join the Marines if it's not a good fit. There will be a full spectrum test to help you determine what suits you best. Take advantage of it.”

 

If the Kazon was surprised at her liberal attitude they did not comment. They just bowed to her. The Zakeeri merely continued to smile affably, pleased at their win. They'd told the Kazon and had not been believed.

 

Janeway had to leave before she said something she shouldn't.

 

As time went on more Zakeeri, who had heard that Voyager had stopped for the construction and wanted to join up with or visit them before they took off again, dropped by Voyager's Rest. Some of them came with ships, intending to join Voyager itself. Three more ships were added to Voyager's roster. They had to deny the others due to space availability.

 

Those who were denied space on Voyager herself, then stayed just to join the colony and be their defenders. But there were plenty of Zakeeri who also arrived without the special beings in tow. This included a mated group of three Zakeeri shamans. They'd been sent personally from the Sun Tiger clan, because Sofuru's mother felt there was a lack in Voyager’s crew. They needed people able to console or provide guidance or counsel. And of course, there hadn't been anyone when they'd met her. Well, and Counselor Nael felt quite the same, given the growth of the ship population. As soon as they joined the crew, they were co-opted by the counselor to become part of her department.

 

The captain teased Ro Laren for a bit. It was a rare thing that sparked Kathryn's sense of humor these days, so Laren tolerated the jokes for awhile. Then one day she pointed out that she would have to give up her position as assistant to take up the calling. The jokes kind of waned after that. Kind of.

 

There were some distractions, but on the whole, the work proceeded as scheduled, maybe a bit ahead. The members of the House Presba threw themselves into the project, only to be reprimanded by stern doctors about overwork. So they threw themselves into work a bit more gently and took some time off to go to the lake or to spend time in each other's company or with their kids or with their people.

 

The loss never went away. But they learned to cope and rely on each other. Their love for one another deepened as Voyager was slowly transformed into an extraordinary battleship.

 

==^==

 

Sarah Tucker and her drill instructors carefully prepared the crucible, which was essentially a high-hazard course designed to inspire teamwork as well as individual successes. It would be the final exercise for most of the Marines, a seventy two hour effort that would test the mettle of everyone who had participated in their training, turning them from mere mortals into Marines. The difficulty lay in stressing everyone to the limit, since base-lines were unique to each species. But Starfleet had methods and Sarah and her team had garnered help from the Medical staff, who would be on call for the duration.

 

With the help of security, they outlined a map and planned out the stations. Then they got other experienced crew to participate. This would teach the Marines respect for other departments.

 

By the time they were done mapping things out they were all, except for Tuvok, grinning quite wickedly at each other.

 

==^==

 

The setting sun caused light to flash on Voyager's hull, which caused the climber to hide her eyes with her palm. “You up there Seven?” B'Elanna called. Although, technically she knew. She always knew where Seven of Nine was in relation to herself.

 

“I am here, BangwI,” the ex-drone called back down. “Do you wish assistance?”

 

“No. No. I got it!” B'Elanna hauled the pack into a more comfortable position and continued her climb up. Eventually she reached a more or less level part and spotted her beloved Borg. She waved, “I've got lunch!”

 

The healthily physiqued, well tanned, now nearly platinum-blonde woman turned to offer a small smile to her beautiful Klingon. None of the mates were quite at the bright wonderful grin point yet. But they always welcomed the sight of their beloveds. Seven of Nine put down the large, complicated tool carefully. Other beings had to lift it with mechanical assistance and she liked to be sure that it would not accidentally cause injury. At this point, it could not scratch Voyager's hull any more. The armor that they had installed on Voyager had been absorbed in a process that none of them had quite understood. It had happened for all of the Zakeeri ships as well. So those ships which had been silver remained their usual bright selves.

 

B'Elanna began settling a blanket onto the surface of the ship, tacking it down with special locking mechanisms so it wouldn't float away in the wind. Then she settled herself on the blanket and opened the pack to pull out the food. “Come sit down, love.”

 

Seven of Nine sat down cross-legged. Like B'Elanna she was in shorts and shirt, with work boots, gloves and helmet. She peeled off the gloves and stuck them in her belt. “When is Commander Tucker going to run her troops?” She inquired. She'd heard through the network that the Commander planned on starting training early.

 

“She's already got them running through the woods. We're ahead of schedule, so the captain gave the go ahead. She figured it would keep some of those Klingon types from getting bored. Go figure.” The Klingon bit into her sandwich. She, of course, was not bored because she was too busy.

 

“I am sure that Commander Tucker will...” what was that phrase again? Ah...” Run them ragged.”

 

The Klingon smirked and looked into ice-blue eyes. She wasn't sure what sparked it, maybe it was the scent of metal and sweat and Seven. Maybe it was the way her Borg looked at her. Maybe it was just that it had been so long, but one moment she was chewing and the next, she felt lava flow through her blood.

 

It had been so long that she almost forgot what it meant, how to respond. Her nostrils flared as she inhaled. Seven's eyes widened and B'Elanna knew that the familiar pulse had hit her too. The Borg delicately set her meal down and enclosed it neatly in its wrapper. She didn't dare look up, even when she took the sandwich from B'Elanna's hands.

 

Their fingertips brushed and the heat flared through the touch, familiar and new. She gasped and still she held back. She was afraid that the need would disappear, she realized. The meal was put away and now she looked up. B'Elanna's gaze was hot, wanton, needful.

 

Seven pondered and grabbed the hem of her shirt. She pulled it off in one swift move. B'Elanna growled then and sprang forward, pushing Seven of Nine down onto the blanket and kissing her steamily and hard enough to start the blonde moaning right away. B'Elanna's touch burned through her and Seven felt the other woman tug at her shorts and then, in frustration, tear them off.

 

There was barely seconds that passed before B'Elanna's fingers were deep inside of the blonde, thrusting, pressing and searching. Seven of Nine had been instantly wet, receptive. She rocked against B'Elanna's erotic demand, cried out her need, responded with touch of her own. But B'Elanna wasn't ready to be pleasured yet. She held back, wanting and needing to feel Seven reach the peak.

 

Her mouth created a line of wet fireworks along Seven's abdomen and implants. She made a holy passage down and down, until she found the apex, the sweet pearl. There she lingered, drawing out Seven's pleasure. Needing to feel the Borg flex and cry. B'Elanna spoke to Seven, told her of her need, her love, her desire as she filled her mate. Seven arched, called out her name and miraculously did not manage to dent the hull.

 

The new armor worked!

 

==^==

 

Part 10 | Bookmarks

 

The Klingon Justice was making its way to another Klingon colony world in the Beta Quadrant. They had now been to several and their docket and reputation were growing. The House Presba in this Universe stuck with the plan and it was working. They kept their eye out for Orion Syndicate cases. The Syndicate existed here and they were just as loathed by the general public, but they had a strong hold in the system because of the “protection” services they provided. Nothing showed, yet.

 

T'Pel was stationed at a computer system, doing two occupations. One was correlating information about Syndicate behavior and the other was making fiscal transactions and monitoring the interquadrant stock market. It had become somewhat of a hobby over the past few weeks. She had set a small personal goal of increasing the wealth of the House Presba in this Universe, while subtly supporting non-slavery institutions. As Phoebe might say, she was raking in the dough. This was good, since they also had to pay the Klingons who crewed the ship. It made for a nice fiscal tension.

 

Lwaxana was continuing her study of the politics of the Universe, reading up on the Intendants and the political players in the various systems. She found it diverting. The Klingon crew were finally relaxing around her enough not to cringe when she walked by. But they did get out of her way quickly. It was an odd mix of frustration and power that she felt at the moment.

 

They were both occupied by their different pursuits when the flare began. It had startled Lwaxana enough that she dropped the PADD that she'd been holding. Miral had looked at her and then her eyebrows raised. “You best get to quarters, Lwaxana.”

 

“Thank you, Captain.”

 

Miral had merely nodded. “Take your Vulcan with you, will you?”

 

“Of course.”

 

Gretchen unobtrusively picked up the PADD and placed it near Lwaxana's hand. The Betazoid took it with a grateful glance. Then she excused herself from the Bridge, claiming T'Pel's company along the way.

 

They walked with barely concealed haste to their quarters. When the doors hissed closed behind her, Lwaxana tossed the PADD onto a nearby table, then cried out. “Get these clothes off of me, please!”

 

T'Pel stepped forward, and ripped the garment off of Lwaxana's beautiful body, then she stripped the necklace off in a swift movement. In seconds she was pressing herself against the Betazoid, growling hungrily into their kiss.

 

Lwaxana felt the blending of their desire, their thoughts. The heat of it rolled off of them, flowed through them.

 

They barely made it to the bed. T'Pel had been stripping along the way, until finally they were naked to one another.

 

'I need,' T'Pel's mind touched Lwaxana's, cried for her and for them.

 

'I need,' affirmed Lwaxana, and she kissed her mate hungrily, brushed her hands down smooth, gorgeous breasts and sides.

 

T'Pel opened to Lwaxana's touch, needing to be filled, to be tasted. They turned in each other's arms, reflecting like erotic mirrors. Their mouths and hands found what they sought and they floated together, pressed into one another. Blessed kisses were placed upon one another. They supped at the altar of generation, salt and sweet, need and release. They shuddered and rose together, cried into one another and found ecstasy in their sorrow.

 

==^==

 

The Estate of House Presba did not have a pretty lawn or large statues guarding the domicile. It did not have slaves or wild parties for the whole family. What it did have were three hard working women with simple goals.

 

They selected the largest abode in the colony and cleaned it and set it up for habitation. They put the family crest in visible places in the hallway, but otherwise, avoided ostentation. They set up a family gym circle and built a Holodeck for other kinds of practice.

 

Then they started considering how to add to the House.

 

Orders were placed for equipment. People were hired and specifically told they would be working for the Estate of House Presba. The women thought that if they had the land, they might as well use it

 

While they were reaching out, they were contacted by friends of Malvok and persons who had been affected positively by Miral Torres. Tiny alliances were formed. Miniscule. But every little bit helped, even if all it could be was good will.

 

The shuttles began arriving soon after.

 

One stormy night, when the rain was pouring hard enough to flood and cold enough to chill the bone, a chime rang at the main house. Phoebe Janeway answered the door and found herself looking down and then down again. A skinny young Klingon girl, drenched, stood shuddering on the steps. “I am Auloh, niece of Tulek.” She said through chattering teeth. “I was the one he made call. I am of the House no longer. They can not make me speak for them any more.” She shivered visibly, “I can only speak for myself. I am here to serve.”

 

==^==

 

Ensign Vah was Kazon and was amazed that he could still move. Okay, that was perhaps an exaggeration, but everything ached. The sleep had been sparse. They'd been run to the ground, run through water and mud and things he still wished he hadn't smelled. They'd been shot at, charged and flipped, fought in hand to hand in crazy circumstances, struggled through inconceivably wicked traps like a field of mines with short supplies, which forced them to work together or firefighting, which forced them to get strategic. They had to make firing runs at speeds he didn't know he could maintain and it went on and on. They had to find food and water on the run and sometimes that food wasn't free. He was amazed some of them weren't dead, given the ferocity of the experience.

 

It was worse than his manhood trial.

 

And yet, he was still alive, and he was marching the long march aside his companions. They'd been at it since before light and they had covered miles. Now the sun was rising. They passed across a bridge and the drill instructors were having them do the calls. For some reason the rhythm of it helped. His feet kept moving, despite himself.

 

Eventually they arrived at a circular space. The Captain was there, as was Commander Tucker and the Zakeeri Shamans. The instructors called the recruits to halt. A holographic image rose behind the Captain and those with her. Ensign Vah recognized them as the Marine colors of Starfleet. Like the rest of the recruits, he saluted. The Zakeeri shamans then stepped forward, uttering words that were somewhat foreign to them, but came from a long and sacred tradition. Then Commander Tucker stepped forward and called out individuals by name.

 

When Ensign Vah finally heard his name, he stepped up. Commander Tucker placed the pips that signaled his new state and took his hand. She shook it firmly and looked him in the eye. “Congratulations, Marine.”

 

He had never been prouder.

 

==^==

 

Ensign Chase entered the Ready Room. “Beggin' Your Pardon, Captain, but I have a suggestion...” If he'd had a hat in his hands he would have been wringing it.

 

The captain didn't smile, but her look was gentle. “Ensign, you may direct suggestions to Lieutenant Ro.”

 

“Ah. Thank you.” He rotated on his heel and spoke again. “Beggin' Your Pardon, Lieutenant Ro, but I have a suggestion...”

 

Lieutenant Ro quirked a brow and said, “Please. Convey it.”

 

“Ah. Yes, Ma'am. You see, I've been talking with my buddies Tat'el and Dukath. We're in the Marine compliment together.” He cleared his throat. “We got to talking about where we're going and all, and what we might do. They pointed out that, really, it didn't seem all that much different from home... uh... their home.... ma'am. And, if we went in more like Klingons, maybe our... uh... reception would be a bit different. Than, say, if we went in like...uh...”

 

“Starfleet.”

 

“Yes, Ma'am.”

 

“Ensign Chase. Thank you for the input. We will take it into consideration.” Lieutenant Ro said. “Is there anything else?”

 

“Uh... well... it's kind of a private matter. They won't talk to you about it none, but I ...” Again he cleared his throat and managed to look a little more worked up. “They don't have names. I mean... They have names, but not last ones. I mean... Ma'am, my buddies. They don't have no House. And it ain't right. It ain't right at all. It's only because...” He paused and then rubbed his forehead, “You see?” Then he grimaced. “Now, I ain't saying how it ought to be, but ...”

 

“Ensign Chase.”

 

“Yes, Ma'am.”

 

“I never heard this. Understand?”

 

The Ensign came to attention. “Yes, Lieutenant.”

 

“Dismissed.”

 

“Yes. Lieutenant.” The man marched out, back straight, head high, pokerfaced.

 

Lieutenant Ro looked at Captain Janeway. “Fourth one this week.”

 

==^==

 

The House Presba on Voyager held a council. “Really, it's up to you, B'Elanna. You're Epatai. But there is a logic to it.”

 

“Starfleet is going to love us.”

 

“Well,” said Kathryn, “As many of you have pointed out to me in the past, Starfleet is far away from the Delta Quadrant.”

 

“But, as you've said, we are Starfleet here.”

 

“Have we not managed to do both?” Seven inquired. “We follow Starfleet protocol, with few exceptions. There are accommodations for Klingon crew in the manuals. And many of the original commissions have expired already. We could adapt, as we have before, and simply create something unique. Admiral Paris has been open to our... methods so far.”

 

“If I may point out, there are also those who are not Klingon who have expressed interest.”

 

“And, of course, a Klingon House is not just merely family. We discussed what might result when we made the decision. A Klingon House does include those who are tied by loyalty or other social structures. Warriors of the House Presba would have the benefit of the name as well as the responsibilities, but they do not necessarily have to be as intimate as we are. If we adopted a method from the Zakeeri, we would be the Prime Unit of the House Presba, while we created other subunits.”

 

“I need a day to think about it. I'd thought we might add to the House, but not so soon, or so many at a time.”

 

“We have plenty of days at the moment, B'Elanna. Take the time you need. But,” Kathryn said warmly, “come and settle in my arms for a moment. I've been longing to hold you since this morning.”

 

“Now that I can do right now.”

 

==^==

 

It was amazing what one could learn from a Klingon girl. For instance, she was a font of wisdom about Klingon traditions. She was also a veritable treasure trove of information about House Qua'lon, its attitudes, and its contacts. Auloh let them know that the family Qua'lon did not intend to let the House Presba gain much in the way of strength. They were going to hire assassins.

 

Of course, they had some time to prepare. House Qua'lon was keeping its nose clean for a bit. The Tulek incident had not exactly covered them in glory and had brought the eye of the Empire upon them.

 

The House Presba offered Auloh the option of joining their House.

 

“Even after what I did?”

 

“That was your uncle's doing. Do you intend us harm, Auloh? Have you vengeance on your mind?” Deanna asked. She already knew the answer, but knew Auloh needed to figure it out for herself.

 

Auloh considered the questions. “My uncle was not an honorable man. He was a blight on the honor of my family. My mother said so, before he killed her. No one stood up for her. When Tulek died, I hoped it would be different.” The girl, matured by the difficulties of her life, shook her head.

 

Deanna patted the girl's shoulder. “Think about it, Auloh. No one here will make you do what you do not wish to do.”

 

==^==

 

It was bound to happen at some point. The judgment came down to a challenge – of the accused to the judge. The accused could dispute the charges in many ways. In this case, the accused wanted to fight it out. Kald was confident he could win as he usually did.

 

Miral took up her Bat’leth and kissed her woman. Then she shed her robes and handed them to Gretchen and went down to the circle.

 

She faced a Klingon male of great proportion. Kald was muscular and overly tall. It was obvious that he relied on his great strength in battle. He was probably also quicker than he looked. He pounded his fist into his palm before taking the Bat’leth that someone loaned him. He didn't intend to rely on it. He growled at Miral, trying to scare her into submission.

 

He failed.

 

Miral could have asked one of her people to be champion. But after Asil... It just wasn't in her to lose another loved one or even just one of the guard. She would handle her own battles. She centered herself into a stance and waited for the signal to begin.

 

The big man charged before the call was made.

 

So that’s how it is going to be, the Judge thought. Miral whirled away from the blow, but still got hit by a massive fist in the side.

 

It hurt, and made her breathless, but she expected it. She was mentally timing the other fighter. He hadn't even lifted his Bat’leth, just carried it loose in his hand, like he expected to only have to use it at the end. She was fully prepared to take a few more hits, just to make sure he never had a chance to use it.

 

The man taunted. “Your Human. She's going to be mine.” He made commentary about what he was going to do to the slave, along with a rude gesture and laughed. He looked around like he expected the audience to laugh with him, but there was only a hungry grumble. The audience wasn't prepared to give him that kind of commitment yet. He would have to earn their appreciation.

 

Miral felt a low growl begin somewhere in her belly.

 

She remembered Gretchen's words during their battle before they entered this Universe and realized that she had, again, been unconsciously holding back. Her growl turned nastier, uglier and peculiarly frightening. A red haze formed in her vision. Her gaze narrowed specifically on him. She hefted the Bat’leth and waited for the overgrown Targ-ass to charge again, like she knew he would.

 

He roared at her and she stayed still until the end, and then moved lightning quick. When he stumbled away it was with her Bat’leth in his chest. His Bat’leth was now in her hand. He stared up at the startled audience, but only for as long as his head was on his shoulders, which was maybe a second or two. She cut it off on the turn around, emitting a terrifying howl in the process. While his head rolled towards the audience's feet, she took his Bat’leth and struck the ground with it until it stuck. Then she caught her own blade and tugged it out of his chest before the body hit the ground.

 

Carrying the bloody weapon in one hand, like she meant to slice anyone who got in her way, she went to her mate. She caught the Human into a one armed embrace and gave her the kind of kiss that operas are written about. When she pulled back, Gretchen's eyes were closed and she was barely standing on her own. Miral hefted her blade above her head and handed down the ruling.

 

No one argued.

 

In general, afterwards, the audience agreed that he probably shouldn't have taunted the judge about her mate.

 

==^==

 

The unfortunate side effect of that event was the slaves and belongings that were transported to her ship. Not only did the community pay, but they felt that Miral had won, in a most traditional way, the property of the deceased. Miral had taken one look at the raggedly dressed, huddled group of three females and said, “You remember what I said about servants?”

 

“Yes,” Gretchen acknowledged as she observed the women. She noticed, with some amount of prejudice that one of the bruised and beaten was green in skin and hair. Then she chastised herself. The woman had been a slave. She might be Orion, but she wasn't Syndicate. One of the other women was Vulcan, shorter than T'Pel and lighter skinned. Her face was terribly scarred. The other was a blue skinned Deian, whose extraordinary beauty was also brutally marred by cruel scars. Apparently their previous owner lived up to the Klingon reputation.

 

Just looking at the women made Miral want to stab and slice the PetaQ's head off again. Too bad he was dead.

 

As she stepped forward, the women pulled back unconsciously. It inspired an instinctive growl of disapproval on her part. “Stand up straight,” she barked. “You will look at me when I talk to you.”

 

The Vulcan was the first to respond and she straightened up tentatively. She then helped the others, pulling them from their crouch. Miral's gaze raked them up and down. “This will not do. You are now in a new House. The House Presba. Our slaves will not go dressed in rags. They will hold themselves up in pride of the House. They will defend the Honor of the House. Bow to others only as Honor requires. Our House follows tradition.”

 

She brought Gretchen forward. “This is my mate. You will obey her in all things. She is my hand and voice. Understood?”

 

They gave Miral shaky nods. The Klingon turned to Gretchen. “I apologize for dumping these creatures upon your shoulders, but I do not wish to deal with them unless I must. But they are ours now, to do with as we wish. I wish them to be worthy servants of the House. Therefore, I leave them in your care.”

 

Gretchen half bowed to Miral, “Mate, may I inquire about limitations? Do you wish the crew to have access?” She glanced meaningfully at the young Klingon males who guarded the transporter room at the moment. She could see their interest.

 

Miral observed Gretchen's subtle hint. It caused the Klingon to focus again on the slaves. She turned back to Gretchen. “No. They belong to us, not the crew. We run a trim ship here. I don't need them fighting among themselves for rights to my slaves. If they want that kind of fun, they will join another crew or enjoy themselves while on shore leave. It's not like we don't make plenty of port stops these days.”

 

“As you will, my mate.”

 

“Clean them up, find quarters for them. Find out if they have any skills and make them useful somehow. Inform them of our rules.”

 

“Yes, my mate.”

 

The judge gave a frustrated sigh. “See if Lwaxana will let T'Pel help.”

 

“Yes, my mate.”

 

Miral Torres of the House Presba exited the transporter room without looking back. Gretchen turned her attention to the women. Where to start?

 

==^==

 

Lwaxana didn't just have T'Pel help. She also chose to aid in getting these women adjusted to their new circumstances and healed, as much and as quickly as possible. The women had been terrified when they were led to the Medical Bay, but the Vulcan had stopped whimpering as soon as Lwaxana had touched her. Then she had gazed back and forth between T'Pel, Lwaxana, and Gretchen in amazement. Sometimes it was good to be a Telepath.

 

That was when she began to really believe that her circumstances had truly changed for the better. The Vulcan woman revealed her name as T'Sai. Then she introduced the Orion woman as Effany and the Deian as Nelav.

 

T'Pel led T'Sai to the bio-bed and helped her up on it. Lwaxana took up one of the healing tools. The women paled, but stayed brave. Gretchen began speaking to them.

 

“The House Presba welcomes you. We wish it were under better circumstances. Now, let me tell you what to expect and what we need from you.” Then Gretchen began to explain how the House Presba was running things in this Universe.

 

Later, as the Deian's scars were slowly removed by Lwaxana's careful application of the dermal regenerator, the Orion dared to ask a question. “You say you will take us with you, where we can be free?”

 

“Or we'll write papers for you and free you at a convenient location, which ever you prefer. Or, if you choose not to be free, you will be treated well and given a stipend that reflects the amount of your service, to spend as you will. If you cooperate, it will make our lives much easier. If not, we'll have to make... hard choices.” Gretchen paused and then grimaced. “And you should be aware, we have killed to gain this ship. We are able to make those hard choices. Do you understand?”

 

The Orion nodded shakily. “I think, though, I would take the risk with you.” She looked at the other women. “Can we... will you allow us to share a room? We have been our only comfort.”

 

Lwaxana snorted. “She means that they're mates.”

 

Gretchen shook her head at her daughter-in-law's frankness. And then said, “You may all share a room.” There was a communal sigh of relief. “You may also be free of worry from this crew. If any touch you against your will, you are to report it.”

 

There were skeptical looks. So Gretchen clarified. “Lwaxana is a Truth Seeker. She will know.”

 

They looked at the Betazoid in sudden horror.  Lwaxana then gave Gretchen a sarcastic glance. “Thank you, Mother, for reminding them.”

 

Gretchen just shrugged. “I was only telling the truth. Besides, who knows what the future holds? If they act with honor they may find themselves named as part of this House. Better to set the standard now.” The slaves boggled and felt a bit liked they'd stepped into a new Universe.

 

==^==

 

Voyager finally felt more like herself. Her innards were no longer sticking out like the entrails of a stabbing victim. In fact she felt quite good, whole and strong. The nannites had worked with her to blend the adaptations into her systems and make them viable. They even made improvements, which she wasn't quite ready to talk with others about.

 

Stinging Sparrow had been a bastion of support during the whole time. Except for those occasions when she'd been called away from the system in order to run errands. But on the whole... Voyager was sure she wouldn't have made it without the constancy of her ... dare she think it? Her mate.

 

It was something she and Stinging Sparrow danced around.

 

But their affection for each other was as true as any Voyager had observed in her organic crew. Nor did she think her family, would deny the definition. Stinging Sparrow was family.

 

==^==

 

The ceremony was held in the open air of Voyager's Rest, and, yes, blood was involved. It was a Klingon ceremony.

 

B'Elanna Torres realized there was no going back when she stood up on the temporary stage. In front of her was an incredible group of people originating from distant points within the galaxy and they all had one purpose today. They intended to join her House.

 

All of the Klingons participated, as did all seven of the Kazon, several un-clanned Zakeeri who couldn't believe their good luck, several of the Kutwutchus – both those who joined as crew and those who joined as colonists -, several other beings who had interest in being part of the House, and a few other members of the Voyager crew who understood what joining her House meant and obligated, and wanted it anyway. There were the Wildmans, for instance, and Neelix, and Tal Celes, Jennifer and Megan Delaney, and Counselor Nael... Some of the people who were joining surprised B'Elanna, but maybe it shouldn't have. Obviously it wasn't everyone on the crew. But maybe a third of her old Maquis friends joined and a sixteenth of the rest of the crew, if one was looking at percentages. It was ... any way you counted... much more than she would have ever thought. And it reminded her that Voyager's crew was family and that family cared.

 

B'Elanna felt a bit of a shiver go across her shoulders and began to say the words. Knives sliced across palms and oaths of loyalty and commitment were spoken as if in one voice. House Presba gained a foothold in the Delta Quadrant that wasn't going to go away.

 

When the ceremony was over a celebration was held. It was the kind of event that went on for several days even as people finished up and finalized their projects. Fresh foods and plants for both Hydroponics and the Park were gathered. The plants included full grown, sizable trees for atmosphere. As the plants were transported into the ship by vehicle, no one noticed the small beings that made the leap into the treetops after the original scan.

 

Other supplies were also tucked in last minute, just in case.

 

The celebration included many features that pretty much ran through the days and nights. There was the cookout, which started right after the ceremony and ran the full time after. Then there were the games, softball, volleyball, hoop-stick, capture the flag and tons of others. It wasn't just the kids, of which there were quite a few, who played. The adults were in there playing just as hard. There were marathon holographic features for watching. The lake was filled with swimmers, divers, cannon-ballers... There were the dances, which seemed to start informally near the resort, but always ended up quite crowded by the end of the evening. People had worked so hard, so long that the playing naturally reflected that effort.

 

The party was still going strong when Voyager took flight and headed into the stars.

 

==^==

 

During the ship's adaptation, a station was created in Astrometrics with the specific purpose of identifying unusual universal or temporal anomalies and identifying ships at long range. Borg technology married with Zakeeri made for fascinating results. It was manned every day, every hour, by someone trained in identifying and distinguishing the readings. If the Orion Syndicate so much as poked its nose in nearby points to Voyager, they would at least snag the reading. If they stayed, they'd snag the ship.

 

Another station was created in Engineering. The scientists and engineers were cooperating in creating an interuniversaltranswarp/translator.” It was an ambitious and long term effort, possibly futile, but they were going to try it anyway. They would have stayed longer on the planet if they were going to do a complete transwarp overhaul. But they thought they could stop at another M-class planet if it came to that. If nothing else, the location saved a spot for whatever the Orion Syndicate was using. And if any good that came, it could be used in other ways too.

 

They had kept Starfleet apprised of their approaches to the problem and so far had the approval. As long as they shared some of the advances they made, Starfleet wasn't going to quibble. Besides, Starfleet needed help with the war. They loved what Voyager had done with... well... everything. And true, most federation ships wouldn't be able to absorb the armor, they could adapt it though. Even then, Voyager wasn't giving them everything. A girl had to have a few secrets.

 

“Damn, we wish you were here,” Admiral Paris said, “but maybe this is what we needed, someone far enough away that they had to make radical changes and take chances. You're better than a secret lab. They can't touch you. This could make the difference for us Kathryn. Keep it coming. And if we have something to share with you, we'll send it on. Our tech guys love you.”

 

Admiral Paris kept the Prime of House Presba in contact with their family in the Beta Quadrant. They shared their progress with each other and welcomed new members of the House with graciousness. The new names would be added to the Rosters.

 

“You're not going to make us enlist a whole lot of people here, are you Katie?” Phoebe had joked.

 

“Well not today, Pheebes. Maybe next time though.”

 

“Oh. Well, as long as you keep us posted.”

 

“On the other hand, seriously, if you need to, do it.”

 

“Don't fret sis. We're good here. Auloh tells us that House Qua'lon is somewhat occupied at the moment. Oh, and we had a very interesting visit from the House of Martok.”

 

“House of Martok?”

 

“Ever here of Ambassador Worf, Katie?”

 

“Oh my.”

 

“Yep. Seems he and Deanna have a history. He stopped by and made a very public announcement of alliance. Shockingly public, since his House has got a lot of political power, what with it being the House of the Chancellor and all. It'll be interesting to see what the fall out on that one is.” There was a pause. “I really wish Lwaxana was here, because she could have analyzed it in a heartbeat.”

 

Kathryn inhaled slowly. “I wish she and T'Pel were anywhere in this Universe, right at the moment. Well, almost anywhere.”

 

“Nope. You wish they were right there, with you, so you and your mates could...”

 

Pheebes!!”

 

“Hah! Gotcha. I know it's not like that. Entirely. You forget we lived with them for awhile. They are some spicy ladies, let me tell you. We'll Lwaxana is, but we had to order sound proofing, if you know what I mean. Oh, look at you blush. But, honest Katie, I know you miss them.”

 

“Daily.”

 

“Yeah. And Mom. And Miral. I ... just wished we knew they were okay. You know? That other Universe... it sounds scary.”

 

“That's because it's an unknown. But that's what Starfleet deals with all the time, as I was reminded a few months ago. In a way, if we make it there with a ship, it will be a first. Normally people have stumbled there by accident. We've only got well... individual interpretations of data. Remember the early Mars years. They thought there wasn't life on Mars for years. But we'd only sent a few rovers in the beginning and they all landed in desert...”

 

“True.” Phoebe was about to continue and then glanced at the clock. “Damn. They're going to cut us off. Well, I better go. Love you, Sis. Pass it on.” In fingertalk she said, Come back to us.

 

==^==

 

Part 11 | Bookmarks

 

“We can't offer you much,” the Dunkarian stated. “We are farmers here. But we have heard...” The man paled to a shade of opalescent pearl and shrunk down a bit as it summoned its courage to speak to the fierce looking Klingon Judge. “We have heard that you make your home upon a ship.”

 

“And is there something wrong with that? The Empire sends me where it wills. Do you disagree with the Empire's methods?” Miral questioned dangerously.

 

The Dunkarian raised his six fingered hands in horror. “No. Your Honor. Of course, not. It's just...” He cleared his throat. “We don't have much, but we could offer you land.”

 

“Land.” Miral shot a look at Gretchen. “What would I do with land?”

 

“Farm it?” the Dunkarian offered hopefully. “We are good farmers. And good negotiators. We could offer our services.”

 

“No slaves.”

 

“I'm sorry?”

 

“On my farm there will be no slaves, except for the ones I may bring. Contract services only. I will provide a contact for you to arrange the finances.” The Dunkarian blinked and nodded. Miral growled. “And I want a house built. Something modest. No extravagant crap. Well, not too much anyway. A pool might be nice. Holodeck. Room for kids. Make it a place of refuge, you understand?”

 

“Yes, your Honor.”

 

“Mate?” Miral did not look at the woman by her side. “Does this meet with your approval?”

 

“If you wish it,” Gretchen said.

 

Miral growled lightly at the tease. “I wish for your happiness. Does it meet with your approval?”

 

“Yes, mate. It does.”

 

The Klingon glared at the quivering, amazed Dunkarian. “Then make it so.”

 

“Yes, Your Honor.”

 

There was a pause. “Well.” Miral spoke impatiently. “Take me to your Judgment Hall.”

 

“Oh. Right. Please follow me.”

 

==^==

 

“Seven, do you have a moment?” B'Elanna started talking as she entered Astrometrics.

 

“Certainly. How may I assist you?” The blonde nodded to Megan Delaney and turned to address her mate.

 

B'Elanna waved the PADD in her hand. “These equations are driving me up the wall. I know I'm missing something, but what? You mind taking a look at them for me?”

 

“Of course,” Seven extended her hand for the PADD.

 

B'Elanna held it just out of reach. “I mean, would you mind looking at them with me?” There was a touch of silk and danger to the question.

 

Megan Delaney suddenly felt the need to be elsewhere in the department. She retreated a safe distance.

 

Seven of Nine narrowed her gaze. Then, very deliberately she inhaled.

 

A few seconds later, the ocular implant had risen to new heights. “B'Elanna Torres...”

 

“Please.”

 

Seven of Nine pursed her lips and considered. “Ensign Delaney, Lieutenant Torres and I will be ... solving her equation in my office. Please divert calls for the next hour, unless it is an emergency.”

 

“Sure thing, boss.”

 

The ex-drone looked regally at her Klingon. “If you will follow me?”

 

B'Elanna managed not to growl hungrily. She just gruffed, “Lead on.”

 

As soon as the door swished shut behind them, Seven of Nine was pressed up against the wall. She caught her mate's hands before she could rip the cloth. “B'Elanna, please. Let me.”

 

“Hurry.”

 

Seven of Nine began stripping, quickly. She felt B'Elanna's urgency, but it was not the total family flame that sometimes took them over. It was...simple desire. For her.

 

That was a complete turn on.

 

Seven felt her own desire expand, especially once B'Elanna began stripping herself. Again the Borg stilled her lover's hands. “Let me. You'll rip it off otherwise.”

 

B'Elanna growled hungrily, but let Seven help her out of her clothes. She looked around herself. “You don't have a desk. How am I supposed to take you on a desk if...”

 

“Next time have me come to you.”

 

“Right. Right.”

 

“I take it you were fantasizing about me?”

 

“I was...” Seven kissed B'Elanna abruptly as she finished tugging off the Klingon's shirt. “...working in the Jeffries Tube on deck eight and suddenly all I could think of was you. How you used to make me crazy by just showing up and tweaking things. I remember how you used to bother me almost every day. How sexy you were then and I hadn't known it. Then I realized... I missed it.”

 

“You missed it?” Seven yanked B'Elanna's trousers off and then folded them, before placing them on the chair where she was stacking her Klingon's clothes.

 

“I did. I do. I couldn't believe it. I think it's because I saw you more often then.”

 

“That is perhaps true. I would often find a problem so I could find ways to see you. Now that I see you daily, I feel secure in knowing that I will see you at another time.”

 

“You did that on purpose? Just to see me?”

 

“Did you not invent an equation, just so you could see me?”

 

“I... yes. I did,” B'Elanna answered

 

Seven of Nine knelt and trailed her hands sexily down the Klingon's torso, her buttocks and legs, until she was pulling off B'Elanna's boots and socks. She set those aside, and remained kneeling. It was a perfect height. She grinned ferally and B'Elanna realized that Seven was only half undressed, but somehow she had become completely undressed. “Hey...”

 

Before she could protest any further, the ex-drone said, “Then, Yes. I did.” Then she leaned forward and clasped B'Elanna in such a way that her legs were up over the blonde's shoulders. Suddenly the Klingon realized she was up against the wall and Seven of Nine was doing things with her tongue to B'Elanna's erotic center that would strip the words right out of a person's consciousness.

 

“Oh!” Then, she realized that she had been very worked up, since the wetness had already been there. Which is probably why...

 

“Oh!!!”

 

B'Elanna couldn't help the rocking movement. She had two choices about where her hands could be and she found herself pressing against the wall with her hands, so she could push against the Borg with her hips. Her eyes closed and she gasped in true pleasure as Seven purred while she drank and dipped in her mate.

 

Seven continued what she was doing, and even seemed to advance the method, which was more than fine. B'Elanna's fingertips pressed into the wall. There was a slight sound of metal stressing under the pressure. There would be marks on the wall. The Klingon's eyes closed and she felt the spring of desire in her gather for the great leap. And then the moment was on her and she called out Seven's name as she came with smolderingly delightful intensity.

 

She wasn't quite sure how she arrived at the point of reclining in Seven of Nine's arms on the office couch, but she knew she felt wonderful. She smiled at her mate.

 

Seven smiled back as she trailed her cybernetic hand along her mate's beautiful belly. “I will be sure to bother you more often in the future, B'Elanna. I will also be sure to provide you with better puzzles so you may do the same for me.”

 

“That would be a good thing.”

 

==^==

 

The Estate of the House Presba was graced by the presence of Worf of the House Martok once again. “Nice to see you, buddy,” said Phoebe irreverently as she took his jacket and hung it on a peg on the wall. “Deanna was just saying how much...”

 

Pheebes!”

 

The artist grinned at the shout down the hall. “Come on big guy, Deanna doesn't want me revealing her secrets and Auloh wants to show you her progress.”

 

Worf, who was used to the exuberant Human by now, merely shook his head. As he walked down the hall he paused to look at the walls. “These paintings...”

 

“Klingon heroes. I'm doing a series. They're not done yet.”

 

“They are...”

 

“Okay, I guess. I'm still… There's still some work to be done on them, I think.” Phoebe grimaced in frustration. “The series is a work in progress. But I'm practicing 'hanging the painting.' It was a suggestion from an art teacher long ago. She said sometimes you needed to live with an image for awhile so you could figure out what needed to be fixed or realize that they're good as they are...”

 

“Fixed?” Worf said in wonder. “These are... quite good.”

 

“Maybe.” Phoebe shrugged. Then she smiled again. “But hey, we're not here to talk about me. Come on. Food awaits.”

 

They met in the dining area. The table was largish, more in hope than in necessity. They all took places towards one side of the dining surface and served themselves. “So,” said Deanna, “What brings you here Worf? I'd have thought you were going out to the Front.”

 

“I did go back. Fought a great battle too.” Auloh looked instantly interested. “I will share the story later.”

 

Auloh deflated a bit, but ate her food without comment. At least she was at the table. Barin was already in bed. But then, he was four.

 

Worf continued, “I am here by request.”

 

The three women looked at each other. “What is it?”

 

“Klingon tradition can be a very good thing. Our rituals lead to strength of will and purpose. Our goals make for a strong Empire. But we have a failing.”

 

Again there was a glance passed between the women. They didn't say anything, since they knew how hard it must be for Worf to say such a thing about his beloved race.

 

He bit into a leg of beast and chewed contemplatively for a moment. Then, when he felt less like punching something, he spoke. “The War with the Dominion has called many warriors to Sto-vo-kor. These warriors sometimes leave behind family, but once the adults are gone, these family members have no one to speak for them. The Empire offers a place, once a certain age is reached, if the family members survive ....”

 

“You're talking about War Orphans,” Asil said. “I have read of this. The children lose their House, but there is not... a real state infrastructure to take care of them. Nor do Houses open their arms willingly, either for fiscal reasons or social. One would think the Great Houses would be scooping the children up, because man power is valuable. But...”

 

“They do not. They fear for their bloodlines, forgetting that a Klingon is a Klingon...” He spat his opinion to the side. Then he looked at the three women. “It has been noted that new names have been added to the Hall of Records. These names hail from the Delta Quadrant. The... person... who spoke to me is gratified to see such a small house take such brave, large steps. He was also pleased by the number of Klingons who have become part of the House. He... had been growing concerned that there were so many...”

 

Deanna gave him a quirky grin. “Aliens...”

 

“Ahem, well, they are Klingon now. You,” he looked directly at Deanna for emphasis, “... are now Klingon.”

 

Deanna smiled. “Who would have thought...”

 

“But still,” prompted Phoebe.

 

“Still. The person I spoke with, would like to see more bloodline Klingons as part of this House, to insure that Presba continues. He noted an overabundance of females. That has been corrected somewhat in the Delta Quadrant as far as subunits are concerned. But in both the Delta and Beta Quadrant the females in the Prime and Beta of the House Presba outnumber the one, single male.”

 

Phoebe choked on her drink a little, maybe even blushed.

 

Deanna spoke “But... this person... he doesn't know what our goals are. What if we intended to remain smallish? There are reasons we have not yet expanded; reasons of Honor. And there are historical incidences of matriarchal Houses. It is not unusual.”

 

“Certain issues of Honor can be addressed later, if the members of the other House survives being put at the very front of the Front.” The women's eyes widened. Worf ate a bit more meat and then continued. “And the person is fine with matriarchy so long as there are also children, male and female, of the Prime of the House. He wants you to have heirs of the body, soon.”

 

After Phoebe choked and coughed a second time, she decided that she was done with the meal for a moment. “Well, we'll be sure and let this person know when one of us gets knocked up. It's not likely any time soon though. I don't know about these ladies, but I don't even have a boyfriend at the moment. Plus, uh not to be too personal at the dinner table, but my implant expires in a year.”

 

Auloh was listening to this with wide open ears and tried to make herself invisible at the table, lest they dis-invite her from this fascinating adult discussion.

 

Worf grimaced and then took a long drink of blood wine. When he was done, he continued. “The person understands if you are not immediately able to accomplish his wishes in this matter. But he does want it addressed within a reasonable amount of time. He reminds you that you can expand the House in other ways in the meantime. He notes your progress with the Estate, and that you already have a certain accumulation of properties and businesses elsewhere. He was pleased to note that your House has people of status in the Prime unit. He wishes that to continue.” Worf looked meaningfully at the women. “It would be good, say, if Phoebe's new series were finished and displayed in public sooner, rather than later.”

 

“Whoa, no pressure there at all. Boy I am glad about that.” Phoebe rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I thought Klingons understood artists.”

 

“We do,” rumbled Worf, “But your images would serve the Empire at a time of need. I can wait a few days for you to fix them...”

 

“Oh God in Heaven.”

 

“Can it not be done?”

 

“Of course it can be done,” Phoebe groused. “I've operated under an unexpected deadline before. I just...” She waved her hand... “We're off track anyway. Sorry, continue Worf.”

 

The Klingon nodded. “In a similar vein, the person of whom I speak is expecting you to be invited to attend certain functions. He wishes you, a small, growing House to be seen and plans to use your visibility to his advantage. He wants to remind Klingons of their fundamental opportunity.”

 

Deanna interpreted. “If House Presba can do it...”

 

“Yes. Exactly. Which brings me back to the War Orphans. If House Presba can do it...”

 

Deanna was nodding her understanding. “But Worf, we couldn't take them all...”

 

“He doesn't intend you to take them all. That obligation should not weigh on a small, growing House anyway. On the other hand, you should know the person indicated that he would be most displeased if his generous offer of anonymous financial contribution for schools and housing for the Children of House Presba was ignored.”

 

“Oh... dear.”

 

Asil spoke, “Is this something that we must decide, or may we confirm with our Epatai.”

 

Worf glanced at Asil and picked up another leg of beast. “It was understood that you spoke for your Epatai.”

 

Asil glanced at the other women. “I do. We will have our answer by the time you leave.”

 

“Good,” Worf nodded. “That will please the person immensely. He likes decisiveness.”

 

==^==

 

Naomi Wildman of the House Presba decided to visit her mother in the Park. It was growing close to the grand opening, at last. Plants and trees from a variety of worlds had been used. Certain controllable pollination agents, also known as insects, had also been installed. Butterfly-like creatures fluttered during the day and firefly-type creatures flashed during the nocturnal setting. The “day,” was set to ship's time. Strategically placed holographic units made sky. The lake was real, with a special stasis field to keep the water 'in,” where it should be. The plants and the ground were real too. There were small buildings and play units in the park. Shady places, and light places, sandy places and soft green places, and flowers.

 

She really liked the park

 

There were also animals, though most the crew hadn't really registered it yet. They thought they were holographic. Certainly that was Naomi's assumption.

 

Voyager, on the other hand, was aware of their existence, but had not brought it to the attention of the adult crew. She considered that the creatures had earned their place in the ship's ecosystem. Most of the small critters were Ubiyakian, and not dangerous at all. But they served a purpose for amusement and food, for the Voyager's Rest creatures, which had also found themselves displaced onto the ship.

 

That was one of the hazards of transplanting. You couldn't account for everything. On the plus side, the Ubiyakian creatures were specifically designed to find an ecologically friendly state, adapt, and stay there. They made up most of the fish, fowl and furry component in the park anyway. The Voyager's Rest creatures were furry, multi-limbed and handed and omnivorous. They were also tiny and unobtrusive. They hid in the trees and watched with wide, curious eyes while the crew worked. There were not too many of them at this point, but Voyager monitored them.

 

True, the captain might not take it well, since – apparently – they had accidentally kidnapped some beings. But Voyager hadn't known about them when they left and had discovered them only by accident sometime when they were long gone from the planet. What, were they going to turn around and return them to Voyager's Rest? Unlikely. There was no point in upsetting anyone.

 

The creatures were obviously intelligent and apparently made their homes in the hollows of the trees or other likely spaces. They used tools, but their tools appeared to be primitive at the moment. That might be a result of their displacement though, since they displayed other more advanced kinds of intelligence. She knew one or two of them had gone exploring the ship, but had returned to the Ship's Park within hours and stayed there afterwards. Certainly they seemed to be aware of their change in status and location and they had adapted accordingly. It was possible, from a certain perspective, that they might think the Park had been created for them.

 

On this particular fateful day, Naomi Wildman was walking on one of the clearly designated Park Pathways when one of the Ubiyakian furred creatures flashed past her, followed by an oblivious 46 or so centimeter high being waving a tiny spear. The being had made several steps past, and then turned in horror to look at the young girl. It had placed one of its tiny hands on its mouth in consternation. Its long tail had flexed down protectively over its buttocks, and then wrapped around its waist, tip flexing in consternation.

 

There was an eternity of pause and Naomi, who was aware that this was a special circumstance, knew she had some serious decision making to do. She lowered herself to the ground, never taking her eyes off of the creature and sat down. Now it was the creature's turn to decide what to do.

 

It looked around as if determining distance and flight possibilities. Then it looked at the girl, who waited patiently.

 

It reached some sort of decision.

 

Naomi was relieved when the creature laid its spear on the ground and then walked forward, all four palms out and cautious.

 

“Hello,” she greeted.

 

The creature cocked its ear. Then repeated the word. “Hello.”

 

“Do you need a translator?”

 

“Hello.”

 

“Naomi Wildman to Voyager.”

 

“Voyager here, Naomi.”

 

“Could you please transport a comm badge to my location?”

 

“Certainly Naomi.”

 

A comm badge appeared at Naomi's feet. The creature's eyes widened a bit, but probably not as much as it would have months ago. Naomi picked up the metallic object and extended it towards the small being. It didn't really have a place to put it, except maybe on its belt. But the communicator would work in its hands just as well.

 

“Hello,” the young Katarian spoke. “My name is Naomi Wildman of the House Presba.”

 

The creature gripped the comm badge with two hands, tight to its chest. “I am Nahuel... of the House Presba.”

 

==^==