DISCLAIMER 1: Star Trek is the property of Paramount, and this story will never, ever affect the lining my pockets or lack there of!
DISCLAIMER 2: This is a first T/7 for me, after having read every Xena, J/7 and T/7, ALT & UBER; I thought why not, it can't be that hard. WRONG! So please be kind, hey at least the cover will look good after I design that, yeah stick to your chosen field now! Also this was a dream I had about 10 years ago, of a huge sphere rolling across a planet, supporting life. Oh course, B'Elanna and Seven didn't feature in the dream, but they do now.
Rebelgirl, thank you, thank you, thank you, for fixing my then's and than's my which's and that's, my woman and women, don't know how I always seem to get that last one mixed up, probably just wishful thinking :-)

The Gateway
By Rocohyeah

Chapter 1

Captain Janeway had just entered the bridge when all hell broke loose.

Looking quickly to Ensign Kim, Janeway barked, "Report," with a force ten glare to accompany her request.

"Ma'am there's nothing to report, there's nothing at all on our sensors," he said as he turned to the Captain waiting for her next order, which he knew would be coming soon

"Well don't just stand there, find out whatever it was that rocked my ship and turn that red alert off."

"Yes Ma'am. Perhaps Seven's found something that might explain that explosion," Ensign Kim said as his fingers flew across the ops panel. "Ensign Kim to Seven of Nine." There was no response. He tried again, looking down at his panel at the same time. Only then did he notice the flashing red light.

"Captain, Astrometrics is off line, and it appears to be where the explosion occurred," Tuvok stated to Janeway as she turned to face him.

"Get a security team to Astrometrics now, and Harry, make sure nothing else is going to explode, please." Janeway turned from the young Ensign and sat down in her command chair. 'Another day in the Delta Quadrant, another problem!

"Lieutenant Paris, please accompany me to Astrometrics." Tuvok said as he headed towards the turbolift.

"Lieutenant Torres to the Captain, Captain warp engines have gone off line, the problem appears to be in Astrometrics. No doubt that Borg…"

Just as B'Elanna was about to lay fault at Seven's feet, Janeway cut her off. "Lt Torres keep it to yourself. There's been an explosion in Astrometrics and we're unable to contact Seven, so until she can give us a report, I don't want you making accusations, understood?"

B'Elanna knew Janeway would defend her pet Borg; she'd done it often in the past. Why would today be any different? B'Elanna was pissed off, but she wasn't stupid and simply answered her Captain, "Yes Ma'am."

"Good, Janeway out," came the Captain's crisp reply.

B'Elanna still hadn't forgotten about the argument she had with Seven earlier that day. Seven had starting re-aligning the warp core from Astrometrics, while B'Elanna was replacing gel packs in Jeffries tube 12, sub-section 26. It had taken her over 20 minutes to crawl through the miles of tubes, just what a Chief Engineer wanted to do first thing in the morning. Having arrived at the problem B'Elanna proceeded to replace the faulty pack. She was just heading back out of the tube when the pack malfunctioned and burst. Turning around she fixed the problem, removed the pack and replaced it with a second pack. After waiting a few moments to make sure everything was working and double checking the data on her tri-corder, she left the tube hoping to return to her quarters to clean up. Half way down the tube the second replacement gel pack burst. Turning around in disgust she crawled back to the problem.

B'Elanna had the distinct impression a certain ex-Borg drone was responsible for the exploding gel packs. After rechecking the warp core data, she had her answer. Seven was re-aligning the warp core, no doubt it was out 0.0007387% and the ex-Drone could improve efficiency by 0.087%. To say B'Elanna was pissed off would have been a huge understatement.

"Torres to Seven." B'Elanna thought it prudent to not say ex-Borg, plus the ship's computer wouldn't recognise that designation.

"Seven here, go ahead Lt. Torres," came the sound of Seven's voice over the comm. badge.

"Seven what the hell do you think you're doing?" B'Elanna was fuming, the Borg was re-aligning her engines, she hadn't even gone through the chain of command and worse yet she hadn't even notified B'Elanna about the re-alignment. B'Elanna had just crawled through cramped Jeffries tubes for last 20 minutes, only to have her work nullified by the Borg, not to mention blowing out three gel packs, and wasting a whole morning. Her temper went into overdrive.

"Lieutenant, I am unable to answer your question, could you please explain, 'What the hell you think I am doing?" Seven's voice changed as she spoke B'Elanna's words back to her.

B'Elanna didn't like it one bit. What, so now she does impersonations! Great, if it's not one thing with that Borg, it's another. "Seven stop whatever it is you're doing, don't touch anything, don't move, don't even breathe, I'm sure your nanoprobes will sustain you until I get there, Torres out."

B'Elanna replaced the gel pack with the last spare she had brought along with her, and proceeded to crawl out. Hopefully the 20 or so minutes it would take her to reach Astrometrics would cool her temper sufficiently so she wouldn't end up in the bridge for strangling the rogue Borg to death. Then again perhaps Seven will take my commands literally and stop breathing until I arrive, her nanoprobes though highly regenerative, would not sustain her, and her resulting death would solve the problem Yeah sure, when has Seven actually obeyed a command from me, even the Captain had trouble in that area.

An alarm brought B'Elanna back to the present, and to the task at hand, getting her warp core back online.

Chapter 2

Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix 01, had just finished downloading the astrometric charts that would take them through the next 20 light years, when her cortical node started to malfunction. Her vision blurred, and as a result she was unable to detect the vortex opening up in Astrometrics, even though her implant had starting recording the event.

Electrical energy from the vortex lashed out, streams of bright blue, reaching for her implant. When contact was achieved, Seven was pure energy, causing her electrical wiring to fuse, her nanoprobes to burst and her body to collapse. Seven's last conscious thought was of the Chief Engineer and the fight they had had earlier that day.

As the vortex continued to grow, Astrometrics exploded, and the rift collapsed.

The security team arrived at Astrometrics minutes after the rift closed; they were unsuccessful in opening the outer doors. Tuvok was unable to contact Seven so ordered an emergency beam out to sickbay.

Tuvok's comm. badge beeped. "Doctor to Lieutenant Tuvok, I am unable to get a fix on Seven's location, the explosion must be masking her life signs."

"Thank you Doctor, Tuvok out." Tuvok's expression could be interpreted as concerned, although no one around him noticed any change to his facial features. "The logical solution would be to open these doors and physically remove Seven from the lab." And with that, officers and crewman lined up on opposite sides of the doors and forced them open.

The devastation that they were confronted with was beyond belief. It would be a miracle if they could find Seven's comm. badge let alone Seven's body. Astrometrics had totally collapsed upon itself, as if it was caught in a black hole. Crewman started moving through the debris as Tuvok contacted his Captain.

"Lieutenant Tuvok to Captain Janeway."

"Janeway here, what have you got for me Tuvok?"

The Captain's voice sounded anxious, and Tuvok knew this news would not be welcomed. "Captain, Astrometrics is totally destroyed. We are searching for Seven of Nine now, however it may be a while before we can locate her …" Pausing, Tuvok caught himself before uttering, … body.

Captain Janeway recognized the pause in Tuvok's report for what it was; an attempt to delay the inevitable. If Tuvok believed Seven to be dead by inspecting the destruction of Astrometrics, then it was gained through logical observation. It was illogical that he would attempt such a ruse; Janeway knew that Tuvok's fatherly affection for Seven caused the pause in his speech.

"Thank you Tuvok, Janeway out." Janeway got up out of her seat and headed for the turbolift, turning towards Chakotay. "Commander you have the bridge, I'll be in Astrometrics."

Chakotay knew that his Captain and good friend had a thing for the ex-Drone. He had watched Janeway's affection for Seven move from maternal to something that he wasn't quite sure of, but it definitely wasn't maternal anymore. The news of the explosion in Astrometrics had almost floored Janeway and if she wasn't the Captain she was, she would have left with Tuvok in the beginning. It was only her iron will that kept her on the bridge, making sure her ship and crew were safe.

Chakotay had also heard the hesitation in Tuvok's report; he knew his Captain would have a hard time facing the destruction of Astrometrics, not to mention the survival rate of Seven of Nine.

Chapter 3

Nik Larsen cut a lonely figure as she walked along the beach. She had never been so alone in all her months on Frixo'n PriMe. She had just received word that the first wave of refugees/scientists, who were making their way across two galaxies to setup the new planet, had been misplaced. Their bio rhythms had apparently disappeared within the Jaxon Matrix. For all intents and purposes they were dead, and would be classified as such. Not only that, the Jaxon Matrix was unable to cope with the mixed bio rhythms and had collapsed into itself, cutting off any chance of returning home. Nik was stranded and totally alone. Her home galaxy was still able to send through messages but that would end as soon as the power generators failed to recharge which was expected to occur in 13.8 planetary rotations; in layman's terms, she would be completely alone in two weeks.

It was a dream come true for Annika Larsen when she discovered the stable gateway on Frixo'n PriMe eight months ago. She had been researching the birth of a new galaxy when a distortion in the space continuum caught her attention. If she hadn't re-written an outdated and inefficient search program four weeks beforehand she would have never have discovered the Gateway.

As it was, her knowledge of Gateway parameters served her well, and she was able to recognize the data that would have been lost had an inexperienced operator been seated at her terminal. No one pointed out to Nik that the likelihood of an inexperienced operator sitting at her terminal would be just as likely as anyone finding a Gateway; extremely rare.

In fact when she requested permission to speak with the Board of Command, the sphere in which they all traveled nearly stopped. The sphere, of course, was their home. It traveled across their home planet. A planet that was now unable to support life since it was caught in a space continuum rift and all oxygen was sucked from the atmosphere.

Fortunately the rift had been discovered minutes before its appearance and all intellectual life forms within a fifty kilometer radius of the sphere had been beamed into its centre. The sphere, though experimental in stage when first activated, had served the surviving life forms well for the last 237 years.

The home planet PriMe Artnic could not be returned to its original life-sustaining form. The rift not only devastated the atmosphere and everything on the planet, it also knocked the planet off its axis and fifty years had been wasted before it was determined that the terra-forming project was unlikely to succeed. The ruling board then turned its focus to other planets and solar systems, hoping to find a new home.

The discovery of Gateways had been in its infancy when the space continuum tear had forced scientists to retreat inside the sphere. As generations were born in the sphere, the search for a suitable Gateway was increased with the hope of finding a new planet to settle.

The sphere that was home for now, was 15 km in diameter and able to support safely, 10,000 life forms. With its electromagnetic hull plating it moved over the desolate surface of the planet by positively charging forward plating and negatively charging aft plating. The sphere was then able to roll over the landscape, and the resulting energy it dispersed sustained life inside. Four generations had been born inside the sphere and it was becoming more worrisome that the latest generation had no idea as to how long the sphere would continue to sustain life.

Finding a suitable Gateway seemed logical to ensure survival of the NorDanuic race. Except calculations concerning the probability of Gateways existing meant that within the four known galaxies perhaps only two gateways existed within a state of random flux. So after almost 180 years of searching for a viable Gateway, Nik's discovery came as a welcome surprise. Especially considering Nik was not actually a member of the Gateway Guild.

Nik Larsen was supposed to be an artist. She was responsible for the preservation of Arts of the NorDanuic people. In the event that they found a viable Gateway, Nik would then, with the aid of other members of the Arts Guild re-establish traditional NorDanuic Art on the new planet. However, Nik being born into the guild found peace only when searching the stars. This was where her love of Arts lay, in the random formation of stars, nebulas and galaxies. The disjointed colours they created when changing form. The drifting particles they sent randomly into space when they exploded. This was Art to Nik.

Chapter 4

Janeway arrived at Astrometrics, just as a crewman yelled out. "Commander I've found an arm." Kathryn's heart stopped beating. Oh please let her be alive, she thought as she stood there; willing her legs to move while her mind tried unsuccessfully to send the signal. This day was going from bad to worse. Kathryn, after much debating with herself, had decided this morning to ask Seven out to dinner. She had realised some time ago that her feelings for Seven of Nine Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix 01 had changed. No longer did Kathryn have maternal instincts for the ex-Borg, she was quite simply falling in love with her.

That realisation alone, had delayed the Captain's shift arrival this morning, making her twenty minutes late for duty. As Kathryn looked around at the destruction, she realized that perhaps she would never get to ask Seven out, and all her fears about bending Starfleet policy in regards to dating crewmembers, may have just cost her one true chance at happiness. As she walked into the lab, she vowed that as soon as Seven recovered, she would ask her out, and to hell with the consequences.

Crewmen and officers moved across to where Seven's arm was located and proceeded to remove the debris. Janeway thought about simply beaming the debris into space, but Seven could be potentially attached to some of it and the risk was to simply too great.

After two hours of clearing the debris, a single beam was all that was left. It lay across Seven's abdomen defying removal. The Doctor, having arrived some time ago, was constantly checking Seven's vital signs. The tri-corder results did not please him at all; in fact he had to restart Seven's heart three times in the last two hours. "Captain, now that Seven is stabilised I think it's safe to move the beam," the Doctor said as he checked the results one more time.

"What about internal bleeding?" Janeway asked, knowing that Seven had already received treatment for hypovolaemia.

"Captain I am more concerned about Seven's cortical implant and her nanoprobes decline than about internal bleeding; that I can fix," he explained with a slight frown. Seven was indeed in trouble, the Borg technology that her body required to survive had all but shut down. Given time her body would also expire.

"Okay move the beam," Janeway said with renewed energy. Crewmen and officers stood back as the Doctor sent an order to his matrix to increase his strength, only then would he be able to move the beam. The others waited, ready to pull Seven's body clear of the destruction. As Seven lay among the rubble that had once been the Astrometrics lab, Kathryn's heart stopped yet again. As she looked down at the woman who held her heart, she prayed for Seven's life once again.

The anti-gravity bed had been powered up once Seven was placed on top. While Seven's nanoprobes continued to malfunction, she could not be beamed to sickbay and would have to make the journey through the belly of Voyager. The Doctor worked over Seven constantly, the internal bleeding starting up again as soon as the final beam was removed.

"Lieutenant Paris please report to sickbay," the Doctor ordered as he and Janeway rushed down the corridor of Deck 5 to the sickbay. Chakotay having returned to the bridge and hearing the request ordered an emergency beam out to the sickbay for Lt. Paris who had returned from Astrometrics 20 minutes ago. The bridge crew guessed by the request that Seven's condition was critical. The drain alone to the ship, with the warp core still off-line was tremendous; Harry Kim started to worry all over again.

Harry had had a thing for Seven when she first came on board Voyager. After the Captain severed Seven's link to the collective Harry, who was renowned for falling for exotic alien females was smitten. It didn't take long for him to make a total fool out of himself, and the resulting pool was won by B'Elanna. B'Elanna predicted that Harry would make a play for the ex-Borg within ten days of her becoming a member of Voyager. It took Harry 9.5 days. He desperately hoped Seven was alright, although he no longer had those kind of feelings for her, she was still a valuable crewmember and Harry considered her a friend. He watched as Tom disappeared in a cloud of blue light.

The Doctor, Janeway and Seven entered sickbay just as Tom appeared. Seven was placed gently on the primary biobed, Janeway stood back as the Doctor erected a Level 6 forcefield. Seven's lungs had collapsed in the turbolift and the Doctor was struggling to get them re-inflated. Tom reached for an airbag and starting ventilating Seven's lungs the old fashioned way. Janeway felt helpless. Gathering her strength, she asked the Doctor how she could help out.

"Computer lower forcefield," said the Doctor, as he looked at Janeway. "Captain you can continue to ventilate Seven's lungs, Lieutenant Paris please start repairing Seven's broken bones, and stop any internal bleeding, I'll start assessing the damage to Seven's cortical implant and attempt to stimulate her nanoprobes."

Janeway took the rubber air bag from Tom and started to squeeze air into Seven's collapsed lungs, re-inflating her own in the process. Tom reached for a medical tri-corder to determine where he should start repairing the damage. "Computer raise forcefield," Janeway ordered. Kathryn wished she could just order Seven to wake up and be well, her mind sadly heard Seven's reply 'I am unable to comply'.

Every major long bone in Seven's body had been broken and there was severe damage to her pelvis and spine. The only bone that appeared to have escaped damage was the arm that had signaled her location in Astrometrics. Luckily Seven's spinal cord was still intact and if the doctor could activate Seven's nanoprobes than she would simply need a few days regenerating and be able back in tip top shape. What freaked Tom the most though, was that Seven's ribs had all been shattered. Tom knew that the force that struck Seven's Borg reinforced abdominal implant must have been huge.

Janeway continued to pump air into Seven's lungs, hoping that she would soon start breathing on her own; however the frown that graced the Doctor's holographic form spoke volumes to Janeway.

"Captain, I need B'Elanna to help with the repairing of Seven's cortical implant," the Doctor stated as he reached for another instrument.

"Janeway to Lieutenant Torres." Janeway didn't have to wait long for a response. "B'Elanna your assistance is required in sickbay."

B'Elanna could tell from the Captain's voice that her pet Borg was in danger. Leaving Carey in charge of getting the warp core back online she headed off to sickbay.

Chapter 5

Nik headed back to what she previously considered her temporary accommodation and was now her permanent home. "Great now I'll have to change that designation." She wasn't concerned that she had spoken aloud since it was her habit. She would often catch herself having huge conversations with her computer. Of course the computer never answered her back in the real sense, but Nik knew exactly what it was thinking, for they were her thoughts.

"I suppose I should try and set up a more permanent shelter while the power holds out, now that I'm stuck on this planet indefinitely," her thoughts still escaping through her mouth. There was a lot of work because in less than two weeks she would be totally alone, without any power source, and responsible for her own survival. "Not that I haven't done that for the last five months, oh and don't forget the previous 18 years in the sphere." She laughed at the irony of it all. Nik had been alone for most of her life. Her parents had both been victims of a freak accident when Nik was six.

Her father, a member of the Science Guild and her mother, a member of the Environment Guild had both died when the magnetic plating that propelled the sphere forward had reversed its polarity, resulting in a complete stop. The energy feedback from the polarity malfunction caused her father's terminal to explode. Her father, who should have logged off work four hours ago, died instantly. Her mother, who had actually made it home 2 hours after her shift ended, died when the ladder she was standing on became unstable and toppled over. Nik heard her mother's neck break from her bedroom.

After her parents had been cremated and their ashes 'utilised' by the huge greenhouse that filled two kilometers of the sphere, it was decided that Annika Larsen could remain in her parent's quarters by herself, as per her wish, as long as her academic grades didn't slip. A holographic nanny could be activated when Annika required help. Annika activated the holo-nanny once; on her seventh birthday.

It seemed that Nik was destined to always be alone, "Oh course that doesn't mean that I'm lonely," she uttered as she walked towards the power grid. She needed to recheck the power outage hoping to decrease the amount and extend its life. "If I can extend the time I have to utilize power I might be able to build a suitable replacement", great now I'm talking like a member of the Builder's Guild.

The temporary habitat that had made the journey with Nik through the Jaxon Matrix provided warmth at night, however as soon as the power ran out, Nik's temporary quarters would go from cozy to frosty. She had to think about alternative shelter and quickly. She needed to build an alternative shelter or insulate the one she had. Deciding on the latter she set about securing the shelter. It was a simple enough process to cover the entire habitat with dirt, but it was back-breaking work and Nik would often rest, all the time thinking about her isolation.

On the second to last day before the power went out Nik received an audio message from the sphere. The Matrix Guild had started work on restoring the Jaxon Matrix, however according to their predictions the Matrix wouldn't be operational for at least 7 years. Yeah thanks for nothing, Nik thought as she listened to the message.

Nik decided then and there to cut off all links to her past life and forge ahead with her new life. She started by transferring all remaining power to the small solar cells that would store the power as well as convert solar energy, and be able to run limited appliances such as her computer and telescope. The solar cells had been a last minute addition to her supplies and were now deemed one of her most important possessions. The cells were also able to power her phaser gun and the small outboard motor on her raft that had also made the journey to Frixo'n PriMe.

With food stocks in abundance and seeds to plant new crops, vegetables and herbs, life was survivable if not adaptable.

Three months later…

Nik had just finished the weeding in her rather large vegetable garden. She stood up and stretched her long frame. Looking directly at the blue sky above, Nik rotated her neck left then right until a satisfying crack could be heard. Bending over, she picked up her tools and headed back to her home. The shelter had been completely covered in dirt except for the entrance area and two front facing windows. Her home was now entirely green. Nik had transplanted moss cover from the surrounding forest and it had quickly spread out over its new home. The shelter was now warm at night, and cool throughout the heat of the day, the dirt acting as a natural insulator.

Adapting quickly to her new life, Nik almost didn't notice the isolation. There was work that needed to be completed every day to ensure her survival. It wasn't until a week ago that she realized she had even stopped talking to herself, preferring instead to listen to the sounds of nature. Being confined to the inside of a huge sphere for her entire life, Nik missed out on nature. Oh, there was the greenhouse that a covered 2 km area of the inside of the sphere with 'wildlife', but it didn't compare to being outside. Breaking her one week silence, Nik answered her musings. "I had better start talking everyday so I don't forget how to do it… it'll be a handy skill should I ever be rescued."

And so every day Nik would say a few words to keep up the pretense of maintaining a totally useless skill, given her current predicament. Her singing could be heard drifting far across the valley on warm still days.

Chapter 6

As B'Elanna walked through the deck 5 corridor to sickbay, she couldn't stop thinking about the Ice Princess. Sure, Seven was a pain in the arse, but she was a damn good scientist and if B'Elanna was completely honest with herself she had to admit that Seven was also a great engineer. Deciding to put aside her anger regarding this morning's fight with the ex-drone, she walked straight into sickbay determined to help all she could. She stopped dead in her tracks at the sight in front of her. The Captain looked like she was about to cry, Tom was as white as a ghost and the Doctor's hands were shaking. B'Elanna thought there was either a glitch in his matrix or Seven was in a very bad way.

The latter was confirmed when the Doctor looked up from his patient and ordered B'Elanna to assist him. "Lieutenant Torres don't just stand there get over here."

B'Elanna, after hearing the tremor in his voice, moved towards the main biobed. Perhaps there was a problem with his matrix after all, since she couldn't recall his voice pitch being that high or his inflections that shaky.

B'Elanna told the computer to lower the forcefield surrounding her crewmembers and Captain and raised it after she was standing next to the Doctor.

"Chakotay to the Captain."

Janeway's hand slapped her badge before the message finished. "Janeway here. What is it Chakotay? I'm busy here." Janeway's voice still retained its steely edge.

"Captain, we are being hailed and I thought you might want to be on the bridge," Chakotay answered. He didn't want to interrupt the Captain knowing her need to be with Seven, but protocol demanded he contact his commanding officer.

"Thanks Chakotay, I'm on my way, Janeway out." Janeway looked at the Doctor, with an apologetic face.

"Captain before you go would you be able to retrieve the blood gas infuser from the equipment storage unit. B'Elanna please take over from the Captain, Tom have you repaired the damage to Seven's lungs?"

Tom had just finished repairing Seven's lungs and advised the Doctor that her lungs should be able to re-oxygenate her body with the gas infuser.

Janeway returned from the equipment unit and passed the infuser to B'Elanna who attached it to Seven. The Doctor monitored the exchange to ensure that Seven's lungs would process the oxygen. Janeway knew she needed to get to the bridge and so she brushed a stray hair from Seven's forehead and walked out of sickbay and back to her duty as the Captain.

Six hours later….

It was decided that Seven was out of immediate danger which was a good thing considering both B'Elanna and Tom were exhausted. The Doctor even looked like he had been through the mill. "Mr. Paris why don't you go and get some rest? B'Elanna and I will start working on saving Seven's memories that are stored in her cortical node," said the Doctor as he touched Tom's shoulder. Tom knew that even though he was heading back to his quarters, Seven was still in danger. Her cortical node's malfunction resulted in a large part of her brain suffering severe oxygen loss for the two hours she was under the debris. However, knowing that the next stage required extensive knowledge in engineering, it made sense that Tom rest as he would be on duty all day tomorrow in the sickbay.

He headed out of the sickbay wondering whether Seven would even survive the night.

Just as he stepped through the sickbay doors B'Elanna called out. "Tom if I can, I'll stop by after I finish here."

"That'll be great Lanna, I'll see you later," Tom said as he exited the sickbay.

B'Elanna had never heard Tom call her Lanna before, Seven's accident must have really shook him up, she thought as she turned back to the task at hand.

Janeway walked through the doors just as they closed after Tom's exit. Walking directly to the Doctor, she didn't take her eyes off Seven as she crossed the floor. She noticed that Seven's external bruises and cuts had all been repaired, however her skin was pale even more so than its normal alabaster tones. Janeway picked up Seven's fully human hand and asked the Doctor how Seven was doing and if she would survive.

"Captain perhaps we could move to my office, it will allow Lieutenant Torres to work without having to go around us."

Janeway understood the Doctor's ploy to get her away from the biobed and from Seven. Knowing the prognosis would not be good, she decided to comply with his wishes. Funny that she should start thinking like Seven, while it seemed Seven was unable to think for herself. The Captain and the Doctor moved into his office, leaving B'Elanna to locate and save Seven's memories.

"Okay Doctor, I want a full report, is Seven going to be okay?" Janeway opened the meeting with her usual energy, in a frail attempt to cover her concern. It was a mechanism she used often, although when implemented on Tuvok, the Vulcan with suppressed emotions always saw through his friend's charade.

"Captain if I may be perfectly blunt, there is little hope of Seven ever regaining consciousness. Her cortical node was severely damaged in the explosion, oxygen levels dropped significantly during her time trapped under the debris, and her brain patterns, although minute, appear to be out of flux with real time, we are trying to locate the reason why. However I'm afraid with all my knowledge that I will be unsuccessful in reviving her, let alone restoring her to full health." The Doctor paused a moment to allow his Captain to absorb the information; however he was not finished and dearly wanted the Captain's approval for his proposed operation. Janeway's face revealed her emotions, eyes wide with worry, tears almost surfacing only to be pushed back, and replaced by the command mask that had served her well for the past six years.

"B'Elanna and I are in the process of retrieving Seven's memories. With her cortical node in complete shutdown, and as yet no way to restore it, we have decided that it would be prudent to retrieve her memories, and store them in an artificial matrix. If we are able to repair her cortical node, then it would be a simple process to re-introduce her memories. I know there are a lot of problems with Seven at the moment and perhaps they may well be more pressing, but if we can restore her at a later date … well, without her memories she would be just a drone." The Doctor took a deep breath after his speech; he still wasn't finished though and began to plow ahead. "I recommend that we …."

Janeway cut him off mid sentence with a raised hand. "Doctor, give me a minute, I need to think about what you've just said." Janeway continued on thankful for something to do other than just sitting there and dealing with the Doctor's report on Seven, and there was also the small thing about having to keep her emotions in check. "Why is retrieving Seven's memories so important, and yes I know we don't want to end up with a drone, but isn't it more pressing to try and fix her cortical node?"

The Doctor had anticipated this question from the Captain; he knew that Janeway wanted Seven back, fit and healthy. The Captain had taken on the responsibility for Seven's well being and continued existence when Seven was severed from the Borg. It was a well known fact that if you hurt Seven, you'd better be prepared to deal with a Captain whose very look could scare atoms out of duranium hull plating.

"Captain, at this point I do not believe B'Elanna and I can restore Seven's cortical node. It may be that the only way we can save her is to remove all of her implants, and even then the possibility of her being able to survive without their contributions is …. well we would need a miracle. However if we have to continue with the removal of her implants, than I would like to be able to restore her memories. Seven has used her cortical node for memory retrieval for the past 18 years, her normal brain synapses and neural pathways have completely changed. The memories will be placed where she can access them without too much learning. In fact she will need to learn everything again. How to walk, talk, eat, sleep and yes even how to think." The Doctor finished his report by sliding over a data pad that held all the information on Seven's current condition. Janeway reached for the pad, with her left hand, her right was currently holding and rubbing her forehead.

'What's this?" she asked the Doctor, not even looking up to acknowledge his response.

The Doctor wanted to distract the Captain, and was using the data pad as a means. "The data pad contains all the information relating to Seven's current condition. It also has my recommendations for future treatment, I propose…."

Once again Janeway interrupted the Doctor. "Hold on a minute; so what you're effectively telling me is that, should Seven survive any of the proposed treatments she will be a drone either way." The Captain didn't like the sound of that; surely there was something else that could be done.

"Captain, either way she'll be a drone, however if we are able to successfully remove her implants, at least we can return some of her humanity in the form of her memories, it will be a slow process, but there will be hope. The other option is …. unsuitable, as she would only be able to function within the hive mind. Captain we would have to return Seven to the Borg Queen. They are the only beings at present with the knowledge to save her life while she has the implants." That was the home run the Doctor had been waiting to deliver, he knew his Captain's reply before it even left her mouth.

"When hell freezes over, that Borg Queen can have Seven over my rotting corpse. Seven will never return to the Borg, we may as well just unplug her know." Janeway paused, taking a deep breath, knowing all along the Doctor had played her and played her well, she continued on. "I know Seven would never willingly return to the Borg unless to save Voyager she would rather die…. so having said that I take it you're proposing the removal of her remaining implants."

The Captain and the Doctor discussed the problem and possible solutions for the next hour; it appeared that the only viable treatment was to remove the remaining implants. However Janeway still wanted to have all of her senior officers input. Perhaps with a combined brainstorming session, Seven's chances of surviving may improve with new ideas and treatments. She scheduled a meeting with the Doctor tomorrow at 0800 and promptly used his terminal to send the same request to her senior officers.

Janeway walked out of the office, and over to the biobed. B'Elanna was still hovering around Seven, although she would enter something in her data pad every couple of minutes and then return to the patient, and the latest engineering problem. Janeway held Seven's hand for a few more minutes and then left the sickbay, after having placed a comforting hand on B'Elanna's shoulders.

"Captain, I think Seven's got us all stumped this time around," B'Elanna trying desperately to ease the pain that was so clearly etched on her mentor's face.

"B'Elanna I feel a lot more relieved knowing you're on the job. I know you and Seven are not the best of friends, but if anyone is ever going to challenge you again, and get a reaction …. it'll be Seven, so I know you'll …." Janeway for some reason couldn't finish the sentence and B'Elanna didn't acknowledge the fact her Captain had left the sentence hanging, while she was trying to control her emotions.

Janeway turned from the scene and exited the sickbay.

"Sleep well Kathryn," B'Elanna whispered after the doors to sickbay had closed. B'Elanna turned back to her task. She had been trying unsuccessfully for the last hour to locate the cortical relays responsible for recalling Seven's memories. The fact that the ex-Borg had an eidetic memory would ensure that all the information could be retrieved, if only they could find them.

B'Elanna's relationship with the ex-Borg could be described as turbulent. Ever since the former drone had joined the Voyager crew, B'Elanna could not remember a day when they hadn't clashed heads. Of course the days when B'Elanna had been successful in avoiding Seven couldn't be counted. Seven's lack of acknowledging the chain of command was one of the main reasons the two almost came to blows on several occasions. That and the fact that Seven was so self-assured in her abilities resulting in her arrogant behaviour was annoying to say the least. Oh sure Seven was a brilliant engineer; B'Elanna could acknowledge that, she just would never let the ex-drone know of her admiration.

The Doctor returned to the biobed, and B'Elanna's thoughts came to an end and returned to the job at hand.

"Lieutenant, I believe I should go offline for awhile and study up on Seven's current condition, as the Captain has tentatively agreed to the removal of Seven's remaining implants. I require study so I can be fully prepared for tomorrow's senior officer meeting. Perhaps it would be best if you rested for awhile." The Doctor fully intended to send B'Elanna off to her quarters.

"If it's all right with you I would like to stay for a little while, I've think I located the relays that control Seven's memory retrieval, and there's still the matter of setting up the proper matrix settings to hold the data." B'Elanna although exhausted, was well known for working overtime, she thrived on solving problems. She could also acknowledge that Seven's future existence relied heavily on her skills as an engineer. Strangely, B'Elanna didn't want to let Seven down.

The Doctor although wanting the Lieutenant to rest, could sympathise with her helplessness and simply agreed to her request. "Okay but as soon as the Gamma shift starts I'll come back online to monitor Seven through the night, and I will officially log you off duty until 0800 tomorrow." With that the Doctor disappeared into his matrix, leaving B'Elanna to her work.

Chapter 7

"Damn it all to Harth'a," Nik cursed as she dropped the atomic isolator spanner for the fourth time. She had been trying to recalibrate the Gateway's generator for the past 7 days without success. Having slept on the problem last night Nik awoke this morning with renewed vigour and a belief in her ability to locate other Gateways in the quadrant, if only she could fix the generator. She had now been alone on Frixo'n PriMe for the 9 months. The isolation, though easy to handle for the first few months was now taking its toll on the young woman. Nik decided days ago that she would try to aid her would be rescuers who at present were 70,000 light years away in another quadrant. She also decided that the technology was sound and even if she was unable to speed up her rescue, she may in fact be able to find other Gateways. Perhaps closer ones than the one on her home planet, PriMe Artnic. If she could locate another Gateway then she may be able to seek help from the race she encountered. Better yet, if their technology was more advanced than her own, they may even be able to repair and re-open the Jaxon Matrix from this end.

Nik didn't really like the idea of returning to her people, but she needed outside contact and soon. Locating another Gateway seemed the logical solution.

Nik reached into the generator to retrieve the spanner only to have an electrical charge throw her 3 feet backwards. The outer lights on the generator blinked a few times, then stabilised. It appeared the dropped spanner had solved her problem, the generator was back online and judging by the noise emanating from it, it had already begun searching for stable distortions in the space continuum; in other words it was looking for viable Gateways.

Nik got up and dusted herself off, all the while resisting the urge to kick the machine. Obviously it was temperamental at best, probably still sulking over the fact that Nik had dared to realign its parameters. The Chief Engineer of the Gateway Guild had most likely nursed the machine and it didn't like anyone else tinkering with its components. Well if it was a sentient being that would be my conclusion thought Nik.

With the generator searching, Nik headed inside her home to set about preparing lunch. She was halfway through her fresh salad when the generator starting to beep rather loudly. Great it's probably going into complete overload, obviously the spanner's fortuitous landing had not fixed the problem completely.

Nik picked up her lunch and headed back outside to check the generator. Carefully wiping the dust off the console, she was amazed at the data streaming down the screen. Information pertaining to a viable Gateway flashed on the screen. Nik couldn't believe her luck, although with her luck the Gateway would probably be located even further away than her home planet. Tapping the buttons on the console she set about locating the co-ordinates of the Gateway; her lunch set aside and forgotten.

Nik sat down on the chair she had been using earlier. The Gateway was located in the same system; in fact it was only a planet away. It was also completely stable, more so than the Gateway she had previously traversed. Frixo'n PriMe was one part of a binary star system, and the newly discovered Gateway was the polar opposite of the one she had previously traveled through.

She didn't have to build a complex matrix capable of transferring matter thousands of light years; in fact if the information was correct all she was required to do was re-align her bio-temporal flux. Of course she needed to build a small temporal matrix before entering the Gateway precisely calibrated to the distortion; wouldn't want to cause an explosion in the space-time continuum.

Nik's mind went into overdrive; she estimated that she could probably construct a stable matrix within one week. She would need another week to stabilise the Gateway on this planet, probably a day or so to calibrate the matrix to the exact temporal flux. Three weeks maximum and she would enter a new world. Explore new civilizations, perhaps I should have been seconded to the Explorer's Guild.

It was late in the day and Nik decided to call it a night. She knew that sleep would evade her that night, but she needed to rest, she needed to succeed.

The following morning Nik was up bright and early. The twin suns that sustained life on the planet had yet to crest the horizon, although the combined light they emitted was bright enough to throw a golden haze over the surrounding countryside. The dawn brought renewed hope.

Chapter 8

B'Elanna had finally located Seven's synaptic relays through her optical implant. It was a long shot but the results where instant. Seven's implant projected a scene that although unfamiliar to B'Elanna she recognised the ex-Borg as the person in the projection. Although Seven was currently sporting an implant free face the striking figure she cut through the forest was hauntingly familiar.

Having stimulated the optical implant, B'Elanna could then retrace the relays back to Seven's cortical node without too much difficulty. B'Elanna terminated the stimulus to Seven's optical implant and the projection disappeared. It appeared that the projection had been extracted from one of the Seven's dreams; B'Elanna felt she had watched something extremely personal, and was only too happy to see the projection fade.

B'Elanna noted that the Doctor would come back online in less than 20 minutes; she wanted to start retracing the relays before he ordered her off the job for the night. Working quickly B'Elanna started the long process of tracking down the relays and temporarily storing any memories that were accidentally projected due to her unavoidable stimulus.

B'Elanna was astounded at the images that were projected. In one such image the ex-drone was disrobing and about to enter a crystal clear stream. Tearing her eyes away from Seven's dreams was becoming increasingly difficult for B'Elanna. The current image changed dramatically and B'Elanna knew she had just stimulated Seven's actual memories as the Astrometrics lab came into view. B'Elanna could see the rift opening as it tore the lab apart. It was truly a miracle that the ex-Borg had survived the destruction. Quickly moving to the console B'Elanna downloaded the latest memories into the temporary matrix. Just as she completed the transfer the EMH came back online.

"Why does it not surprise me to see you still here Lieutenant?" were the first words out of the Hologram. B'Elanna was just thankful he didn't say 'please state the nature of the medical emergency'. Apparently he could change his initial response when reactivated.

"Doctor I have located the relays that store and transfer Seven's memories, by stimulating her optical implant. However the artificial stimulus resulted in Seven's memories being projected visually. I was afraid that if I didn't download them immediately, the memories would be irretrievable," B'Elanna responded as she ensured the latest data was securely stored, moving rapidly from Seven to the console.

"Great work Lieutenant, it appears once again I have under estimated your brilliance." B'Elanna raised an eyebrow; that was indeed high praise coming from the Doctor. Perhaps there was a glitch in his matrix after all.

The Doctor moved over to the console and checked B'Elanna's work to date. "Lieutenant it appears that you will be required to assist me until the transfer is complete, as we can hardly stop the process now. Perhaps if you can work on increasing the storage matrix I'll continue with the retrieval process."

The two worked throughout the night watch, both aware that there was no change in Seven's condition. They were both cognizant of the fact that owing to Seven's implant existing in a temporal flux, the information could be lost at any moment, with no further chance for retrieval. B'Elanna was thankful that Seven's optical implant had ceased projecting visual images.

With the last memory safely stored that Doctor placed the tri-corder next to the terminal where B'Elanna was working. B'Elanna had successfully increased the matrix, however the drain on the ship's power had been tremendous. Holodeck 2 was now out of commission until Seven recovered, and her memories re-instated.

B'Elanna had three hours before the senior officers meeting, and decided to freshen up rather than try to get a few hours sleep. As she turned to leave the sickbay, she remembered the first image Seven's optical implant had projected. "Doctor, does Seven dream?" B'Elanna asked the EMH.

"Well no, not while she's regenerating, however while sleeping she would dream like the rest of the crew. Why do you ask?" said the Doctor, interested in B'Elanna's response.

"Well it's just that in the first lot of projections Seven was implant free. I thought they may have been her dreams."

"Seven can dream, however only if she sleeps. To date she has been unsuccessful in achieving sleep, therefore I would have to assume that perhaps what you saw was actually Seven's fantasies."

Now B'Elanna felt terrible. She had knowledge of the ex-Borg's fantasies, not only that she had witnessed them. Her reply was spoken very softly. "Oh, okay, thanks. I'll … ah …. I'll see you at the meeting." With that B'Elanna headed towards her quarters. Seven's fantasies seemed to be the majority of the crew's fantasies; a very naked Seven.

0800 hours …

Janeway opened the meeting as per usual. "Okay people this meeting is a brainstorming session. Seven's condition will remain unchanged until we can figure out how to safely treat her injuries. However I would like Chakotay to bring us up to date regarding our friendly visitors from yesterday."

Chakotay pressed a few buttons on his data padd before proceeding. "Thank you Captain". He turned to address the senior officers making sure he had their attention before proceeding. "I have just downloaded all the information onto your individual data padds regarding the Wirllati race and the space we are currently traveling through," Chakotay began; he knew the officers would look at their data padds, so he waited until the looked back up.

"It appears that the rift that opened in Astrometrics was a freak accident. The space we are currently traveling through is full of eddies and rips. However, the one in Astrometrics occurred outside the projected area. The Wirllati race have been monitoring this area of space for the past two weeks and have predicted that the rifts will eventually lose energy and fade away. However it also appears that the rift affected area is increasing in diameter, which was why they did not think to contact us before the accident. Apparently we had been traveling through a designated safe zone".

"Some safe zone," B'Elanna mumbled under her breath, but it was still loud enough.


"Sir, Seven is in sickbay right now, the chances of her making a full recovery are slim at best. What if the whole of Voyager had been affected? We'd all be dead." B'Elanna was pissed off at the race for allowing them to enter a dangerous area of space. However, it was her statement regarding Seven's current situation that drew attention from the seated officers.

"B'Elanna we are all concerned for Seven; however the Wirllati High Command has assured us that this was a very unfortunate accident," Chakotay continued hoping to deflect attention from B'Elanna.

"The Wirllati have been working with Ensign Kim to plot a safe course around the problem area." Chakotay nodded to the ensign and he took over.

"The proposed course will take us around the affected area, which will remain on the starboard side of Voyager. It'll be two months before we can resume our original course. The proposed distance will ensure Voyager's safe passage; however the affected area of space will be visible from all the starboard windows." Ensign Kim finished his report. He didn't add that the light show on the starboard side of Voyager would be phenomenal.

Voyager's astrometric and scientific crew were about to go into overload. The opportunity to study a unique phenomenon was few and far between. Sure, Voyager veered off course on a regular basis, to study strange anomalies and collapsing suns. However the previous sector of space had been extremely boring. Harry had been sick and tired of replying 'nothing to report' when his Captain requested a daily update before she commenced her alpha shift.

Seven's knowledge and input would have been extremely valuable while studying the rift-infected space. Harry turned the meeting back over to the Commander on that thought.

"The new co-ordinates have already been sent to your station. Tom and Ensign Hart have already implemented the course corrections during the Gamma rotation. We will keep communications open with the Wirllati rift guards throughout the next two months, as Voyager has agreed to monitor the affected area and will report any changes."

Janeway just sat back and admired her crew. They were an odd bunch; thrown together and required to gel to ensure their continued existence. She considered them her family. Starfleet and Maquis working together, trying to get back home, and even if they didn't acknowledge it openly, they all cared. Seven's injuries just happened to be the catalyst this time.

Kathryn knew that B'Elanna was concerned; Harry distraught; the Doctor re-assessing his extensive database; even Tuvok appeared restless, a huge feat for the otherwise emotionless Vulcan. They were indeed a family, especially considering an ex-drone's frailty had caused the united concern.

Kathryn's decision to add Seven to the crew compliment had met strong opposition. Even Chakotay had been extremely vocal. In the end the decision was out of her hands. Seven was severed from the Borg, and Kathryn was not about to turn her ship around to return the missing drone. Seven was now a vital part of Voyager and their very existence could be attributed to the ex-drone's willingness to sacrifice herself for her new collective. The selfless acts had surprised the crew and gained Seven many friends in return.

Kathryn was lost in thought. It wasn't until she felt the light touch at her shoulder that her attention returned to the meeting. "Sorry Chakotay, I drifted there for a second, where were we?"

"I was about to ask the Doctor to deliver his report on Seven's condition so we could start the brainstorming." A slight smile graced the former Maquis' face. He knew Janeway would have had difficulty falling asleep the previous night. Her attachment to Seven a well known and well documented fact on Voyager.

Janeway simply nodded in the EMH's direction, and slowly drifted back to her thoughts as the Doctor presented his report.

He was halfway through when Kathryn realised she had just missed and important piece. "Doctor could you please repeat that." Kathryn didn't know what that was.

"Of course Captain, I just said that Lieutenant Torres and I were able to successfully retrieve Seven's memories last night and they are currently being stored in a secured matrix. It appears that we will be able to proceed with the proposed treatment sooner than expected, barring any unforeseen circumstances." The Doctor wanted to further acknowledge the Lieutenant's work but Janeway cut him off.

"So has the proposed treatment changed?" Janeway dearly hoped it had, as Seven's current chances of surviving were subject to divine intervention.

"No Captain, although I would like to place Seven in stasis, with her cortical node still offline, she is unable to regenerate, her nanoprobes can only sustain emergency bodily functions before they also cease. It will also allow time to perfect the proposed treatment." The Doctor knew that he would have to place Seven in stasis today, her nanoprobes were already in decline, and they wouldn't last the night.

"Okay people you know about Seven's injuries, the Doctor has explained his proposed treatment. Is there anything that we're missing; perhaps and alternative treatment, anything?" Janeway valued her senior officers input; hopefully the brainstorming session would bring alternative viewpoints and a safer outcome.

Harry Kim was about to talk then stopped; Chakotay appeared to be thinking on the problem, Tuvok discounted a mind meld for the fifth time, it was then that Neelix spoke.

"Doctor you said that Seven's memories would contain her knowledge on how to re-animate her cortical node, isn't it possible that re-introducing them through her optical implant may in fact jump start both her cortical node and her nanoprobes?"

Every face turned towards the ship's cook, unofficial ambassador and only Talaxian on board Voyager.

"Mr Neelix, I believe your proposal may just work, we'll have to explore it further but … well I think we could make it work." The enthusiasm expressed in the Doctor's voice, gave Janeway new hope. Neelix was the last person she expected to come up with a viable solution; apparently it was so simplistic in nature that her highly trained and highly skilled staff couldn't see the forest for the trees.

Suggestions flew back and forth across the conference table; B'Elanna moved around to sit with Neelix, patting him on the back as she sat down. Janeway was proud, her crew proving once again they would fight till the bitter end, and even then they wouldn't give up.

She noticed that the meeting had been going for three hours, when she discreetly requested morning tea be delivered by the crewman that had been relieving Neelix. Ten minutes later the brainstorming team, were munching on tea cakes and sipping coffee and tea. Janeway moved from group to group, ensuring the transfer of ideas and giving support where needed.

The meeting broke before lunch with B'Elanna and the Doctor promising to keep everyone updated on their progress. It was agreed that Seven should still go into stasis until they could perfect the treatment. The Doctor notified the senior officers that should they wish to attend, he was going to initiate the bio-stasis chamber at 1400 hours. Many crewmembers and all the senior staff visited the sickbay before 1400 hours. The last to enter were Naomi Wildman and the Captain; Naomi holding the Captain's hand. They walked directly to stasis chamber that had been moved into the sickbay next to the primary bio-bed. Seven had already been placed in the stasis tube. Naomi tugged on the Captain's hand and she leant down to hear what the Katarian had to say. Janeway nodded in response and picked up Voyager's only child, so that she could lean over Seven to plant a kiss on her cheek.

"Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix 01, you had better recover, we have unfinished business, and a deciding Kadis Kot game to determine the Delta quadrant's undisputed champion," Naomi said with conviction.

Janeway smiled as she lowered the small child to the deck. Naomi ran out of the sickbay as soon as her Captain released her. She wanted to be close to her friend and headed straight for Cargo Bay 2. Janeway notified Sam Wildman, Naomi's mother, knowing the Katarian needed comforting. Seven's appearance may have well contributed to the child's distress.

Janeway noticed that Seven's hair had been trimmed severely in the front. She knew the back was completely bald. The Doctor had to alleviate pressure on Seven's brain and had shaved the area to reduce infection. Seven appeared to have a crew cut.

Kathryn leaned over to whisper in Seven's ear. "Annika you had better come back to me as we too have unfinished business … you will comply".

"Captain if you've finished I think I should activate the stasis tube, we need to preserve as many functioning nanoprobes as possible." Janeway stepped back and nodded in the Doctor's direction, as usual his concern for his patient was his only thought. His bedside manner was lacking, but he more than made up for it with his skills.

The Doctor activated the shield that covered the tube, it closed silently. Pressing a few more buttons on the console, the stasis tube fully activated. The Doctor monitored the life signs, until he was sure Seven's body had stabilised. Seven was now totally dependant on the Voyager and the crew's ability to revive her.

Chapter 9

It took longer than Nik had first anticipated. A storm had resulted in a branch from a tree landing on the Gateway generator. The spanner was jostled from its position and the generator went offline. Luckily Nik had already downloaded the coordinates and the new Gateway's temporal flux readings. So she continued with building the matrix that would sustain her journey. With that finished she set about fixing the generator again, and after two weeks of getting nowhere she was almost tempted to throw a spanner into the internal components, and hope for a miracle.

She finally fixed the generator the old fashion way and re-checked her readings. The Temporal flux calibrations had not changed but Nik needed to make sure before entering the matrix and stepping into the new world. Readings from the other side of the Gateway confirmed that the planet was able to support life, and also confirmed the presence of technology. How advance that technology was could only be determined through visual observation.

Nik could barely contain her excitement. She gathered the supplies she might need on the new planet, deciding that a quick trip now would better prepare her for the next journey when she planned to explore the immediate area surrounding the Gateway. The first trip would be to determine whether it was safe for her to return on a regular basis.

With that in mind, Nik placed her phaser in its holster on her hip, and set her wrist watch to remind her to return within 30 minutes. Taking a depth breath she stepped through the Gateway and into the matrix.

Nik felt slightly disorientated as her bio matrix became solid. As it was her second trip through a matrix the dizziness was to be expected. Yet she found herself patting down her body, unconsciously checking to see if all her bits had made it through. She checked her phaser turning it on to stun. As much as she would have liked to have been fully prepared and armed, the chances of the phaser accidentally firing during the trip were too high. Luckily she had arrived during the night, reducing the possibility of being discovered. It would appear that the Gateways were indeed polar opposites. While the one on Frixo'n PriMe was bathed in sunlight this one was bathed in moonlight.

Nik noted the time, and removed her scanner to start … well to start scanning the immediate vicinity.

She was standing on a hill, and in the distance below her she could make out artificial lighting. From the amount of lights it appeared to be a small town or settlement. Her scanner noted some very large buildings, as well as smaller buildings. There also appeared to be a huge network of subterranean shelters. She noted that the settlement was 12 km from her current position. Checking the scanner again she noted that only small life forms registered in the area surrounding the Gateway. She increased the range to 20 km checking for intellectual life signs. The settlement, though small in size, apparently supported 1,460 life forms; perhaps they all lived underground, as it was obvious that the small number of visible shelters could not contain that many beings. Nik also noted that three individual life signatures did not match the others. Their initial readings were similar to her own; she stored the information so she would be able to cross-reference them when she returned to Frixo'n PriMe.

The alarm on Nik's wrist went off. She had changed the setting to vibrate as she didn't think having an alarm that could be heard by others was wise. She was hesitant to leave, but she had gained a fair amount of data, and she didn't want to push her luck.

Adjusting her bio-temporal flux to once again match the Gateway she stepped into the matrix, and back to the world she knew.

Frixo'n PriMe ….

Nik had a huge amount of work to analyze before the next incursion. She moved quickly to the generator to shut the matrix down, she didn't want any unexpected visitors.

Entering the home, she set about making a sandwich for dinner. She wasn't really hungry but needed to keep her strength up as she wanted to analyze the data straight away. Sitting down at her computer she started the transfer of data, munching on her dinner as the computer uploaded the figures.

Three hours later she had found some interesting facts. Number 1, the three separate life signs had the same DNA as Nik, they were NorDanuic in nature. Number 2, the other registered life forms indigenous to the planet had a similar DNA structure; in fact there was only a 0.24 variance in their genetic make-up. And Number 3, though they had advanced in technology they had yet to achieve inter-galactic travel. This was determined through the lack of ion trails in the upper atmosphere.

Nik switched off her computer and headed outside. Dusk had just begun, and it was her favourite part of the day. As the last twin suns sank below the tree line she thought about the dawn that would be greeting the people on the other planet. As she watched the sky change in colour from dark blue to red to purple and than black, she held hope for her future.

The next day Nik was up once again before the dawn. She had been able to sleep but her dreams about the new planet had been interrupted time and again. Although her sleep had been disjointed, Nik felt alive. She wanted to go over the data again and then head through the matrix. She had determined that she would stay for a few hours this time, and travel towards the outskirts of the settlement. If she was lucky she may even catch a glimpse of the new lifeforms.

Once again she gathered her equipment. She re-calibrated her bio-rhythms and set the generator to operate from the energy stored in the solar cells. This would ensure continuous power while the suns shined on her planet.

Stepping into the matrix, she once again appeared to materialise from nothing, although she felt different this time. Adjusting her eyes she realised too late that she was surrounded by four life forms, each one pointing a weapon at her.

"Annika Larsen it's good to see you."

Nik turned to the person that had spoken to her, and saw that it was Kate Janeway, highest member of the Scientific Guild. Looking around the small group Nik noticed that two of the other people surrounding her were from her home planet. She didn't recognise the fourth member of her welcoming committee.

"So that explains the different DNA readings," Nik thought out loud, and then realised she had vocalised her thoughts. "Sorry," she added hurriedly. Obviously I need to work on that bad habit, thought Nik, her mouth firmly shut.

It was then the fourth member of the welcoming party spoke up. "Perhaps "perhaps we should go back to the house."

Nik turned to the caramel skinned female who had spoken. Nik previously thought that the fourth member was a male, however her voice proved her initial assessment to be incorrect. Perhaps the clothes she wore had caused the mistake. The fourth member was dressed completely in black; even a black cloth covered her head.

"Let's move out and try and keep it down. We don't want anyone to find us," said the caramel skinned female.

"Wait. I have to go back through the Gateway in three hours. It's on a timer and even though it should be safe to re-enter later than the set time I don't want to push my luck." Nik knew the Gateway was stable and the continuous energy supply to the generator would ensure she could return at any time, but she was still in shock.

"The Gateway Guild will ensure a safe return, so it would be best if we followed Beylan's suggestion, it's not safe being out in the open." The Doctor of the wayward trio spoke up. Emmett Hecht was anxious to avoid detection by the security team that operated on the base.

"But I didn't come from PriMe Artnic. I came from Frixo'n PriMe this planets binary twin." Nik's rushed answer caught everyone off guard. They had all assumed that she had traveled through the Gateway using the Jaxon Matrix.

"So you're not here to rescue us." Eugene Paris looked pale as the words left his mouth. He desperately wanted to get home. He was looking forward to receiving a hero's welcome when they returned, knowing that his new status combined with his charismatic charms would ensure a continuous stream of willing female partners. Not that he was lacking in that area, but his notorious flybys over married women would be a thing of the past.

"Look we need to continue this conversation elsewhere and now." With that statement, the alien female headed down the hill in the opposite direction of the settlement. The rest of the group followed closely behind.

Nik noticed that they were headed towards what appeared to be a house. After 20 minutes they approached the parameter of the house and walked through the small gate.

The house looked cozy to Nik, considering it was her first real house; she didn't count her home on Frixo'n PriMe. After they had all walked through the door, the alien turned towards Nik and introduced herself as Beylan Torrens. Nik, who was still slightly dis-orientated simply nodded. Beylan then secured the entrance and moved to close the curtains covering the windows. Emmett pushed the floor covering aside and Kate pulled on a handle and a panel beneath the floor opened. Nik watched everyone with detached interest, still too shocked to move. It wasn't that she was amazed at her current situation; it was just a great deal of information to process.

Kate, Eugene and Emmett entered the subterranean room, and Nik noticed that light now illuminated the previously darkened hole.

"It's okay, we'll be safer down there and we need to talk, just be careful, the steps are steep." Beylan almost whispered the words, but Nik heard them. She moved to the entrance, "I'll be right behind you, I just need to secure things up here first," Beylan continued, still trying to re-assure her visitor.

Two hours later….

Nik had finished explaining everything she knew about the collapse of the Jaxon Matrix. Kate had made sure that no-one interrupted the Art Guild member. It still amazed her that the young woman had found the first Gateway, and to have now found a second Gateway as well as building a matrix to travel through… Quite simply Kate Janeway was in awe.

Annika Larsen earned her right to travel through the first Gateway as it was one of the first laws passed when the Sphere's Board of Committee agreed to the search for viable Gateways. It was law that the person or persons who discovered the Gateway would earn the right to 'first travel'. Passing of the First Right Law meant that nearly every person inside the sphere had at one time searched for a viable Gateway. Guild affiliation didn't come into consideration as everyone was born into a guild; they had no say over their life's work. The fact that Annika Larsen had now discovered two Gateways was astonishing.

"Okay, so the Jaxon Matrix has collapsed, but why did it deposit us here when the co-ordinates were calibrated to the first Gateway." Kate still couldn't understand how they had survived let alone arrive at totally different co-ordinates.

"I believe the fact that the Gateways are mirror images may have saved your lives." Nik still wasn't used to talking. The fact that she was sitting at a table with four people in a subterranean room contributed to her unease, not to mention her total isolation for the past 9 months. "I believe you are incredibly lucky to have survived the journey."

"You can say that again." Eugene Paris felt lucky. "Except the fact remains that we're still no closer to getting home." His inclusion in the elite group to make the second journey had been approved not a moment too soon. One of the married women he had previously charmed was pregnant. Paris wanted out of the sphere, and with both his parents members of the Board of Committee, his inclusion seemed highly likely. His parents wanted Eugene out of the sphere too.

"Okay so what do we do now?" Kate asked as she looked at the others seated at the table.

Emmett was the first to speak. "Well we should go through the Gateway to Nik's planet, she has all the equipment, and we may be able to build a larger matrix."

"And I don't know how long I can keep you hidden. My superiors are already asking questions. I think perhaps you should travel to the other planet." Beylan was right to be concerned. She did, after all, live on a highly secure and highly classified military base. She was also the only test pilot to secure lodgings above ground, that and the fact that she was the only female test pilot ever recruited by the base, made her highly recognizable.

"We should leave now; the timer will expire in 30 minutes." Nik was ready to leave an hour ago; she was starting to feel claustrophobic. Funny I've spent my entire life inside and now I'm claustrophobic.

Kate, Eugene and Emmett starting gathering their meager belongings. Since they had only arrived with the clothes on their backs it didn't take long. Nik took the opportunity to study Beylan. She had never seen a person with her skin colouring before. Since there was no natural light in the sphere, the past 237 years had resulted in lighter skinned children being born. She thought Beylan's colour suited her well, in fact she believed that Beylan's race would consider her quite beautiful. Other than the difference in skin colouring and the ridges that graced Beylan's forehead Nik would have to say that both races appeared similar. That would explain the minute difference in the DNA structure. What she couldn't help but wonder was how a race 70,000 light years from her home planet had almost identical DNA.

Beylan Torrens was aware that the latest visitor was studying her. She wasn't concerned as she had studied her three visitors intensely when they arrived 5 months ago. She had been up on the hill with her telescope studying astrometric charts when the three had appeared. Her first thought was to radio for security, but seeing that one of them was severely injured she paused, long enough to understand she'd just heard the universal cry of pain. It appeared that the young male, who she would later know as Eugene Paris, had broken his leg on the unfamiliar ground. Both his companions tried to ease his pain but without medical supplies, he would bleed to death. Beylan decided then and there to help them, no matter what the cost. She made her presence known almost causing the older man to faint with fear.

The female was the first to respond, opening her arms and turning her hands so her palms were facing up. The non-threatening action confirmed Beylan's resolution to help the aliens. Their language was familiar to Beylan, and she could almost understand what they were saying, which was odd in itself. She quickly dismantled her telescope and used the legs as a brace on the injured alien's leg. The female picked up the telescope, the other male picked up Beylan's belongings and Beylan picked up the injured male. She had carried him down the hill with little effort. Being in the military had guaranteed a high level of fitness. Beylan was also naturally stronger than most females and many males so the weight was not a problem.

They had spent the next few months getting to know each other. Beylan had learnt the basics of the new language in two weeks and was prolific within two months. She now considered them her friends, and would miss them when they left.

The three had finished packing and looked towards their friend. Janeway spoke first, "Beylan we can not thank you enough, you saved Eugene's life you took us in, you fed us …. we all consider you a true friend." Eugene and Emmett started nodding their heads in agreement with Kate.

Beylan didn't do well with goodbyes. Quite simply they sucked. "This doesn't have to be goodbye, you can come back through the Gateway, just give it a couple of months so things can settle down here".

"Yes we could do that, but I hate having to leave just the same, you've been a great friend, and perhaps in time you could also visit us." Emmett knew he was delaying the inevitable but he wanted Beylan to know that she would always be welcome.

"Okay …. well we had better get going, if you don't mind I'll go back up with you and remove the sensor grid."

"So that's how you knew someone came through the Gateway." Nik just realised why her arrival had been expected.

"Yep it was Beylan's idea." Eugene wanted to acknowledge his friend's ingenious idea. It was easier than saying goodbye.

"Okay people lets move out," Kate ordered as she moved towards the stairs. Beylan picked up the rucksack that she kept packed with medical supplies, weapons, survival equipment and basically anything else she thought she might need should an emergency occur. She also reached for an empty rucksack in which she would place the sensor grid spikes. She intended to give the full rucksack to her friends as a parting gesture.

The five moved up the hill in complete silence. Each one thinking about the next step, and what the future would bring.

Nik was thinking about how her life was about to change. Although she desperately wanted companionship, wishing for it and getting it were two different things. She realised that as much as she enjoyed vocal interaction with people, she didn't do well with company.

When they reached the co-ordinates, the others moved out to retrieve the spikes that had been placed around the Gateway 4 months ago. With that finished, Nik re-aligned her travel companions' bio-temporal flux to match the Gateway.

"Okay you're all safe to travel through the matrix."

Eugene stepped in front of Beylan and shook her hand and then stepped through the matrix; Emmett hugged the test pilot and then he passed through the Gateway. Beylan held the full rucksack out to Kate. "You may need this where you're going."

Kate took the rucksack and pulled Beylan into a fierce hug. Both women had tears in their eyes. "You can't get rid of us that easy, Beylan Torrens, we'll be back to raid your cupboards before long." Kate tried to make light of the situation in an attempt to cover her sadness at leaving. Turning quickly before her tears slid down her cheeks, Kate disappeared into the matrix.

Nik felt awkward, she didn't know what to say to the test pilot. The silence surrounding them was broken by a noise 50 meters from their position. Both turned in the direction of the noise to see two figures cresting the hill. Nik and Beylan both dropped to the ground.

"I'm sure I saw people heading this way Tuvok."

Beylan knew that the voice belong to Chakotay, an enlisted soldier, whose ability to loosen the lips of prisoners was well known. Chakotay was not well liked on the base. His unorthodox security methods and suicidal need to question commands had resulted in numerous demotions. Tuvok was a highly decorated soldier and for that reason was often paired with Chakotay for security detail, in the hope that his influence would rub off on the wayward soldier.

"Fuck why didn't you grab the torches Tuvok?" Chakotay was pissed. He was sure he saw figures on the hill, and since it was past curfew, they were in deep shit.

"DaRank Chakotay, policy states that security officers must remain within visual sight of each other at all times. Since you jumped out of the vehicle and ran up the hill, I was required to follow. I did not have time to secure appropriate lighting. Perhaps you could return to the vehicle while I watch you?" Tuvok hoped his partner would consent to his suggestion.

"Fine, but keep an eye out, I'm telling you I saw someone up here," and with that Chakotay headed down the hill.

Nik and Beylan still hadn't moved, they were trapped and they knew it. They both watched as Tuvok moved further down the hill, watching his partner. Nik couldn't understand what the two men were saying but she knew it wasn't good.

"It looks like I'll be visiting your planet sooner than expected." Beylan whispered the words close to Nik's ear so they wouldn't be heard by the remaining security officer.

Nik felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. No-one had ever whispered in her ear. The accidental intimate touch was playing havoc with her ability to think clearly. Nik didn't think she could keep her voice steady to answer the test pilot without giving away their location, so she simply nodded.

She pulled her scanner from its resting place at her hip and re-aligned both their bio rhythms, and then nodded in the direction of the Gateway.

Beylan didn't think it would be a good idea to stand up so she simply crawled towards the spot where her friends had disappeared earlier. With the rucksack safely secured on her back Beylan disappeared, as did Nik a second later.

Chapter 10

Nik's eyes still hadn't adjusted to the instant change in lighting. She was still trying to focus when she felt hands lifting her upright.

"Well I certainly didn't expect I'd be seeing you so soon Beylan. Welcome to Frixo'n PriMe, and what happened?"

Beylan was familiar with Kate's need to want information yesterday; she was not surprised by the question. "Two security officers from the base where about to discover our presence, we thought it might be a good idea to use the Gateway as an escape," she answered as she studied the unfamiliar territory.

Nik too was looking around, noticing that Eugene was just coming out of her home. Emmett was looking over the generator. She was uncomfortable with the idea that she would now be required to share her space.

Just then Emmett interrupted her thoughts as he addressed Beylan. Won't your disappearance be registered?" It seemed a shame that after all Beylan's help, she would still be discovered even though they were now safe.

"I don't think so. As of today, well yesterday, I'm officially on long service leave. I'm not required back on the base for another 4 months. My vehicle is safely secured in the garage; the house is locked, so they'll just assume I've left the base." Beylan just hoped they didn't check with the security guards at the entrance to the military base to see if she logged off the base. Although they may simply think she'd gone camping, as her love of nature was well known, and she was often spotted returning from such a trip. The size of the base meant they wouldn't send out a search party; 1,000 square kilometers was a lot of area to search. Beylan figured if she waited a month she could probably go back through the Gateway without detection.

"I guess that means you'll be here for a while. Okay we need to work out accommodation." Turning to Nik, Kate addressed her individually. "We don't want to put you out Annika, this is after all your home." Nik was thankful that Kate recognized her unease at the rapid change.

early evening on Frixo'n PriMe ….

The five Gateway travelers had just finished their evening meal. "I think I wouldn't mind sleeping out in the open tonight," Nik remarked as she moved to collect the things she would need. She had yet to sleep underneath the stars and only now comprehended that there was safety in numbers.

The others had already secured the spare rooms Nik had set up before their anticipated arrival five months prior, and rather than dismantling the rooms she simply covered them as well, extending her home. The travelers were looking forward to a good night's sleep after being cramped in Beylan's bomb shelter for the past five months.

"Hey if you don't mind the company I wouldn't mind roughing it tonight."

Nik turned towards Beylan. "I think I would like the company, thank you". And with that they both exited Nik's home and headed towards the lake, neither speaking.

"So have you camped out under the stars often?" Beylan was trying to put the young woman at ease.

"I have never slept under the stars before. I spent my entire life inside the sphere and set up appropriate shelter when I first arrived on this planet. After you explained the concept of camping, I wanted to try it for myself." (I agree it was all over the place gave me a headache trying to decipher my blah blahs :-) )

"Well I'm glad I could introduce you to my favourite pastime. I noticed a small raft outside your house, have you been fishing yet?" Beylan was intrigued by the woman who had crossed two galaxies by herself and had survived complete isolation for the past nine months.

"I have never learnt to swim, and I didn't trust the safety jackets to keep me afloat, so as yet I haven't used the raft."

"Well that's a shame, perhaps I can teach you to swim, or at least convince you of the jacket's ability to perform its function. We could take the raft out and do some fishing, I'm sure the lake has plenty of fish." Beylan's idea of a great camping trip was fishing, fishing, swimming and more fishing.

"Thank you I would like to learn how to swim, it wasn't a skill required to survive life inside the sphere."

Beylan shook her head; she couldn't believe that an entire race of people had lived inside a huge sphere for the past 200 odd years. She loved the outdoors. It was then she decided she would introduce her new friend to all the wonders nature had to offer.

The conversation halted while the two searched for an appropriate camping area. Beylan checked for a high water line. Seeing none she decided to err on the side of caution and suggested a high plateau that appeared to have an unadulterated view of the surrounding area.

Dropping their bundles, Beylan suggested gathering some firewood to keep the chill at bay. Nik simply followed Beylan's lead, she had never been camping before and since Beylan was obviously more knowledgeable than her, she simply followed.

After collecting enough firewood, they returned to the camping site. Beylan collected a few rocks from the surrounding area and proceeded to stack the smaller pieces of wood in the centre of the circle of rocks. Nik was intrigued, Beylan's movements appeared sure and steady. However, when the woman pulled a lighter out of her pocket and exposed a naked flame, Nik jumped back. She had never seen a naked flame. Fire was a hazard in the sphere, and naked flames had been banned for the past 150 years, after a small flame had almost suffocated the entire population when it spread. The last documented fire had happened 80 years before Nik's birth. They now had heating coils to cook their food and even they would turn themselves off if the temperature exceeded safety levels.

Beylan noticed Nik's movement but continued on, and had a small fire going within minutes. Adding a few larger pieces of wood she sat back to enjoy the warmth. Nik tentatively reached her hand out to test the warmth of the flames. She was simply mesmerized by the colours the flames produced and how they seemed to lick the air above them reaching towards the night sky.

Beylan didn't question Nik's apprehension, she had already realised that the young woman had had a fairly sheltered life; she didn't want to push her away with unnecessary questions. Instead she took the time to study Nik. She had concluded some time ago that the young woman was quite simply, beautiful. Her hair intrigued the test pilot. Golden haired people were extremely rare on her planet; usually with age their colour changed to light brown, and Nik was only the third person she had seen with blue eyes, Kate and Eugene being the other two. Everyone on her planet had brown hair, brown eyes and brown skin, the only difference was the shade of brown.

Beylan was concentrating on the way the flames highlighted Nik's hair, when Nik interrupted her thoughts. Beylan quickly checked the woman's eyes to make sure she hadn't been caught staring. Thankfully Nik was still staring at the flames.

"I believe I'm going to like camping very much." was all Nik said. It was enough.

Beylan smiled at the thought of being able to introduce Nik to life outside a sphere.

The two settled down on the same side of the fire so they could see the stars reflecting in the still lake. Every now and then a fish would break the surface of the lake in an impressive display in strength. Their bodies would hang suspended in mid-air, and then return to the water with a splash and a flick of their tail.

They talked well into the night about their lives, sharing bits of information without exposing too much. The silences were comfortable. Nik yawned and slipped inside the cover of her sleeping bag.

"Goodnight Beylan," Nik mumbled, eyes already drifting closed.

"Sleep well Nik." With that Beylan added a few more logs to the fire and slipped into her own sleeping bag. Both were safely in the arms of Morpheus within minutes.


Nik was up before the twin sunrise the next morning, it was a ritual she knew would continue. She felt slightly disorientated at first, until she recalled the events of the previous day.

She got up and headed down to the lake following its curved edge until she reached the secluded stream. Stripping off her clothes she waded into the stream.

Nik finished washing her body. She never used artificial cleansers in the stream, afraid that its introduction might upset the natural balance. After submerging her body fully in the shallow stream, she headed out and up to her favourite rock, where she would lie down and wait for the twin suns to dry her body.

She had just fully reclined when she heard a noise behind her. She stayed completely still hoping that the local wildlife would not notice her and continue down to the stream to drink.

Beylan woke up not long after Nik and set about locating the wayward woman. She headed down to the lake and noticed the footsteps still evident in the wet sand, heading towards what appeared to be an offshoot of the lake. Beylan followed the fading steps, she looked up in time to duck under a low lying branch, it was then she noticed Nik sunning completely naked on a huge rock.

The golden light of the dawn highlighted Nik's body to perfection. Beylan, although still a fair distance from the woman could make out the small water droplets that reflected the sunlight in the form of multi-coloured prisms. The fractured light gave Nik an ethereal quality. Beylan averted her eyes the moment she realised she was intruding on a very private moment.

The dark woman retraced her steps, inadvertently tripping over a fallen branch in the process. She froze, hoping that her intrusion was not detected.

Nik waited for the animal to approach; sadly it must have already caught her scent, and would visit the stream, after she left. She waited another ten minutes until completely dry and then she re-dressed and headed back the way she came. She didn't notice the extra footprints in the sand. She did however notice Beylan immediately, waving in the distance. As she drew closer Beylan spoke.

"Good morning Nik, did you enjoy your bath?" Shit, shit, shit, did I just say that?

Nik reached for her still wet hair and rung it out, assuming Beylan had noticed the wet appearance and had guessed her morning ritual correctly.

"Yes thank you, it was very refreshing. I think I'll head up to the house and see if the others are up, and start on breakfast." Nik picked up her sleeping equipment and headed back to the house.

Beylan was left behind and promptly used the time to reprimand her big mouth.

Breakfast was a simple affair, with conversation flying back and forth across the table. The men had suggested that separate accommodation be secured. Nik and Kate agreed and it was decided that the home Nik had built be used as meeting place, eating area and office area. Nik approved of the idea as it meant she would once again have a separate place to call her home. She was attached to the shelter she had spent fortifying against the elements, but change meant change.

Beylan was only too happy to help her friends, and suggested building individual log cabins, something she knew she could do with relative ease. Life in the military had prepared her well.

Eugene turned the conversation to fixing the Jaxon Matrix. He didn't relish life as a bachelor. He knew Nik's reputation while in the sphere, and didn't even bother thinking about her suitability as bedfellow. Although he would love to be the first to bed the young woman, he knew his chance of success was minute. Perhaps the challenge would create an interesting diversion and at least it would past the time quicker. His silent musings meant he missed most of the following conversation.

"I'm afraid we don't have a big enough generator to open the Matrix from this end." He looked up in time to hear Nik confirm his worst fears.

"So what, we just wait?" Eugene was not happy.

"Well, if you can figure out a way to open the matrix I'd be happy to hear you out." Nik had spent the last five months working on the very same problem. She knew Paris wouldn't come up with a viable way to open the matrix simply because there was no way to open it with the available equipment. What came out his mouth surprised Nik to say the least, as she had yet to calculate in the newest resource.

"Beylan how much equipment do you have in that garage of yours?" Everyone in the room turned towards the woman.

"Heaps of junk, probably stuff you can use. I've got and old coal generator, the engine from my last car …. well there's heaps of junk in there."

Beylan's words provided new hope for the travelers, Eugene was especially happy. "Okay so we start on the shelters, work out what we need to increase the generators range, and do a little reconnaissance in one month's time".

Kate was pleased with the impromptu breakfast meeting, it appeared they would survive and perhaps even thrive, and make it back to their home planet sooner than expected.

Chapter 11

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