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Can You Hear Me?
By SDerkins


Part 3

"I'm allowing you to return to full duty, Seven. Now that we know the truth of the matter there's no reason to keep your movements restricted. Oh, and by the way, you don't have to attend the sessions with the holographic therapist any longer."

Seven didn't reply immediately, getting the Captain's attention.

"What's the matter?"

"Captain, in spite of the reason for the sessions I have come to appreciate them. They have given me perspectives into human nature and aided me in understanding my own feelings."

Kathryn smiled gently. "Then feel free to continue. We all need someone to talk to sometimes. But don't feel that the hologram is the only friendly ear you have available to you. I'm always willing to take time to listen when you need it."

"I know, Captain. Thank you."

"So, how are you and B'Elanna getting along?"

The optical implant rose slightly as a somewhat bemused expression crossed Seven's features. "We have spoken several times and managed not to argue. She has expressed a desire to form a friendship."

Kathryn smiled brightly. "Good. You both have very powerful personalities that make it difficult for others to grasp. B'Elanna has few female friends and I'm sure once the two of you find a comfortable niche that the two of you will get along famously."

"We shall see." In spite of her lack of obvious delight at the turn of events Seven was pleased. She had admired the engineer's energetic personality and what Neelix called 'her spicy temperament'. B'Elanna was many things but boring wasn't one of them. The Klingon hybrid was intelligent and resourceful. And although B'Elanna was petite in stature compared to most Klingon females she was a powerhouse of energy and aggressiveness. Seven had to admit to a certain thrill when watching B'Elanna in action.

That evening Kathryn was relaxing in her quarters, a favorite novel in her hand. She was engrossed in the story when she sensed someone in the room with her. The captain looked up and saw Seven.


The blonde giggled.

"Ahh, one of our youthful visitors. What's your name?"

The impostor shrugged. "We don't really have names like you use them. We have feelings. The feeling is what we call another. My friends think of me as 'Swishy'." The Seven copy sat down next to the captain and leaned against her. "If we gave you one of our names we'd think of you as 'Caretaker'." The alien curled up her legs under her and snuggled close.

Kathryn smiled indulgently. She knew she wasn't always successful in hiding her maternal side. Apparently these alien children spotted the invisible sign on her forehead that identified her as a sucker for everything cute and cuddly.

"Will you read to me?" the alien asked, having access to Seven's childhood memories. Annika could remember her mother reading to her sometimes.

"Alright. Shall I start at the beginning?" Kathryn asked, marking where she had left off and opening the book to the first page. The alien child nodded eagerly and leaned her cheek against the older woman's shoulder.

Seven's eyes opened as the alcove finished her regeneration cycle. She was about to step out off the base when memories suddenly entered her consciousness through her data storage module.

She stood there several minutes as she 'recalled' the actions of the children while she had been regenerating. It only took several minutes to remember hours of play but their experiences and feelings were as clear as her own.

For the first time since being separated from the collective she felt a hint of embarrassment, wondering what the Captain had thought of Swishy making herself at home and asking to be read to. Then Seven felt herself smile at the pleasure the alien had experienced from the event. The children had taken turns during the time the officer had read aloud. Once Kathryn announced she was tired and needed sleep then the child occupying the image of the former Borg wandered until running into Ensign Ashmore in Engineering. By then another child took over and spent time asking numerous questions of Ensign Culhane as he manned the Conn.

Until now she hadn't realized how active the children had been. The Captain had reassured her that she had given them permission as long as they promised to behave. She had to admit they were remarkably well mannered in spite of being more than capable of causing havoc on board if they desired. Well, except for the Mess Hall incident. Those memories seemed to be skimmed over but they certainly explained the grape juice stain on her biosuit.

She was still puzzled over that. Although they weren't using her actual body they had to borrow a tiny piece of her consciousness to exist on their plane. Perhaps they had to return it along with anything corporeal they interacted with.

After changing her biosuit for a clean one she headed for the Mess Hall to join B'Elanna for breakfast. The engineer had suggested they meet so they could discuss that day's repairs. She arrived and scanned the room until she found B'Elanna's table. The woman patted the chair to her right and told her to sit.

Neelix eagerly approached Seven, wanting to tell her about the previous evening's events in his kitchen. B'Elanna snickered as the Talaxian told the humorous tale of how the alien child had attempted to pour himself some juice, having never actually drunk anything before.

"And how did you determine he was male?" Seven asked.

Neelix paused, opening and closing his mouth. "Well, I'm not sure really. It was just an impression I got. He did tell me that his friends thought of him as 'Tumbler'." Neelix chuckled. "If I had known that first I would have poured the juice myself. Well, I have breakfast to serve."

B'Elanna shook her head. "I bet this is weird for you, hearing all about the mischief those aliens get into."

"Actually, I had the memories of last night's events when my regeneration cycle was completed this morning. I recall everything they did this visit."

"Really? You mean everything or just the highlights?"

"All of it. In spite of their benevolent intentions I will be relieved when we complete our journey through this sector of space."

B'Elanna chuckled. "I can't say I blame you. It can't be easy to know a bunch of kids are running around the ship looking like you." The engineer had a sudden thought. "Oh Geez, can you imagine what it would have been like if they had chosen me to emulate? Voyager would never be the same."

Seven looked at B'Elanna sadly and didn't comment.

B'Elanna lost the grin and reached out to touch Seven's hand briefly. "What's the matter, Seven?"

"You are so quick to belittle yourself. I can not help but wonder what has occurred during your lifetime to bring such disparagement of yourself. I wish you could see yourself as I do, B'Elanna."

The engineer was grateful that she wasn't prone to blushing because the tears that threatened to pool in her eyes were embarrassing. She cleared her throat, "Well, if you heard as many turtlehead jokes as I have, well, you'd learn to make fun of yourself before someone else did."

"And I am sure if those cruel children could see you now they would 'kick themselves' because they lost their chances with a remarkably handsome and intelligent woman."

B'Elanna felt herself blush for the first time in years at the heartfelt words. She prayed Tom wasn't in the room or she'd never hear the end of it.

"Um, thank you," she replied politely.

Seven followed her new friend quietly as she hunted by tracks and scent along the jungle trail. B'Elanna was crouched low, her palms on the damp soil as she examined the faint prints left by the panther. Her nostrils flared at the scent of the feline when she neared a tree that the animal had marked with its urine. The former Borg used her own nose to detect scents but the one that kept her attention was that of her friend as she perspired from the humid heat of the jungle.

Both women enjoyed the high temperatures, accustomed to warmer climates compared to the cool dry air of the ship.

B'Elanna held up her hand, warning Seven to be silent. She slowly retrieved the large Klingon blade from its sheath and crawled forward. Seven watched in total fascination by B'Elanna's compact body that wore nothing but a snug sleeveless knit top and shorts. The engineer didn't even wear shoes, preferring to tread through the dense rainforest barefoot. Seven also wore different attire, choosing to don a stretchy camp shirt and khaki shorts. However, she thought it prudent to wear hiking boots since her feet were not as tough as B'Elanna's.

The darker woman stopped and signaled with her hands that the large panther was just ahead. Seven followed the path of her friend's finger and spotted the flicker of a black tail as it lazily curled and relaxed. B'Elanna grinned at Seven and began slowly climbing the large tree. She planned on ambushing the feline. She had inched her way towards the animal and drawn her blade slowly, mere seconds away from leaping upon the panther when the computer announced, "Five minutes remaining."

The holographic panther shot off into the jungle and B'Elanna shouted in frustration, cursing the very computer that created the artificial world in the first place.

Seven stood up and watched with some amusement at the colorful vocabulary the hybrid used.

"Well, my Klingon may not be perfect but even I doubt that the computer is capable of being born out of wedlock," the blonde teased.

B'Elanna growled at Seven who growled back. The shorter woman glared for a few seconds then laughed. Seven never backed away from her anger or a fight. Perhaps that was why they had fought so often. B'Elanna had to admit that the former drone was one of the few aboard that could care less about the danger of flicking a match near her short fuse.

"You thought that was funny, didn't you?"

"Of course I did. I'm not without humor and the sight of you poised, ready to spring and then having the time run out was a classic in timing and comedy." Seven kept to herself that the power B'Elanna had displayed, her muscles combat ready, had been enough to take her breath away. That was hardly proper thoughts to have about a friend.

That was actually one of the subjects of her recent discussions with the holographic counselor, Dr. Carol Hounshell. Seven had expressed a concern for the distraction that she suffered from when she was near B'Elanna.

The counselor had smiled, asking her pointless questions that only left Seven feeling more confused. What was the significance of touching? She noticed that humans often touched to make a point or to get your attention for example.

Seven had noticed that B'Elanna began touching her since they became friends. Usually it was to pat her on the arm or hand. Seven sighed. She didn't understand this need and was disturbed by a longing she didn't have words for. The closest she came to understanding this need for physical contact was the memory of Swishy snuggling against the Captain. Swishy had derived much comfort from the act.

Lost in her thoughts she didn't see B'Elanna's devilish grin as she reached up and pulled down a rain soaked limb. Cool water poured onto Seven "Now that's funny!" the engineer laughed, watching the water dribble down Seven's nose.

B'Elanna giggled merrily as Seven glared at her friend, no hint of a smile. Suddenly a holographic rainforest frog, bright red, landed in a heap onto the former Borg's once tidy bun. Seven pursed her lips, making no attempt to remove the amphibian. B'Elanna nearly peed herself from the effect of laughing so hard. Suddenly Seven's meshed hand flew forward and grabbed the front of the smaller woman's knit shirt. In an instant the blonde bowed forcibly and the frog landed with a slimy thud against one firm breast. Seven allowed the shirt to snap closed and began walking away while B'Elanna attempted to remove the cold creature.

"Scheduled time completed," the computer announced.

"Computer, end program," Seven ordered as she strolled out of the holodeck.

"Seven, I am gonna get you for this!"

Seven grinned.

Part 4

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