DISCLAIMER: Star Trek Voyager and its characters are the property of Paramount. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

To The Edge of the Universe
By Acathla


Chapter 8

Captain's Personal Log Stardate 50984.3

I was enjoying a rare moment off duty in the holodeck, conversing with the great Leonardo DaVinci, or at least my version of him, when Chakotay hailed me from Engineering. When I left the holodeck and walked to Engineering, the possibilities about what he and B'Lanna had found raced through my head. When I finally found out I was surprised to say the least. The probe we'd launched a while ago had sent back images before it had been dismantled… images of the Borg.

The Borg… the only species that Starfleet had ever deemed unbeatable. I have to admit I was a bit intimidated at the prospect of facing the Borg but I had known from the moment it was discovered that we'd been flung into the Delta Quadrant over three years ago that facing the Borg might be inevitable. Before long, a plan was worked out to avoid the Borg through a corridor of space we nicknamed 'the Northwest Corridor' that was empty of any Borg cubes. We thought this was our lucky day…boy were we wrong.

End Log.

When it was discovered that their main hope of avoiding the Borg was home to Species 8472 (the only species known to have destroyed not just one but 15 Borg cubes with what seemed like minimal effort), Janeway started losing hope.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Janeway was sure there was an alternative to turning around and settling down on the nearest M Class planet in the Delta Quadrant. In an effort to clear her mind, Janeway revisited Master DaVinci in the holodeck. Leonardo DaVinci was an effective sounding board whenever Janeway had needed guidance in the past. It was there, in DaVinci's studio, that Janeway conceived of her…ingenious and dangerous plan—an alliance with the Borg.

Although every member of her senior staff had their doubts and reservations, they each nonetheless followed Janeway's orders without delay, each one confident in Janeway's ability to lead them safely through this regardless of how dangerous it seemed. Only Chakotay expressed his doubts and fears. He tried to convince Janeway that the Borg would betray them, that they could never be trusted. Janeway would not be budged. Janeway could tell that Chakotay was only acting out of cowardice and Janeway wasn't going to back down. As he left the conference room Janeway once again accepted that she was alone after all, not even having the full support of her first officer, a man who she'd come to think of as a friend. As Captain, Janeway was accustomed to keeping herself above her crew, to maintain the chain of command and their respect. Still, she had hoped that over the three years they'd worked together that Chakotay at least would be willing to support her in this. That was not to be and Janeway realized that maybe friendship was expecting too much of anyone on her ship.

When they'd first encountered the 15 Borg cubes that had been later destroyed by Species 8472, one of the cubes had scanned Voyager, Janeway wasn't entirely sure why but she was grateful that the cube hadn't sensed enough of a threat to stop what they'd been doing to try to assimilate the ship.

Now, as Janeway began her negotiations with a Borg cube from the Bridge of Voyager, she wondered again why this cube hadn't scanned them again.

Soon though, in the middle of her sentence really, the Borg cube had transported Janeway onto a catwalk on the cube. Janeway continued her negotiations and never backed down and the Borg soon realized that the alliance was their best hope for survival.

On board the Borg cube, Janeway and Tuvok were on their knees trying to prevent being fitted with neural transceivers. Janeway demanded in her commanding voice, "choose a representative or the deal's off!"

After a few moments of silence, the transceivers were removed and the nearby drones helped Janeway and Tuvok stand back up. Janeway noticed movement to their right and when she glanced that way she saw a drone being disconnected to what looked like a stasis alcove of some kind. When the drone was free it walked toward them and looked right at Janeway and with an arrogance borne of the collective stated simply, "I speak for the Borg."

Janeway stared at the drone, a female, for a moment, instantly captivated though not knowing why. Then, "I'm Captain Janeway. This is Lieutenant Tuvok," Janeway began the introductions only to be interrupted by the drone.

"We are aware of your designations."

Janeway smiled and tried again, "what's your…designation?"

The drone, her voice flat and emotionless, replied, "Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One. But you may call me Seven of Nine." The whole time the drone talked she circled Janeway and Tuvok, an intimidation technique that might've worked on Ensign Kim or Lt Paris but wasn't working on Janeway and Tuvok. "You are proposing a large scale weapon. We concur."

From there it became a small power struggle, Janeway and Tuvok proposed turning Voyager's photon torpedoes into bio molecular warheads using the modified nanoprobes, while the drone insisted that torpedoes were inefficient and long range mines were needed.

"You're proposing a weapon of mass destruction," Janeway wasn't about to endanger innocent worlds just because the Borg were bent on destroying the entire species rather than intimidating the attacking force into retreat. Janeway and Tuvok both pointed out the need for quicker action than the mines would allow.

The drone looked at the Starfleet officers and said, "you are individuals. You are small and you think in small terms." The drone paused then, as the hive mind gave it instructions then, "but the present situation requires that we consider your plan." The drone walked towards the work station again to review and revise Janeway's original plan.

There was something about this drone that made Janeway curious. Something that went beyond mere curiosity over a mysterious species. She couldn't place her finger on it but as the drone worked on their plan, tapping algorithms and calculations on the touch screen, Janeway took the time to really study the drone. When Janeway realized that the drone had once been human, she felt a pang of compassion. When she could trust her voice she asked the drone, "you're human aren't you?"

Without inflection or emotion the drone replied, "this body was assimilated 18 years ago. It ceased to be human at that time."

Janeway did the math, 18 years ago she herself was only 20 years old. This drone looked extremely young to have been a drone for 18 years unless… "I'm curious. What was your name before…?" Before Janeway could finish her question and test her theory about this drone having been assimilated as a child the drone interrupted again.

"Do not engage us in irrelevant discourse."

Janeway was about to reply that it wasn't 'irrelevant' but they were hailed by Voyager. Chakotay informed her and Tuvok that Species 8472 had been using their telepathic link with Kes to possibly learn of their plan and their alliance with the Borg. Janeway could see the need to retreat in Chakotay's eyes but refused to acknowledge it. She had bigger issues to deal with than her First Officer's cowardice. Her concern for Kes, whom she cared for as a younger sister or even a surrogate daughter, temporarily overrode her curiosity about the drone.

When the bioships attacked, Janeway agreed with the drone to transport the technology and a few drones to Voyager so that the cube could be sacrificed to save Voyager. The Borg willingly put this suggestion forth, knowing the need to preserve the technology outweighed the loss of several hundred drones.

When it was all said and done, Janeway was critically injured, Chakotay assumed temporary command and the drones were in Cargo Bay 2 working on the modifications to the nanoprobes.

Although the drone known as Seven of Nine was willing to keep the Borg end of their deal, Chakotay used this opportunity to impose his own agenda, looking for the slightest sign that the Borg were about to renege on their deal to make his move.

Despite Janeway's direct order to make the alliance work, Chakotay wasted very little time in declaring to the senior staff that he was ending this alliance right then. When Tuvok expressed doubts that the drone would comply with his plan, Chakotay told him to have the drone brought to the ready room.

Chakotay met with the female drone without bothering to find out her designation. Chakotay informed the drone of his decision to end the alliance and the captain's incapacity which left him in command. The drone knew that despite being in command, this human could be intimidated. He was not as brave as the Captain and the drone sensed this and used it to the advantage of the collective, to honor the original agreement.

Chakotay sent the drone back to Cargo Bay 2 but not without admitting to himself that the drone had succeeded in intimidating him. Although if asked, he'd only ever say that it was Janeway's reaction that concerned him and motivated his actions, and not the intimidation tactics of a mindless drone.

The drone, under orders from the collective took control of Voyager to take an offensive stance and open a rift into the domain of Species 8472 which was basically fluidic space. Chakotay confronted the drone and discovered that the Borg had attacked Species 8472 first and not the other way around. Before Chakotay could work up enough anger to really rip into the drone, he was summoned to sick bay by the doctor. Upon entering sickbay, Chakotay paled at the sight of Captain Janeway standing there looking quite healthy and ready to take back command of her ship. And Chakotay knew he was about to get called to the carpet about his actions. He braced himself as the doctor deactivated his program to leave him alone with Captain Janeway.

Janeway faced him, her anger held tightly in check as she asked, "why?"

Chakotay knew better than to pretend he didn't know what she was talking about so he began his explanation, hoping it would be enough, "the collective ordered me to reverse course, travel 40 light-years back the way we came. What would you have done?" Chakotay challenged, sure that she'd see his point.

"I probably would've reversed course, maintained the alliance as long as possible."

She doesn't get it, he thought. "In my mind the alliance was already over."

Janeway though, saw the truth behind his actions, and her words cut him to the bone, as they were meant to. "You never trusted me. You never believed this would work. You were just waiting for an opportunity to circumvent my orders."

Chakotay again tried to talk his way out of the situation, "Trust had nothing to do with it. I made a tactical decision."

"So did I." Janeway replied, hoping he'd finally get it but soon realizing that hope was futile.

"They've been taking advantage of us from day one."

Janeway stuck to her guns though, "we made concessions, so did they."

Chakotay played his ace now, "they lied. The Borg started the war with Species 8472."

This gave Janeway pause. She really didn't like being lied to. As she thought about the current situation Chakotay continued, "we've only got one Borg left to worry about. We should try to disable her and get back to the Delta Quadrant."

Her? Janeway thought. Chakotay kept talking as Janeway paced the sickbay, "We might be able to duplicate the deflector protocols they used to open a singularity."

"No," Janeway began, a plan formulating in her mind as she spoke, "I won't be caught tinkering with the deflector when these aliens attack. There's no other way out of this Chakotay. It's too late for opinions, for discussions. It's time to make the call and I'm making it. We fight the aliens in full cooperation with the Borg."

This angered Chakotay, "I was linked to a collective once, remember? I had a neural-transceiver embedded into my spine. I know who we're dealing with." His tone of voice implied that Janeway had no clue who they were dealing with. "We've got to get rid of that last Borg and take our chances alone." The desperation in his voice was noticeable.

Janeway already knew, though, what he wouldn't allow himself to accept, "It won't work."

Janeway knew that without the Borg's help they'd be no match for Species 8472 even with the modified nanoprobes. But she also knew that the Borg needed them as well. They already had one war to deal with, it wouldn't help matters to be fighting each other as well.

"It will be your undoing." Chakotay said, though it sounded as if he was repeating something he'd heard.


"Our conflicted nature. Our individuality. The drone, Seven of Nine, said that we lacked the cohesion of a collective mind."

Janeway was never more thankful for her poker face as a part of her expressed relief that Seven of Nine was still on board. Despite the words that Chakotay repeated from the drone, Janeway knew that they didn't have to stop being individuals to win, they just needed to trust each other. Chakotay agreed and so they came up with a backup plan to safeguard the crew. A plan that, if all went according to plan, they'd never have to use but if it was used, maybe they could turn it to their advantage.

When Seven of Nine was escorted onto the bridge, Janeway set her plan in motion by letting the drone believe she'd confined Chakotay to the brig. Janeway knew that the drone would see this as a show of command, something all drones knew and responded to. Janeway gave the orders to Tuvok that made the drone believe she was getting everything she'd demanded.

"We are in agreement." The drone said as Janeway finished the orders.

"Good." Then Janeway turned to address her bridge crew. "This is the plan. We engage the enemy here, in their space. We show them what they're up against. If they have any sense of self-preservation, they'll back off and pull their ships out of the Delta Quadrant. That's provided the weapons are effective. If they aren't," Janeway turned then to address the drone, "it's been nice working with you."

Janeway then walked to her Captain's chair, "we've got to get this ship armed and ready in two hours. We're going to war."

The tension on the bridge was palpable as they contemplated what both victory and defeat would mean. Janeway though was thinking about something else. She kept an eye on the drone, Seven of Nine. Somehow, keeping her in sight, kept Janeway calm…and she needed that calmness right then.

As the bridge crew prepared and reported on their readiness status, Janeway gave the order to prepare for battle. Kes was sitting in Chakotay's chair, their only means of communicating with Species 8472. It was through Kes that Janeway hoped to inform Species 8472 of their options regarding the Delta Quadrant.

When the battle was finally over and they were back in regular space, the collective ordered Seven of Nine to assimilate the Voyager crew. When Janeway realized that the double cross was in place, she contacted Chakotay and gave the order to implement their backup plan. Using a neural link with Seven of Nine, Chakotay and B'Lanna severed the drone's link to the collective. Janeway watched with regret as the drone grabbed the side of her head as the pain of the link's severance hit her. Tuvok reported, "her connection to the collective is severed."

Janeway ordered her taken to sickbay before she contacted the doctor, "Bridge to Doctor. Report."

The Doctor, checking Chakotay with a medical tricorder answered, "Commander Chakotay's going to be all right, although he may wake up with a bit of a headache."

On the bridge, Janeway felt her relief then addressed her helmsman, "Tom, plot a course out of Borg space, maximum warp."

"Aye ma'am."

Three days later…

As the ship made its way through Borg space, Janeway left the bridge in Tuvok's command as she headed to the holodeck and Master DaVinci's studio. She decided to write out her log by hand this week.

Captain's Log Stardate 51003.7

Three days and no sign of Borg or bioships. We appear to be out of danger but the entire crew is on edge…and so am I. Not even the calm of Master DaVinci's workshop is enough to ease my mind…

As Janeway ended her log the holodeck doors opened and Chakotay walked in. "Am I interrupting?"

"Not at all. I'm just finishing up my log."

"The old fashioned way."

"I wanted to get as far away from bio-implants and fluidic space and…this seemed more human somehow."

"I hate to spoil the mood, but you might wanna take a look at this Engineering report. It'll take at least two weeks to remove the Borg technology from our systems. B'Lanna did note that the power couplings on Deck 8 work better with the Borg improvements."

"Leave them." A pause then, "how is our passenger?" Again Janeway was thankful that she was able to conceal her emotions when she needed to, her interest in the drone went far beyond what it should have been.

"The doctor said she's stabilizing. Her human cells are starting to regenerate."

Janeway couldn't help but muse, "I wonder what's left under all that Borg technology…if she can ever be human again."

Chakotay was concerned at her tone and asked, "you plan to keep her on board?"

Janeway wasn't about to abandon the human this drone used to be and could be again, "we pulled the plug. We're responsible for what happens to her now."

"She was assimilated at a very young age. The collective is all she knows. She might not want to stay."

And you don't want her here do you Chakotay? Janeway thought to herself. She knew her First Officer had no tolerance for the Borg but still, she expected him to suck it up and deal with it because there was no way she was going to return Seven of Nine to the collective if she could help it. There was human being beneath all that Borg technology and Janeway wasn't going to throw her back to the wolves.

"Oh I think she might. We have something the Borg could never offer. Friendship." Janeway faced him as she said this and Chakotay got the message.

He tried again to explain his actions, "I want you to know that disobeying your orders was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do."

"I understand. And, I respect the decision you made eventhough I disagree with it. What's important is that, in the end, we got through it together. I don't ever want that to change." Janeway was tired of rehashing what had happened the week before, she was ready to get past it.

"Agreed." Grateful to be off the hook, Chakotay smiled.

"Good. Well, I think it's time we got back to the bridge."

"No argument there."

Together, Janeway and Chakotay made their way to the bridge, ready for the next threat to come their way…whatever it may be.

Janeway, however, had a new mission in her head. She was determined to discover Seven of Nine's former identity and return it to her. She was determined to restore her humanity, regardless of what she had to do to achieve her goal.


Chapter 9

Captain Katherine Janeway had spent the past two days trying not to think about the drone she'd helped to sever from the Borg Collective. There was something about this drone that tugged at her mind… and her heart. Something Chakotay had said two days ago was still puzzling her.

He'd said the drone had been assimilated at a very young age, that the collective was all she knew. Something about that brought back memories for Janeway that she preferred to keep buried. She harbored no illusions about what had happened to her young friend Annika so long ago. Katherine had long ago accepted that her friend had died along with her parents on that last mission. There was never any evidence to suggest otherwise. Along with that acceptance, however, came the guilt.

Irrational as it might seem, Katherine carried a tremendous amount of guilt over what had happened…mostly because she knew that if she hadn't been away on that training mission the Hansens would have left Annika with her and her friend would still be alive. But she had been away and her friend was long dead and nothing would ever change that and that was why Katherine had buried the memories and why she preferred to keep them buried.

Now, after allowing the drone time to recover, Captain Janeway, the Doctor, and Security Chief Tuvok, made their way to Cargo Bay 2 where the drone was regenerating.

As they neared the regeneration unit that housed the drone, Janeway took the time to study her again. There was something… almost familiar about her but she couldn't be certain if it was real or just echoes from her subconscious.

"So, how's the newest addition to our family?" Janeway asked the Doctor, her tone as neutral as she was able to manage it.

"At the moment, she's stable but the prognosis isn't clear," he began, oblivious to the internal war brewing in Janeway. "Her human physiology had begun to assert itself—respiratory system, neurological functions, immune response. But those systems are swarming with Borg implants." Janeway turned then from her inspection of the drone's face to the Doctor as he continued, "there's a battle being waged inside her body between the biological and the technological and I'm not sure which is going to win."

At the mention of the drone's own internal battle, Janeway turned again to face her. They had that in common then, only Janeway's battle was between the logic of her mind and the screams of her guilt-ridden heart. When she could trust her voice, Janeway instructed the Doctor, "well it's time we brought her up to date. Wake her."

The Doctor spared his Captain a brief glance before pressing a hypospray to the drone's neck. The hiss of the spray seemed to echo in the silent Cargo bay as the three Starfleet officers waited for the Borg drone to awaken.

When she did, her disdain was the first thing to be noticed. "Captain Janeway. What have you…?" She paused then, her one visible eye darting around the room as if searching it but Janeway knew that wasn't the case. She was listening for the voices, and finding none, "the others; I can't hear the others. The voices are gone."

The fear crept into her voice then, and Janeway found herself wishing she could offer some form of human comfort. Instead, "we had to neutralize the neural-transceiver in your upper spinal column. Your link to the collective has been severed." If it wasn't for the presence of the Doctor and Tuvok, Janeway would've softened her tone, but she couldn't afford to show weakness right then. That would come later, in the solitude of her quarters.

The drone, however, just grew angrier, "you will return this drone to the Borg."

"I'm afraid I can't do that."

"You will return this drone to the Borg!" Angrier, louder.

"To do that, I'd be putting my crew at risk. I won't do that. Try to understand, you have to stay on Voyager, but I'm offering you freedom from the collective, and I promise you we'll do everything we can to help the transition," Janeway tried to explain but, as was becoming common, the drone interrupted her.

"You will supply us with a subspace transmitter and leave us on the nearest planet. The Borg will come for us."

It seemed like a reasonable request and if circumstances had been different Janeway might've agreed but not this time. "It's too late for that. Your human cells are starting to regenerate. You won't survive without medical care."

"We need nothing from you. We are Borg. We are…" the drone was cut off by a sharp pain in her head and the Doctor, a silent observer thus far, stepped forward to investigate the cause of the pain.

He was examining an implant on the right side of the drone's head when he said, "this implant is being rejected by the tissue underneath it. It's going to have to be removed."

"You will suppress the human immune system." The drone demanded, upset.

Now the Doctor was getting annoyed, "I'm sorry, but the process has gone too far. We've got to get you to sick bay."

Something snapped in the Borg drone's mind and she raised her voice screaming, "No! We are Borg! We are Borg!" As she screamed she was fighting against Tuvok's attempt to subdue her. The doctor pressed a hypospray to the drone's neck and injected a sedative into her system. Janeway watched on from a safe distance but as the drone slumped forward into Tuvok's arms she stepped closer, concern written on her face as she witnessed the drone's obvious opposition to being anything less than Borg.

Janeway ordered the Doctor and Tuvok to take the drone to sick bay. Before they left she instructed the Doctor, "Doctor, please send the profile I asked for when you return to sick bay. I wish to examine it in my ready room."

"Yes Captain."

Janeway then went towards her ready room, needing time to process what had just happened as well as to review the file she'd asked the Doctor to send her. When the drone had first been severed from the collective and she'd been taken to sick bay, Janeway ordered the Doctor to run a DNA analysis of the human cells and compare it to the Starfleet DNA registry. The results of that analysis and comparison were in the file she'd asked for. Due to the events which followed the aftermath of the war with Species 8472 and the Borg, Janeway hadn't been able to review the results until then.

When Janeway had settled into her chair at her desk with her usual cup of coffee, she opened the file from the doctor on the laptop computer that rested on her desk. When she read the results, her first reaction was disbelief. "There must've been a mistake." She said out loud to the empty room. Janeway ran the comparison again, hoping a different result would pop up, and at the same time hoping she'd get the same answer as before. The results still came back the same.

The drone who was currently in her sick bay was none other than Annika Hansen, listed by Starfleet as missing in action with her parents, Erin and Magnus Hansen. The guilt Katherine carried around inside grew at the sight of Annika's picture in the registry. That face was how she'd always remembered her friend. The friendly smile, sparkling blue eyes.

Katherine wasn't sure which fate was worse: death or assimilation. She'd spent 18 years believing her friend had died. She'd come to terms with it and bore the guilt of her part in it. Now, she was faced with the truth; Annika was alive. Trapped underneath all those Borg implants and circuits was her old friend. Now, more than ever, Janeway's resolve to restore the drone's humanity grew stronger.

Janeway's thoughts were interrupted by the chime at her door. When she answered, Chakotay entered with the Engineering and Tactical reports. Janeway listened with one ear, her thoughts focused more on how she was going to explain about the drone's identity.

Chakotay gave her the opening she needed soon enough, "having half our propulsion system overrun by Borg implants doesn't make repairs any easier."

Janeway glanced at the screen with Annika's face smiling at her before looking back at Chakotay and saying, "Seven of Nine could help us with that." Janeway was glad at that moment that Annika's Borg designation rolled so easily off her tongue. She'd decided to pretend not to know more than what was written in the registry about Annika, for the time being. Her trust in Chakotay was still tenuous after the events surrounding the battle with Species 8472…especially now that she realized that if Seven of Nine had not been the Jefferies Tube with something to hold on to when he'd decompressed the Cargo Bay, Janeway would've lost Annika again and that angered her.

"That might be true, if she were willing but she's not in the most cooperative mood, is she?"

"That could change." Janeway's cryptic response intrigued Chakotay but before he could ask how, Janeway continued, "I just have to reach her somehow." Janeway wasn't sure at that moment if she meant reaching Seven of Nine to gain her cooperation or reaching Annika to restore her memories and get her friend back. In the end though, the results could be the same. Janeway turned the laptop to face Chakotay so he too could see what the registry said. "Annika Hansen."

That caught Chakotay's attention, "our Borg?"

Janeway resisted the urge to correct his use of the word 'our', but she resisted and instead smiled. Here was where she'd need to fudge the lines between what she knew and what the registry said. It was obvious, given her knowledge of what had really happened, that Starfleet had altered the official record. For their own nebulous reasons, the brass at Starfleet Headquarters decided to disavow the Hansens.

"It took some digging through the Federation database, but I managed to find a single entry in the records of Deep Space 4. Her parents were…unconventional." Janeway left out the part about the DNA match and how this one entry had been buried under virtual mountains of tedious personnel reports at a space station that was five light years away from the original mission flight path that she'd managed to trick her father into telling her. The Hansens shouldn't have even been anywhere near Deep Space 4. It was obvious someone didn't want the records of the Hansens to be found. Not that there was much cause to worry about anyone looking.

Janeway stood as she fed Chakotay the same line of BS that the records had tried to feed her, even if she'd known the truth. "they fancied themselves explorers, but wanted nothing to do with Starfleet or the Federation." By now, Janeway was standing next to Chakotay's chair, her eyes fixed on Annika's picture. "their names were last recorded at a remote outpost in the Omega Sector," another red herring in the path "They refused to file a flight plan. Apparently, they aimed their small ship toward the Delta Quadrant and were never heard from again." There was an undertone of anger in her voice that Chakotay either didn't notice or chose to ignore.

"For all we know, Annika and her parents were the first humans the Borg ever assimilated."

Janeway considered that as she paced the ready room. "From what she's told me," and my own memories "that was almost 20 years ago." 18 to be exact but who's counting? Janeway's thoughts echoed in her head.

"So she was raised by the Borg. It's the only life she's ever really known."

Not the only life, Janeway thought, Annika remembers me, I know she does, I just have to reach her and trigger those memories somehow.

"If you were thinking about bringing her into the fold, that might not be possible." Chakotay was still against keeping that drone on board, regardless of this new information.

Janeway though, was more determined than ever to keep Annika on board. She whirled to face her First Officer, "What's the alternative, toss her back to the wolves?" There was no mistaking the emotion that crept into her voice, no matter how faint it might have been.

Before Janeway could continue, the Doctor summoned her to Sick Bay. Janeway left her ready room and left Chakotay on the bridge as she headed for Sick Bay. The Doctor mentioned a problem and Janeway could only hope that Seven of Nine was okay.

Janeway entered sick bay and walked over to the Doctor, ignoring the security officer in the room, her eyes never left the unconscious form of her former friend. "Report."

The Doctor explained that because her human physiology was getting more aggressive in asserting itself the only option was to remove the Borg implants. As Janeway listened, her heart ached at the thought of her young friend going through what must've been a painful procedure to become Borg. Despite everything though, she knew Seven of Nine would never opt to remove her Borg implants. But if they weren't removed, she would die and Janeway would never allow that to happen so, "she may have been raised by Borg, raised to think like a Borg, but she's with us now and underneath all that technology she is a human being—whether she's ready to accept that or not. And until she is ready, someone has to make the decisions for her," and as her friend and the Captain, that's going to be me. "proceed with the surgery."

"Aye Captain."

Janeway left then, to seek the solace of her quarters for a few moments so she could prepare herself for the long road ahead of her. The long road that led to Seven of Nine's acceptance of her former identity as Annika Hansen and all the memories that went with that life she'd lost so long ago.


Chapter 10

Somedays it just didn't pay to get out of bed. Captain Janeway was learning that today was one of those days. She'd already had to deal with Kes's increased telepathic abilities which threatened Voyager's own molecular stability, and an attempt by Seven of Nine to contact the Borg collective which forced her to confine Seven of Nine to the brig. The usual ship's business seemed to take a back seat though, to these problems which forced Janeway to rely more on her First Officer than she would've liked given the lingering trust issues she had concerning Chakotay.

Everytime Seven of Nine spoke of her desire to return to the Borg, Janeway's heart broke a little bit more. When Janeway looked at Seven of Nine she didn't see a former Borg drone, she saw her friend, Annika. She saw the fear that lay under the surface of Seven of Nine's anger and it made her heart ache.

It hadn't been easy to see her young friend in that cell in the Brig behind the force field. It had damn near broken her heart all over again but she'd hidden the pain as best she could. If Annika had been herself she'd have seen right through Janeway's poker face…she always could, even at six years old.

Now, Janeway had been called back to the Brig where Seven of Nine was still being held. As Janeway walked into the room which held the cell, she heard Seven of Nine muttering the word 'one' over and over again to herself.

Janeway stepped right up to the force field and waited as Seven of Nine noticed her presence and turned only her head in acknowledgement.

"My designation is Seven of Nine," her voice was tinged with sadness and it sounded as if she was holding back tears, "but the others are gone. Designations are no longer relevant. I am…one."

Janeway's heart ached again at the loneliness and sadness she heard and replied, "yes you are."

"But I cannot function this way—alone." Despite the brief surge of anger, sadness still leaked into her voice as it seemed that Seven of Nine was losing her battle with the tears.

"You are not alone." Annika "I'm willing to help you." Please, let me. Janeway's inner voice shouted in her head…called out for Annika in silent supplication.

Seven of Nine turned her head to look at Janeway with her human eye. "If that is true you won't do this to me. Take me back to my own kind."

Janeway was running out of ways to reach through the Borg mentality. "You are with your own kind—humans." With me…Katie.

"I don't remember being human. I don't know what it is to be human." Every word just strengthened Janeway's resolve. I'll help you remember Annika, if you'll just let me.

Janeway turned then and lifted a generic data padd from the security workstation. She keyed in her access code and brought up the picture of Annika from the Registry. Janeway decided it was time to tell Seven of Nine who she had been so long ago and who she now had a chance to be again. At the same time though, she knew it was too soon to reveal their personal connection. That disclosure would have to wait until they were alone and until Seven of Nine was ready to hear it.

Janeway began keying in the access code to disable the force field, to allow herself to enter Seven of Nine's cell. When Seven of Nine saw what she was doing, fear and confusion crept back into her voice, "what are you doing?"

"I'm coming in."

Seven of Nine panicked. She didn't want Janeway close to her. There was something about her that kept throwing Seven of Nine off balance…kept making a small part of her wish to be human again. So she hardened her voice and said what she thought would keep Janeway from entering her cell, "I'll kill you." The Borg in her meant it but the human in her, the part drawn to Janeway, kept the Borg part in check.

Janeway saw it as an opportunity to show and build some trust so she simply said, "I don't think you will." She finished keying in her access code and the force field vanished. She sensed Lt. Ayala move behind her and help up her hand to keep him back, all the while never taking her eyes off of Seven of Nine's face. Not out of mistrust but because she was looking for any flicker of her friend Annika to show itself.

Janeway stepped over the threshold and walked to the opposite side of the cell, not wanting to scare or crowd Seven of Nine by moving too close. Janeway held out the padd with the image of Annika so that Seven of Nine could see it. Carefully, Janeway asked, "do you remember her?" I do. When she got no response she continued, "her name was Annika Hansen. She was born on Stardate 25479 at the Tendara Colony. She moved to Earth four years later but, there's still a lot we don't know about her. Did she have any siblings?" I know she didn't though I can't reveal that. "Who were her friends?" I was her best friend long ago…I still can be today, I want to be. "Where did she go to school?" At the Children's' Academy like all the children whose parents work for Starfleet. "What was her favorite color?" Red…just one of my reasons for switching to command at the Academy.

Seven of Nine listened, allowing herself to ponder the questions for a bit, but when the lack of answers became too frustrating she lashed out in anger again, much like a person who wakes up with amnesia and is asked questions about their life that they have no answers for. "Irrelevant!" Seven of Nine knocked the data padd to the ground. "Take me back to the Borg." She demanded, angry at being expected to remember things she had no memory of and desperately craving the oblivion of the hive mind.

"I can't do that." Don't you know it would kill me to let you go? To lose you again?

Seven of Nine bent over holding her head, "so…quiet. One voice." The pain of it all was obvious.

"One voice can be stronger than a thousand voices." You are strong too Annika, to have survived this long, I know it. "Your mind is independent now with its own unique identity."

"You are forcing that identity upon me. It's not mine!" Stubborn, angry, desperate.

"Oh yes it is." I know it is, DNA doesn't lie, besides I know you…Annika. "I'm just giving you back what was stolen from you," from us "the existence you were denied, the child who never had a chance." The friend I failed through my own ambition. "That life is yours to live now."

"I don't want that life." It's too hard, this silence…being alone in my head.

"It's what you are. Don't resist it." Come back to me Annika, please.

It was too much for Seven of Nine to handle and she reacted as anyone might in that situation, she lashed out verbally and physically. "No!" Seven of Nine reached out to hit Janeway but missed and lost her balance, landing backwards into Janeway's arms.

Janeway took Seven of Nine's Borg enhanced body and went to the small bench in the cell and sat down behind Seven of Nine. Janeway held her as Seven of Nine came as close as she could to crying. Janeway was stunned by Seven of Nine's reaction.

Janeway sat there holding Seven of Nine until she grew tired. Seven of Nine had depleted her energy reserves and since regeneration meant leaving the Brig, Janeway convinced Seven of Nine to lie down instead and rest. It was a sign of Seven of Nine's fragility that she complied without argument. Janeway left then to regroup and to tell the Doctor to resume the extraction of the Borg implants as soon as Seven of Nine was physically ready for it. Janeway was in her ready room recording a supplemental log to clear her head when Kes called her on her COM badge and asked to see her. Janeway finished her second cup of coffee and made her way towards Kes's quarters.

Janeway didn't know what to expect but she did know that she cared about Kes in much the same way as she cared about her younger sister Phoebe. Janeway got to Kes's door and rang the chime, waiting to be allowed entry. When the permission was granted, she stepped inside and smiled at the young Ocampan.

"You wanted to see me?" Janeway asked as she walked to sit on the couch next to Kes.

"I've been thinking about everything that's been going on…" Kes's deep soothing voice helped Janeway calm her nerves about what she thought was coming next, "and I know what I have to do. It's time for me to leave Voyager."

"Oh Kes," this doesn't seem fair…I find an old friend only to lose another friend. Janeway's thoughts echoed in her mind.

"Something important is happening to me and I want to explore it, but I can't stay here any longer." The words poked at Janeway's already battered heart. "I'm a danger to all of you."

"We're going to get to the bottom of this," Janeway tried in vain to change Kes's mind. "The Doctor's already working on a new approach…"

"Everybody thinks that what's happening is a medical condition. That's not it at all. I'm going through a transformation. I don't know how or why but every cell in my body is telling me that I'm changing into something more."

"What if it's not true? What if you're simply being swept up in the excitement of what you think is happening, but it's not real? On the basis of a feeling, an intuition, you're asking me to let you go. Quite likely forever. Kes I just can't do that." I can't lose you now.

Janeway's words triggered something and Kes suddenly knew things that were kept in the darkest recesses of Janeway's mind. "The Borg drone, Seven of Nine, you know who she is, you knew her when she was still human and now, you're feeling guilty over what happened to her. You take on so much responsibility and you have from a young age that you blame yourself for her assimilation even when it was not your fault. You don't like losing anyone that you've taken responsibility for and that you care about and that's understandable. But you don't have to worry about me anymore Captain." A pause then to let that sink in before, "I know she's been asking you to return her to the Borg and I know that doing so would destroy you. I also know that over the years, you've let yourself care for me as a substitute for your sister back on Earth…and I am fine with that, honored even. I know that letting me go will be hard on you and I am sorry to be the cause of that pain but, Captain, you can never lose me…not as long as you remember me." Kes hoped that her words would help ease Janeway's conscience over her past and the choice she faced now in letting her go.

"How do you know all that?" Janeway asked, stunned to learn that it seemed she had no secrets from Kes anymore.

Kes smiled kindly, "I listened to your heart. I couldn't help it Captain, your heart was screaming at me to understand your pain. And I do. I know it will be hard, but it's my decision to make—my fate. Would you really try to stop me?"

"No, I wouldn't. But arguing with you, even pleading with you to reconsider? Absolutely, for as long as it takes."

Kes smiled again, "It won't work. Look at me Captain, I'm the same Kes you've always known, even with my new knowledge about your past and your feelings. I haven't lost my judgment. I am not under some alien influence. I believe something crucial is happening to me and I want to see it through," Kes paused, switching topics for a moment, "and something crucial is happening to you as well. You've been given a second chance with your old friend. You need to see it through Captain, to focus on restoring her humanity and her memories. And you need to be honest with her when the time is right about your true feelings. If I stayed, I would just be a distraction and you don't need that."

"You've lived most of your life here. Voyager has been your home and you've been a vital part of this family. You have never and could never be a distraction Kes." Janeway paused as the tears she'd held back forced their way into her voice and her eyes. "Oh, I'm going to miss you." Janeway had finally accepted the truth about Kes's need to leave Voyager but she didn't have to like it.

Kes, sensing Janeway's vulnerability and her own, leaned over and hugged Janeway. Knowing it would be the last time she'd get the chance to, she held on tight.

Once Janeway was sure Kes was on the shuttle and away from Voyager she stood on the Bridge and watched the viewscreen as the tiny shuttle moved through space. Her game face was on but inside she was falling apart.

"Can you hail her?"

Kes's face appeared on the view screen. Her atomic destabilization was obvious from where Janeway stood near she chair, fighting to keep her tears at bay a little while longer, at least until she could escape to her ready room.

Kes smiled, "my gift to you Captain." Kes's last words, directed at Janeway.

Then, a blinding white light came from the small shuttlecraft and Voyager was hurtling through space riding the shockwave from the light, reaching speeds beyond Warp 9.95, which was supposed to be Voyager's top speed. When the ship finally slowed down again, Janeway asked, curious, "Where are we?"

Tom Paris checked his screen then answered, "we're nine point five thousand light years from where we just were."

Janeway was the first to recover her voice, "she's thrown us safely beyond Borg space. Ten years closer to home." Janeway was both stunned and humbled by Kes's final gift for her Voyager family. Before Janeway could truly revel in the moment, the Doctor hailed her.

"Doctor to Captain Janeway."

"Go ahead Doctor."

"Captain, may I please see you in Cargo Bay 2? There's something here I think you should see." The Doctor was earning points in being cryptic that was for certain.

"On my way." Janeway nodded to Chakotay to hand him the Bridge then motioned for a junior security officer to escort her, preferring to keep Tuvok on the Bridge to keep an eye on Chakotay. Starfleet protocol stated that with very few exceptions, the Captain was to always be escorted by a security officer at all times.

Janeway wondered to herself at the Doctor's enthusiastic, smug yet cryptic tone. She knew he'd been continuing the operations on Seven of Nine but assumed he'd be in Sick Bay not Cargo bay 2. As Janeway and her escort arrived in Cargo bay 2, Janeway at first only saw the Doctor. When he led them further into the Cargo Bay, she noticed someone else. The security escort moved to stand behind the Captain, blending into the background so as not to impede the proceedings.

Seven of Nine stood with her back to the Cargo Bay doors, adjusting to her new physical appearance. As Janeway, the Doctor, and the security guard approached she half turned her head in acknowledgement of their arrival. Though the guard made himself as invisible as he could, Seven of Nine was still aware of his exact position. She listened though as the Doctor began his explanation to the Captain.

"I've extracted 82% of the Borg hardware. The remaining bio-implants are stable and better than anything I could synthesize at such short notice."

During his narrative, Seven of Nine kept her back to them and her head down, listening to both the Doctor's words and Janeway's breathing. Janeway just studied the hair now sitting on Seven of Nine's head. It was the exact color as the hair in the picture of Annika in the Registry.

Seven of Nine could wait no longer and turned then to face the Doctor and the Captain. "It is acceptable."

Only Seven of Nine noticed the quiet gasp that escaped Janeway's throat when she got her first look at Seven of Nine's new look, but she chose to ignore it right then. Janeway noted with surprise that Seven of Nine looked almost exactly like the older version of Annika Hansen that had been programmed into Annika's holoprogram by Annika herself—18 years ago when Annika was only six!

The Doctor went on, oblivious to Janeway's inner thoughts as always, "Fashion, of course, is hardly my forte. Nevertheless, I've managed to balance functionality and aesthetics in a pleasing enough manner. I also took the liberty of stimulating your hair follicles—a vicarious experience for me as you might imagine." Seeing he wasn't going to get the response he wanted to his sarcastic jest, the Doctor left then, leaving Janeway alone with Seven of Nine, the guard still there but largely ignored at this point.

As Janeway gazed at Seven of Nine's face, she realized why even under all the Borg technology she'd seemed familiar. The resemblance to the hologram version of a 20 year old Annika was uncanny. The main differences being the metallic implant over the artificial left eye, the small starburst implant on the right cheek near the ear, the mesh wiring on the left hand, and the air of Borg arrogance that still somehow managed to cling to Seven of Nine's features.

"You'll have to spend a few hours each day regenerating in a Borg alcove until your human metabolism can function on its own. We'll keep one operational."

Seven of Nine listened patiently, no expression on her face as she studied the woman standing before her. "Understood."

"Let's see how things go over the next few weeks." Give you time to adjust before I tell you about what we shared so long ago. "I'll consider granting you access to the rest of the ship, once I can trust that you won't try to get us all assimilated again."

"It will not happen again." Seven of Nine knew now that her fate resided here on this ship, navigating her way to her lost humanity. She was ready to begin the journey…though not without some reluctance and fear.

Janeway saw the sincerity in Seven of Nine's expression then and smiled, "good. If you need anything," even just a friend to talk to, "contact me." Janeway handed her a COM badge then turned to leave.

Seven of Nine was confused. She'd expected something else when she'd assured Captain Janeway that she would not try to contact the collective again. She'd meant every word. Watching Janeway walk away, Seven of Nine had two words flash into her mind. They made little sense at first but then they defined themselves enough for Seven of Nine to know that they came from the human she'd once been and would try to be again. Before Janeway could leave Seven of Nine spoke these words, hoping that Janeway might recognize them.

"Katie, red."

Janeway turned back, stunned at what she'd heard, convinced she'd heard wrong, "what?"

Seven of Nine continued, her explanation brief but with every bit of information she had at her disposal, "The child you spoke of…the girl. I think she knew a girl named Katie and…her favorite color was red."

With no more to offer, Seven of Nine walked further into the Cargo Bay. Janeway stood there, looking at Seven of Nine walk away and in her heart she knew that she had a really good chance now of getting her friend back. Hope renewed itself as her heart embraced a single thought…Annika.


Chapter 11

A week has passed since Janeway heard Seven of Nine speak the name she'd gone by so long ago…Katie. There were only two people in her life to whom she'd granted permission to call her that,

her father and Annika. Not even her two fiancés had been allowed to use that name. After Annika's disappearance, hearing the nickname became too painful. Her father must've sensed it because, after the Hansens vanished, he too stopped calling her Katie. Though he would still slip up occasionally, he tried his best to respect her silent wishes.

It had taken an out of character, violent outburst to convince Mark not to use that name. Mark had never understood her adamant dislike of the name, had assumed it was because of her father, although he considered it silly to still be so attached to that sentiment. However, after the split lip and the black eye, Mark learned not to use that name again.

Justin, sweet, loving, smart Justin, didn't need convincing. Although Katherine had never told him why, he accepted without question that the nickname was off limits. He'd always called her Katherine or Kat.

But, hearing that name again, coming from the one person she'd never thought would ever utter it again had warmed a place in Janeway's heart that had been cold for too long.

It was an uneventful, quiet week in space. Despite an overwhelming urge to, Janeway refrained from overloading Seven of Nine with information about her human identity. Janeway had never been accused of being a very patient person by anyone who knew her after she'd become an Ensign. But with Annika she'd always been patient, and she would be again.

Kes's words came back to tease her at random moments throughout that week. "You've been given a second chance…" Janeway knew Kes had been right and she also knew her heart wouldn't survive if she blew her second chance because she was too impatient.

However, the jealousy she felt when Chakotay had told her that Seven of Nine has asked to see him, with a smug look on his face, told another story.

Seven of Nine's POV

A week spent alone, confined to this Cargo Bay, was not easy for me. Words kept flashing in my head, words I had no context for: holodeck, Katie, red, camping, Voldemort, wizard, McDonalds, park, Anastasia, Erised. These words mean nothing to me yet they flash through my head on a loop, as if daring me to figure out why. Two words already revealed part of their meaning to me, red and Katie. I told Captain Janeway of them a week ago but she's not come by to talk about them. It is absurd but, somehow I thought she'd be able to explain them. I realize now I was in error.

Being isolated here is a huge change from what I am accustomed to, I do not like it. The Doctor is the only person who comes to see me and he only arrives to examine me. I asked him though, how I could be allowed to help on the ship. He was silent for a while then answered that Commander Chakotay was in charge of the duty assignments. Once the Doctor left, I sent Commander Chakotay a message asking to see him. I would've preferred to speak to Captain Janeway, but it was obvious she wasn't who I needed to ask about this.

When Chakotay arrived, I made my request to help out in Engineering. He said he would do what he could. Then he left. I waited. An hour later, I was told to report to the Captain's Ready Room. A meeting with the Captain sounded… interesting given that we've not spoken in a week.

Seven of Nine entered the Captain's ready room and stood quietly. "You sent for me captain?"

Janeway stood on the upper level of the room. She'd been looking out at the stars, waiting for Seven of Nine's arrival and trying to prepare herself for seeing her again.

Janeway turned to face Seven of Nine as she replied, "Yes. Seven of Nine, you told me you wouldn't make any more attempts to contact the Borg. And I want to believe that's true." Janeway leaned on the railing separating the upper and lower parts of the room. It cost her dearly to have to question Seven of Nine's sincerity but she knew she had no other choice.

"I assure you it is." Seven of Nine spoke firmly, the truth of her words reflected in her tone.

"I've decided not to post a security detail while you're in Engineering," it hurt Janeway to have to be this way, "but you have to realize there are rules. You'll be expected to follow our protocols. You'll report directly to Lieutenant Torres and obey any order she gives you."

Any order? "I understand." There was no other answer to give.

Janeway walked to her desk as a new thought formed. She would have to be careful here. "One more thing, your designation, 'Seven of Nine', is a bit cumbersome." It's a mouthful that always reminds me of what you and I lost. "Wouldn't you prefer to be called by your given name, Annika?"

There was something about hearing her human name again in Janeway's voice that sent Seven of Nine's mind running in fear. Remembering was too hard right now. She clung to the familiar. "I have been Seven of Nine for as long as I can remember."

There's the rub, when you do remember being Annika, what then? Janeway wondered, aloud she said, "All right, but maybe we could streamline it a little." Janeway wasn't going to let this go. There had to be a middle ground. "How would you feel about…'Seven'?"

Seven of Nine thought about it. Captain Janeway seemed determined to alter her designation, something about 'Seven of Nine' was bothering the Captain. She knew she wasn't ready to go by 'Annika' but she could compromise this much, after all there was little logic in being called 'Seven of Nine' when the 'nine' were no longer there. "Imprecise…but acceptable."

Before Janeway could respond, Tuvok called her to the bridge. Janeway walked past Seven on her way to the Bridge, unable to stop the smile from escaping as she looked at Seven. She realized that baby steps were still steps and she'd take as many as she had to, to reach her ultimate goal.

Seven watched as Captain Janeway left the room. Something about that smile unnerved her but, she was still Borg enough to hide it, though human enough to be intrigued by it as she followed the Captain onto the Bridge. Seven stood on the bridge as the view screen displayed an unusual looking alien. Seven's Borg memory recognized him as a member of Species 7924, the Caatati.

Soon after the view screen cut off, Janeway turned to face seven, "Seven, report to Engineering and begin working with Lieutenant Torres."

"Yes Captain."

Seven left the Bridge, wondering why the Captain sounded as if she were sorry about something.

In Engineering, Seven was assigned to set the parameters for a tachyon burst. She was working on that when Lieutenant Torres came to stand beside her.

Seven could sense the hostility just under the surface as she curiously asked, "tell me something, when you hear about people like the Caatati, do you have any feelings of remorse?"

Seven thought about it, searched her emotional sensors, then answered, "No."

Expecting a longer answer, B'Lanna's hostility found a crack in her curiosity and leaked out, "that's it? Just 'no'?"

Giving nothing away Seven asked, "What further answer do you require?"

"Oh maybe some kind of acknowledgement of the billions of lives you helped destroy…a justification for what you did…maybe… a sense of guilt." She knew she was being a bit unfair but B'Lanna didn't care. Today was one of the worst days of her life and she really didn't want the Borg in her Engine Room. B'Lanna was fishing for a fight.

"Guilt is irrelevant." It solves nothing, helps no one, it is unproductive.


Seven realized if she stayed, she'd lose control of her sudden desire to snap Lieutenant Torres' neck for her attitude and that would not be a good thing, so she fell back on a neutral topic, work. "I've set the parameters for the tachyon burst we'll need to create a transwarp conduit. It will be several hours before the main deflector can be modified. I think it would be best if I waited in my alcove." In this instance, retreat was favorable to imprisonment in the Brig for attempted murder.

Seeing she wasn't going to get a fight out of the Borg, B'Lanna chose to get her out of Engineering instead. "I think you're right." The hostility was plain as day then.

Seven turned then and left Engineering, she headed for Cargo Bay 2 and when she go there she stepped into her alcove and sought the oblivion of regeneration to escape the traces of guilt she'd started to feel after her conversation with Lieutenant Torres.

Later, walking towards Engineering with Lieutenant Tom Paris, Seven couldn't help but notice that he had an air of immaturity about him that made him somewhat endearing. They had just turned a corner when Seven heard someone behind them ask, "What species is that?"

Seven heard Lieutenant Tuvok's deep voice reply, "She is a human who lived as Borg."

It was then she knew they were talking about her.

"Borg!" Seven turned and saw the Caatati male trying to get closer, shouting, "where's my wife? Where are my children?" Seven noticed Tuvok was holding the Caatati by the arm while Lieutenant Paris had gallantly stepped in front of her as if to shield her from the alien. "What did you do with them after you took them? What did you do with my family?"

Lieutenant Tuvok was now physically pulling the Caatati back as Lieutenant Paris pushed him towards Tuvok. "Mr. Paris, please proceed."

Lieutenant Paris gently grabbed Seven's arm and led her back towards Engineering. The Caatati could still be heard ranting in the distance.

Tom Paris felt the need to apologize for the outburst, "sorry about that."

"About what?" Seven was genuinely confused.

"Well the way he reacted to you." Tom said, as if it should be obvious.

"He didn't injure me."


Seven felt the need to clarify the situation so she stopped walking and looked Lieutenant Paris in the eye, "there are many people on this ship who have similar feelings toward me."

"I'm afraid you're right. Does that bother you?"

"No." It really didn't. The only person on the ship whose opinion mattered to Seven was Captain Janeway, though the reasons for that still weren't very clear.

"Well, I'm not one of those people. We all have a past. What matters is now."

Now, he'd lost her. "I am uncertain what you're trying to say."

Tom tried a more direct response, "just that, if there's any way that I can help you adjust to your life here on Voyager, please ask me." Contrary to how that might've sounded, Tom was only offering friendship, B'Lanna was more than enough of a handful for him.

Seven studied Lieutenant Paris' face for a moment before, "I will remember your offer."

Tom just nodded before he started walking again towards Engineering. Seven watched him go, thinking that Lieutenant Paris was an interesting human, before following him to Engineering.

Janeway was in her ready room following the accident in Engineering that had resulted in ejecting the Warp Core and then sending Tom and B'Lanna after it in a shuttle. Janeway was wondering what had gone wrong and also dreading the impending investigation. She was reluctant to cast doubt on Seven, convinced that any words of accusation might cause set backs in Seven's progress so far.

Janeway's thoughts naturally led to the topic that had been occupying her mind more and more these days: Annika. Not the woman she'd become but the child that called her Katie and was starting to really open up around her. Janeway often wondered how her own life might've been different if she'd been around and Annika had been left in her care. Knowing now what her fate had been, Janeway would've gladly given up the training mission to stay on Earth and spare Annika the pain of assimilation.

But life doesn't work that way, does it? Janeway thought. Looking back on it all, if Annika had stayed on Earth with Janeway, Katherine would probably never have left Earth either. She would've stuck to planet-bound science and settled down on Earth, more than likely getting herself or her mother assigned as Annika's legal guardian. However, it did no one any good to dwell on what might've been when the present is all there was to work with.

When Janeway could no longer delay it, she called Seven into her ready room to question her about the accident in Engineering as per Starfleet protocol.

Janeway replicated coffee and fine china cups in an attempt to downplay the severity of what she'd have to ask Seven.

The chime on her door announced Seven's arrival and Janeway granted her access. Seven entered and walked to Janeway's desk as Janeway stood and motioned to the upper level of the room.

"Would you like tea or coffee?" Janeway offered, trying to be polite, and put off the conversation she knew they were going to have to have.

Seven, not sure why she had been called to Janeway's office, answered stiffly, "I have no need to ingest liquids. I still receive energy from the Borg alcove."

Janeway took the opening to stall, "my understanding is that you're almost ready to begin eating food."

Seven gave a tiny nod, "that is what the Doctor says." A pause then, "Why have you asked me here?"

Right to the point. Janeway explained about the investigation and asked if Seven could explain what happened. Seven explained what they had done. When Janeway asked, without looking her in the eye, "did you at any time access deflector control?"

Seven knew that, contrary to what she'd hoped, Janeway was just like the others on the ship. "You believe I'm responsible for the accident, that I deliberately sabotaged the ship. You're like the others. You see me as a threat."

The words cut right to Janeway's heart. She knew without question that she would always trust Annika unconditionally. However, Janeway was not blind to the fact that the person standing before her wasn't entirely Annika. The years spent as a Borg had altered her young friend to the point where Janeway couldn't afford to trust blindly.

"I won't lie to you. Part of me is suspicious. We've dealt with tachyon fields before and never had this kind of problem."

Seven felt the need to explain, "Captain, I am unaccustomed to deception. Among the Borg it was impossible. There were no lies, no secrets, and I assure you I had nothing to do with the accident in Engineering." Seven's voice was firm and clear in her sincerity. Janeway has no option but to believe her.

Janeway sat down on her couch and looked up at Seven and smiled, "I believe you. Thank you."

Caught off guard Seven could only reply, "I am finding it a difficult challenge to integrate into this group. It is full of complex social structures that are unfamiliar to me. Compared to the Borg, this crew is inefficient, and contentious." Seven paused to take a breath before, "but it is capable of…surprising acts of compassion." Seven reflected back to Lieutenant Paris' offer of assistance and Janeway's own acts of compassion when dealing with both the Caatati and herself.

Janeway smiled, "Unexpected acts of kindness are common among our group. That's one of the ways we define ourselves."

Seven took that in, wondering if Janeway's acts of kindness towards her were nothing more than an automatic response to a being in 'distress' or if there was something more to it. "Is there anything more?"

"Yes," Janeway seized the opportunity to keep Seven in the room longer, "we still have to find out what caused the tachyon leak. Tell me what you remember about the power fluctuations in the propulsion system."

Janeway walked to her desk holding a working padd, Seven followed and they began working out what might've happened to cause the accident. Janeway smiled herself as she glanced at Seven, standing a few feet away from her desk going over the sensor logs for the accident. Oftentimes, when Janeway looked at Seven, she would see Annika standing there. Janeway wondered how long it would be before Seven's memories of being Annika were unlocked…if they ever would be.

After a few moments of working, Seven spoke, "Captain, I believe I've found the cause of the accident," Seven moved closer to hand Janeway the padd she'd been working on, "erratic fluctuations in the ship's warp power. When tachyon levels rose to a resonant frequency, core pressure increased." Janeway stood up from her desk, studying the padd while also listening to Seven's explanation.

"Then it was an accident." The relief in Janeway's voice was barely perceptible but Seven heard it nonetheless. Before she could respond, however, the door chime rang and Janeway turned to have the door, "come in."

Chakotay entered and informed Janeway that the ship's sensors had picked up a carrier wave with a Starfleet signature. Realizing that it would be Tom and B'Lanna and that their failure to respond to hails could indicate trouble, Janeway was in the middle of giving the order to go after the signal when Tuvok called her to the bridge.

Janeway, Seven and Chakotay left the ready room and entered the Bridge. The Caatati were back in force and hailing Voyager.

"On screen." Janeway wondered silently what they could want now.

The Caatati they'd been speaking with came on the screen, appearing to be the same nice guy in need he'd first presented himself as, "Hello Captain."

"You've brought some friends." Janeway's irritation was barely noticeable but still there.

"Needy friends. We're hoping you'll offer us more supplies." The alien's tone implied that is wasn't a request per say. He'd seen an easy mark and was going to squeeze everything he could out of this ship. He also had something they'd want back.

"I made it clear last time that we couldn't possibly provide you with enough for all your ships." Janeway was getting sick and tired of this alien and his "needs".

"And I had to accept that because your ship is more powerful than ours, but the situation has changed, hasn't it?" The Caatati was playing his Ace now. "You seem to be at a disadvantage now. We have your warp core. You can't escape. I'm hoping that will make you more generous." The smugness of his tone was pissing Janeway off now.

"We've given you everything we can spare. Return the core and we'll be on our way." She was going to give this alien one last chance to be smart before she lost her control and ordered Tuvok to blow them out of the sky.

The alien didn't seem to get it, "One of our ships might not seem threatening to you, but I assure you 27 can inflict considerable damage. We are desperate. Prepare to send us food, weapons, and your entire supply of thorium. And that Borg you're protecting—we want her too. There are many who would enjoy a chance to repay one of them for what they did to us."

Janeway looked over at Seven, there was no way in hell she was ever going to hand Seven over to anyone else. She'd destroy the entire remaining Caatati race before she complied with that little demand. Seven merely looked at Janeway, preparing herself for the order she was sure Janeway would give that would send her to the Caatati to meet her fate. A part of Seven would comply, if it meant that the crew of this ship was spared damage. However, a small part of her was reluctant to leave Voyager…and Captain Janeway.

Chakotay broke the silence left behind by the termination of the communication link with the Caatati. "Our weapons are more powerful than theirs, I say we fight."

Harry Kim spoke up, "Maybe if we give them something."

Janeway asked, "like what? I can't imagine what would satisfy them now."

Seven spoke up, knowing what needed to be done and knowing that no one else was going to suggest it, not in front of the Captain at any rate, "I will go. They asked for me. If I surrender myself, perhaps they will let you leave."

Hell no… not in a million years!! "That's very generous, but I will not turn you over to them."

"I was only offering to do what would be best for this group."

Janeway walked closer to Seven, her mind telling her this is Annika we can't let her go now! "You're a part of this group now and we're going to protect you." The Caatati can't have you…not now not ever! Janeway turned to her Bridge crew. "It's time to stop talking about this. Tom and B'Lanna are in trouble and we have to find them. Tuvok, what's the status of our weapons array?" Janeway walked around Seven to face her Security and Tactical Chief.

The Vulcan, giving nothing away as usual simply stated, "Weapons are at the ready, Captain, but our shield strength is extremely low."

Janeway thought for a second, "We'll have to shut down nonessential systems. Reroute power to the shields. We're going to fight."

As Janeway walked past her, Seven offered another solution, "That might not be necessary." Janeway turned to look at her, "Caatati technology is dependent on thorium isotopes. If they had enough they could become self-sustaining."

Again, Harry Kim just had to open his mouth, "But we don't have that much thorium to give them."

Seven directed her comments to Captain Janeway despite Ensign Kim's statement. "When the Borg assimilated the Caatati, the survivors lost their ability to replicate the isotopes. But I have retained that knowledge. I could design an energy matrix that would produce thorium in large quantities."

Chakotay couldn't help but ask, "If you've had this knowledge all along, why didn't you say so?"

Seven paused, thinking of how to express her thoughts, "I am not accustomed to thinking that way. Borg do not consider giving technology away, only assimilating it."

Janeway, curious, asked, "and what do you suppose made you consider it now?"

That gave Seven pause. She thought about that for a bit, "I am not certain."

"Maybe…it was just an unexpected act of kindness." Janeway used the expression she'd used before in her ready room, hoping that Seven would realize the meaning behind that statement…that Seven was already becoming more and more human. "Work with Vorik to build the energy matrix, while I convince the Caatati there's a better way out of this."

As Janeway and Chakotay took their seats on the Bridge, Seven turned to head to Engineering, pausing before she did as the implications of Janeway's comment on unexpected acts of kindness sank in. Seven filed that bit of information away for examination at a later date.

Seven and Janeway were with the Caatati alien explaining the energy matrix and how it would help his people. Once satisfied, the Caatati began to leave the room.

"Thank you." Said the Caatati as he left the room.

Before he got very far Seven answered, "you're welcome."

The Caatati left and Seven merely looked over at Janeway. Silence reigned as the two looked at each other for a few seconds before Seven left the room. Janeway leaned on the table in front of her and just smiled. Things were looking up. Little by little Janeway saw Seven taking baby steps towards humanity, but just then, she'd seen Annika looking out at her from behind Seven's human eye. For just a brief moment, Janeway had seen a flash of the spark that had been such a part of Annika's eyes whenever they were together in the past. It had given Janeway a much needed shot of hope that her goal of bringing Annika back was attainable. Janeway allowed herself a few moments to indulge in that feeling before she got back to the task at hand, getting the Warp core back online and going after Tom and B'Lanna.

As she walked out of that room, Janeway couldn't help but smile as she thought about what it would mean to have Annika back in her life.

Part 12

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