DISCLAIMER: Not mine. I promise I'm only borrowing them and will return them to their rightful owners whenever they ask for them back. My imagination took a flight of fancy.....my bank account stayed empty. (Seriously, the cast of Star Trek Voyager belong to UPN and Paramount and I'm only borrowing them for some free daydreaming that I wrote down).
AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you know that in Season 7 Voyager returned to the Delta Quadrant, you're good to go oh, and it helps if you've cleared that tricky hurdle of lesbianism too...Reading 'One Small Step for the Admiral, One Giant Leap for Kathryn...', 'Collective Responsibility' and 'Hearts and Minds' first will enhance your reading pleasure as you'll actually know what's going on...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To ncruuk[at]gmail.com
The Great 'Something' that's not anything...much
"Admiral's Personal Log, Stardate 61392.7.
"Dare I say it, and I will deny this should I ever be formally asked this question by Starfleet but... I'm actually enjoying elements of my 'Admiral-on-board' status that I thought I would never manage to tolerate." The automatic voice recording paused as Admiral Kathryn Janeway did, the computer waiting patiently whilst she sipped her (replicated) whiskey and watched the warp bubble distort the stars Voyager was slipping past. Before she could resume her dictation, the door chime to her quarters sounded, placing her personal log on an automatic pause that would now only resume recording on her command as opposed to the next time she spoke.
"Come in," she requested, reasonably confident that the only potential visitors she could have were members of Harry Kim's Senior Staff, all of whom could cope with an Admiral enjoying a whiskey without her boots or uniform jacket on.
"Admiral, I hope I'm not interrupting anything..." began Harry, hovering in her open doorway looking more like the nervous young ensign she'd first met rather than the respected Captain he now was.
"Only things I'm happy to postpone... drink?" offered Kathryn hospitably, swinging her feet down from the couch so that she was sitting more 'properly' and better able to converse with her guest.
"No, thank you Admiral..."
"Have a seat Harry..." invited Kathryn, wondering what was causing him to behave so stiffly. If she didn't know that Seven was currently over two hours into a three hour regeneration cycle, Kathryn would have been wondering if he was attempting to break bad news.
"Thank you Admiral..."
"How goes the ship?"
"Very well, why do you ask?" asked Harry, shifting nervously in his chair.
"As Seven would say, it seemed a suitable topic for inefficient conversation..." Pleased to see that whatever was obviously unsettling Harry wasn't stopping him from breaking into a half-grin, she decided to try to force the conversation pace a little, if only to find out why he'd stopped by her quarters so late.
"What's the issue?"
"The Mangi, Admiral: the treaty negotiations were completed earlier this afternoon." He may be wearing four pips now, but there were some things that were as automatic for Captain Kim as they were for Ensign Kim, and answering a direct question from Kathryn Janeway with a straight answer was one of them.
"Really? That's great news..." she trailed off as she recalled the padd she'd read at lunchtime which had seemed to be suggesting there was still a fairly major amount of negotiation to do, "... isn't it?"
"Yes Jake tells me that there was a rather rapid change in the Scarpan delegation's attitude when their technical delegate completed his review of Commander Hakmens' briefing from yesterday..."
"You mean when they realised that, unlike the Mangi, Vulcans are not prone to hyperbole and emotional exaggeration?" guessed Kathryn, able to imagine all too clearly what the rather more literal Scarpans might have feared. It had been one of the reasons why Voyager and her crew had become involved in the negotiations between the two adjacent planets... that and the Scarpans had some interesting orbital scanning platforms Harry was eager to understand more about.
"Yes. The whole thing concluded about ten minutes after Hakmens had finished her second presentation today, with the Scarpans getting their mining rights and the Mangi getting the technology they wanted."
"Another ringing endorsement for your crew then Harry, well done!" declared Kathryn genuinely, pleased at yet another excellent impression Voyager and Starfleet had made in this particular region of the Delta Quadrant.
"Thanks...umm..." The padd that Harry was holding suddenly became fascinating to him and he began spinning it around.
"Spit it out Mr. Kim..." encouraged Kathryn kindly yet firmly, not wishing to lose too much of her evening to watching Harry think.
"The Scarpans want to have a celebration tomorrow in our honour..."
"How generous of them do they hold the banjo sacred too?" she asked, grinning as she did so. It was easy to be amused now, but at the time, the Balakan people's wish to serenade the Voyager Senior Staff with one thousand banjos for three hours had been one of the more challenging diplomatic moments of her career.
"Ensign Coltaq has managed to scan their popular entertainment frequencies and has concluded that their musical preference for ceremonial occasions resembles 19th century Vienna on Earth..."
"Can you waltz?"
"Not after Dr. Lourdon trod on my foot just now..." he joked, only to immediately sober again, something that Kathryn didn't miss.
"Admiral, I... the Scarpans... that is..."
"Spit it out Mr Kim." Unlike her earlier request, this time Kathryn's voice was more forceful.
"To attend the celebration we have to transport or shuttle down to the Scarpan planet, to their principal city. We have to pass through their scanning field whichever ever way we get to the surface..." Harry paused, wondering if she'd make the same connection Jess Lourdon had made only a few minutes earlier.
"Remind me what got you so excited about this scanning field?" asked Kathryn, knowing exactly what the issue was but unwilling to volunteer her understanding just yet.
"It combines passive scanning with temporal phase transportation..." Harry trailed off, not sure whether she was needing the full technical briefing or just a memory jogger.
"...and is 'tuned' to detect the Borg energy signature, which is why there has been no successful assimilation of the races from this region of space..." continued Kathryn, remembering what Seven had told her a couple of days earlier as they approached Scarpan space, but, more importantly, having her initial guess as to the root cause of Harry's unease confirmed for her.
"When the scanners discover the Borg energy signature the relevant particles are transported out of phase, causing the 'threat' to be neutralised," explained Harry, watching his former Captain for any hint of emotion. Unsurprisingly, her 'command mask' was firmly in place.
"Your point?" Just because Kathryn knew the answer didn't mean that Admiral Janeway was going to let Captain Kim off lightly wearing the fourth pip meant bearing the burden of command responsibility, and part of that was taking decisions, something which Harry had shown a slight tendency to deflect in her direction on occasion: it was a habit he had to be cured of sooner rather than later
"Seven cannot attend the celebration."
"Something which she will, I am sure, be extremely grateful for as you well know," said Kathryn, all too aware that, whilst Seven's tolerance for social functions and interaction was vastly improved from what it was when they were last in the Delta Quadrant, events such as what the Scarpans were no doubt planning were still a long way down Seven's appreciation list.
"Of course..." Again, the padd started twirling in his fingers as he ran out of words.
"That's not what you came to tell me."
"What did you come to tell me Harry?"
"Dr. Lourdon has expressed a concern about your exposure to the scan field as well Admiral."
"Duly noted." Any warmth had gone from Kathryn's tone, to now instead be replaced with something harder, firmer, more commanding... and resistant.
"Yes Mr Kim?"
"Seven regenerates for three hours every week between midnight and 0300 except for every fourth week when she regenerates between 1900 and 2200."
"Your point, Mr Kim?" There were only a handful of people in the Universe who could withstand the level of glare that Janeway was directing at him... and with the exception of Gretchen Janeway, all of them had served on Captain Janeway's Alpha Shift in the Delta Quadrant.
"Seven's evening regeneration aligns with your treatment plan. You're getting nanoprobes from Seven tonight!"
"You of all people should understand what that actually means Harry...." retorted Kathryn, unimpressed with his tone.
"It means that tomorrow you cannot go down to the surface of the Scarpan planet..."
"Are you asking me or telling me Captain?" As she asked the question, Kathryn relaxed back into her chair, looking completely at ease with the universe... she was anything but.
"If necessary, telling you Admiral," replied Harry confidently although his insides were churning and he felt as scared as the first time he'd met her in her Ready Room all those years ago.
"I had hoped that you would recognise the risk and not put yourself forward for the trip Admiral..." That was surely the end of his fourth pip, thought Harry, as no one ever got very far telling Kathryn Janeway what to do, not even Kathryn Janeway!
"Seven will be disappointed Harry..." commented Kathryn lightly, her command mask disappearing as rapidly as it had descended.
"Admiral?" The rapid change of mood left Harry feeling completely confused.
"She felt that you would recognise that she would prevent me from being stubborn and not say anything to me about this..." explained Kathryn, watching him carefully.
"I don't understand..." Except he did, but he wasn't sure that he dared admit to her that he hadn't realised she was testing him.
"I was never intending to go Harry do the Scarpans or the Mangi even know about me?"
"I guess not..." agreed Harry cautiously as he tried to recall any mention by their guests of the seemingly infamous 'Kathryn Janeway' whose exploits had been widely communicated across the Quadrant in the years since their return to the Alpha Quadrant.
"As much as I appreciate the inclusion Harry, neither Seven nor I are members of your Senior Staff, and nor are we thrill seekers who get our kicks from attending every last diplomatic reception, especially ones on planets whose defences could cause us to break temporal mechanics."
"Of course Admiral." Unsurprisingly, Harry was finding it easier to breathe once more as he realised she'd never had any intention of trying to venture down to the planet, even if she hadn't saved him the extremely nerve-wracking proposition of having to demonstrate that he was ready to, if necessary, stop her from going to the planet for the good of her health.
"In fact, I was going to offer to 'Bridge-sit' for you... I know that the Beta Shift haven't got much command experience..."
"Thank you Admiral, that would be very helpful," agreed Harry, standing up knowing, like all the best junior officers do, exactly when their Senior Officers' tolerance for their intrusion is waning, even if he still didn't really have much of a clue as to what had just happened.
"How long is the celebration?" asked Kathryn, getting to her feet and heading towards the replicator for a glass of water.
"I look forward to the reports!"
"Yes Admiral... good night..."
"Good night Harry, and thank you..."
"For what Admiral?"
"Your concern, Jess' too, although neither of you need to be quite so nervous next time about talking to me."
"Admiral?" For a split second, Harry contemplated trying to bluff his way out of this topic.
"Don't even think about it Harry. I'm very aware of my own limitations and have also become tolerant about having them pointed out to me when done in an appropriate manner. I'm not 'Captain Janeway' any more..." mused Kathryn, her train of thought recapturing what she'd been about to add to her personal log.
"You'll always be 'Captain Janeway' Kathryn, but I take your point... Admiral," said Harry, now a little more comfortable using her name in private conversation than he had been at the mission's start.
"Don't forget that this is your ship Harry..." smiled Kathryn, marvelling, not for the first time, on what a fine Captain the once green ensign had become.
"You can tell me what to do...occasionally..." quipped Kathryn, knowing that her point had been made to him whilst she was still his superior, there was a difference between being an Admiral and Captain at Starfleet Headquarters and being the Captain of the lone ship in the Delta Quadrant with an Admiral along for the ride.
"Why are you here Admiral?" asked Harry suddenly, wondering if he'd get any sort of answer to the question which had been bugging him ever since he'd received his orders. Surely she had better things to do than watch him be Captain for 6 months?
"Not to babysit you Harry, so you can stop worrying about that..."
"When will I know?" he asked, his tone hardening a little as he instinctively prepared to defend his crew's right to not be ambushed or surprised by new orders.
"When I know why I'm here Harry..."
"Good night Mr Kim..." instructed Kathryn calmly, communicating that all topics were now closed to discussion.
"Good night Admiral," and, with a boyish grin to show that, despite the lingering uncertainty that was left hanging in the air, he still had total and absolute faith in her, Harry exited her quarters feeling, unsurprisingly, much calmer than he had on arrival.
Draining her glass of whiskey, Kathryn considered what had just happened was she really completely calm and relaxed about missing out on a diplomatic milestone? Was 'Captain Janeway - fearless tamer of the Delta Quadrant' as one of the more salacious newsreels had dubbed her - really consigned to her past as it had been suggested by some of her fellow Admirals? Was she really as calm and collected about having her ability to participate in Ship's Duty noticeably affected by her dependence on Seven's nanoprobes as she was portraying?
"Computer play back current personal log entry..." instructed Kathryn, moving over to lean against the cool bulkhead, watching the streaks of light pass by...
"Admiral's Personal Log, Stardate 61392.7.
Dare I say it, and I will deny this should I ever be formally asked this question by Starfleet but... I'm actually enjoying elements of my 'Admiral-on-board' status that I thought I would never manage to tolerate."
"Resume recording: I can honestly say that I am not missing the routine of keeping the ship going. I realised this morning that I have only read four departmental reports since leaving the Alpha Quadrant, all of them from Astrometrics, and all at Seven's request. I do miss the information that being 'Captain' ensured I knew despite being on this ship for a number of weeks now I realise that I do not know who the crew are by name outside of the Senior Staff, Beta and Gamma Shift Bridge Officers and the Astrometrics Alpha Shift staff... never mind knowing who is working on what, what's happening about this or that, who is having issues with whom and so on..." she paused for a moment, seemingly hypnotised by the space beyond the window before continuing in a harder, more bitter tone, "...who am I kidding what I always called my scientist's curiosity is probably now better classified as a nosiness, a nosiness that Command legitimised and conferred on me as Captain...still does as an Admiral, but somehow, it's not the same... now, my knowledge comes from a right to ask and question... before... before it was my right to know. I didn't need to ask...and that's why I don't know now: it's because I elected not to ask... and I've kidded myself I did that in order to not undermine Harry's position as Captain...."
Feeling the familiar swell of frustration building within her, Kathryn gave into the emotion she was tired of internalising it all, tired of putting on the 'brave face' that was so easily projected by shielding herself behind her command persona and reacted, without thought, as Kathryn, throwing her whiskey glass at the bulkhead, the glass shattering... only she didn't hear the sound as it was obscured by the door chime.
"Computer, identify who is at the door."
"Seven of Nine is awaiting admittance."
"Come in..." As much as she didn't want to see anyone right now, she knew that if she didn't grant Seven admittance to her Quarters the tenacious blonde would not only become extremely concerned but also dogmatically determined at gaining entrance, especially as her enhanced hearing would have no doubt meant that Seven had heard the glass break.
"Kathryn?" Were it not for the distinctive implant in place of her left eyebrow, the tall blonde standing just inside the doorway would be unrecognisable to anyone familiar with what a Borg was supposed to look like. In fact, thought Kathryn as she caught sight of her lover's reflection in the window, she'd challenge anyone to describe her lover as looking anything other than breathtakingly, beautifully...human.
"I..." As much as she might want to speak, Kathryn found she couldn't.
"...need to be held," concluded Seven softly, moving with effortless grace across the room so that she was standing behind her lover, her arms slipping around Kathryn's waist.
"You do not need to explain..." Seven paused as she eased the now compliant Kathryn into a slightly more comfortable position that enabled Seven to press a soft kiss into her lover's hair, "...I understand."
"How did the dance lessons go?" Admiral Janeway's question was innocent but the response from the Senior Staff was anything but with a fair few blushes and stutters.
"Was it supposed to be a secret?" she asked, attempting to conceal her amusement behind her coffee mug.
"Uh, Admiral, it was..." began Commander Jackson, rank nominating him spokesperson for the Staff.
"Not something I would recommend lying about Commander..." teased Kathryn good humouredly, enjoying seeing the normally calm and collected Jake squirm.
"How did you know Admiral?" asked Dr. Lourdon, wondering who or what had given them away.
"Harry's limp last night when he came to ask me if I would Bridge-sit for you all..."
"Captain?" Good-naturedly, Harry's Senior Staff turned to look at him accusingly.
"It's not like she wouldn't have guessed what we were up to..." protested Harry weakly, feeling extremely uncaptainly.
"When I served on the Al-Batani we were invited to participate in the Flagon Celebrations on the Tarban homeworld..." began Kathryn, smiling as she recalled the memory but also because of the look of dawning recognition appear on some of the Staff's faces.
"You practised?" asked Jake, amazed.
"With great care none of us wished to fail our duty," she replied seriously, waiting a moment to let the joke become apparent to those that were going to get it before continuing, "...for those that have never had the pleasure of visiting with the Tarbans, the Flagon Celebration is their way of acknowledging their evolution from swamp dwelling amphibians to a land based society..."
"You participated in the mud wrestling?" asked Seven, not having heard this story before from her lover although knowing exactly what the Flagon Celebration entailed thanks to her knowledge retained from her time in the Collective.
"Ultimately no... we were recalled to Deep Space 2 before we could take our turns... but we did practice." Kathryn paused to take another sip of her coffee before asking, "...so, how was the dance lesson?"
"Bruising Admiral..." admitted Hakmens, the Vulcan Chief Engineer shooting a scathing look at Jake who was evidently the culprit.
"It helps, I find, if you remember to agree with your partner who is leading before the music starts..." suggested Kathryn casually, deliberately refraining from catching Seven's eye.
"Do you waltz Admiral?"
"Is that an invitation Dr Lourdon?"
"I..." Blushing, Jess Lourdon wished she could disappear through the deck.
"Your similar statures and strong wills would make identifying who is the natural leader challenging..." volunteered Seven, "...Mr Coltaq would be a far more appropriate partner."
"Are you calling me short Seven?" asked Kathryn mildly, using her coffee cup to conceal the smirk that was beginning to grace her features.
"I made no statement on your absolute height Admiral but was commenting on how your relative heights would make your dance partnership with Dr Lourdon unsuccessful and short-lived."
"On what logical basis do you formulate that conclusion Seven?" asked Hakmens, finding the scientific approach to dance pairings interesting.
"It is my experience that Admirals, Captains and Chief Medical Officers expect to be followed."
"What about the Borg?"
"What about them Mr Jackson?" asked Seven.
"Can they waltz?"
"I would imagine that dancing would be irrelevant to the Borg " suggested Hakmens.
"That is not the issue," declared Seven evenly.
"Then why?" asked Jake, intrigued.
"The secret to waltzing is to be light on your feet..." volunteered Kathryn, knowing Harry had made the connection.
"The Borg are flat footed..."
"As are Klingons..." muttered Jess, casting a glance at Loquat that spoke wonders for his rhythmic ability.
"Not if you anger them sufficiently..." stated Seven, recalling the fleetness of foot B'Elanna Torres had demonstrated on numerous occasions when attempting to chase the blonde out of Engineering. Before anyone could comment on Seven's astonishing statement, Harry was hailed.
"The Spartan escort has arrived and is maintaining station 1000 metres off our port bow Sir."
"Thank you Ensign. Kim Out."
"That's our cue..." instructed Jake, standing and, with a respectful nod to Kathryn and Harry, led the rest of the Senior Staff and Seven out of the Conference Room, leaving the two Senior Officers alone.
"Try to enjoy yourself Harry..."
"Thank you Admiral... you too."
"I intend to do nothing more strenuous than sit on the Bridge and get to know your Beta Shift Staff before retiring to my Quarters and enjoying a good book..."
"She's all yours Admiral."
"And I don't intend to get involved..."
"Harry, stop worrying. We'll be here when you get back. Now, go and twirl your way into Federation history!"
"Lieutenant Blan to Admiral Janeway." The hail startled Kathryn from her thoughts.
"Go ahead Lieutenant."
"The shuttle has successfully passed through the scanning field and is on its approach to the surface Admiral."
"Thank you Lieutenant. Tell me, do you have a problem with coffee on the Bridge?" enquired Kathryn, sensing that the hail was partly a courtesy call to let her know the Senior Staff's progress but also a somewhat subtle attempt to discover what her intentions were for the shift, given that she was still sitting in the Conference Room.
"In that case Lieutenant, it is not a crunch time and I will join you presently. Janeway out."
"Crunch time?" asked Lieutenant. Blan of the Bridge in general, once she was convinced the Comm channel was closed.
"Is the only time Kathryn Janeway can tolerate being called 'Ma'am' Lieutenant. You will find that using Admiral suffices," explained Seven, arriving on the Bridge from a turbolift just in time to hear the end of the conversation.
"Yes..." Lieutenant. Blan paused, her instinct being to say 'Ma'am' again but something stopped her, uncertain how to proceed.
"You may call me 'Seven' or 'Seven of Nine'." suggested Seven, having encountered this issue with junior Starfleet officers on numerous occasions. Technically, 'Commander Hansen' was her title but she found she did not care for it, preferring instead 'Seven' or 'Seven of Nine' depending on the formality of the situation.
"Just don't call her 'Commander of Nine'..." added Janeway, stepping onto the Bridge.
"Commander of Nine?" asked Blan, intrigued.
"Some commercial computers find my name difficult to format..." began Seven, only for Kathryn to smoothly interrupt when she sensed that Blan had no idea what Seven was trying to say.
"She means unsolicited mail... my personal favourite was when I was cold called by a salesman trying to sell Captain Janeway's unofficial biography..."
"What happened?" asked Blan on behalf of the rest of the Bridge crew who were eager to know but not prepared to ask.
"He fainted," explained Kathryn succinctly, casting her eye around the Bridge, noting where everyone was and how nervous they looked, including Blan, who was hovering in front of the command chair uncertainly.
"Don't stand on my account Lieutenant...." she suggested, deciding that, after a quick confidence boosting tour of all stations, she would retreat to her Quarters as rapidly as rank and decency permitted otherwise Blan's confidence would be permanently undermined, "...you do have the Conn," she reminded gently, smiling in encouragement.
"Yes Admiral." Uncertain what else to do, Blan followed orders and sat down.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, you have been selected by Captain Kim as his Beta Shift Bridge Staff. He has selected you all for a reason, and that reason is that you are capable and able to do the job professionally and to the high standards expected by Starfleet and Mr. Kim. I have every confidence that you will continue to attain and exceed that standard expected during this shift and every other shift in your future. Today we have the rather unusual situation where the entire Senior Staff is away from the Ship you, more than ever before, carry the responsibility for this Ship and her Crew on Captain Kim's behalf...which is a daunting, but not overwhelming prospect that is well within your grasp. Lieutenant Blan, I am sure you and your colleagues will cope admirably with whatever the Delta Quadrant decides to do this evening. Neither Seven nor I will think any the less of you however should you wish our input or assistance on any matter. We are only a hail away after all."
"Thank you Admiral."
"Carry on... and good luck. You know where I am if you need me Lieutenant," and, with a final reassuring smile, Kathryn headed towards the turbolift doors, intending to head to her Quarters and settle down with her good book.
"With Captain Kim's permission Ma'am..." Despite her earlier advice from Seven, Blan decided to risk one final 'Ma'am'.
"We'd be honoured if you'd take the Conn Ma'am there's a nebula 5 light years away that Captain Kim thought we might find some coffee in."
"Are you suggesting to an Admiral that we take a Federation Starship on a joyride Lieutenant?"
"Good, because that would be most unwise. A little scientific research however..." Kathryn returned to the lower level of the Bridge and stood in front of the now vacant Command chair, Lieutenant Blan having moved across to the First Officer's seat.
"Helm, do you have a bearing for this caffeinated nebula?"
"Bearing 132.7, course laid in Admiral."
"In that case...Warp 2 on my mark..." Smiling, she settled back into the familiar contours of the Command Chair and risked a quick glance around the Bridge. The faces were all green, nervous and unfamiliar to her, but the energy, the excitement, the exhilaration was the same. There didn't need to be coffee in that nebula, for Kathryn Janeway had another buzz... the buzz of the magic of space and scientific curiosity, however small.
"Engage..." As the familiar word was spoken, every officer on the Bridge focussed on their station, focussed on following the most famous order of them all, everyone except the tall, collected blonde standing at the auxiliary science station who focussed on perhaps the most famous Officer of them all, whose phenomenal intellect was currently occupied with one thought... thank you Mr. Kim.
"Does anyone else have anything to add?" asked Harry when his First Officer concluded his final report about the welfare of the crew, thus concluding the formal part of the Senior Staff meeting.
"There is one thing..." began Dr. Lourdon, shifting in her seat slightly so that she could see not only her captain, but also Admiral Janeway.
"I don't know what the rest of you are hearing from your staffs, but mine are certainly wondering whether or not they might get an opportunity to have some sort of discussion evening with the Admiral and yourself Sir..."
"What do they want to talk about?" asked Kathryn, knowing the answer was probably the obvious one, but hoping that perhaps it might be something a little different.
"Deep space missions... I'm not sure about anyone else, but for many of my staff this is their first major deep space mission, and I think that they're all getting to the point where the novelty has worn off just a little..."
"I wish you hadn't said that..." muttered Harry, hoping no one would hear him.
"What, that the crew is getting used to deep space?" asked Commander Jackson, not seeing what Harry's point was.
"No, that the novelty had worn off..." mused Harry, running his finger inside his collar. It was a familiar nervous gesture for all the officers, and the first time that they had seen their Captain do it.
"You're superstitious?" asked Commander Loquat with just a hint of disdain in his tone.
"No, familiar with the Delta Quadrant sense of humour... wouldn't you agree Admiral?" asked Harry, looking towards her, only to see she wasn't looking at anyone except Seven, and that her face was one of distinct concern.
"Admiral?" He asked again, only for Kathryn to speak, but not in response to his question.
"Seven? What's the matter?" she asked, forcing everyone to refocus their attention on the silent blonde at the foot of the table who, to everyone bar Harry and Kathryn, looked absolutely normal.
"I...I..." the stuttered attempt at a response was the only encouragement Kathryn and Harry needed to get up out of their chairs and move towards her, with Kathryn kneeling beside her chair and Harry hovering a short distance away, his face etched with concern.
"What is it Seven?" asked Kathryn softly, not really caring whether or not she was behaving as an Admiral should whatever was throwing Seven this badly off balance was something that needed to be discovered and fixed, fast.
"My neural transceiver... it is picking up a signal...."
Before anyone could ask what that meant, Harry had slapped his comm badge and uttered two words which he had optimistically hoped he wouldn't have to say on this mission, two words that every child dreamed of saying and every ensign feared...
"RED ALERT," before heading immediately to the Bridge, expecting his stunned yet well trained staff to follow him, even as he instinctively headed for the Ops post on the Bridge rather than the Conn.
"Captain?" asked a startled Lieutenant Blan, leaping to her feet as her superiors poured onto the Bridge as the red lights began to flash, resisting the urge to glance accusingly at the Ops Ensign who hadn't seen anything to report.
"I don't know Lieutenant!" came the unhelpful response as Harry pushed the Ensign at Ops aside and began working through every scan pattern and sensor sweep he could remember from that last journey he'd made at this post in the Delta Quadrant, the one through the Borg Conduits that brought them home and, supposedly, destroyed the Borg for good.
"You didn't miss anything Lieutenant..." advised Admiral Janeway kindly, appearing on the Bridge with a now visibly shaken Seven whom she guided down towards the First Officer's Chair which Jake was already offering to the blonde.
"You have the Conn Admiral..." said Harry, without looking up from what he was doing, the Ensign who had been covering the post looking over his Captain's shoulder at the frantic instructions he was giving the ship's computer.
"Thank you Mr. Kim... Helm, slow to Warp 2, continue current heading. Commander Loquat, please bring all weapons systems and shield technologies online..." continued Kathryn, calmly sitting down in the Command Chair and entering a couple of commands, looking to all intents and purposes like this was something she did every day, which, considered Jake, compared to the rest of them, she had...
"Command code required for Captain Kim..." came the sudden request from the Computer, evidently in response to whatever it was that the Admiral had done.
"Captain Harry Kim, Voyager, Foxtrot Tango 659 Charlie Bravo 87," called out Harry, still not looking up from his console, trusting her completely. It was suddenly as if the last 10 or so years had never happened.
"Identity confirmed. Command code required for Commander Jackson..." There was a pause as Jake realised it meant him and that he would have to speak through his suddenly dry throat before he said,
"Commander Jake Jackson, Voyager, Romeo Oscar 253 Delta Lima 14."
"Identity confirmed. Temporal shields and weapons now online."
"Admiral?" As his panels suddenly reset themselves with a whole new array of weapons and shields now at his disposal, Commander Loquat couldn't remain silent any longer.
"You will find I find them useful Mr Loquat. Can you see anything Harry?"
"Not even a few trails Admiral..." said Harry, wondering why he was disappointed there were no trails hadn't they eliminated the Borg?
"They are coming to our position Admiral..." said Seven quietly, although it sounded loud in the hushed, tense atmosphere of the Bridge.
"In that case... Helm, all stop is there anyone or anything near us?"
"No Ma'am, open space in all directions."
"I wouldn't say that, exactly..." muttered Kathryn, recognising their co-ordinates.
"What are we waiting for?" asked Jake of no one in particular.
"This?" asked Harry, suddenly putting an image up on screen that looked at first to be a single point of light only for it to gradually grow in size as whatever it was came nearer to Voyager and its higher resolution sensors.
"Seven?" asked Kathryn, her eyes leaving the screen to look at her lover.
"They want to talk to you...in person."
"They want to show you something..." Seven frowned at the vagueness of the instruction.
"Tell them I've had the tour too many times already..." encouraged Kathryn softly, watching Seven with concern.
"They are most insistent..." whispered Seven, her eyes filling with worry even as the screen was filled with a clearly recognisable object.
"Is that a Borg cube?" asked an Ensign quietly, breaking the silence of the Bridge with the thought that was filling the minds of those for whom, up to this point, the Borg had only been a theory. As Harry improved the quality of the sensor scans in an attempt to penetrate the Cube's shields and get an impression of the state of the vessel, his mind was drifting back to his time as Lieutenant, and the too many occasions which had started with this scenario . Then he never knew what would happen next and now, now was the same, except for one thing: he would have let Tom Paris bet every replicator ration he'd ever had on this being the reason Kathryn Janeway was on his ship...
8 months earlier:
"B'Elanna, how good to see you again..." greeted Kathryn with genuine enthusiasm, glad to see her former Chief Engineer, "... you didn't bring Miral to this did you?"
"No these things still start past her bedtime, so Tom's mother is playing host for the evening."
"Really? I would have thought she would be here with Owen..." continued Kathryn as she nodded in polite greeting to a rather stuffy Captain of whom she had limited acquaintance.
"Babysitting was an excellent excuse for her to duck this evening... I'm surprised Seven is here, doesn't she still hate these sorts of events?" asked B'Elanna as she grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and passed it to Kathryn.
"Yes, but she's a bit better at following orders now..."
"Did she ever follow yours?" teased B'Elanna, wondering how far her former Captain would let her push on the subject of her relationship with Seven it was one of those weird open secrets, with everyone assuming they knew the truth but no one, not even Picard, actually having the balls to ask for a confirmation.
"On occasion..." Having established from her response that B'Elanna was here voluntarily, Kathryn quickly changed the subject, not wishing for her tenacious former engineer to work away at a topic that did not concern her. "Are there any other Voyager people here that you've seen yet?"
"Harry and Tom saw Chakotay at a distance, and I think Samantha Wildman said that she was coming..."
"How is Naomi?"
"Apparently she's loving the University..."
"Not missing the Academy?"
"It would seem that, if you grew up with the most famous crew in living memory as your 'playmates,' the rules and regulations for a cadet are something of a chore in adulthood..." explained B'Elanna, deciding that, if Naomi and Seven hadn't kept their former Captain in the loop on the full extent of Naomi's issues with the Academy, she wasn't going to ruin it with a detailed response.
"I can imagine..." laughed Kathryn, taking another sip of her champagne, her gaze seemingly sweeping the crowded ballroom aimlessly.
"You can?" B'Elanna hoped she'd managed to contain some of her surprise.
"You sound surprised..." Evidently she hadn't.
"Well... you were rather big on the rules back then... Captain..."
"Cadet Janeway was the daughter of the Admiral who was famous for designing wannabe pilots' 'wet dreams'..." explained Kathryn grinning at B'Elanna who really hadn't been expecting such an informal conversation with her former Captain, after all, this was the grandest social event on the Federation calendar.
"I don't know what to say..." she began, only to be interrupted by a rather discrete cough from a Bajoran Commander who had suddenly appeared at the Admiral's elbow.
"Admiral, I'm sorry to interrupt but the President would like to introduce you to an old friend..."
"Of course... B'Elanna, would you excuse me it appears that duty calls, no doubt to tell some stories that you could tell far better than I..." explained Janeway, exchanging her now empty champagne flute for a full one so as to blend in better with the sea of people she was about to be led through.
"Of course Admiral..." agreed B'Elanna, preparing to find her husband once more, eager to tell him that something was up whilst the code that the Commander had used to interrupt their conversation was a subtle one, it was one that had been thought up several hundred years earlier and, for the long suffering wife of a twentieth century junkie, wasn't a code at all.
"Tom doesn't need to know everything." The twitch of muscles was quick and subtle, too subtle for the Commander to notice any change in the Admiral's demeanour, but it was enough for B'Elanna to practically snap to attention even as she was wondering how her former Captain had known she had not only recognised the use of the code but that she was considering telling Tom.
"Of course Ma'am..." and, with a final smile, B'Elanna suddenly found herself standing alone in the midst of a crowd of people who were oblivious to who had been standing amongst them a second earlier, Admiral Janeway having effectively disappeared into the crowd.
As she moved effortlessly through the crowd, deflecting the polite greetings of acquaintances and dignitaries, Admiral Kathryn Janeway was giving the impression of drifting through the assembled 'great and good' of the Federation with nothing on her mind except the desire to mingle a little. In reality though, she was barely noticing the gentle music being played by the jazz band in the corner, had failed to notice the impressive floral displays that lined the sides of the ballroom and was focussed on arriving in the corner of the ballroom where the Bajoran Commander who, able to move through the crowds unrecognised, was already waiting to presumably escort her to the tiny room somewhere in the vicinity where she would meet who knew whom to discuss heaven knew what.
"Commander..." she murmured quietly as she suddenly stepped out of the crowd right next to him.
"Admiral..." was the equally quiet response as the door to his left opened just enough for her to slip through before quickly closing, leaving the Commander standing quietly in the corner, watching the crowds.
"Admiral Janeway, thank you for joining us."
"Admiral Harris I presume this is why I am here?" she asked, reluctant to linger on small talk, not least because this room was putting her in rather close proximity to three Admirals, none of whom she had a particular affection for, generally preferring to keep a little bit of literal and professional distance between the Counter-Intelligence, Tactical & Security and Deep Space Communications departments of Starfleet.
"Admiral could you confirm your identity please?" asked another Commander, wearing the dress uniform of a security officer as he proffered a padd for her to press her thumb against.
"Why am I here George?" she asked again, this time directing her question at the least objectionable of her colleagues, Admiral Furge from Deep Space Communications.
"We've intercepted some communications from the Delta Quadrant that we don't understand...."
"Obviously the presumption is a violent threat?"
"How do you figure that Admiral?" asked Admiral Furge, having too much respect for his more senior Admiral to call her 'Kathryn'.
"Because of who you brought along with you to this little party..." she continued, wishing she had not left her champagne flute with the Bajoran Commander outside.
"They invited themselves... it's you we need the help from."
"Do I get to see this intercept?"
"Here..." He passed to her the padd which, having received her confirmed identity, had been passed back to the other three Admirals for their thumb prints. Now, the encryptions lifted from the padd, a short video clip played.
"Is there sound?" was her only question on seeing the completion of the video a minute or so later.
"You want to hear it?"
"Of course...." Obediently, feeling about as small as he had his first day at the Academy, Admiral George Furge pressed a couple of buttons and the padd reset, allowing all those gathered in the room to hear the sounds that accompanied the images that Kathryn watched once again, her face taking a green hue from the glowing images showing on the padd.
"Must be something you assimilated."
"What have you done?"
"I thought we didn't need words to understand each other."
"You've infected us..."
"With a neurolytic pathogen."
"To bring chaos to order."
"How did you get this?"
"We intercepted communications between three Borg Spheres and four Borg cubes that appear to be travelling as a fleet: their path would appear to have originated in the Beta Quadrant."
"Did you get anything else?"
"Yes... it was rather garbled but the general gist of the communication was that they have a new objection. 'Resistance is Futile' is not being broadcast from those ships."
"What is being broadcast?"
"Find Captain Janeway.... bring chaos to order."
"Admiral?" asked George Furge, evidently elected spokesman on behalf of the other two who were only too aware of the differences of opinion that they had with Janeway, differences which they were rapidly deciding they needed to put behind them if this current situation was to be resolved at all successfully.
"Does Starfleet have a plan?" she finally asked when she had reviewed the small snippet of video of her alternate self's final moments for a second time, satisfying herself that it definitely was the Admiral Janeway she had worked with as Captain.
"Of a sort..." admitted Furge, nevertheless managing to look as awkward as the greenest ensign on his staff.
"And this plan is?"
"On instruction from Starfleet Command's highest level, the plan is... whatever you want it to be Admiral Janeway..." admitted Admiral Harris, the head of the Counter-Intelligence section of Starfleet, unable to not sound pompous as he delivered the order which could only have been issued by the Admiral in Chief himself.
"Where are they heading?"
"Projected vectors have them heading away from the Beta Quadrant, further into the Delta Quadrant and consequently closer to the Alpha Quadrant. We're not sure if that's because it was where the Borg last knew you to be..."
"...or whether it's because it's 'home': how long until they get there?"
"To the Delta Quadrant?" asked Harris, not understanding her question.
"To here..." clarified Kathryn, entering the co-ordinates of the Hub that served as the Queen's last known position and the assumed spiritual 'home' of the Borg.
"About 7 months assuming they maintain their ability for the fleet to travel at a sustained Warp 6 and they take advantage of the wormhole in their path."
"What about transwarp?" asked Admiral Boxty, a short, stocky Klingon who was in charge of Tactical & Security.
"The transwarp network was destroyed when Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant... and the communications traffic would suggest that the ships are determined to form a fleet of every last remaining Borg vessel they can find, including ones that, according to our best knowledge, were never designed with transwarp coils," explained Furge, choosing his words carefully. He didn't really want to admit to his colleagues quite how limited his department's ability to intercept and interpret these scraps of communications traffic would be if it were not for Admiral Janeway and Seven of Nine's initial debriefing records.
"You have more than just this?"
"In that case, Seven of Nine and I will come to your offices tomorrow to review it all."
"But Admiral..." began Boxty, not at all happy with the suggestion that Seven of Nine would be included in the plan, whatever the plan might be, only for Furge to interrupt.
"Of course Admiral."
"Admiral Harris, does your grapevine tell you what my grapevine does?" asked Kathryn lightly, her eyebrow twitching in an attempt at levity, deciding that, if this really was happening, she needed his help and should probably attempt to create a better working relationship with him.
"Voyager-C will leave dry dock ready for the Delta Quadrant in eight months...with Harry Kim as Captain."
"Make it six and get it fitted with all the temporal shield and weapons technology Boxty's got."
"You can't do that!" exploded Boxty, not at all happy with how much power it seemed Janeway suddenly had.
"The Temporal Directive for one..."
"Start installing the temporal shields and weapons on my order... if I'm lucky a timeship will stop by to see what I'm up to...." mused Janeway.
"Are you mad woman?" shouted Boxty, amazed at the gall of this human female.
"We'll have to conceal their installation Kathryn..." continued Harris calmly, deciding to ignore Boxty who technically, Harris and Kathryn both out-ranked having taken up their positions a short time before Boxty.
"Command authorisation by myself and ship command staff will be fine..."
"You're going to the Delta Quadrant?" asked George, still a little bemused by way she was coping with the rapid change of situation.
"Either I go to the Delta Quadrant... or that Borg fleet will eventually turn up on my doorstep. I think old Mrs. Krepke would prefer it if I went to them."
"My next door neighbour," came the calm response, "...so, Seven and I will see you tomorrow 10:00 convenient George?"
"I'll make sure it is Kathryn."
"Tell anyone? I know I may not like your department much Admiral, but I am not an idiot. Apart from Seven of Nine I have no need for anyone else's input into this mission until after the ship, with both of us on board, is in the Delta Quadrant."
"Then what will happen?" asked Admiral Harris on behalf of all of them, for even Boxty, despite his visible fury at Janeway's sudden ability to call the shots, couldn't help but be curious as to what she was thinking.
"That, gentlemen, we will know once I have talked to the Borg."
"Talk to them?"
"Of course... how else will we find out what they want me for."
"Isn't it obvious?" spluttered Boxty.
"They want to find you... bring chaos to order."
"That seems pretty clear to me Kathryn," suggested Harris, reviewing the short phrase Admiral Furge's team had intercepted.
"What is order now defined as?" asked Kathryn, rhetorically, before stepping out from the room, returning to the sudden noise of the party, of the opinion that nothing further could be gained from being shut up with the three Admirals any longer.
"The Borg want to kill her...." declared Boxty as, with frustration, he started punching in the orders for the modified weapons and shield systems.
"...or make her Queen..." mused Harris thoughtfully.
"I don't think either will happen somehow," concluded Furge, satisfied that all the communication padds were once again encrypted and secured.
"What do you think will happen then?" asked Harris, intrigued.
"Something beyond even the wildest holovid writer's imagination..."
No one seemed able to break the silence that was now hanging heavily over Voyager's Bridge. Instead, long minutes passed by as the latest crew to man a Voyager Alpha Shift watched, seemingly hypnotised by the sight on Voyager's giant view screen. What had first appeared to be one cube emerging from a star filled space now appeared to be something quite different.
"It is the lead Borg cube for the fleet..." said Seven of Nine slowly, a brief wince crossing her face, presumably as another burst of 'something' was received through her neural transceiver.
"Harry, can you tap into the frequency they're communicating on?" asked Kathryn, knowing that she was almost certainly the topic of the Borg's broadcast. Whilst she wasn't particularly keen to hear what the Borg were transmitting, she was keen to do anything that might minimise the trauma, either physical or psychological, that Seven might suffer, starting with removing the Borg from inside her lover's head.
"They must be rotating their broadcast frequencies... I cannot find a frequency to lock onto Admiral..."
"Not good enough Harry..." retorted Kathryn, her concern for Seven clear when another wince passed across the blonde's face.
"I am functioning within acceptable parameters Admiral," interjected Seven calmly, opening her eyes in an attempt to reassure those within earshot, namely Commander Jackson, Doctor Lourdon and of course, Kathryn.
"I'm sure you are Commander, but it would be great if we could get you functioning at your optimum parameter. I don't think Admiral Janeway is ever satisfied with 'acceptable'..." coaxed Jess Lourdon from her crouched position at Seven's side, sensing from Kathryn's barked command at Harry moments earlier that right now, the Admiral was battling with her emotions and composure.
"Admiral Janeway is demanding..." muttered Seven dryly as, with Jack's assistance, she pushed herself up in the command chair a little more so that her right hand could reach the central console, "...but with good reason. Mr Kim?"
"You should have the transmission frequencies..."
"Thank you Seven... Admiral?"
"Let's hear it Harry..." instructed Kathryn, her eyes never leaving the pale face of the blonde on her left, who currently seemed to be finding just enough strength to argue with Jess about receiving the specially formulated nanoprobe hypospray (of Seven's own design) that would suppress her ability to hear the Borg 'inside' her mind.
"Vessels of the Federation, you hold Kathryn Janeway... You will not resist our wish... The Borg require Kathryn Janeway to join us, to bring chaos to order we must have her, you will not resist..."
"Is that it?" asked Kathryn, not particularly surprised at the message, it being obviously similar to the message intercepted by Starfleet all those months earlier when this fleet had been in the Beta Quadrant and Kathryn was having her Federation receptions interrupted by clandestine discussions with fellow Admirals.
"It repeats, most tediously..." added Seven, her implant twitching wryly, making Kathryn smile - things had to be reasonably good if Seven was still capable of making jokes about the Borg.
"Harry, we don't need to hear it again."
"No Ma'am," agreed Harry, muting the audio just as the same message was starting again, "... I've set the computer to alert us if the transmission changes."
"How long until they are within phaser range?"
"At current speeds at least eight hours Admiral."
"Thank you Mr Loquat. Mr Kim, perhaps we could adjourn to your ready room?" suggested Kathryn, recognising a stable situation, for now at least, and also knowing she needed some privacy from the eyes of the Bridge crew.
"Of course Admiral, I'll join you in a minute?" asked Harry, knowing she and Seven probably needed a moment to themselves, but also deciding that he needed to say something to his Senior Staff and Beta Shift.
"Fine...you too Doctor..." decided Kathryn before rising to her feet, pleased to see Seven stand unaided and proceed to walk slowly towards Harry's Ready Room, seemingly oblivious to the concerned gazes coming from the Senior Staff.
"Seven?" asked Kathryn, moving to place a hand on Seven's back the moment the closed ready room doors were shielding them from the prying eyes of the Bridge.
"I am fine Kathryn..." said Seven evenly, nevertheless moving slowly to sit down on the couch, the continued echoing of the Borg message inside her mind clearly taking a toll on the woman.
"I know you are darling..." agreed Kathryn smoothly, going to sit down next to her lover, her arm now wrapped around Seven's shoulders, providing support and a reassuring, comforting reminder that, despite what the Borg might be saying, Kathryn Janeway was most definitely here and had absolutely no intention of being anywhere else, for anyone.
"You wish me to take the hypospray..." said Seven, almost accusingly.
"I wish for you to do whatever you think is best... But yes, I don't like seeing you suffer darling and I think the hypospray would ease things for you..."
"I do not like hearing them..." agreed Seven, shifting into a slumped position that years ago she would never have seen the point of, but now, with her head resting against Kathryn's chest, her acute hearing easily picking up the reassuringly steady thumping of her lover's heartbeat, Kathryn's arms draped around her, Seven understood completely what the point of this inefficient seating position was: it enabled her to feel safe.
"But you want to keep listening?" guessed Kathryn, not surprised.
"I want to know what they are saying."
"Voyager is listening to them now..." reminded Kathryn gently, perfectly content to refer to the ship as if it were a living member of the crew.
"But what if the frequencies are changed? I am the only one who could relocate the broadcast..." pointed out Seven with an arrogance born out of logical accuracy.
"Is there something that can reverse the effects of the hypospray?" asked Kathryn reasonably, knowing that there was, remembering Seven insist that one be created, claiming to not do so would lack foresight.
"What do you suggest Kathryn?"
"Why don't you take the hypospray now since the ship can hear the broadcasts? The moment we lose contact with the Borg broadcast or it changes to something more interesting that you might want to argue with them about, you can take the reversal hypospray and start hearing them again."
"A logical plan Kathryn... Tuvok would approve..." agreed Seven before drifting off into a near meditative silence as she attempted, whilst she waited for Jess Lourdon to bring the hypospray, to ignore the repeating threat of the Borg by instead focussing on the soothing rhythmic beating of her lover's heart.
"I'm glad sweetheart..." whispered Kathryn, content to sit in silent support of Seven whilst she waited for the arrival of Harry who would almost certainly have questions of her, but did she, Admiral Kathryn Janeway, hero of the Fleet and legend in the Delta Quadrant, have any answers for him?
"Captain?" asked Jake finally, once the ready room doors had closed behind the pair and the Bridge was once again silent, the monotonous drone of the Borg broadcast silenced.
"You have the Bridge Commander; Ensign, sorry for elbowing you away from your station..." said Harry, running his hand through his hair in an attempt to marshal his thoughts and try to decide what he needed to do, and say, next.
"Of course Sir... Are there any particular scans or sweeps I should be performing?" asked the Ensign, deciding that now was not a moment for ego. Up until now, with the notable exception of Seven of Nine, for this crew, the Borg had just been a textbook theory, an evil threat to every species in the Universe that had been neutralised by Janeway and the first Voyager. Obviously, as the massive fleet of cubes, spheres and other weirdly shaped ships suggested, the Borg had somehow managed to survive, survive long enough to do battle with Kathryn Janeway once again. This wasn't something anyone had ever thought would need to be experienced ever again, and to that end, there weren't many classes at the Academy that you could take to prepare you for this moment...
"I've programmed the computer to undertake the necessary sweeps Ensign, so just stay alert for anything other than the Borg..."
"Would anyone else be foolish enough to hang around with that heading this way?" asked Loquat, only for Harry and Jake to both shoot him looks that made him immediately regret the somewhat flippant remark that hadn't sounded at all like he had intended it to sound.
"Hopefully, what has so far been a fairly deserted area of space will remain that way. We will never know if it was just dumb luck or a deliberate plan by the Borg that this is where we will intercept them, but one thing is clear - whilst the Borg might appear to have a personal vendetta against Admiral Janeway, this is not a personal battle, but a battle that Starfleet must undertake for the whole of the Federation, this ship for Starfleet. The threat the Borg can pose to life for all species within the four Quadrants cannot be underestimated. You all know from your studies of them about their eagerness to antagonise and conquer all that cross their path, with quantum physics and common sense not stopping them. It is our responsibility to do whatever it takes to understand and neutralise whatever threat this fleet of Borg vessels now poses to us and I expect complete dedication and commitment. It is easy to think that we are alone, a long way from the Alpha Quadrant. Whilst there may be many light years between us and the rest of the 'Fleet, we are not alone, we are a crew, a community that can and will pull together to be greater as a united one than the sum of its individual parts. We will defeat the Borg."
"How can you be so sure Sir?" asked Jake cautiously, deciding that he couldn't be alone in having some doubts and knowing that the question had to be asked whilst it could still be answered, before the doubts could develop.
"Would you accept it if I said that I just am Jake?" asked Harry, turning to his first officer.
"Would you be offended if I said No, Sir?" asked Jake nervously.
"Not at all Jake... But I am completely convinced that I am right Jake..." Harry could see that his Vulcan raised human first officer was struggling with this gut based reasoning which defied words. Fortunately, his Terran educated Chief Medical Officer knew exactly the words he was searching for.
"I think the Captain founds his confidence on three things Commander..." began the Doctor, grinning at Harry when he realised what she was going to say, and how right she was, "...the fact that, unlike the rest of us, he's been here before; the fact that this time, based on the extra toys Admiral Janeway thought were appropriate to have stowed away, we might actually be prepared and have a plan..." here Jess nodded in the direction of Loquat and his tactical station that was showing him an arsenal of the most advanced and illegal weaponry available within the Federation and its not so friendly neighbours, "...and the fact that Admiral Janeway hasn't made a habit of letting the Borg win."
"Exactly Doctor. Does that help Jake?"
"It is still somewhat illogical..." mused Jake, frowning as he tried to suppress his desire to route everything through the clinical safety of Vulcan logic, a defence mechanism he'd developed as a small child when he was afraid.
"Tuvok called it the Janeway Conundrum..." suggested Harry, deciding it was time he and Jess presented themselves in the Ready Room to find out whatever it was that the Admiral wanted to tell them, "...in the moment her decisions and thought processes are intrinsically illogical yet, once the situation is resolved, it becomes clear that her actions and decisions were invariably the only ones logically possible..."
"What would Tuvok do Captain?" asked Loquat, eager to know what his predecessor as Voyager's Chief Tactical Officer might have done in this situation.
"Refuse to let Captain Janeway off the ship without him and make sure that every possible weapon was at her disposal, ready to fire faster and further than it had been originally designed to..." recalled Harry, remembering all the times when, with the glow of the Red Alert lights bathing the Bridge in a strange half-light, Tuvok would quietly run diagnostic after diagnostic making sure everything was ready, ready for whatever it was that Kathryn Janeway decided was necessary.
"You make Captain Janeway sound reckless Sir..." suggested Jake, immediately regretting his remark given the look Harry directed at him - it wasn't quite a Janeway full force hull striping glare, but it wasn't a bad imitation.
"At times her actions may have been illogical or unorthodox, but they were never, as far as I understand the meaning of the word, ever reckless. For a Captain to be reckless, they have to no longer have any regard for themselves or anyone else. Kathryn Janeway was never reckless... She never, ever forgot about the crew then, and she won't now... And nor will we forget about her. Whatever the Borg brings, as a crew, we will stand with her to protect this crew and the Federation. Is that clear?"
"Yes Sir!" It wasn't a speech he'd planned to make, wasn't a speech he'd realised he'd needed to make, but now, having made it, Harry was glad that he had as, in that moment he felt the final piece of his Captaincy settle into place, that undefined something that lifts a group of Starfleet Officers from being a crew to being something more, something tighter, more committed and focussed... In that moment, when the entire Bridge Crew responded as one it happened, just as it had happened, he realised, all those years ago when Captain Janeway had brought the Maquis and Starfleet crews together. This crew were his crew, on his ship. Just as he would forever be loyal to Kathryn Janeway and do whatever it took, there, in the steely gaze of Jake, of Jess, Loquat and Hakmens...there was that same belief and sense of unity. They were ready, his crew were ready to do whatever it took to take on the Borg...and win.
"I believe we're expected in my ready room..."
Four weeks after Voyager's arrival in the Alpha Quadrant via a Borg Sphere...
"Friday as in the day-after-tomorrow Friday?" asked Gretchen Janeway, trying not to sound too enthusiastic about her daughter's sudden suggestion that the most famous Starfleet Captain in the known Quadrants and wider Universe might be about to come home, forgetting of course, that the video comm-link gave her away as it enabled her eldest daughter to have a clear view of her sparkling eyes and glowing face.
"Only if it's convenient Mother..." suggested Kathryn dryly, concealing her smirk behind her coffee mug, wise to the perils of video-links. She may be able to intimidate countless alien species into changing their plans and habits, but she certainly wouldn't survive the telling-off she would get if she was caught laughing at her mother!
"Of course it's convenient..." lied Gretchen convincingly, rapidly working out everything that would need to be done ahead of her daughter's arrival and what would have to be postponed, "...it would have been convenient if you'd landed Voyager in the back yard!"
"But?" She may have been gone seven years, but Kathryn could still read her mother.
"But isn't this a bit sudden? I thought you were supposed to be in classified de-briefings for weeks?" asked Gretchen, recalling all the hints and allusions Owen Paris had dropped in her direction at the grand reception two weeks earlier.
"The consequence of an uncensored outbreak of common sense, as Daddy would have said..." observed Kathryn wryly, hoping she didn't sound too bitter or angry.
"Oh?" She may have been stranded on the far side of the universe for seven years, but Gretchen could still read her daughter.
"They realised they'd been receiving all the reports and logs through the data bursts over the last few years... to try and string me up now over some small rule breach just looks petty... not to mention there's no precedent for what we did since Kirk, and apparently, I out-performed him..." joked Kathryn, taking another sip of coffee in an attempt to convince herself that the bitterness she could taste in the back of her throat was her favourite beverage, and not bile.
"On what metric?" asked Gretchen, not missing the bitterness that was colouring her daughter's voice but instead electing to ignore it, at least until she could talk to her in person.
"Ratio of first contacts to broken hearts and infectious diseases."
"I should hope so!" retorted Gretchen, joining in with the joke although she saw something in her daughter's expression that was in contrast to the bitterness she'd been hearing in her voice she wanted to reach through the video screen and hug her daughter until she started to stop hiding whatever caused her eyes to dull and communicate such poorly concealed sorrow.
"Umm... so is Friday OK?" asked Kathryn again, starting to show some signs of nervous apprehension for the first time in the conversation.
"Of course! Do I need to find a parking space for Voyager?"
"What? No! She's in space dock... why?" asked Kathryn, her surprise giving way to suspicion.
"I can't think of a more awkward co-guest that you'd be struggling to pluck up courage to tell me about than your ship..." explained Gretchen, far too experienced with Starfleet Captains to be surprised about how they felt about the 'women' in their life.
"Did you meet Seven of Nine at the reception?" asked Kathryn nervously. It was one thing to be going home to her mother for a number of months... it was quite another to be going home with Seven... but how would her mother react to her orders?
"How are you feeling?" asked Kathryn cautiously as she skilfully piloted the hover-car through the Indiana countryside, discovering her hands instinctively recalled how to steer them along the short yet frequently travelled route from the transport station to the Janeway family home, enabling her to pay closer attention to her passenger.
"I find I am not functioning within normal parameters Captain."
"Oh?" Kathryn wasn't sure she could remember Seven the last time Seven felt she had to describe herself in that way.
"I find I am apprehensive and concerned but also excited at the thought of meeting your mother. It is a strange combination," concluded Seven after a long pause.
"Then you are functioning within normal parameters Seven," explained Kathryn, attempting to reassure her.
"On what basis do you come to that conclusion?" asked Seven, intrigued enough with the statement to turn her attention away from the Indiana countryside to focus on her Captain.
"Because it's exactly how I feel..." concluded Kathryn, carefully setting the hover-car down in front of a building that Seven immediately recognised.
"Then we must adapt..." Seven paused, before suggesting with a small grin that only someone who knew her as well as Captain Janeway would notice, "...resistance is futile," prompting Kathryn to start laughing, pleasing Seven despite her apprehension as, despite increasing attempts in recent months, making a joke successfully was still extremely hit-and-miss.
"How about you start by calling me Kathryn?"
"I will try... Captain." And, with that cautious admission of human imperfection from Seven, Kathryn powered down the hover-car. It was time for this new 'mission' to begin...
"Kathryn?" said Gretchen cautiously, unable to ignore the two guests that had been standing just outside the front door for minutes.
"Hello Mother..." Smiling genuinely, Kathryn embraced her mother, returning the offered hug with enthusiasm.
"In uniform?" asked Gretchen, viewing her daughter's apparel with a distaste normally only shown by Phoebe.
"Only for a few more minutes Mother..." assured the Captain, wondering how final that assurance could be about to become, but also curious as to what was causing her mother, normally so tolerant of Starfleet uniform being worn in the house, to be so hostile towards it.
"Good." Gretchen stepped away from Kathryn and turned towards Seven, "It is wonderful to see you again Seven," she continued, surprising Seven with her seemingly genuine and relaxed manner.
"I..." Seven paused, clearly unhappy with her initial response, so changed tactics and instead drew herself up to her full height, placed her hands behind her back before saying softly, "...thank you Mrs. Janeway."
"Why don't we take this conversation inside and you can tell me what you were originally going to say, as well as practice you calling me Gretchen?"
"Mother..." warned Kathryn quietly, not sure quite how her mother had managed to become so adept at unbalancing her, only to have a small voice remind her 'inner Captain' that it was something her mother had always been able to achieve with no effort whatsoever; being away for seven years was hardly going to change that.
"You can make the coffee..."
"I would not recommend that Mrs... Gretchen."
"Your daughter's command authority is not generally recognised by replicators without several abortive attempts," reported Seven, earning her a glare for her comment from Kathryn and a grin from Gretchen.
"Good job she'll be using a kettle then..." explained Gretchen, leading Seven inside, leaving Kathryn to shake her head in amazement why couldn't she have had her mother with her in the Delta Quadrant? The Borg Queen would have conceded defeat years ago!
"You have a most efficient home..." remarked Seven, carefully considering all the available information that she had amassed on the brief tour she received as Gretchen guided them to the back veranda where they could watch the sunset.
"Thank you, what a wonderfully unique compliment!"
"Unique?" asked Seven, frowning although to Gretchen's eye her face remained impassive.
"You are the first person to analyse my home in that way and I don't believe anyone else ever could."
"I have offended..."
"Nonsense! You have been yourself... tell me why you feel my home is efficient?"
"The front door with its inner area is efficient because it enables people to enter and exit without disturbing the rest of the rooms..." Seven paused to come up with what her linguistic studies had told her was an 'analogy', "...like a shuttle bay did on Voyager."
"Indeed... very useful in the cold stops all the heat escaping," agreed Gretchen, smiling in encouragement.
"The property is aligned to maximise the natural light available at this latitude...and the rooms are configured to facilitate easy entertaining of guests..." concluded Seven quickly as she rose to her feet.
"Seven?" asked Gretchen, wondering what triggered her guest's sudden movement.
"Efficiency suggests I open the door for you daughter," came the precise explanation as she opened the door just as a tray carrying Kathryn reached it.
"Most impressive..." complimented Gretchen, moving aside a couple of padds so as to clear a space for the tray.
"The Borg enhancements I still retain include enhanced hearing..." explained Seven neutrally.
"I'm sure they do... but that wasn't what I was complimenting."
"It was not?" asked Seven, respectfully waiting for Gretchen and Kathryn to sit down before carefully retaking her own seat. Whilst she now sat down far more often than she had done initially, it was still something of a rare occurrence, and one that she did not entirely appreciate.
"Kathryn, how would you describe the Borg's manners?"
"Non-existent, why'd you ask?" asked Kathryn as she poured a cup of coffee for her mother, having missed the earlier part of the conversation.
"To confirm what I already knew... Seven, you have wonderful manners, Edward would have approved."
"But " Seven was confused wasn't she constantly being told off for not acting correctly?
"My father valued many things, including virtually all of Starfleet's rules and regulations, but there was one thing he felt was the foundation of most things decent in life which Starfleet never quite regulated to his satisfaction common courtesy and instinctual good manners," summarised Kathryn, offering a cup of hot chocolate to Seven who accepted it but eyed it with an element of suspicion.
"Give Kathryn a stove, some cocoa, sugar and milk and she can make a good cup of hot chocolate she won't enjoy making it but you'll enjoy drinking it..." reassured Gretchen, taking a sip of her coffee.
"It's why I hated the Hirogen so much..." continued Kathryn, happy to continue musing on a theme of manners if it gave Seven some time to rediscover her equilibrium a little.
"Their table manners were...deficient," remarked Seven, enjoying her first sip of hot chocolate.
"And the Borg?"
"Admiral Edward Janeway would not have considered the Borg Queen to be..." Seven paused again as she thought up an appropriate reference, before recalling something Kathryn had said at Tom and B'Elanna's wedding feast, "...either an Officer or a Gentleman," prompting laughter from the two Janeways and a cautious smile from Seven: she was beginning to like Indiana.
"I think you and I are going to get along just fine..."
"Admiral Paris will be relieved to discover that."
"What's Owen got to do with this Kathryn?" asked Gretchen sharply, turning the original Janeway glare on the Captain who had the good sense to look sheepish.
"Um, you've got orders... from Admiral Nechayev."
"Does that silly woman not remember that she cannot order civilians around?" asked an exasperated Gretchen as she returned her coffee cup to the table.
"You and she have issues?" asked Kathryn, sensing an opportunity to either change the subject or buy a little time following Seven's statement.
"Yes, but don't change the subject. What's going on?"
"I..." Words failed Kathryn as she struggled to work out who she was more concerned about offending or upsetting, inadvertently giving Seven the opportunity to take up the narrative.
"Captain Janeway has brokered a deal with Starfleet."
"What is the subject of the deal?" asked Gretchen, turning to focus solely on Seven and adjusting her conversation style to a manner that the young woman was better able to handle.
"Me: my humanity versus my Borg nature and components," explained Seven flatly.
"And the possible outcomes?" asked Gretchen, not missing the look Seven had briefly sent in Kathryn's direction it was a look that somehow managed to be both reassuring and asking for reassurance and support.
"If I am determined to be human enough I may take up a Starfleet Commission and lead the life of a Senior Science Officer."
"And if you were not?" In spite of asking the question, Gretchen wasn't sure she could bring herself to imagine the alternatives.
"I would be assigned a lab."
"As a scientist?"
"As the object of research," came the flat explanation, although it was clear from her daughter's behaviour that there was something that else that Seven wasn't saying.
"What else?" she pressed, deliberately reaching out to take Seven's Borg-enhanced left hand in her own in an attempt to give Seven comfort. Surprised at the physical contact, Seven spent long moments staring at their joined hands before finally, without lifting her gaze adding,
"...and Captain Janeway would be removed from Starfleet by court-martial."
There was a long silence as everyone present digested that statement from Seven before Gretchen finally broke it, "Has Starfleet lost its ever-loving mind?"
"No, just Nechayev..." ground out Kathryn, her anger barely contained.
"And Owen Paris went along with that crazy woman?"
"Not exactly..." began Kathryn only for Seven to once again interrupt.
"Admiral Paris persuaded the rest of the Panel to accept the deal he proposed..."
"Some deal..." muttered Gretchen, earning her a doleful look from Kathryn as Seven continued, appearing to ignore the interruption.
"...the terms of which are outlined on this padd," said Seven, passing a padd to Gretchen.
"And if I were to refuse Starfleet's conscription?" asked Gretchen, hypothetically as she scanned the padd.
"Seven would be declared no more human than that padd..." remarked Kathryn bitterly even as Seven protested, "...Captain Janeway would be court-martialed!"
"Right, that's settled then..." declared Gretchen, putting her identifying thumb-print at the bottom of the 'orders' and tossing the padd aside, knowing that the self-transmitting padd would send the notification back to Starfleet.
"It is?" asked Kathryn, confused.
"Seven, do you have a change of clothes?"
"And do you need anything further from Starfleet?"
"My portable regeneration unit."
"Kathryn, you surely have enough clout to get that delivered I trust?" asked Gretchen archly even as she was relieved to see some spark returning to her daughter's eyes as she realised what was happening.
"In that case, could you please show Seven to her bedroom she can have the spare room next to yours and then both of you get out of those uniforms."
"Yes Mom..." agreed Kathryn, smiling. Was it wrong for the most famous living Starfleet Captain to feel an enormous weight lifted from her shoulders now she was being ordered around by her mother?
"I do not understand."
"Seven, as far as I'm concerned, you're a delightful young lady who deserves to do with her life exactly what she wishes, which is exactly what I will be telling Starfleet at every available opportunity, including at the 'tribunal' they are electing to hold in six months. Between now and then, I'd like you to relax enough to treat this house as your home and to get to know my family... after all, you've managed to put up with the most headstrong member for years, so the rest of us shouldn't be too intimidating."
"Thank you," said Seven seriously, somewhat in shock over what had just happened, despite Owen Paris having already attempted to imply on several occasions that the terms of his deal were academic and the successful completion was never in any doubt.
"No need to thank me, it's what any mother would do..." dismissed Gretchen, finding that her daughter's behaviour was generating more questions than answers, but she had plenty of time to resolve that problem.
"Hardly Mom," disagreed Kathryn, finding it easy to slip to the less formal name for her Mother now Seven's future was more firmly assured.
"Go... get Seven settled and out of that uniform..." hustled Gretchen, getting to her feet and starting to reload the tray with their cups, but not before noticing a hint of a blush cross her daughter's face: at least that was one of her questions now answered...
"I could have done the washing up," volunteered Kathryn as she and Seven entered the kitchen a few minutes later, just in time to see Gretchen drying the last of the cups.
"Since you didn't burn the pan it was hardly challenging," countered Gretchen as she put the cup away and returned the dish cloth to its proper place, "...do you remember how to get to the butchers?"
"Excellent, then you can go and collect the bones he's set aside for the dogs."
"Where are the dogs?"
"Out with Eddie, Old Man Hendricks' son: he's repairing the fences around the bottom field."
"Oh?" Intrigued, Kathryn leant comfortably against the kitchen counter as she absently rolled up the sleeves of her shirt.
"We had a storm a couple of weeks ago, brought the big tree down which in turn brought down some of the fences."
"And I still see you, go to the butcher child!"
"I'm going!" agreed Kathryn, laughing as she reached for the hover-craft keys which she'd earlier left on the kitchen table, "Seven?"
"Is going to complete her tour here, with me..." began Gretchen, only to see a frown start to appear on her daughter's face, "...unless the famous Captain Janeway needs assistance in completing her mission to retrieve some beef bones?" asked Gretchen archly, her message to the younger Janeway clear I want some time with Seven!
"I think I can manage...I was just going to ask Seven if she'd like me to get some fresh strawberries if the grocer has any..." At the mention of Seven's favourite fruit, the blonde's face was transformed into a radiant smile, prompting Kathryn to conclude, "...I'll take that as a yes then..." before heading out of the kitchen back towards the front door, offering up a prayer to whomever might care to listen that Gretchen would be gentle with Seven in her absence, but knowing that really, she no longer had any say in the matter: Command Privilege just didn't extend to mothers...
"Kathryn?" asked Seven sleepily, her eyes opening slowly.
"Hello..." greeted Kathryn warmly, standing in the doorway of the bedroom in her quarters on this latest Voyager.
"You did not rest with me," observed Seven as she eased herself up into a sitting position.
"No..." agreed Kathryn, coming to sit on the bed, "...I didn't feel restful," she admitted, absently reaching out to caress Seven's nearby knee.
"Did reviewing our return through the Borg Conduits and Admiral Janeway's assimilation by the Queen assist you in any way?"
"I never looked."
"But that was your intention," stated Seven in a gentle, accusatory tone.
"There is nothing wrong with being prepared!" protested Kathryn, trying not to get defensive with her lover.
"Kathryn... you are prepared; you have been preparing for this for most of the last year. It is just Mr Kim who has to prepare, which he is doing," explained Seven, watching as her words had an effect and Kathryn began to relax again.
"You think I should quit worrying?"
"That is not your nature, but you could stop panicking," suggested Seven, finally losing patience with the fingers that were working patterns into the blanket over her knees and placing her left hand firmly over Kathryn's busy fingers, calming them, "...that is tickling me."
"Sorry." Sheepishly, Kathryn attempted to be still, only for her other hand to start fidgeting in her lap, out of Seven's reach.
"Kathryn?" asked Seven finally.
"Either I take you to the holodeck and attempt to beat you at Velocity or you lie with me."
"I'm not tired."
"I did not say anything about sleeping..." clarified Seven as she re-adjusted her position on the bed so as to be in one more conducive to what she had in mind.
"True..." agreed Kathryn, removing her uniform jacket and trousers, as Seven had done, so that they were now both wearing their Starfleet issue under-shirts and shorts.
"I am not sure I had that in mind either, at least, not yet," continued Seven dryly, although her gaze of appreciation as she watched her lover get into bed gave something of a contradictory message.
"Would you be offended if I agreed?" asked Kathryn, knowing that she really did not need to provide Seven with a more detailed explanation.
"Hardly, I do not find thoughts of the Borg Queen encourage an amorous mood."
"And yet she tried so hard..."
"She would have benefited from the Doctor's lessons on socialising," concluded Seven, causing Kathryn to laugh as she settled into Seven's offered embrace, revelling in the warmth and tenderness the hold provided confirmed by the soft kiss she felt Seven press into her hair.
"This is nice..." she sighed, starting to feel some of the unnoticed tension dissipate.
"Indeed." Seven refrained from observing that they could have started this two point three hours ago if Kathryn had lain down with Seven when she elected to lie down to recover from the neural blocker Jess Lourdon had administered in Harry's Ready Room.
"And I'm an old fool for not joining you sooner."
"You are not old."
"But I am a fool?"
"At times you are foolish, but you are not a fool."
"Thank you, I think."
"You are welcome. If you did not review your Borg 'adventures', what did you do?" asked Seven, curious.
"Remembered the first time I took you to Mom's."
"You attempted to procure me some strawberries," recalled Seven, setting up a steady caressing pattern on her lover's stomach.
"How was I supposed to know I'd be mobbed on the high street?" protested Kathryn sleepily, finding it hard to stay awake in the warm cocoon Seven had created with the bedclothes and her body.
"Gretchen set you up," agreed Seven softly, pleased to see her lover start to drift off.
"Like you've done..." mumbled Kathryn as she lost the only battle she was ever willing to lose, the one to sleep.
"All's fair in love..." whispered Seven, gently easing Kathryn into a more comfortable position as she Admiral now slept, "...and war," she finished sadly, before letting her own thoughts drift back to that first day in Indiana.
"Did you bring a jacket?" asked Gretchen, considering the long-sleeved t-shirt that Seven was now wearing.
"Will you need one?"
"My biosuit regulates my temperature," explained Seven succinctly, still extremely uncertain as to what was currently happening, except to note that Captain Janeway had left the kitchen with her shoulder muscles approximately twelve point seven percent less tense than they had been on arrival, suggesting that the Captain felt that their situation was improving with recent events.
"Your biosuit?" In response to the question, Seven grasped the hem of the navy-blue shirt and lifted it up, revealing the silver suit below.
"It is what I always wore on Voyager."
"And it regulates your temperature?"
"Now that is its only function, yes."
"But it has others?"
"When I was first freed from the Collective the Doctor had to complete several procedures to remove external and internal Borg physiological features..."
"Borg physiological features?"
"My 'skin' was Borg armour; my left eye was something quite..." Seven paused to consider how best to describe how she had appeared, "...aesthetically different to the implant now in my eye socket."
"I see..." She really didn't, but Gretchen was certain that her daughter could provide her with images and a slightly more expansive explanation should she ever become curious.
"The biosuit assisted the process of regeneration for my human systems."
"And you wear it now because?"
"Because it is efficient," concluded Seven firmly, only to hesitate, obviously uncertain about saying anything further.
"Do you need to wear it?"
"I have nothing else to wear," admitted Seven quietly, absently letting the shirt hem fall from her grasp as her hand returned to her side.
"Would you like to have other clothes to wear?" asked Gretchen quietly, whilst wondering how long she would be able to sustain yelling at her stupid daughter.
"I had some clothes on Voyager."
"What happened to them?"
"I... I do not know."
"All the more reason for you to go shopping for some new clothes tomorrow then."
"Shopping? On Voyager clothes were replicated."
"Welcome to life in a Traditionalist community Seven no replicators necessary."
"Which is why the Captain was uncertain as to whether or not she would be able to secure strawberries on her journey," deduced Seven thoughtfully.
"Yes... now, how about a walk?" suggested Gretchen, reaching for a jacket that was hanging by the door.
"Very well," agreed Seven, following Gretchen outside. Soon, they had settled into Gretchen's natural walking pace and were heading out across the field, a destination clearly fixed in Gretchen's mind.
"If you biosuit solves your temperature and comfort needs..." began Gretchen, finally unable to ignore the burning question now she had worked out an appropriate way of phrasing it, "...why waste time with the inefficient charade of wearing other garments over it?"
"Because my personal inefficiency increases the efficiency of others."
"Pardon?" Confused, Gretchen came to an abrupt halt and immediately mirrored her daughter's all too familiar pose of one hand at her hip, the other pinching the bridge of her nose.
"Male humanoids are distracted by my physical appearance, with many of them suffering an involuntary response that reduces their efficiency. Female humanoids invariably, with few exceptions, react aggressively. On Voyager, these responses decreased over time and acquaintance. In the Alpha Quadrant, I find the continued interaction with strangers more efficient if I maintain this..." Seven recalled what Gretchen had said and considered the phrase to be appropriate, "...inefficient charade."
"Does my daughter react aggressively?"
"She is one of the few exceptions," confirmed Seven, although she did not continue to explain how Kathryn Janeway did react as currently, Seven had been unable to understand it to her satisfaction.
"I should hope so! I'm sorry you've had such an unpleasant time in the Alpha Quadrant; I hope we can make the next few months enjoyable for you whilst we wait for Starfleet to come to their senses."
"You do not seem to be unduly concerned about the mission you have been set."
"There is nothing to do," replied Gretchen succinctly, sensing that Seven dwelling on an issue was extremely unusual behaviour for her.
"I do not follow."
"Seven, from where I stand, as I said before, I see a delightful young woman who has had the somewhat unusual upbringing that has meant she knows more about the stars and spaceships than she does about planets and people, but that is all. I regard it as a joy that my daughter has managed to come home from her latest adventure and imagine that you probably had a big part in that. That my universe crossing daughter has come home to stay for such an extended period of time is wonderful for me and I have always believed that my children's friends should be just as welcome in my home as my children are. There is nothing Starfleet could say or do that would make me consider you to be anything other than a friend to the Janeway family and Kathryn in particular and so consequently, you are and always will be extremely welcome in my home. Is that clear?" The question was asked in the same tone that Seven had heard the Captain use when she had been asking for objections to their final Delta Quadrant adventure through the Borg Conduits. It was not a tone Seven could ever imagine disagreeing with.
"Yes Gretchen, you are clear. Thank you."
"You're welcome now, this conversation is to be kept between ourselves, understood?"
"Kathryn doesn't need to know everything right now and besides, I think you'll find the right moment to tell her eventually, and I think it will probably be not long after you've worked out the answer to my next question..."
"Many would assume Kathryn Janeway inherited her scientific curiosity from her Father. I now know this to be an inaccurate assumption," remarked Seven, satisfied when Gretchen smiled, evidently genuinely amused by the remark.
"Did you just accuse me of being nosy?" she teased, tucking her arm through the blonde's and starting to resume their walk.
"I merely identified a common personality trait that you and your daughter share," observed Seven, thinking she was most likely being 'teased' but unwilling to presume so in case she inadvertently caused offence in error.
"It is an old woman's prerogative to tease and interrogate Seven," explained Gretchen good-naturedly, keen to sustain this lighter conversation style as long as Seven seemed inclined to.
"As it is a mother's right to embarrass?"
"Who told you that? Wait, let me guess, my daughter?"
"No, although I will ask her what she considers the role of a mother to be in the context of a relationship with a daughter or daughter-like friend..." mused Seven, sufficiently intrigued by the notion and how it might apply to her friendship with Naomi and developing friendship that she missed Gretchen's muttered,
"Katie's going to hate me when the panic caused by that conversation kicks in..."
"Samantha Wildman explained that sentiment to Naomi, her daughter, when we were celebrating Naomi's birthday and Naomi had stained herself with chocolate cake."
"Let me guess, her mother attacked the stain in front of everyone?"
"You have seen the holovid," agreed Seven, a tentative smile forming on her lips as she recalled Naomi's horror and the Captain's mirth when she realised the Doctor had captured the moment.
"No...but I am a mother; it's a genetic trait. I have done the same to Kathryn..."
"Captain Janeway has stained herself with chocolate cake?" asked Seven, amazed. It wasn't a picture she could readily imagine.
"Amongst other things, I'll find the photographs at some point if you'd like?" suggested Gretchen, deciding she'd keep the naked baby pictures in reserve for just a little while longer.
"I would find that most interesting, although I am certain the Captain would prefer I did not see them..."
"She'll cope, but we might make some coffee for her first," agreed Gretchen, enjoying Seven's very wry sense of humour now she'd found it.
"She handles unsettling scenarios with much more dignity and calmness if she has first ingested black coffee," agreed Seven, finding she was enjoying this conversation and not feeling quite so scared about her future: Kathryn's mother was a comforting presence not as comforting or reassuring as the Captain, but definitely someone Seven realised she liked, and trusted.
"Then you better learn how to make it, without a replicator."
"I would like to learn how to cook caramel brownies," declared Seven firmly.
"My daughter's favourites," remarked Gretchen, recalling how quickly Kathryn had thought about strawberries for Seven, with the blonde subsequently explaining that they were her one remembered childhood favourite.
"I'm going to ask you a question, but I don't want you to answer it until you are as certain about your answer as you are about wanting to learn to make caramel brownies, which won't be now..."
"You only want my answer to your question when I am without doubt, I understand. Proceed with your question." To Gretchen's surprise, Seven came to a halt and focussed intently on her, obviously expecting to complete the challenge then and there.
"You don't need to answer now..."
"But if I am able, I will, although without the question being asked, I cannot know."
"Point taken...Seven, why were you more concerned about Kathryn being kicked out of Starfleet than you were about being locked away and treated no better than a computer?"
"Prepare for temporal jump on my mark Commander," declared Captain Eric Andrews, coming onto the Bridge of the USS Quantum, the flagship of the twenty-seventh century's timeship fleet.
"Sir?" Not that he was prone to mutiny, but the Bajoran Commander holding the Conn in his Captain's temporary absence from the Bridge couldn't undertake a temporal jump without some co-ordinates, and currently, he had none, temporal or spatial.
"Problem Commander?" asked Andrews, settling down in his Command Chair, only to see what the issue was for himself, "Oh, forgive me I thought I'd transmitted the co-ordinates from my Ready Room..." His unusual oversight was quickly remedied by a few quick instructions entered into the Command Console that sat between them.
"Thank you Sir, preparing for temporal jump now," commented the Commander as he set about following the necessary sequence that had to be completed before a timeship was ready to respond to the Captain's request to 'engage'. It wasn't the fastest of protocols Starfleet had but then ironically, there was rarely much of a need to rush on a timeship as you never needed to rush to set off as time was always waiting for you on your arrival.
"Excellent: tactical prepare weapons we may need them on arrival and set all shields to maximum before we jump."
"Ay Captain." If the Klingon at the Bridge Tactical Station found this request unusual, she chose to ignore the thought, hoping that the curiosity of some of her fellow Bridge Officers would serve to solve the mystery for her.
"Where exactly are we going Sir?" asked the First Officer, finding the provided spatial co-ordinates irritatingly unmemorable, although there was something vaguely familiar about the temporal ones.
"Our destination is a currently unremarkable area of empty space," explained Andrews, amused at his crew's mixed response when they realised he was being deliberately disingenuous.
"Which will presumably be rather more remarkable at our mission's conclusion?" surmised Commander Karnet, his Bajoran heritage immediately recognisable even though he elected not to wear the traditional earring.
"We're going to the Delta Quadrant?" asked the Ops Lieutenant, the co-ordinates having been prudently forwarded to her by the helm officer.
"Well done Lieutenant Braer, to the Delta Quadrant is exactly where we're headed," confirmed Andrews, watching as all the pieces to the puzzle fell into place.
"Hardly an appropriate tone to take Morat," chided Andrews firmly, unimpressed with the growl that had emanated from his Chief of Security at Tactical, "...she is an Admiral," he added, providing the missing link for his First Officer.
"We're the ship that gets sent to the Great Ending?"
"So it would seem..." agreed the Captain, deciding it was acceptable for his face to show just the smallest hint of excitement at the significance of their mission, the only historic mission in the Timeship mission history classified across all timelines, inaccessible from either the past or the future. All logs of up-coming events would forever only record that a timeship attended which ship, from when and who it was crewed by would survive as the one truly secret temporal event, expunged from all records... except one, but then the records of the Universe as kept by the Continuum always did tend to have far too detailed footnotes on entries involving 'Aunt Kathy'.
"Wow..." commented someone, although Eric Andrews didn't manage to identify them, neatly summing up what everyone was thinking.
"Isn't she a relative of yours?" asked Commander Karnet, recalling a piece of gossip he'd heard at some point during his time at the Academy.
"She's my Great-Great-Great-Aunt." said Eric carefully, mentally ticking off the 'greats' to make sure he went back in time from the 27th century to the 24th. It wasn't as many generations as it might have been, with the Janeway women seeming to prefer to take advantage of their excellent lifespans by reproducing later in life.
"No wonder you joined the timeships then."
"Oh?" Andrews was only half interested in the conversation, but was content to humour his First Officer as it passed the time whilst he waited for the final 'green light' from Engineering that his ship was ready to sail.
"About the only thing your family hasn't done, time travel."
"You don't know my Great-Aunts," came Eric's wry response as the panel by his chair flashed the all-important message from his Chief Engineer: they were ready.
"What is it Ensign?" asked Jake cautiously from his seat in the Captain's chair. After a hastily convened Senior Staff meeting, it was agreed that the Beta Shift Bridge Crew should take up their posts for a few hours, enabling the Senior Staff to get some rest. Jake had volunteered to forgo his rest, arguing most logically that he had the least relevant skills given their up-coming challenge and was therefore most able to withstand the extended period of duty, not to mention the fact that he didn't think rest was physically possible for him right now.
"The Borg signals Sir, they've changed."
"Changed how?" asked Jake, heading over to the Ops console to see for himself, although Communications had always been one of his weaker points.
"I'm not sure, the pattern's changed, as if the message has been altered, but we can still hear the original message: shall I play it Sir?"
"No thank you Ensign, I believe you." Jake had no desire to hear that flat, emotionless voice repeating that cryptic message again. He still hadn't quite overcome the chilling sensation he'd felt when they'd heard it the first time Harry had managed, with Seven's assistance, to 'tune' Voyager's sensors into the frequency. "How far away are they?"
"Four hours Sir."
"Is there any way you can isolate the pattern change and identify it?"
"No Sir I'm sorry, but I don't understand what the Captain did well enough to repeat it without losing the original signal."
"Don't worry Ensign," Jake was kicking himself for not being able to remember the guy's first name, "I think the Captain's about the only Ops officer in Starfleet who could do that," reassured Jake, mentally adding that Seven definitely could and Janeway almost certainly could make Harry look helpless too, although neither of them had ever been an Ops officer. He was beginning to be seduced by the illusion that there wasn't much that Janeway couldn't do.
"Sir." He tried not to show it, but really, the Ensign wasn't very good at hiding his feelings, and right now, he was looking like he wanted the deck to open up and swallow him.
"Jackson to Captain Kim..." hailed Jake, cursing to himself when the pause as he waited for the response was just long enough to suggest that the Captain had actually managed to be asleep.
"Kim here... what is it?"
"The Borg signal's been altered in some way Captain; it almost looks like a second message is being broadcast on the same frequency but we cannot isolate it for broadcast."
"I'm on my way, Kim out!" As he cut the comm link with the Bridge, Harry rolled out of bed, reaching for his uniform, resisting the urge to ask the computer what time it was right now, knowing how little sleep he had got wasn't going to help his general feeling of wakefulness. Just as he finished dressing, he made another decision.
"Kim to Seven of Nine..."
"Seven here Captain," came the prompt response, making Harry feel a little easier at least he hadn't woken her.
"I've just been hailed by the Bridge; the Borg signal has changed."
"Do you wish me to accompany you to the Bridge and see if I can decode it?"
"If you don't mind..." agreed Harry, pulling on his boots.
"I will join you on the Bridge; Seven out." Terminating the comm link, Seven was now left with something of a challenge how to get herself to the Bridge without disturbing Kathryn's rest. Unfortunately, every movement Seven made that was an attempt to ease Kathryn off her only succeeded in the Admiral settling even more comfortably against the blonde.
"Kathryn, this is a most inconvenient moment for your attachment," chided Seven softly as she, with much regret, had to forcefully extricate herself from Kathryn's sprawling embrace.
"Hmm..." The combination of hearing her name and the general upheaval her body went through was enough to shift Kathryn to a sleepy wakefulness, "...darling?"
"I have been summoned to the Bridge to assist Mr. Kim," explained Seven as finally, reluctantly free from her lover's embrace, she was pulling on her uniform.
"Oh?" Blinking hard, Kathryn began to get out of bed, only for Seven to reach out and stop her.
"It seems the Borg signal has changed we still have some time before the Borg are in range."
"Meaning you think this old Admiral should go back to sleep?" grumbled Kathryn somewhat uncharitably, not feeling entirely comfortable about being somewhat low on the notification chain.
"Meaning Kathryn," corrected Seven patiently, not at all surprised at the turn their conversation had taken, "that you could take this opportunity to enjoy a bath before joining us on the Bridge it is a regretful situation that I am summoned to the Bridge now as it had been my intention to wake you shortly and suggest we share a bath..."
"Seven..." groaned Kathryn, not entirely grateful for having her lover give her that particular mental image to muse on, especially given what she had been dreaming about.
"...so as to assist in the elimination of your stiff neck; despite my attempts to move you during your rest you managed to resist and as a result, slept with your head at a most unnatural angle," chastised Seven gently, reaching out to massage Kathryn's neck tenderly, only to highlight Kathryn's predicament.
"Ow! Point taken..." agreed Kathryn, snatching Seven's hand up and kissing it, "...but as I rested I had some wonderful dreams."
"Which I look forward to sharing with you once our time dealing with the Borg is complete," suggested Seven knowingly, "as I doubt you would enjoy it if we rushed," she added, enjoying the blush that rose up and stained he lover's neck and face.
"Neither would you..." retorted Kathryn, huskily.
"Then it is all the more important that we resolve this current situation quickly," agreed Seven, standing up, only to turn and bend down, enabling her to cup her lover's face and press a tender kiss to her lips, "enjoy your bath Kathryn."
"Good luck darling," encouraged Kathryn, watching Seven leave before forcing herself to head for the bathroom, stretching her neck experimentally as she went, not enjoying the winces as she tested her mobility. She really should have learnt by now, she'd had years enough to do so, but sleeping with Seven's chest as her pillow felt so wonderful and safe, until she woke up that was. Still, she thought, turning on the taps for the bath, she had slept remarkably well, and not thought about the Borg once...so long as Seven didn't count!
"Captain?" asked Seven cautiously, not finding the title sounded right coming from her mouth when it was directed at Harry. Based on Harry's lack of reaction to the call, obviously he didn't think it was right either.
"Lieutenant Kim!" tried Seven again, reverting to the familiar it earned her critical looks from the Bridge Crew but had the desired effect, with Harry looking up.
"Seven! Good..." Harry paused, something was obviously not right if the looks on his crew's faces were anything to go by, causing him to review what he'd heard. "You demoted me!"
"You failed to respond to my previous hail..."
"You did not react when I called you Captain."
"So you demoted me to Lieutenant?" asked Harry, amused but not offended.
"It seemed appropriate..." concluded Seven, inclining her head towards the Ops console at which Harry was working.
"Like deja vu," agreed Harry, ignoring the rest of his crew who by now were making no attempt to conceal their eavesdropping.
"Deja vu..." Seven paused as she considered the term, familiar yet unfamiliar to her, requiring her to access her data banks for a precise definition, "...an illusory feeling of having already experienced a present situation. Indeed, that is a rather apt description of our current predicament."
"All we need now is the Captain," continued Harry, under no illusion as to who was actually in command of this mission, even before potentially millions of Borg drones started chanting her name.
"She will be along presently," confirmed Seven non-specifically, aware that most of the officers attending the Bridge were unknown to her.
"Then we better decode this second broadcast then," decided Harry, stepping to one side of the Ops console, knowing that Seven would decrypt the Borg encryption enabling the message to be 'piggy-backed' on the original far faster than he ever could.
"Indeed Mr Kim," confirmed Seven, finally settling on a mode of address that worked for her in their current situation.
For the next few minutes, the two friends worked in tandem, no words necessary as they slipped back into a long established routine whereby Seven programmed Borg decryption algorithms and Harry ran them through the computer, testing them on the signal. The rest of the Bridge crew, uncertain as to what they were supposed to be doing, occupied themselves with running every diagnostic they could think of. Without any diagnostics to occupy himself with, Jake stood by the helm position, watching what was happening on that console, oblivious to the stress he was putting the young ensign under: he'd only stood by that particular console because it was the one he was the most familiar with, having graduated from the Academy as a helmsman. It was in this position that Kathryn Janeway found them all when she arrived on the Bridge some minutes later, earning her a small frown from her lover, who evidently felt she had rushed her bath!
"What have we got Harry?" she asked, automatically stepping off the turbolift and heading for the Command Chair just as she had done so many times before.
"Just clearing up the transmission now Captain," came the instinctive response from Harry, who immediately looked up in shock when he realised what he'd said.
"We appear to be experiencing deja vu Admiral," explained Seven helpfully, her eyes sparkling with a mirth only Kathryn could spot.
"Indeed Mr Kim, I must apologise for treating your Bridge as my own," began Kathryn, only to fall silent when Harry pulled out something from his pocket and tossed them gently through the air on such a trajectory it was impossible for her to not pluck them out of the air, "...Harry?"
"An idea from Tom Ma'am," he said, grinning, knowing from their past experiences that she would get the reference.
"Are you sure Harry?" she asked again, looking at the lone brass key hanging from a keyring that looked suspiciously like her Voyager.
"Just give me the keys back when you're done... Captain."
"Thank you Harry, I will look after her as if she were my own," promised Kathryn solemnly, squeezing the metaphorical and literal 'key' to Voyager in her hand before putting it in her pocket.
"She always was Ma'am... Computer, acknowledge joint command authority between Captain Harry Kim and Admiral Kathryn Janeway, with ultimate Command authority including all absolute command privileges lying with Admiral Janeway until further notice."
"So acknowledged." The computer's voice was flat and uniform, the response no different to if it had been asked to expand the range of Bolian stew in the replicator files yet somehow it felt different, like the computer was warmer... even content that finally the natural order of things was restored. There was a ship, called Voyager in the Delta Quadrant and now, not only did it have Kathryn Janeway on board, it had Kathryn Janeway in command. Whatever needed to happen was going to happen... from this point there was, for no one, no option of retreating or turning back: would that they know it, but the Great Ending had begun.
"Arriving at temporal and spatial co-ordinates in thirty seconds Captain," reported the Quantum's helm officer.
"Anything on sensors?" asked Eric, hoping no one else noticed him wiping his suddenly sweaty palms on his uniform.
"USS Voyager is holding her position, with weapons online and engines at the ready. There appear to be no other vessels or planets in the area Captain."
"Thank you prepare to hail..."
"Sir, Sensors are picking up something dead ahead."
"What sort of something?" asked Jake, crossing towards the tactical station, deciding that Harry and Seven were probably a little too busy with the Borg transmission to investigating this 'something' that couldn't be the Borg... could it?"
"It appears to be a ship, Federation I think..." began the Beta-shift tactical officer nervously.
"On screen..." interrupted Janeway even as Harry suddenly called out,
"Admiral, we're being hailed."
"On screen then Harry, show us who've we've got."
"Yes Ma'am..." and, nodding at the Beta-shift Ops Ensign who had been unobtrusively attempting to follow what Harry and Seven had been up to, Harry stepped aside just enough to enable the hail to be brought up onto the main viewscreen even as he and Seven continued with their decryptions.
"USS Voyager, this is Captain Eric Andrews of the Federation Timeship Quantum."
"Captain Andrews, this is Admiral Janeway..." began Kathryn, preparing to choose her words extremely carefully as, in her experience, she never quite knew what to expect from the Time Corps just because she'd survived the visit from the future when this Voyager had still been in space dock didn't mean that this visit would be from a similarly supportive Captain, even if he did look slightly familiar...
"Delighted to meet you Admiral, glad to see we've arrived in time."
"In time Captain?"
"In time to assist if perhaps I could come aboard Ma'am? It will all make more sense after you hear what I have to say."
"You're welcome to beam across Captain, although I'm sure you've read the section of my service record that articulates how much I detest temporal mechanics."
"I guarantee you'll like what I have to say Admiral, may I transport to the Ready Room?"
"Locking onto your signal now Captain," said Harry suddenly, realising that the Quantum had obligingly dropped its shields to enable Voyager to obtain a transporter lock. Before the Admiral could wonder how he was feeling about her seemingly commandeering his ship in this manner, he was able to report, "...Captain Andrews is safely on board Admiral."
"Thank you Mr. Kim, will you be joining us?"
"I'll wait for your hail Ma'am..."
"Harry..." growled Kathryn, noticing the second use of the loathed 'Ma'am' in less than a minute, causing everyone else on the Bridge to look up and blink, having never heard that particular tone of voice from her before.
"Something tells me history will report this as crunch time Admiral," said Harry as he watched her move towards the Ready Room doors, only for her to pause.
"Mr Kim, are you sass-ing an Admiral?" asked Kathryn, her grey eyes sparkling with more amusement than Seven had seen in Kathryn's eyes whilst 'on duty' since their last time in the Delta Quadrant.
"I could bust you down to Ensign..." muttered Kathryn good naturedly as she headed into the Ready Room, oblivious to the stunned looks on the rest of the Bridge Crew.
"Mr Kim?" came the quiet mutter as the doors closed.
"No problem Seven." And, with the USS Quantum sitting off their port bow, silence descended once more on the Bridge of Voyager as Harry and Seven set about untangling the Borg message and everyone else waited to hear what their future held.
"Captain Andrews..." greeted Kathryn, stepping into the Ready Room and automatically heading to the replicator, "...can I get you anything?"
"Same as you're drinking would be great, thank you Admiral," replied Eric, hoping his nerves weren't betraying him too badly.
"I suppose I really am that predicable if you come from, let me guess, the 29th century?" asked Kathryn as she got the replicator to produce two identical black coffees, although the temptation to order a Risian sunset was strong.
"27th century, and yes, your predilection for coffee is still one of the most widely known anecdotes about you..." began Eric, only to abruptly stop when she passed the coffee to him.
"I'm sensing a 'but' Captain...."
"But I drink my coffee black and strong because that's how Janeways drink it..." The quiet admission caused Kathryn's coffee mug to pause mid sip as she considered the remark. Patiently, Eric waited to see what she would react to first the admission of a family connection or the flagrant breach of temporal principles.
"Are you here on an officially sanctioned mission Captain?"
"And your presence here is to assist whatever my mission is going to be rather than prevent me from completing it?" continued Kathryn, sipping her coffee again as certain things started making sense to her.
"I'm guessing Phoebe's side of the family produced you?" speculated Kathryn, considering the person sitting in front of her as a man and not as a Starfleet Officer.
"How could you tell?"
"Joining the Time Corps is exactly the sort of rebellion she'd approve of... as she would you disregarding the temporal principles in telling me that."
"You're my Great-Great-Great Aunt, Admiral," admitted Eric, returning his coffee mug to the table, "and Starfleet feels that what you're about to do is so fundamental to the survival of space, humanity and Newtonian physics that Einsteinian principles could be sacrificed for this occasion."
"Meaning?" asked Kathryn wryly, continuing to drink her coffee, giving the illusion she was discussing the finer points of paint drying rather than something that by all accounts, sounded rather cataclysmic.
"Meaning I'm here to help you destroy the Borg for good... well, most of them."
"Most of them?"
"All the dangerous ones with an inherent megalomaniac tendencies, assuming we can work out which ones those might be, which I think basically means we keep Aunt Seven." Before Kathryn could come up with a suitable response, she was hailed by Harry.
"What is it Mr Kim?"
"We've de-coded the new Borg message Admiral and I've requested that the Senior Staff join us in the Conference Room."
"Understood Harry; Janeway out."
"It would seem like we're nearly ready Captain..." remarked Kathryn, returning her cup to the recycler, preparing to head for the conference room.
"Not quite Admiral..."
"You're one nephew short for this party..." came the sudden announcement by a new voice which was closely followed by a near blinding flash of light.
"Junior..." sighed Kathryn, collapsing back into her chair, immediately regretting not replicating a larger cup of coffee.
"Hey Aunt Kathy... hey cousin Eric!"
"Junior! Good to see you again man...." greeted Eric genuinely, crossing to hug his 'cousin'.
"Why do I suddenly need a pot of coffee?" asked Kathryn dryly, crossing the ready room to the replicator to order said pot, knowing better than to even bother trying to declare an intruder alert, her comm badge now temporarily useless.
"Because you've got some of Gretchen's caramel brownies stashed away?" asked Eric hopefully, grinning at Junior in a manner highly befitting a conspiracy but really not at all appropriate for a Starfleet Captain in the current situation.
"I could go and get some if you've run out?" offered Junior helpfully, not at all fazed by the seemingly ridiculousness of the statement given they were currently on a starship in the Delta Quadrant.
"I do not want to know how either of you have first-hand experience of my mother's brownies..." warned Kathryn, glaring at the two boys (for that was the best way to describe them currently) and knowing that she really didn't want to know the answer as it almost certainly involved temporal mechanics of sufficient complexity to induce a month long migraine.
"Sorry Aunt Kathy..." apologised Junior, looking suitably chastened.
"Captain, can we return to the matter at hand?" asked Kathryn archly, feeling a little guilty when Eric too looked chastened. It wasn't that she wasn't enjoying this impromptu and eclectic family reunion, but she couldn't help feel that a seemingly sensor defying armada of Borg vessels chanting her name heading straight for them was a little bit of a mood dampener.
"My apologies Admiral."
"I presume that the Continuum know you are here?" asked Kathryn, impressed with the sudden sobering of the young Q's features as he focussed on business.
"Yes Aunt Kathy, I mean Admiral..." stammered the suddenly nervous omnipotent, triggering a questioning look from Kathryn encouraging him to explain a little more, "...I am here as an official representative of the Continuum and was under strict instructions not to call you Aunt Kathy, Aunt Kathy... I mean Admiral."
"Why are the Continuum suddenly interested in the Borg?" she asked, waving away his protestations about what to call her.
"Because it is time to shut down our experiment," came the quiet admission.
"Your experiment?" asked Kathryn deceptively calmly.
"Yes, well, the Continuum's experiment... I don't really understand all the story Aunt Kathy..."
"Can you explain the bit you do understand then?" she asked kindly, recognising the genuine confusion in his eyes and, unlike Eric who was now looking rather startled (trust the Continuum to be the one thing in the universe that could still surprise the Time Corps), not in the least surprised that, for a seemingly omnipotent being, he didn't know everything: like any species and culture, the Continuum was prone to disagreement, secrecy and poor decision making, something she had experienced first-hand when having to negotiate a peace some years earlier.
Looking relieved that she wasn't angry with him, Junior flopped onto the couch and, looking exactly like a worn out cadet, despite the Commander's uniform he was currently sporting and began his story, oblivious to the chaos his presence was causing on the Bridge.
"What is it Frel?" asked Harry, one foot into the conference room, wondering what could be causing the normally unflappable Vulcan to sound positively agitated.
"The Ready Room's disappeared."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Harry, willing himself to stay calm before turning away from the conference room and crossing to the Bridge Tactical station to see what the issue was. Even by Delta Quadrant standards, this was starting to become a rather random day, unless... "Kim to Admiral Janeway..." he hailed, waiting for the response. There was none, although he thought he could hear his entire Senior Staff's hearts pounding with terror as they followed him back onto the Bridge: surely the Borg hadn't managed to snatch Admiral Janeway already, had they?
"It would appear that we've got another visitor Jake..." observed Harry thoughtfully, running yet more sensor sweeps he'd foolishly thought he'd never have to run again, aware that Seven was standing by the Ready Room door doing an impressive imitation of a statue, but Harry knew she was extending every enhanced sense she possessed to try to determine what might be happening on the other side of the door.
"Visitor, in the Ready Room?" asked Jake, unable to prevent the briefest flash of an accusatory glance cross his face as he looked towards Tactical.
"Don't be so hard on Frel... there's nothing we can do..." explained Harry, looking across to Seven for confirmation which he got in the form of a nearly undetectable nod.
"I don't understand..."
"Fortunately Commander, that doesn't stop us having a plan," retorted Admiral Janeway as she stepped onto the Bridge trailed by a rather exhausted looking Captain Andrews and young looking man wearing a Commander's uniform.
"Junior, I trust you are here to help?" asked the blonde harshly.
"Yes Aunt Seven..."
"Good. It is time the Continuum took responsibility for their actions."
"Admiral?" asked Harry cautiously, uncertain what to do next, or what Seven was talking about, although the hostility was hardly surprising given their history, although the 'aunt' modifier to her name was new, at least to Harry's ears, nevermind the rest of his Bridge Crew and Senior Staff.
"You said something about a message?" asked Kathryn, taking him by the arm and leading him back into the conference room whilst shooting a 'behave' glare at Seven, although she would be revisiting Seven's seemingly prior knowledge of what she herself had just learnt at a later, less explosive moment.
"Yes Ma'am!" and for once, he didn't get a comment about the use of the hated title as, after what she'd heard in the last 3 hours from Q thanks to Q stopping time in the Ready Room, even the most modest and self-depreciating Admiral had to agree with what history would record: this was definitely crunch time!
"Now that we know who everyone is..." began Admiral Janeway, returning to stand behind the chair at the head of the table which, in the last 24 hours had apparently become hers, "...perhaps we could start with learning what the second message is?" she suggested, gesturing towards Harry and Seven who immediately took the hint and stood, heading for the display panel at the side of the room.
"Of course Admiral..." began Seven smoothly as Harry started pulling up files ready to begin the explanation, "...do you consider how we deciphered the second message and the manner in which it was transmitted to be relevant at this time?" causing Harry to look at her in slight surprise - since when had Seven ever considered technical discovery to not be relevant?
"Not right now Seven, thank you..." decided the Admiral, struggling to conceal the smile that Harry's look had caused - just as Harry and Kathryn had developed in the past few years since their return to the Alpha Quadrant, so too had Seven, with literally thousands of technical briefings to all levels of the Federation making her develop a presentation style and an awareness of her audience's technical competency.
"Very well. Captain?" and, nodding to Harry, Seven let him take up the explanation.
"The first message was transmitted by what we assume to be the lead vessel in the standard Borg way of an open broadcast across all frequencies."
"Why could only Seven hear it?" asked Dr Lourdon.
"My cortical node is attuned to a particular frequency which is used by the Borg to communicate with each other and has a much greater sensor range than the Voyager sensors."
"Why can we not have the ship's sensors covering the same range as your cortical node?" asked Hakmens, not liking the inference that her ship could not 'out-see' one individual, even if they were an extremely technologically advanced individual.
"Power consumption - Seven's node is focussed on one single frequency and can channel all power to that, whereas the Ship's sensors are focussed on all frequencies - to expand the ship's sensors to the range of the cortical node across all frequencies would impact our ability to run other systems, including propulsion," explained Harry, keeping one eye on the Admiral to see when she had had enough of his crew's discussion about the prosaic details of space communication.
"But we managed to pick up the message through Voyager once Seven had heard it..." pondered Jake.
"Once we knew that there was something worth listening to on a particular frequency, we can extend the sensor's range on that particular frequency without adversely impacting our power consumption. We can boost the ship's sensors on a certain number of specific frequencies but as a matter of routine, Starfleet feels that it is more appropriate to have the sensors operating across the full broadcast spectrum at a 'medium' range, rather than to focus on a small number of frequencies at a massive range..." explained Harry, conscious he was perhaps cutting across his Ops officer but deciding not to worry about that for now.
"And the first message was what, exactly?" asked Janeway, re-joining the conversation easily. With a quick instruction to the computer, Seven soon had the immediately recognisable sound of the Borg's 'voice' filling the conference room.
"Vessels of the Federation, you hold Kathryn Janeway... You will not resist our wish... The Borg require Kathryn Janeway to join us, to bring chaos to order we must have her, you will not resist..."
"Thank you." said Janeway quietly, encouraging Seven to terminate the broadcast - not wishing or needing to hear that again.
"Do we know what they want you for?" asked Commander Jackson nervously, wondering if the arrival of their two guests had enabled any light to be shed on the meaning of the message.
"Either to make me Queen or kill me. The original message they were broadcasting makes me favour assimilation and absolute power," joked Kathryn wryly, wishing for a cup of coffee and somehow, not at all surprised when one appeared right in front of her.
"What was..." Loquat found himself speechless.
"Junior..." she growled, taking the cup but at the same time shooting a warning look at her 'nephew'.
"Junior, apologise for startling the crew..." said Kathryn, "...and for reading my mind, again..." she muttered, knowing only Seven and Junior would actually be able to hear what she was saying.
"I'm sorry - Aunt Kathy, umm, Admiral Janeway did make me promise to 'leave my tricks' at the door," explained Junior sheepishly, sinking back into his chair.
"Not to worry Junior... you mentioned an original message Admiral?" asked Harry, returning them all to their original topic of conversation.
"Starfleet intercepted some broadcasts between Borg ships some months ago, before Voyager had left dry-dock. One of the broadcasts was 'Find Captain Janeway...bring chaos to order.'"
"When did that become their catch-phrase?" asked Captain Andrews, not remembering it from any of his Academy classes on the Borg.
"Admiral Janeway, the future Admiral Janeway, used it to taunt the Borg Queen as the neurolytic pathogen took affect..." began Janeway, only for Seven to interrupt,
"It was the mantra of the first Queen; it existed in the minds of the Borg drones long before I was assimilated."
"It was us," came the quiet admission from Junior, stunning everyone into silence, eventually broken by Janeway.
"It would appear that the Borg were originally created by the Continuum as an experiment into the evolution of inorganic intelligence and autonomy." Before anyone could formalise their protest or shock, she held up a hand to silence them all, "...It is not our place to judge the actions taken by the Continuum many centuries ago. As omnipotent beings whose influence and concept of time are vastly different to ours, it is not our place to challenge or question the decisions that were taken a long time ago by Junior's relatives. Suffice to say, the Continuum have taken a decision that it is time for the experiment to end, and to that end, Junior is here to assist."
"What do you mean, the experiment to end?" asked Jess, not liking what it implied.
"The Council of the Continuum have decided that the original purpose of the experiment has been completed and therefore, it is time to end the experiment... it is time to get rid of the Borg from the Universe," said Junior, sure his father could have made it sound far more pompous.
"Why now? Why not before?" asked Harry, thinking of all the species that had been eradicated, all the individuals lost.
"Because the Borg have deviated from their original purpose - they have become vengeful."
"The original experiment was to see if artificial intelligence could form an autonomous society, develop and advance through the acquisition of knowledge towards an agreed objective..."
"Perfection - what is Omega?" asked Seven, wondering for the first time if the Omega particle served a purpose beyond being a tangible representation of the elusive perfection.
"The Omega Molecule is what is bonded to a humanoid's DNA to make them a Q... it is Q..."
"The Borg were created to find Omega because the Q were dying?" speculated Dr Lourdon, beginning to understand.
"Yes - without Omega, the Council did not believe the Q could be sustained... until I was born that is..."
"So now the Q don't need Omega to continue to exist you're just going to terminate the hunting party?" asked Loquat gruffly.
"No - the need for the Borg as a 'hunting' party ended some years ago, but we didn't want to just terminate them."
"Why not?" asked Harry, remembering the occasions he'd previously considered the Q to be rather callous in their regard for individual humanoids.
"Having seen Seven regain her individuality, the Continuum decided to give the rest of the Borg the chance to have that opportunity..."
"We, Voyager and the Admiral were part of your plan?" asked Harry, suddenly finding a number of things slot into place.
"How?" asked Seven, focussed on Junior who was now starting to wilt a little under the scrutiny: he may be an all-powerful immortal omnipotent, but he did only have twenty years or so of experience...
"It would appear," began Janeway, taking pity on her 'nephews' and feeling like the short version of the story might be appropriate, "that a Q went and visited Starfleet several hundred years in the future and requested that a blind eye be turned to any attempt a future version of me might make in returning to the past to bring Voyager home, as they knew it would result in the destruction of the Borg Queen."
"Which explains why there were no questions about the Temporal Prime Directive when we returned," stated Harry, recalling his debriefings.
"Correct. The Continuum's hypothesis was that with the removal of the controlling influence of the Queen, the Borg neural network would break down and independent colonies of independent ex-drones would develop as we had seen in the Delta Quadrant already."
"But that has not happened."
"No - it would appear that the Borg have re-formed, either as a true collective consciousness or under the leadership of a single, new Queen. Whatever is the controlling influence, that influence has now become vengeful and is aggressively pursuing Admiral Janeway. That is unacceptable." stated Junior forcefully.
"Agreed," said Seven, Eric and Harry simultaneously, not to anyone's real surprise.
"So we destroy the Borg?" asked Loquat finally, already thinking of battle strategies - today, after all, was turning out to be a good day to die.
"Apparently so..." agreed Janeway, "...although today is an extremely poor day to die Loquat," she added pointedly, causing him to school his features into what he hoped was a suitably neutral expression.
"How can we be sure that we've destroyed all of them?" asked Jess, finding she was able to rationalise the situation as long as she regarded being Borg as an aggressive viral infection for which there was, despite the evidence of Seven, no apparent cure.
"The Continuum has been searching the universe for any Borg vessels and ushering them into this fleet that was already formed and routed to approach these co-ordinates."
"Do we know how we are going to destroy them?" asked Jake, not wanting to explicitly ask if there was a plan because he feared the answer would be 'no'.
"Same way as last time..." decided Janeway, looking at Harry and Seven.
"And that was?" asked Hakmens, not recalling the released reports about Voyager's return being particularly clear on most of the details.
"Ultimately, few well-placed torpedoes and a lot of luck..." said Harry, recalling those final few seconds when they were travelling through the collapsing Borg conduit inside a Borg sphere.
"What was the second message Seven?" asked Kathryn suddenly, returning to the meeting's original purpose.
"You will not like it Admiral..."
"I'll be the judge of that Seven, play it please."
"Seven of Nine as your Queen I require your return; you will assimilate Kathryn Janeway and add her uniqueness to our Collective."
"It would appear the Queen is still alive..." said Harry thoughtfully, wondering how his friends would react to that latest message.
"And as irritating as ever. Do we know which ship this Queen is on?"
"Good - Seven, I don't want you anywhere near it. She is not getting you."
"Of course not Admiral, thank you." It was clear to Harry and Kathryn that she wanted to say more but, for whatever reason, elected not to at that moment.
"I understand you brought a plan with you?"
"Since I'd prefer not to be assimilated today...care to share?"
It did not take long for the Senior Staff, with the assistance of Junior and Seven, to refine Captain Andrews' plan to destroy the Borg once and for all. What took a little longer was deciding how and who would successfully retrieve the data nodes from the dominant sphere that appeared to be coordinating the broadcasting of the messages. Eventually however, a plan was in place that was the least unacceptable to all and, at Admiral Janeway's dismissal, saw everyone leave the conference room apart from Seven.
"I formally request that you assign me to the Brig, Admiral."
"What? Darling, why?" asked Kathryn, confused.
"I do not wish to assimilate you Kathryn..." explained Seven tearfully, her hands clasped firmly behind her back, out of view, meaning that Kathryn could not see how tightly the blonde was grasping her left wrist with her right hand.
"You won't darling..." decided Kathryn, crossing the conference room so she was standing right in front of Seven, enabling her to place her hand over Seven's heart, "...this won't let you..." she explained.
"I'm scared Kathryn..." admitted Seven quietly, leaning into her lover but still refusing to release her hold on her left hand.
"Of the Queen?"
"Of myself, what I might still be able to do if the Queen wishes it..." explained Seven softly, extending her right hand tentatively so that she could trace the outline of her lover's cheekbone, her left hand clenching into a tight fist in the small of her back.
"Seven..." whispered Kathryn, covering Seven's right hand with her own before threading their fingers together as she reached behind Seven for her Borg enhanced left hand, "...let me hold your left hand Darling..." she requested when she realised that Seven kept manoeuvring her left hand just out of Kathryn's blind grasp.
"No Kathryn, I might damage you..." protested Seven, tears starting to form in her eyes.
"Do you want to damage me?" asked Kathryn, taking half a step back so that she could more easily focus on Seven's eyes, recognising from the language Seven was using that now she needed to draw Seven out of where she was using logic first and love second, not the other way around.
"No! I could never hurt you..." began Seven instinctively.
"Why?" asked Kathryn carefully, easing Seven half a step backwards so she was now instinctively perched on the edge of the conference table in a position that, over the years, had become familiar to the couple as it brought Seven's face down to a level much nearer to Kathryn's own.
"Because you are Kathryn, the person I love more than anything else in the Universe," declared Seven earnestly.
"More than the quest to find Omega and Perfection?" asked Kathryn quietly, not relinquishing her hold of Seven's right hand.
"You are Omega... I have found Perfection."
"Did you feel that about me when we were last both visiting the Borg Queen?" asked Kathryn, willing her own eyes not to water at Seven's quietly passionate confession.
"When she ordered me to kill you?" asked Seven, recalling the scene in perfect detail thanks to the eidetic memory her cortical node gave her.
"No... at least, I did not consciously know that about you Kathryn," explained Seven, unwilling to admit that she might, had she understood what her human systems had been trying to tell her, she might have known consciously at that point too. That it took so long into their friendship for Seven to work out that what she was feeling towards Kathryn was not only far more significant than simple friendship, but that it was reciprocated was still an inefficiency that rankled with her.
"And yet you did not follow through with the Borg Queen's demand, did you?"
"No..." agreed Seven cautiously, recalling how, instead of immobilising Janeway and then assimilating her as ordered, she had disabled the Borg Queen and assisted Janeway in her escape.
"Why did you damage the Borg Queen and not me?"
"Because I could not hurt you... I have never been able to hurt you Kathryn..." came the quiet admission as the tears began to fall freely, forcing Seven to unclench her left hand as she automatically went to wipe her eyes, only to have her hand caught by Kathryn.
"Never?" asked Kathryn, surprised at the firmness with Seven's quiet comment had been made.
"Remember the first time we were alone?" asked Seven tentatively, a half smile shadowing her tear stained face.
"In the Brig? You threatened to kill me if I crossed the force-field..."
"But you came in anyway..."
"Yes, I did, and you didn't hurt me,"
"It was an 'empty threat'," explained Seven, concerned that she was making Kathryn cry.
"Do you see why I'm not going to worry about you hurting me darling?" asked Kathryn, taking half a step forward again so that she was standing between Seven's feet, so close she had to let go of Seven's hands, hands which instinctively circled around Kathryn's waist so that she was then held in a gentle embrace.
"The Queen is not an empty threat...." muttered Seven as Kathryn wiped away the tears from her cheekbones before gently caressing the implants that she still sported around her left eye and along her jaw.
"But neither is your conscious refusal to obey her... if you could resist the last time we were out in this infernal Quadrant..."
"...then I can resist again Kathryn..." agreed Seven finally, accepting the logical explanation that her lover had presented and confirming it with an emotional response by pressing a tender kiss to Kathryn's lips, a kiss that was immediately reciprocated by the Admiral who couldn't help but smile as she felt Seven pull their bodies closer until they were sharing what could only be described as an extremely passionate embrace that was finally, reluctantly terminated by Kathryn.
"I don't have your lung capacity darling..." came the husky response which only served to do even more interesting things to Seven's already aroused insides.
"Mr Kim is probably wondering what we are discussing..." mused Seven thoughtfully, unwilling to release Kathryn from her embrace.
"Not if he values his pips he isn't..." muttered Kathryn.
"What are they talking about I wonder?" asked Junior, quickly becoming bored of just waiting quietly on the Bridge but, unlike everyone else present, not sufficiently intimidated by Starfleet Rank to not verbalise what everyone was thinking.
"Things that don't affect us," declared Harry firmly from his seat in the command chair, his attention focussed on the various data streams his Senior Staff were sending him.
"Boring!" exclaimed Junior, jumping up from his seat on the steps between the two levels of the Bridge, obviously intending to start to cause mischief, only to be firmly sat down again by his 'cousin' Eric.
"Man, you do not want to make her mad, do you?" asked Captain Andrews, fixing a knowing look on the omnipotent, suggesting, thought Jake, that the two men knew each other far better than they'd previously let on.
"But I'm bored...."
"Then go run around the hull for five minutes," suggested Eric kindly, not letting go of Junior's shoulder until he felt the nervous tension dissipate.
"I'm just not very good at waiting around..."
"Then why don't you go and ask Aunt G for a really big batch of some caramel brownies?"
"Ok!" and, with a flash of light, Junior was gone.
"Captain?" asked Jake cautiously of Eric, his own Captain seemingly uninterested in what had just happened.
"It will keep him out of mischief for twenty minutes or so..." explained Eric as if that made everything make perfect sense.
"Aunt G's caramel brownies? As in..." before Jake could finish his sentence, the conference room doors opened and Janeway and Seven appeared, all traces of their emotional interlude completely eradicated from their faces.
"As in the caramel brownies my mother makes. Eric, did you really send Junior all the way back to Indiana to get my mother to bake you some caramel brownies?" asked Janeway, having been kept appraised of what the Bridge conversation was all about by Seven whilst they tidied themselves up.
"He was beginning to fidget..." came the sheepish explanation from the Timeship Captain as everyone else, except Harry, pulled themselves to attention.
"I presume that he already knows my mother?" asked Janeway, trying not to think how many temporal laws were currently being broken in this particular conversation, never mind mission!
"Yes, at least..." Eric paused whilst he worked a couple of things out, "...he will do, so I presume he's visiting her in the future rather than now, if you see what I mean?"
"Regrettably, I do.... why exactly did you feel such a drastic suggestion was necessary?" asked Kathryn, absently wondering what the rest of the Bridge Crew thought of this conversation but actually far more interested in what was making Harry start to frown.
"He was getting bored and I wasn't going to let him interrupt you..."
"I am certain that your Mother is equal to the task and that Captain Andrews would not have done anything to jeopardise her safety, correct?" asked Seven, fixing a steely gaze on her 'nephew'.
"Absolutely Ma'am, I mean Seven...." stumbled Eric, suddenly feeling like a rather green cadet and extremely glad that this was conversation was not taking place on his own Bridge in front of his crew.
"Glad that's settled then... Harry?" asked Kathryn, turning her attention to the other Captain on Voyager's Bridge.
"How's it looking?" asked Kathryn, gesturing towards the data console that had been holding his attention for the last few minutes.
"There are a couple of points I would like to go over with you and Seven Ma'am, but apart from that..." Harry trailed off, not entirely certain what should happen next, but was fortunately saved by Captain Andrews.
"...with your permission Admiral, I will return to the Quantum and brief my Senior Staff on the current plan."
"Permission Granted Captain... Mr Kim?"
"Ensign, lock onto Captain Andrews and prepare to transport to the Bridge of the USS Quantum on his mark," instructed Harry before, with a final nod to Captain Andrews, turning his attention to the padd onto which Jake had downloaded everything he had been studying.
"Yes Mr Kim?"
"Would you and Seven like to join me in my Ready Room?" asked Harry respectfully, hoping that they would agree without any debate.
"Lead the way Captain..." encouraged Kathryn before, with a half grin at the bemused First Officer, she and Seven turned and followed Harry into the Ready Room.
"Please..." agreed Kathryn, taking a seat on the ready room couch, waiting for Harry to finish acting as host.
"Peppermint tea please Mr Kim," came the prompt response as the composed blonde crossed to take both Kathryn's coffee and her own china cup back towards the couch. Once they were finally all established, Harry cleared his throat and broke the silence.
"Admiral, I'm not entirely comfortable with some of the plan..."
"Go on Harry..." encouraged Kathryn, not at all surprised. As plans went, it was not the most risk free or comprehensive that she'd ever been party to.
"I'm not sure where to start Admiral..." began Harry, only to realise that that probably wasn't what she wanted to hear, before continuing, "I think my questions are in three main groups."
"Only three? Pick a group and start there..." encouraged Kathryn, genuinely surprised that he was preparing to restrict his objections to just three themes.
"Survivors - Admiral, as far as I can see, this plan's key objective is to destroy the Borg Queen and all her infrastructure once and for all, including all the drones."
"Yes Mr Kim, that is the plan," agreed Kathryn, taking a sip of her coffee, already knowing what he was going to say next.
"What about the individuals who existed before being assimilated? Why aren't we doing something to save them?" he asked, unable to avoid a quick glance at Seven as he spoke, inadvertently lending an air of accusation to his question.
"You mean," suggested Kathryn in a hard voice, "...why am I not arguing for the Queen to be removed in such a way as to allow as many drones as possible the opportunity to regain their pre-assimilation individuality like I did for Seven, and why I'm potentially denying so many the opportunity to find the happiness I've found?" she finished bitterly, earning her a concerned look from Seven, who was starting to worry that her lover was going to bear all of this too squarely on her own shoulders.
"Why can't we save some of them?" asked Harry, revealing that a hint of the idealistic young ensign still remained all these years later.
"You mean like we planned to the last time?" asked Kathryn bitterly, referring to their grand return to the Alpha Quadrant aided by what was supposed to be the ultimate neurolytic pathogen capable of destroying all Borg sharing a neural connection with the Queen.
"But..." Deflated, Harry's argument suddenly ran out of words, only for Seven, surprisingly, to take up the conversation.
"Mr Kim, ever since the threat of the Borg Queen was rediscovered, what to do with the individuals that the drones could become has been one of the key points of debate. I have learnt about hypocrisy and double standards during these debates," continued Seven, her tone of voice suggesting that she really didn't appreciate these new aspects of humanity.
"I found myself arguing against my own existence Mr Kim."
"But..." Harry was confused.
"Icheb and I appear to be the exception that proves the rule," explained Seven sadly, recalling her fellow ex-Borg who had returned to the Alpha Quadrant with Voyager.
"Once a Borg, always a Borg."
"You can't mean that Seven!" exclaimed Harry, looking to Janeway for support.
"She did say she was the exception that proved the rule Harry..." reminded Kathryn gently, wanting to hold her crumpled lover's hand but knowing that right now, such tenderness would not be appreciated.
"I don't understand..."
"Harry, the scans undertaken by the Continuum confirm that, regrettably, all the known Delta Quadrant independent Borg colonies have been reabsorbed by this Borg Fleet; they have been seduced by the latest Siren's song," explained Kathryn, wondering if Harry had ever read Homer.
"But they were not part of the Borg - they survived the pathogen!"
"Not separate enough it would seem: this latest attempt by the current 'Queen' has been sufficiently powerful to overwhelm their individuality; those that did manage to resist the call in their own right were assimilated by their friends and family members who could not resist the call," explained Kathryn, watching as Harry began to understand the significance of the situation.
"Icheb cannot be 'called' because he no longer has a neural transceiver in his cortical node..." Harry's mutterings were almost too quiet to be heard as he worked through the situation, "...but Seven..." in horror at what he'd realised, Harry looked at Seven with concern, although to Kathryn's intense relief, there was no fear in his expression, only concern.
"You are correct Mr Kim, I still have the necessary implants to both hear the Queen's instruction and to assimilate Admiral Janeway."
"But you are the exception that proves the rule..." decided Harry, absolutely certain he now understood what Seven and Janeway had been talking about in the Conference Room after everyone else had left, and equally certain that he did not want to accuse Seven of being a security risk to the Admiral.
"It is the only acceptable explanation," agreed Seven with more determination that Harry thought he had ever seen the blonde show.
"It has been confirmed by both Captain Andrews and Junior that if we try to do anything different, the future timelines just see a repeat - as long as there is some Borg infrastructure for a dominant voice to turn into a hive mind, the Queen will recreate," explained Kathryn, not happy with what the temporal evidence was showing, but recognising when even she was beaten.
"Understood..." agreed Harry finally, recognising that once again the Universe was asking Kathryn Janeway to take the tough decision, knowing that she would never bear the consequences of that decision lightly, but also recognising that she was one of the few people in the Universe who would consider the total destruction of the Borg as a sacrifice of potential individuals, with the overwhelming majority of the universe seeing the Borg as nothing more than a mechanistic threat that deserved to be neutralised.
"You said you had three groups of questions...." reminded Kathryn once she'd drained her coffee cup and returned it to the table.
"The Away Team..."
"You don't want me to go..." interrupted Kathryn.
"I don't want you going without me..." countered Harry, briefly enjoying the fleeting look of surprise that crossed the Admiral's face at the same time as a what he was certain was a look of near irritation cross Seven's. Evidentially, she was not happy with the Admiral going onto the Borg Sphere and had been anticipating an ally in him.
"I'd have expected you to argue that it was too dangerous for me to be on the away team..."
"Why? It never worked when Tuvok tried and I happen to agree with your reasoning. It is also naive to expect that we will be able to access the inner sanctum without some resistance unless you are there."
"So I'm your 'open sesame'?" asked Kathryn, reasonably confident that Harry would get the joke.
"Something like that," agreed Harry, "...but I'm coming with you."
"Why? I've got Loquat and his best team with me, apparently."
"None of whom have ever been on a Borg Vessel. I'm coming with you Admiral."
There was a long pause during which Seven watched the two former shipmates size each other up and conduct a silent battle of wills before finally, much to Seven's relief, she saw Kathryn acquiesce,
"Very well Harry, I take your point."
"Mr Kim, I am accompanying you on this task."
"Admiral, it is logical that I should accompany you just as it is logical for Mr Kim to accompany you."
"On what grounds?" asked Kathryn, unsurprised that Seven objected to the original proposal to exclude her from the away team.
"It is unknown exactly how this new Queen has obtained her position of control; it is likely that the layout of her central chamber will be not identical to the ones that you and Mr Kim have experienced. As a result, you will require my ability to understand Borg technology to identify exactly what is necessary to do in order to destroy the Queen sufficiently to enable the Continuum to remove the threat completely."
"And if I object?" asked Kathryn, knowing that she couldn't, as Seven was absolutely right. Unless the central chamber was an exact replica of the previous Queen's abodes, even with Harry's assistance, they would be struggling to identify all the components and keep ahead of whatever 'delights' the Queen would no doubt be threatening and tormenting them with.
"Then I risk not being the exception to the rule," explained Seven succinctly, not feeling that she needed to explain herself any further. As far as she was concerned, it was simple - as long as she was with Kathryn, then her human consciousness' need to love and protect her would supersede anything that a Borg communication might try to induce her to do.
"So that's settled then?" asked Harry, not wanting to risk another debate starting.
"It would appear so...the three of us and Loquat will deal with the Queen. Now, what was your third group of questions about Harry?" asked Kathryn, wanting to get this meeting finished as quickly as possible.
"It's actually Dr Lourdon's question..."
"She is concerned about the timing of this away mission in relation to..." Harry paused, not actually sure he could bring himself to say what it was that Jess had identified as a very real and lethal risk.
"To the next time I must give Kathryn some nanoprobes," said Seven, deciding that she was sitting too far away from Kathryn for this final section of their impromptu meeting.
"Her concern is noted, but there is nothing that can be done, not even by the Q..." explained Kathryn quietly, grasping Seven's left hand and instinctively running her index finger over the intricate metallic tendrils in what had, over the years, become a grounding gesture for her as she drew strength from the very thing that enabled her to still be alive.
"Nothing?" asked Harry, not believing his former Captain. Surely there was something that could be done?
"In 4 hours and 31 minutes, the lesions will start to form on my brain stem. There is then a four hour window during which, while the lesions are developing, Seven's nanoprobes can remove them."
"Can you not give the Admiral the nanoprobes sooner?"
"No - they would attack her brain stem and not the lesions, which is unacceptable," declared Seven resolutely.
"And we can't store them in stasis before you need them?"
"No, they need Seven's cortical node to control them at all times..." explained Kathryn, suddenly realising what she'd said.
"I don't understand..." admitted Harry, acutely embarrassed that he was even having to learn this much about what was obviously a very private and dangerous condition that his friends had to live with.
"The lesions grow at different rates each time - Seven cannot pre-programme her nanoprobes to attack the lesion and then deactivate after a particular time has elapsed. The only way to control the nanoprobes so that they attack only the lesions and not my brain stem is if a direct connection is maintained between the nanoprobes and Seven's cortical node..." Kathryn trailed off, not sure how much detail about Borg neurology Harry had recalled.
"Meaning that you can only receive the nanoprobes directly from Seven... how long does this take?" asked Harry, finally realising the full horror of the risk that Janeway was facing.
"It usually takes about 45 minutes from when I first give Kathryn the nanoprobes..." explained Seven, hoping that Harry wouldn't need her to explicitly say that, for those 45 minutes, she had to have her assimilation tubules fully embedded into her lover's brain stem so as to be able to assess how the nanoprobes were progressing and terminate them once their vital deed was done. To say that it was not a transferable treatment was an understatement, as Beverley Crusher had discovered when she had first witnessed Kathryn receiving it.
"So we have to have neutralised the Borg, got you both back to the ship without any injury or need to regenerate and make sure that the ship can be brought to an all stop and able to defend itself all within the next 4 hours and...?"
"26 minutes," prompted Seven in response to Harry's unspoken request.
"4 hours and 26 minutes?"
"Yup." It wasn't particularly Admiral-esque, but Kathryn really couldn't think of anything else to say....
"Actually, that is incorrect," began Seven, earning her a surprised look from Harry.
"It is?" he asked, having been fairly confident that he'd summarised the 'Doomsday' scenario reasonably succinctly.
"Technically, although it is 4 hours and 25 minutes until the lesions start forming, there are a further 3 hours, approximately, until Kathryn must receive the nanoprobes," explained Seven, not recognising what was wrong with her factually accurate statement, although the sudden tightening of Kathryn's fingers around her left hand indicated she had misspoken in some way.
"I think Seven, I would prefer it if we could plan to have you both back on board and Voyager in quiet space before the absolute deadline," explained Harry carefully, recognising the absolute accuracy of Seven's statement but also picking up on the unease that Kathryn Janeway was showing, something Harry wasn't certain he would have ever thought he was going to see.
"I understand Mr Kim, as would I," agreed Seven, recognising the 'contingency' that was being identified as needed.
"Any other questions Harry?" asked Kathryn, only belatedly realising that she probably couldn't dismiss Harry from his own Ready Room.
"What time would you like the Senior Staff to meet in the Conference Room?" he asked practically, knowing that, for his staff at least, the time would be far too soon but for Kathryn and Seven, it was going to feel a lifetime away.
"Computer, state time to Borg Fleet intercept?" asked the Admiral, rising smoothly to her feet.
"Intercept at current co-ordinates will occur in 2.75 hours."
"In that case, reconvene in 2 hours Mr Kim?"
"Yes Ma'am!" And, on that vaguely optimistic note, with a nod of dismissal, Kathryn left the Ready Room intent on proceeding to her quarters, Seven following in her wake.
"Kathryn?" called out Seven, entering the Admiral's quarters a few minutes later, having first detoured via her own quarters to collect the necessary clothes and equipment that she needed for the away mission.
"In here..." called out Kathryn, knowing that Seven's acute hearing would have picked up on the sound of the water cascading from her shoulders as she pushed herself into more of an upright position within the extremely luxurious bath tub.
"May I join you?" asked Seven uncertainly, hovering in the doorway, slightly concerned to see her lover in the bath for the second time in a matter of hours, suggesting that this was not a bath needed for cleansing.
"You need ask?" asked Kathryn, concerned at her lover's sudden caution.
"You say you do your best thinking in the bath," explained Seven, her brow furrowing in concern, remembering the off-quoted statement from her lover.
"Get in the bath with me?" asked Kathryn almost plaintively, disinclined to try and 'logic' her lover into the bath with her.
"Your shoulders are tense," observed Seven when, moments later, she was sitting in the bath behind her lover.
"You do state the obvious at times darling...." commented Kathryn dryly, immediately grateful when Seven gently placed her hands on those same tight shoulders and started a tender massage which, combined with the warmth from the water, meant she did actually start to feel 'human' once more.
"You will succeed with this plan Kathryn," declared Seven quietly, confirming the statement with a kiss pressed to her lover's neck.
"You sound so confident..."
"Of course - resistance is futile," teased Seven gently, starting to increase the pressure of her massage as she felt Kathryn's neck and shoulder muscles start to yield.
"Do you really believe that?" asked Kathryn, relaxing back against Seven, making the massage impossible, forcing Seven to gather her into a determined embrace.
"Yes Kathryn, I do. You have taken on the Borg before and won, why would it be any different this time?"
"Because.... because I'm..." Tears began to form in Kathryn's eyes as she tried to articulate what felt different this time.
"Because you do not feel invincible anymore?" guessed Seven, understanding more than most what it felt like to have a vulnerability identified. Strong and quick as she was when compared against standard humans, she was extremely conscious that she was no longer as strong or quick as she was when fully Borg or even when she retained a greater number of her implants. It was not difficult therefore, to understand the impact that the lesions would have on Kathryn's mind-set as, now, instead of just having to focus on defeating the Borg, they had the added challenge of needing to defeat the Borg on a timetable.
"Apparently not," agreed Kathryn dryly, attempting to regain her composure.
"You will prevail Kathryn," declared Seven with absolute conviction.
"How can you be so certain?" came the cautious response, a response which would surprise many who, based on the news reports, no doubt assumed that Kathryn Janeway was some nerveless hero who never had a second thought or doubt about what she was doing.
"Because you are you," began Seven, somewhat irrationally, "and because the Universe requires you to succeed..."
"No pressure then..." muttered Kathryn sarcastically, before deciding to stop 'borrowing trouble' and instead concentrate on living for the moment, which right now, meant relaxing and enjoying her bath with Seven for as many minutes as she could.
"Sir?" asked Jake, finally deciding that someone needed to try and rouse Harry from his pacing around the conference room and that no one else was going to risk it.
"Is there any way we can speed up the plan?" asked Harry finally, looking to Hakmens, his Chief Engineer.
"In just over one hour we will regroup here for the final briefing with Admiral Janeway before the away mission begins. Is there any way we can speed up the duration of the away mission?" repeated Harry, wondering why his Senior Staff were struggling with the question.
"I thought we had identified the most appropriate method for extracting the data nodes and destroying the Borg Sir," explained Jake, not quite understanding what Harry's concern was.
"But is it the fastest?" challenged Harry, coming to a stop behind his chair again and staring at his staff.
"We didn't look to find the fastest Captain," began Hakmens, her voice sounding as near to perplexed as a Vulcan ever got.
"What could we do differently that would make it faster?" asked Harry, looking towards Jess Lourdon in the hope that she could get what his point was.
"Why does it need to be faster?" asked Loquat, his already furrowed Klingon brow furrowing further as he tried to comprehend what his Captain was asking for - it wasn't standard Starfleet strategy to select a tactical approach based solely on speed.
"Could we complete the mission in 80 minutes?" asked Jess, suddenly understanding what Harry was thinking, having quickly worked out the timings.
"We anticipate that it will take 60 minutes to isolate and transfer all of the data nodes," began Hakmens, only for Harry to interrupt,
"That's not the answer to my question."
"With respect Captain, what is your question?" asked Jake, sensing the subtle tensing of Hakmens' forearm, the only sign the Vulcan would ever give that the irrational conduct of her Captain was causing issue.
"From the moment of intercept, can we complete the mission in 80 minutes?" asked Harry, focussing on some point in the middle of the room, not seeing his staff but instead picturing all the times that Kathryn Janeway had stepped onto the transporter pad, ready to lead him and the others into unknown adventure.
"Not with our current methods," admitted Hakmens cautiously, recognising however, that logically, it might be possible if the plan was considered with different priorities and assumptions.
"What's stopping us?" asked Harry, nodding his permission to Hakmens and Loquat to get up and stand by the display terminal.
"The data node isolation and recovery will take 60 minutes according to Captain Andrews' simulations, which was confirmed by Seven. It is not possible to shorten it," began Hakmens, preparing to explain why, only for Jake to interrupt,
"What about Junior!"
"What about Junior?" asked Harry, looking in what he hoped was an encouraging way at his First Officer.
"Can he not wink them off the cube or something?" Jake struggled to contain the wince when he heard how imprecise his suggestion sounded as Hakmens and Loquat returned to their seats.
"We cannot risk a Q going onto the Queen's cube," began Loquat, not wishing to imagine what might happen if the Q's distinctiveness was added to the Collective.
"Does he need to be there to do it?" asked Jake, looking to his Captain, who shrugged his shoulders - he'd never understood what the Q could or couldn't do.
"Do I need to be where to do what?" asked Junior, suddenly re-appearing in the conference room.
"Could you remove the data nodes from the Queen's cube without being on the cube?" asked Harry, not at all surprised by the omnipotent's sudden arrival, although the fact that he brought with him a plate of warm caramel brownies did cause him to pause for a moment, before reaching out to take one if they really were Gretchen Janeway's famous recipe, he wasn't even letting impending Armageddon with the Borg stop him sampling them.
"So we take him to the cube and prevent him from being assimilated," concluded Loquat, satisfied that his security teams could defend one being from a Borg assimilation threat.
"No, you misunderstand - I can't do anything...." explained Junior, slumping into a vacant chair.
"What do you mean?" asked Jess sympathetically, sensing the young man's frustration.
"Remember, the Borg are a creation of the Continuum; their existence was an experiment. In order to ensure the validity of the experiment, and stop any Q from influencing the outcome, the Borg were created out of the one material that is immune to the Q's powers; I am no better than a mortal against them..." explained Junior sadly.
"But haven't you... I mean, didn't you..." mumbled Harry, remembering a time long ago, but hoping he could at least now picture it without blushing.
"I removed her clothes and created a perception filter so it looked like I'd removed her implants Harry," explained Junior quickly, knowing exactly what Harry was remembering.
"You did what?" asked Jake, amazed.
"I was causing trouble, making mischief. Not my finest hour, as Dad repeatedly pointed out to me..." 'and I don't even want to think about what Aunt Kathy thought or still thinks,' continued Junior very much to himself.
"No, the perception filter - would that work on the Borg?" asked Jake, seeing an opportunity that would perhaps help them meet their Captain's demanding challenge.
"Don't know, never tried...why?"
"You can fool a ship's sensors, yes?" continued Jake, starting to spin a padd on the table in front of him whilst the pieces fell into place for him.
"Easy..." shrugged Junior.
"What are you thinking Jake?" asked Harry, fixing his gaze on his First Officer in what the rest of the Senior Staff decided was not a bad impression of the Janeway glare.
"We beam the Admiral onto the cube with the expected Security Team - we're expecting the Borg to escort her immediately to the Queen," summarised Jake, knowing that bit was no different to the plan they currently had.
"Go on..." encouraged Harry, not yet seeing what was different.
"Once they're in the Queen's chamber, Junior, could you create a perception filter that made it seem to the Borg that the only people in the chamber were the security team and whatever Borg the Queen would expect?"
"Sure, but I'd need to be in the room."
"Then what?" asked Harry, cutting across Loquat, who was almost certainly about to start objecting to the tactical risk they were taking by allowing a Q into the Queen's chamber.
"Then another team enter the chamber, not visible to the Queen or the Borg and start the data node transfer..." said Jake, trailing off knowing that he couldn't provide any more detailed in terms of explanation.
"I can do that," agreed Junior, "...though what happened to me not going onto a cube at any price?"
"We need a plan that takes 80 minutes," was the only explanation Harry offered.
"Can't I just stop the Universe for you?" asked Junior, wondering why they were on a deadline suddenly.
"That's not an option, unfortunately Junior..." explained Jess sadly, wondering if the young man knew.
"Why not?" asked Junior, frowning as he puzzled the mystery, only for the room to be interrupted again by a flash of light.
"Don't ask questions you don't want to hear the answer to son..."
"Mr Kim, my apologies for being late."
"What are you doing here Dad?" asked Junior, oblivious to the looks of surprise covering nearly every face in the room.
"I'm here to help," came the straightforward response.
"Q..." challenged Harry, almost growling.
"Mr Kim, I assure you, I have even less desire for anything to happen to Kathryn during these next few hours whilst she races against time and generously sorts out the Continuum's acknowledged biggest mistake of all time than you or even Seven of Nine. What you propose is a bold and ambitious plan, which places great faith in a Q's abilities to maintain perception filters for long periods of time. Whilst I have every faith in my son's abilities, two Q's can't hurt, can it?"
"Why is the Admiral racing against time Captain?" asked Jake finally, when it became clear that everyone else was as confused as he was at the direction this conversation was now taking.
"It's not my story to tell Jake..." explained Harry, moving to stare out of the window for a few seconds as he considered what he needed to do next.
"Sir..." began Jess, only to be stalled by her Captain's raised hand, signalling silence as, with his other hand, he tapped his comm badge.
"Kim to Admiral Janeway..."
"What is it Harry?" came the prompt response, at least confirming that he hadn't woken her.
"Q has joined us Admiral."
"Hello Kathryn, I'm here to help," called out the omnipotent seriously.
"Help with what?" asked Kathryn, looking at Seven who was already pinning her hair back up in preparation for returning to the Bridge.
"An 80 minute plan Admiral," stated Harry simply, knowing that even if the Admiral didn't immediately get the significance, Seven would.
"We'll be right with you Captain. Q - do not do ANYTHING, is that clear?" ordered Kathryn, much to the surprise of the Senior Staff.
"As Irish Antique Crystal Admiral," came the unexpected response from the two omnipotents who bashfully sat quietly at the end of the conference table.
"Captain?" asked Jake nervously, not sure whether the Admiral was going to arrive and bust them all down to crewmen before blowing them out of an airlock.
"Q?" asked Harry, looking to the subdued pair at the opposite end of the table.
"Suggest you let her do the talking..."
"You mean yelling?" joked Harry, running his finger around his collar, wondering whether it was possible for it to shrink in size in a matter of seconds.
"Aunt Kathy doesn't yell..."
"Admiral..." began Harry, getting to his feet when the conference room doors opened, only to be stalled by the Admiral's raised hand as she turned on her heel the minute she was through the door and headed to the replicator,
"Coffee, Black," she requested, well aware that, until she acknowledged them, the crew would just have to stand at attention. Uncertain what was about to happen, Seven wisely stood by the empty chair at the end of the table by Junior, waiting to see what her lover did or said next.
"Sit, but sit in total silence," instructed Kathryn finally, not sure whether she was feeling anger or pride at the determined resourcefulness of this unusual crew, "Computer, establish comm link with USS Quantum, Captain Andrews' comm badge, authority Janeway Alpha Delta Nine." Ever obedient, the Voyager computer transmitted the necessary frequencies and suddenly the calm voice of Captain Andrews filled the conference room.
"You hailed Admiral?" asked Eric, even as he was gesturing to his Ops Officer to work out how Janeway had managed to hail his comm badge from Voyager, something which shouldn't have been possible with the Starfleet protocols and technologies available at the time of Voyager's construction.
"Could you please join us in Voyager's conference room Captain? It would appear there's a proposed change to the plan, not to mention caramel brownies." Despite the Admiral's vocabulary, it was clear that this was not a request.
"Permission to transport directly to the conference room Admiral?"
"Granted, energise on your Mark," ordered the Admiral, taking a sip of her coffee whilst she waited for the transporter to deliver him.
"Have a seat Captain," suggested Kathryn in a quiet tone that made it extremely clear it too wasn't actually a suggestion whilst she casually picked up a brownie and bit into it, confirming that yes, they definitely were her mother's recipe.
"Yes Ma'am." Pausing to take another sip of her coffee, Kathryn considered the people sitting around the large table, looking at each of them individually. There were some, like Harry, Seven, Junior and Q whom she'd known for years and others, like the Helm and Ops officer about whom she knew little more than their name and species. The one thing she knew about all of them though, was that, whether she agreed with it or not, they had all decided that they were going to do whatever it took to complete this mission, a mission which history was going to almost certainly record as 'hers', and as a result, she knew they deserved to know the truth, the whole truth about the nightmare she was apparently having to try to live through on behalf of both the mortal and immortal Universes.
"I am going to talk, and you are all going to listen without interruption, unless I make an erroneous assumption about your latest plan, in which case Mr. Kim, you may speak. What I am about to tell you is known by very few people and technically, none of you apart from Seven of Nine holds sufficient security clearance to hear what I am about to say. As a result, I would appreciate it if, assuming this adventure ends successfully, you do not repeat what I am about to say. Should you give in to temptation, I can assure you your career in Starfleet will be permanently restricted to garbage duties in the most remote and unpleasant spacedocks the Federation has, no matter which century you were born in." Again, there was a pause whilst she took a seemingly relaxed sip of coffee during which she once again scrutinised the faces of those she was speaking to, looking for any indications of rebellion or objection to her terms: she saw nothing except concern and support.
"Some of you will recall the trade negotiation and peace treaty between the Mangi and the Scarpans that was conducted on Voyager not long after we arrived in the Delta Quadrant. On conclusion of the negotiations, the Senior Staff were invited by the Scarpans to attend a series of celebrations on their planet which the Senior Staff enjoyed by all accounts," observed Kathryn pointedly, unable to stop a small grin flash across her face when some of the staff blushed at the memory of the 'celebrations.
"Neither Seven nor I ventured down onto the planet's surface, with Seven's absence self-explanatory on account of it not being possible for her successfully pass through the planetary defence shield, whilst the ship's gossip grapevine spread the suggestion that I had exercised 'Admiral's Privilege' and refused to attend on account of not yet forgiving Harry for inflicting the Balakan banjos on me. This reason, although true, was not the real reason why I could not travel to the planet. Like Seven, I was unable to pass safely through the planetary defence shield as, at the time I would have had to pass through the shield, I had active Borg nanoprobes inside me." Crossing to the recycler, she disposed of her half-drunk coffee, uninterested in the distraction of a coffee mug any longer, although Seven did note that her lover took the time to finish her brownie.
"Five years ago, I was diagnosed with symptoms consistent with Delkargian Lesions - for those of you not familiar with the condition, it is a fatal disease that kills within 48 hours of the lesions, which are the final symptom, developing, although higher brain function begins to be destroyed about four hours after the lesions have started to form. With the current drug treatments available to the Federation, the onset of lesions can be delayed by four weeks. There is, however, one other treatment that appears to work. A carefully controlled dose of nanoprobes directly into my brain stem once the lesions have started to form seems to stop the lesions developing, enabling the drug therapy to work for another four weeks." In a phenomenal display of her command mask, Kathryn was able to explain her fatal situation in a perfectly calm voice, the only hint of the emotion she was containing being revealed in the tight grip that her hands had on the top of the chair at the head of the table. After a few long moments, Seven noted that her lover's hands had relaxed their grip on the chair fractionally, indicating to Seven that Kathryn was about to continue for the benefit of their silent company.
"In approximately 90 minutes, we will intercept the Borg; approximately 90 minutes after that, the lesions will once again start forming and, four hours after that, I will start to suffer permanent and irreversible brain damage unless I receive the nanoprobe treatment. Despite numerous attempts by Starfleet Medical to find alternative treatments, the nanoprobe treatment is my only option and it can only be administered directly by Seven. Without going into the detail of the treatment, suffice to say, it is not conducive to red or yellow alert situations. Mr Kim, you may speak," concluded Kathryn, willing herself to not react to the silent tears that were falling down her lover's face, only for Q to suddenly produce old-fashioned white linen handkerchiefs seemingly out of thin air for Seven to use discretely and for himself to blow his nose with noisily, distracting anyone from the blonde's brief moment of visible emotion.
"Admiral, Q seems convinced that their ability to 'stop time' cannot help us?"
"Why not?" asked Captain Andrews, trying not to imagine what his superiors would say if they ever got wind of a timeship Captain arguing for messing around with temporal laws.
"Because if they stop time in the space that has the Admiral in it, then the Borg Queen cannot be destroyed because without the Admiral, no one will be able to get near enough to the Queen to destroy her. It therefore makes no difference if time is stopped or not, the lesions will continue to form," explained Seven quietly, focussing intently on the Admiral who, despite everything, managed a tired smile of thanks at her lover.
"We have a plan that should take no more than 80 minutes Admiral," began Harry, only for Kathryn to cut him off.
"No - it is not acceptable."
"You don't know what it is yet Admiral..." protested Harry, only to again be interrupted.
"You two are going to accompany me onto the cube and create perception filters, filters which you do not know will work on the Borg Queen, enabling Seven and Harry to co-ordinate the removal of the data nodes almost immediately."
"Pretty much..." agreed Q, knowing how angry Kathryn was with him.
"And if you're assimilated?" asked Kathryn, pinning a full force Janeway glare on the pair of Qs.
"We were planning on not being assimilated Aunt Kathy..." said Junior, in his nervousness reverting to his 'family' name for her.
"Don't you 'Aunt Kathy' me Junior..." warned Janeway, "...not if you're wearing that uniform," referring to the Starfleet Commander's uniform Junior was currently sporting in order to 'blend in'.
"Sorry Admiral, but we do not plan on being assimilated," repeated Junior seriously, looking to Captain Andrews for assistance.
"The Quantum's transporters can penetrate the Borg shields Admiral - between a transporter lock and the Q's ability to relocate, we do believe we can adequately protect them from the risk of assimilation," explained Eric having rapidly joined the dots and worked out the plan that was being proposed even as he was recovering from the shock of discovering that his great-aunt had already been diagnosed with the fatal disease. It also was the first hint as to why exactly he was here, since it was clear that the Quantum's ability to move through time as well as space was probably not going to be needed in order to defeat the Borg one final time.
"Do I have any say in this ridiculous plan?" asked Kathryn, sitting down finally in her chair, grateful when one of the Q's read her mind and produced a cup of fresh coffee on the table by her right hand.
"No Admiral, I don't believe so," stated Harry, receiving confirming nods from all the assembled Starfleet personnel.
"And the Council of the Continuum?"
"Had to be convinced not to send twenty Q to assist with this plan Admiral."
"What exactly do you want me to do in this new plan then?" asked Kathryn, standing up and walking around the table so she was leaning on the back of the two chairs occupied by the Qs.
"Keep the Queen talking for about an hour whilst we download the data nodes?"
"Any suggested topics of conversation Harry?"
"The meaning of life, the universe and everything?" came the wry suggestion, wondering if she'd remember the quote from one of the more popular books that Tom had suggested from the 20th century for the original Voyager's book club.
"Somehow I think I'll need more than a towel to get through the next few hours, but maybe we will discover that the answer really is 42," joked Kathryn before stepping to her left and placing her hands over a surprised Seven of Nine's eyes.
"Admiral?" asked Seven immediately, amazing everyone with her composure despite the Admiral's unexpectedly juvenile behaviour.
"Senior Staff dismissed," ordered Kathryn suddenly, prompting the confused Voyager Senior Staff to get to their feet, only to be frozen in place by the glare and head shake that Janeway gave them, immediately followed by the pointed nod towards the large display panel which, thanks to Q, was now displaying an explanatory message, which instructed them to stand perfectly still and stay silent. Confused but obedient, Eric and the Qs remained seated at the table whilst everyone else stood silently. After a moment, Q nodded at Kathryn who removed her hands from Seven's eyes.
Blinking in confusion, Seven turned in her chair so that she could see her lover, noting that they were now the only people in the room, apart from Eric and the two Qs. Deciding that those that remained in the room were effectively family, Seven felt confident she could address her lover by name, not rank.
"Why did you cover my eyes?" asked Seven, raising her implant in implied challenge.
"Would you believe me if I said a moment of youthful humour?" teased Kathryn, assuming the familiar pose of one hand resting on her hip whilst the other pinched the bridge of her nose.
"No..." Seven frowned as she allowed her cortical node to intensively scan the room, "...you are testing whether the Q perception filter will deceive my cortical node," stated Seven eventually.
"Am I?" asked Kathryn, wondering whether Seven had been fooled or whether she was bluffing.
"I am uncertain - my cortical node confirms only four life signs in addition to myself as being present in this room."
"But it is an expected logical conclusion, based on your uncharacteristic behaviour when you dismissed the Voyager Senior Staff, that they are indeed still present but I am unable to detect them because of the filter."
"Computer, identify number of life signs in the conference room," instructed Kathryn, dropping into the chair next to Seven, forcing Jess Lourdon, whose seat it had been, to smartly step out of the way - whilst she couldn't be seen by Seven or Kathryn, she could certainly be tripped over!
"There are five life signs in the conference room." Despite the computer's confirmation of what her cortical node was finding, Kathryn could tell that Seven was still sceptical.
"Gentlemen, would you excuse us please?" asked Kathryn politely, prompting all three to stand and step towards the door which, sensing their proximity, obligingly opened however, none of them actually stepped through it, instead being held back from the threshold by Q.
"Kathryn?" asked Seven quietly, reaching out to caress her lover's cheek once she was certain they were alone.
"We are not alone in this conference room, are we?"
"Computer, confirm life signs present in conference room," stated Kathryn again.
"Current life signs identified as Admiral Kathryn Janeway and Commander Seven of Nine."
"Computer, state location of Captain Harry Kim."
"Captain Kim is on the Bridge."
"You are quite correct Seven...Q?" asked Kathryn, covering Seven's hand with her own, before guiding their joined hands from her cheek into her lap as Q enabled the two to see the rest of the conference room once more, revealing the fact that no one had left the room.
"So much for that plan..." muttered Harry dejectedly, thinking that the perception filter had not managed to deceive Seven's cortical node, despite obviously working on Voyager's computer.
"That is most impressive Q - I do believe the plan will succeed," stated Seven calmly, ignoring Harry's negative comment.
"But it didn't work..." groused Q dejectedly.
"On the contrary Q, your perception filters did indeed work on my cortical node, which would have been most disconcerting," explained Seven thoughtfully.
"But you knew we hadn't left!" stated Eric, not understanding how Seven could declare the impromptu experiment a success.
"No Mr Kim, I identified that I did not believe the Admiral and I were alone in the conference room, despite what my cortical node was identifying. The filter was most impressive."
"How did I know not to believe my cortical node?" asked Seven, seeing the confirming nod from Eric that that was his question.
"I gave it away didn't I?" asked Kathryn who, despite the stress they were all under, was unable to suppress the small chuckle as she realised what had given the experiment away.
"Could you explain for the rest of us Admiral?" asked Eric nervously, wondering if he could be court martialled for impertinence several centuries before his own birth.
"The fact that I didn't immediately confirm we were alone but instead asked the computer to do it was probably the main give-away to Seven, correct?"
"Yes, although I would have known even if you had told me we were alone," stated Seven with total confidence.
"Seven and my mother both share an uncanny ability to detect when I'm bluffing - I think they are the only ones in the universe fortunately I rarely have both of them witnessing me attempting diplomacy at Starfleet Functions," explained Kathryn, prompting light laughter from the Senior Staff.
"You said that was probably the main give-away Kathryn...care to share what the others were?" asked Q cheekily.
"That will not be necessary Q," retorted Seven quickly, knowing exactly what Kathryn had been thinking of and totally confident that her lover had no desire to share that particular detail with their present company.
"Is it something the Borg Queen would notice?" asked Loquat seriously, only interested in whatever it was from a tactical perspective.
"I seriously hope not!" muttered Kathryn, pinching the bridge of her nose as if trying to suppress a particularly hideous mental image.
"I am certain Commander Loquat that the Borg Queen would not be able to infer the existence of a perception filter from the Admiral's behaviour despite empirical evidence in the way that I did."
"Fine. In which case, it would appear that we have a plan?" asked Harry, deciding it was time to draw this meeting to a close.
"Agreed. Now all we need is an opponent..." stated Eric, looking at Kathryn for the final confirmation.
"Be careful what you wish for gentlemen."
"How are we doing Captain?" asked Kathryn, walking down the corridor to Voyager's main transporter room and seeing Harry standing outside, obviously waiting for her.
"Ready to transfer to the Quantum at your command Admiral," explained Harry, referring to step one of their latest and speediest plan to eliminate the Borg for good, as he stepped back to allow her to lead him into the transporter room, only for the Admiral to pause in the corridor, just outside the door sensor range.
"Are you ready Harry?" asked Kathryn gently, recognising the same look in Harry's eyes that she'd seen all those years before when they'd last been about to embark on a potentially foolish plan to destroy the Borg: whilst the uniform colour and number of pips on his collar might have changed, the well concealed look of nervous concern that she could spot at the back of his eyes hadn't.
"Yes Admiral," came the confident response, too confident.
"Harry..." came the hard warning.
"Yes Admiral, my crew and I are ready to help you, as are the crew of the Quantum and the Continuum."
"This is a group effort Harry," reminded Kathryn, deciding that she wasn't quite ready to leave the familiarity of Voyager just yet.
"With all due respect Admiral, this is your mission and will be your success - we're just honoured to be the hired help," said Harry, knowing that it was an opinion shared by everyone, including the Qs and Seven: this was the final battle of the war that was started years earlier, a war that saw the ultimate of contrasts between the two individual combatants.
"It's Voyager's mission Harry, you're the Captain," corrected Kathryn, disagreeing with his statement. Before either of them were able to continue, the transporter room doors opened and Seven stepped out into the corridor.
"We disagree Admiral," stated Seven firmly, standing next to Harry, knowing what was being discussed thanks to her enhanced hearing.
"Eavesdropping Seven?" asked Kathryn archly, feeling like she was being ganged up on.
"Yes. Kathryn, from the moment you severed me from the Collective, the Borg Queen has conducted a personal campaign against Kathryn Janeway, not the Captain of Voyager, Starfleet or even the Federation. The prize the Queen wants is not Voyager or the former Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero," stated Seven, delivering the most impassioned speech Harry had ever heard her make, "she wants you, the woman I love and the woman who means so much to many others in the Universe in ways she does not understand. Kathryn, the Borg Queen will command her Collective to do whatever it takes to secure her prize, just as your Collective has assembled itself, willingly, to be at your side and do whatever you request of us to, knowing we are stronger because we are all individuals who each have our own, individual motivations for supporting you."
"Seven..." Neither woman noticed Harry slip quietly through the doors into the transporter room, leaving them in peace whilst they recovered their emotional balance. It wasn't exactly protocol for pre-away mission final briefings, but then this wasn't exactly a protocol compliant away mission.
"You will succeed my love," declared Seven, cupping her lover's cheek tenderly, not even noticing that she instinctively did it with her left hand.
"You make it sound so simple..."
"Is it not?" asked Seven easily, breaking out into a small smile as she asked, wishing she could ease her lover's fears as easily as Kathryn had managed to do for her over the years, "Kathryn, relax your jaw, you are hurting your neck..." encouraged Seven, recognising the signs of tension beginning to appear in her lover.
"You are 'borrowing trouble' again Kathryn..." explained Seven gently, wondering if Kathryn would remember having an almost identical conversation in the last few moments before they joined Voyager back in the Alpha Quadrant, "...if anyone has made a habit of walking into the Queen's chamber and getting her own way, it is Kathryn Janeway - this time is no different."
"Isn't it? I don't know what to say!" protested Kathryn, her eyes nevertheless sparkling with humour as she had, as Seven had hoped, remembered their conversation when she'd been nervous about boarding Voyager and meeting Harry.
"You will think of something, but perhaps it is appropriate to start with 'Energise'?" asked Seven, inclining her head towards the transporter room doors, a gentle hint to her lover, not that a hint was needed, that time was marching on.
"The sooner we leave the sooner we return?"
"Indeed Admiral," replied Seven formally, recognising the appearance of the 'Admiral's Mask' which was the final indication that Kathryn Janeway was indeed ready for this final stand against the Borg Queen, before quickly following the striding Janeway through the now open doors into the transporter room.
"Ensign, prepare to energise on my command," instructed Janeway as she stepped up onto the transporter dais to occupy the vacant space left for her, knowing Seven was stepping up to stand just behind her right shoulder.
"Energise!" And on the Admiral's command, the away teams de-materialised, only to re-materialise a moment later in the Quantum's transporter room. Before anyone could adjust to the change in surroundings however, Admiral Janeway gave the order that, had this mission ever been recorded for public consumption, would have soon become legendary throughout the four known quadrants of the universe and many more beyond when she said,
"Lieutenant, I'm not waiting for an invitation...set the co-ordinates for the centre of the Borg Queen's chamber - Energise!"
The waiting was over - it was time for this experiment to end.
"I'm disappointed..." announced Janeway, seconds later when she had re-materialised inside the latest Borg Queen's central chamber which was rather uninterestingly, albeit conveniently, seemingly identical to the previous central chambers she'd had the misfortune to visit. What was more interesting to the Admiral was that her opening remark, which she had intended to be a sarcastic bait with which to distract the Queen whilst the rest of the away team established and orientated themselves, was actually true. After all the months of planning and anticipation, this moment actually was disappointing.
"Kathryn Janeway..." The Queen, whose appearance was repulsively consistent with Janeway's memories of the last time she had seen the Queen 'at rest', namely with the head, neck and breastbone of a humanoid existing around a 'spinal cord' style connector that could integrate into a body at a moment's notice, seemed sluggish as she was roused from her rest to consider the intruders to her domain, "...and Seven of Nine..."
"I'm disappointed," repeated Janeway, starting to walk around the chamber, forcing the Queen to turn her head in to follow her. This not only removed the Queen's focus from Junior, making it easier for him to concentrate on maintaining the perception filter that did indeed appear to be stopping the Borg systems from identifying that there was anyone else on board apart from Janeway, Seven and the two security officers, one of whom was Junior, but also enabled Janeway to assess how alert the Queen actually was.
"Disappointed that your plan failed?" sneered the Queen, sounding to Loquat exactly like the 'bitch' the Queen had been portrayed as in the media and Starfleet mission logs over the years.
"Did it fail?" asked Janeway conversationally, trying to project an air of calm nonchalance in an attempt to keep the Queen annoyed but not angry.
"We survived," came the triumphant declaration, although Seven was certain the Queen that she had been connected to would have been more emphatic and claimed a greater success than just survival, especially when in conversation with just one individual.
"No, you continue to exist," disagreed Janeway, wondering why the drones in the central chamber had neither moved towards the intruders nor continued with their existing tasks but had, as far as she could tell, remained frozen in place since she'd arrived.
"Our continued existence was not part of your plan," insisted the Queen, seemingly unable to escape the morbid grasp of this particular topic of conversation, nor, it would seem, connect with her 'body'.
"Since I don't make a habit of talking with total strangers whilst they are undressed, could you please put your body on?" requested the Admiral, assuming a disinterested pose with one hand on her hip and the other gesturing vaguely towards the body that the Queen's head was hovering over.
She was glad that no one else had the same ability to read Seven's expressions as she did because Seven hadn't really mastered the ability to properly school her features and therefore not show her lover exactly what she was thinking, which right now decided Kathryn, based on the microscopic twitching of the implant and pursing of the lips, was that Kathryn was must be losing her mind to actually ask the Queen to integrate her consciousness with a body that meant she could now pose a direct physical threat to Kathryn. What interested Kathryn even more than her lover's reaction though, was the fact that not only did the Queen comply with her request without objection, but for the few seconds that the Queen was focussed on making the connection between head and body, not only were the drones in the chamber still frozen, but it appeared that even the Queen had almost shut down. Had the neurolytic pathogen perhaps damaged the heart of the Borg existence so badly that it could no longer multi-task?
"We are not a stranger to you Kathryn Janeway," stated the Queen eventually, finally standing in the centre of the chamber no longer directly supported by her ship.
"A passing acquaintance then," clarified Kathryn dismissively, wondering how Harry and Hakmens were doing at identifying the nodes they needed to connect to with the assistance of Q senior and Eric Andrews. Surely, despite the Queen's damaged state, she would react when they started taking terabytes of data from her central nodes?
"We are more than that to you Kathryn..."
"You're not on my Christmas Card list, that's for sure..." taunted Kathryn, going for another walk around the central chamber, testing the Queen's ability to think and interact again. This time though, she'd obviously pushed it just a little too far as the lengthening silence was suddenly broken by the distinctive whine of a phaser charging followed a fraction of a second later with her right knee exploding in pain.
"ADMIRAL!!!" screamed Seven, moving towards her downed lover, only to be restrained by Loquat who saw the Admiral's raised hand commanding them to stay in place.
"Fine, I'll send you a Christmas card this year... what address would you like me to use?" asked Kathryn, attempting to maintain a conversational tone even as she forced herself up into a sitting position, enabling her to see the smoking wound where her knee had been, irritated that the Queen had to pick on the knee that had managed to survive her youthful sporting exploits without serious injury, rather than just make her already weak left knee weaker.
"When we have assimilated you..." began the Queen, ignoring the taunt, only for Kathryn to cut across her,
"You sure you want to risk that again? You didn't exactly enjoy it last time..." reminded Kathryn, trying to ignore the pain that was now getting to such a level it was forcing her eyes to water, hoping that Harry and Hakmens were getting on with it. If the Queen was going with a shoot first, assimilate later plan, then they were going to struggle as the Queen's phasers were not set on light stun.
"We survived your petty attempts to destroy us just as we will survive whatever you thought you had planned this time," declared the Queen carefully before once again the tell-tale whine of the phaser cut through the chamber. With barely a microsecond to prepare herself, Janeway was at least less surprised when her left hip exploded in pain.
"You could have just asked me to throw away my phaser..." suggested Janeway through gritted teeth as she watched the molten metal that had been her phaser settle against the burnt remains of her uniform that at least managed to conceal from her the full horror of what her flesh and bone now looked like.
"The Borg do not ask," came the arrogant response, although, thought Seven almost absently, the 0.7 seconds that it took for the 'Queen' to respond seemed a little too slow the Queen was not traditionally slow to gloat.
"You don't normally shoot either..." mused Kathryn, using the opportunity to ramble to buy herself another few moments to properly gather her composure. Unfortunately, she'd been shot by a phaser often enough to know that once the smarting fire receded enough to be replaced by an intense, burning agony, it was best to start breathing evenly but determinedly through your mouth. The smell of burnt flesh was not particularly stomach settling, and knowing it was your own did nothing to improve the situation.
"Why do you talk to us?"
"You talk to us, say things that do not make sense to us. Why do you ask us questions we cannot answer?" Repeated the Borg Queen, stepping unsteadily down from her platform but making no move towards either Janeway or Seven: instead, she stood, body uncomfortably still, as if frozen until the next instruction to move was received. Whilst intellectually, Kathryn had always known that the Borg Queen was far more mechanical than organic, she had never before been quite so conscious of interacting with a highly sophisticated machine. As much as she disliked to admit, the previous Queens, no matter how distasteful their plans and motivations were, actually had a very human quality to their movement that was sinuous and almost seductive at times.
"To remind you that you have not found perfection?" suggested Kathryn thoughtfully, discreetly scanning the rest of the central chamber for any clues as to what might be causing the Queen to be 'off'. Was this the residual impact of that virus from years past, or was this being driven by something else, and if so, what?
"You will not speak of Omega!" declared the Queen, jerkily stepping forward with great speed so that she was standing directly over Janeway, her left arm reaching out, the index and middle finger starting to straighten in a gesture that was regrettably familiar to the Admiral this Queen was preparing to assimilate her and unfortunately, it did possibly seem like there might not be much of an escape from the advancing tubules, with Kathryn effectively rendered immobile by the twin phaser blasts to both sides of her body.
"Why not?" Conversation was almost certainly her only available weapon there was no point looking towards Seven as there was surely nothing she could do any phaser would be rendered useless by the Queen's armoured body and only serve to remind the obviously unstable Borg that there were others present who she could turn on.
"Because you are not worthy of it!" If the Queen was human, Kathryn was fairly certain a doctor would be describing her mental state as one of escalating manic hysteria, whilst an engineer would want to reconfigure the obviously destabilising holomatrix.
"Maybe it is you who are not worthy of it..." pondered Kathryn, finding that the Queen was now so close she had to lean back a bit and therefore brace herself with her left hand against the deck, which was uncomfortably cold, something she hadn't appreciated before, having the rest of her body protected by her uniform, although the lack of padding had been noticed by her tailbone.
"Of course we are worthy!" The outrage that coloured the Queen's tone was impressively emotional for a constructed cybernetic species that was supposed to run on rule and logic not passion.
"If you are the worthy one, why am I the one with the Omega?"
"I'm disappointed..." According to plan, the second after the ensign manning the Quantum's transporter controls heard Admiral Janeway say something to announce her arrival in the Central Chamber through the open comm link that was being maintained between Janeway's comm badge and both Quantum and Voyager, the rest of the away team de-materialised, following Janeway onto the Borg Sphere.
"Kathryn Janeway..." Re-materialising, Captains Kim and Andrews had to trust that their presence in the Borg sphere was being concealed from the Borg Queen by the perception filter that the two accompanying Q's were maintaining for them. For Hakmens, it was not something she bothered to consider logically, the filters were either successfully in place or she was dead. Since it was now 32 seconds since they had arrived, logic dictated that their arrival was successfully concealed and therefore, she should proceed with her part of the plan.
"I'm disappointed," Even as he orientated himself within the chamber, automatically noting where the drones were, Harry Kim couldn't help but pay attention to the conversation that his former Captain was attempting to initiate with the Queen. It had been the least developed part of the entire plan: Admiral Janeway had to buy them time to embed the modified Borg data nodes that Seven had designed with the help of the Quantum's Chief Engineer who just happened to have some suitable technology that the Quantum had 'borrowed' from the 32nd century. Somehow though, everyone knew it was the part of the plan that was the most certain Admiral Janeway could and would engage the Borg Queen successfully in small talk.
"Disappointed that your plan failed?" Spotting the console they needed, Harry led his small team across to the other side of the chamber, taking care to stay close to the walls apart from when they had to navigate around the few drones who were, as predicted, not at all aware of the away team, instead remaining focussed on whatever their current task was, trusting that the Q's would be maintaining the perception filters.
"Did it fail?"
"No, you continue to exist," Arriving at the right console, Harry gestured for Eric Andrews to start to help him open up the access panels whilst Hakmens started to assemble the data nodes, ready for him to pass them to her for installation.
"Our continued existence was not part of your plan,"
"Since I don't make a habit of talking with total strangers whilst they are undressed, could you please put your body on?" As he helped Harry open up the wall panel, Eric kept both ears on the conversation that was happening on the other side of the virtual 'wall' that was their only protection, marvelling at how cool the Admiral was managing to play it not only was she buying them the necessary time, but she was actually getting the Borg Queen to obey her!
"We are not a stranger to you Kathryn Janeway,"
"A passing acquaintance then,"
"We are more than that to you Kathryn..." With the access panel open, Harry stepped back to give Hakmens the necessary space to start attaching the nodes so that they had the ability to download the data at their convenience from the Federation ships. Once again, he took the opportunity to scan the central chamber, only this time he was unable to do so without frowning.
"What is it?" whispered Eric the second the Queen had finished patronising Janeway, picking up on his fellow Captain's subtle frown and wondering what was causing him to pause...
"You're not on my Christmas Card list, that's for sure..."
"ADMIRAL!!!" Even if they hadn't both been watching as the phaser beam appeared from the ceiling and slice into the Admiral, Seven's anguished scream would have attracted their attention and it was only the unrelenting tight grip that Q suddenly had on both of their shoulders that stopped Harry and Eric from bursting across the deck to rush to assist Admiral Janeway, phasers drawn, perception filter be damned.
"Fine, I'll send you a Christmas card this year... what address would you like me to use?" It was only when Kathryn was sitting fully upright and baiting the Queen once more that Q relaxed his grip, trusting that they had got the message.
"When we have assimilated you..."
"You sure you want to risk that again? You didn't exactly enjoy it last time..." "How you doing Hakmens?" whispered Harry quietly, never tearing his eyes from his former Captain, knowing that for all her skills and determination, time was rapidly running out for her.
"We survived your petty attempts to destroy us just as we will survive whatever you thought you had planned this time," Harry had no idea what Hakmens' response to his question was however, as the distinctive whine of the phaser firing once again drowned out the Vulcan's quiet whisper.
"You could have just asked me to throw away my phaser..."
"The Borg do not ask," "Something's not right..." murmured Harry suddenly, the Queen's latest response the final piece in the puzzle for him.
"No shit Harry..." replied Eric sarcastically, voice barely audible above the gentle hum of the cube.
"No, something's wrong with the Queen and these drones..." whispered Harry urgently, shifting his focus now to Seven, wishing he was as good as the Admiral at reading the blonde's extremely subtle changes in body language. He wasn't 100% certain, but he was confident enough that he'd read Seven well enough, and that she agreed with him. Whatever this Borg spokesman was, it wasn't the Queens that they were used to...
"You don't normally shoot either..."
"Why do you talk to us?" "What do you mean?" Eric's whispers, whilst still quiet, were no longer sarcastic but instead tinged with an urgency that hinted at his uncertainty as to what Harry was talking about he may have come from the future but this was way beyond any of his experience.
"Pardon?" "The Borg don't debate...they dictate," explained Q softly, catching on to what Harry was thinking.
"You talk to us, say things that do not make sense to us. Why do you ask us questions we cannot answer?" "Exactly... Hakmens, you finished?" asked Harry urgently, not sure what was this drone was but, Queen or not, it was getting too close to the Admiral's extremely vulnerable position for his liking.
"To remind you that you have not found perfection?" "Almost," responded Hakmens promptly, her hands moving steadily as she methodically attached the nodes in the sequence Seven had instructed. Even Seven would have been impressed with her efficiency and economy of movement.
"You will not speak of Omega!" "Quantum, tell me you've still got a lock on the Admiral?" demanded Eric suddenly, knowing that he would give the order, even if it meant the Admiral carried out her threat to bust him down to crewman there was no way she not getting off this cube!
"Why not?" "Affirmative," came the quiet response over his comm link, "...standing by..."
"Because you are not worthy of it!" "Don't you dare..." growled Harry, refusing to believe that the Queen was actually going to win this one, despite what it was possibly looking like...he'd seen the Admiral get herself out of worse situations: it wasn't time for the coward's way out yet.
"Maybe it is you who are not worthy of it..."
"Of course we are worthy!"
"If you are the worthy one, why am I the one with the Omega?" "What the hell is she talking about? Is Seven Omega?" asked Eric in surprise, looking at Harry to see if the Admiral's latest comment made any sense to him.
"She means herself..." explained Q quietly, right before all hell broke loose...
"Transporter Room 1 to Commander Jackson."
"Go ahead Ensign," replied Jake, resisting the urge to stand and start pacing across the Bridge: it was at moments like this he really cursed his human need to fidget.
"Sir, we've just received confirmation from the Quantum that both away teams are now on board the Borg vessel."
"Thank you Ensign, stand by for further orders, Bridge out." As Jake cut the communications link with the Voyager transporter room, he risked a glance to the auxiliary command chair which was currently, and unusually, occupied by Jess Lourdon.
"Everything ok?" he asked quietly, noticing that she was focussing very intently on the data streams that were being transmitted to her console by the USS Quantum.
"I think so are we getting sound?" she asked, finding the telemetry data from the away teams' subdural transmitters rather difficult to put into context without any sort of indication as to what they were currently experiencing.
"USS Quantum just started the sound relay Sir," came the announcement from the Ops post, prompting Jess to smile wryly.
"Ask and ye shall receive Doctor let's hear it, Bridge only," qualified Jake, somewhat redundantly.
"I'm disappointed." Suddenly, Kathryn Janeway's voice filled the Bridge, confirming to all that, for the moment at least, the mission was following the script, with the Admiral able to get the Queen talking.
"Disappointed that your plan failed?" "How's it looking Doctor?" asked Jake in a whisper, not needing to look to Tactical where Loquat's handpicked understudy was no doubt running and re-running diagnostics so as to be ready the second he was required.
"Did it fail?" "Unbelievable," whispered Jess, instructing that the data she was looking at to be shown on Jake's console as well.
"We survived," "What am I looking at?" asked Jake as he tried to block out the chilling sounds of the Borg monotone.
"No, you continue to exist," "Telemetry from the away teams you can see the Admiral, the Captain and Captain Andrews," explained Jess, wondering if Jake would notice what was unusual about the readings.
"Our continued existence was not part of your plan," "Why is Captain's heart rate so high?" asked Jake, not bothering to distinguish between Quantum and Voyager as both rates were significantly higher than the Admiral's.
"Since I don't make a habit of talking with total strangers whilst they are undressed, could you please put your body on?" "That's actually normal for what I'd expect given their situation it's the Admiral's that low."
"We are not a stranger to you Kathryn Janeway," "Is she ok?"
"A passing acquaintance then," "She's as calm as she sounds " explained Jess in wonder, marvelling at how genuinely unfazed the Admiral was: Captain Kim hadn't been overstating it when he'd said that she'd done this before
"We are more than that to you Kathryn..."
"You're not on my Christmas Card list, that's for sure..." "Something tells me the she's getting under the Borg Queen's skin," concluded Jake, listening to the conversation and trying to picture what be going on for all the Quantum's extra sensor technology, a visual link had not been possible.
"ADMIRAL!!!" The unexpected sound of Seven's scream filled Voyager's Bridge, prompting Jake to look at Jess in the hope she'd have an answer as he and everyone else prayed that they would hear Admiral Janeway's distinctive voice again. It wasn't all over already, was it?
"Fine, I'll send you a Christmas card this year... what address would you like me to use?" The Bridge Crew breathed a collective sigh of relief when, after a pause that felt like it hours but was only a couple of seconds, Admiral Janeway resumed her rather extraordinary conversation.
"When we have assimilated you..." "What happened?" hissed Jake, not liking that he couldn't understand the data telemetry well enough to be able to understand what was going on.
"You sure you want to risk that again? You didn't exactly enjoy it last time..." "She's probably been shot with some sort of phaser " muttered Jess, noting the elevated heart rate, temperature and adrenaline spikes.
"We survived your petty attempts to destroy us just as we will survive whatever you thought you had planned this time," Wisely, Jake refrained from asking any inane questions like 'is she ok?' despite this time hearing the unmistakeable whine of a phaser, suggesting that Janeway had been shot again.
"You could have just asked me to throw away my phaser..." "Shit " It was, in Jake's Starfleet experience, rare to hear an officer swear on the Bridge, with their strict Academy training attempting to cure the cadets of the habit of reaching for an expletive in time of crisis; it was even rarer to hear a member of Starfleet Medical swear. Unable to contain his restlessness any longer, he found himself drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair.
"The Borg do not ask," "What's wrong?" he asked Jess, in what he hoped was a calm, supportive voice although he was desperate to demand more.
"You don't normally shoot either..." "The second phaser blast has sent her body into medical shock "
"Why do you talk to us?" "She doesn't sound different," said Jake, not liking how Jess was suddenly looking worried.
"Pardon?" "She's an incredible Admiral," came the somewhat cryptic response, alluding to the ability Senior Officers had to somehow compartmentalise their situation and divorce what might be happening to them personally from what their ship or Starfleet needed from them. It was generally what distinguished the Captains from the First Officers and, as everyone on board Voyager and Quantum were beginning to understand, Janeway from the rest of the Fleet.
"You talk to us, say things that do not make sense to us." "But?"
"To remind you that you have not found perfection?" "But we need to get her and Seven off that ship, now."
"You will not speak of Omega!" As the Borg Queen's increasingly hysterical voice filled the bridge, Jake didn't like to point out that now was probably not the moment to just transport Janeway and Seven out of there.
"Why not?" "How long have we got?" asked Jake, as he started to pull together in his mind what needed to be co-ordinated between the Quantum and Voyager in order to achieve Jess' request when it was finally needed.
"Because you are not worthy of it!" "About 10 minutes is my best guess " growled Jess, frustratingly trying to interpret the information as best she could.
"Maybe it is you who are not worthy of it..."
"Of course we are worthy!" "And if we don't?" asked Jake, really not thinking that was going to happen, especially given how hysterical the Borg Queen continued to sound, at least to Jake's ear.
"If you are the worthy one, why am I the one with the Omega?" "Then it will be too late " explained Jess quietly, passing a padd to Jake that now showed the familiar signs of a countdown clock, counting down from 20 minutes.
"What's this countdown for?" asked Jake, realising it was for a different time frame, dreading the answer.
"Admiral Janeway's brain activity."
Even if she still had the ability to move herself across the deck in spite of the phaser wounds, Kathryn Janeway could not have escaped the advancing assimilation tubules: her natural instinct, unsurprisingly, was to recoil from the advancing hand, making the Borg Queen stretch further and further forward as she tried to reach for the Admiral's neck. Consequently, the Borg Queen's position became increasingly recumbent, with more and more of her body's weight settling across the Admiral's, effectively pinning her to the deck from the hips down. Despite the fact that time was seemingly slowing enough for Kathryn to objectively consider the consistency of the Borg Queen's 'skin' and the somewhat off-putting realisation that, although the Queen was obviously exerting herself, there was no breath for her to exhale, there did seem to be not enough time to try to distract the Queen with one final biting remark.
Instead, Kathryn found that she was considering her situation in an almost abstract manner, as if she were standing to the side, critiquing the performance of some officer whose future would appear to be somewhat brief were it not for the holographic nature of the threat. It was unfortunate that she was practically flat on the deck now and that, because of the position she had started in, her arms had ended up by her sides and not across her chest as now, there was no hope of being able to get her hands up to either damage or divert those bloody tubules whose gentle whisper as they now brushed her skin was a sensation that simultaneously felt familiar and yet so very, very alien if only she had a phaser or better yet, a knife that could also act as a phaser
No sooner had she had this thought than there was something under her right hand. Ignoring the off-putting realisation that she now apparently had telekinetic powers, she cautiously ran her fingers over the object before suddenly grasping it and plunging it into the side of the Borg Queen, its sharp tip making surprisingly short work of the Queen's 'flesh' as she forced the blade in as far as she could, somehow managing to take the time to marvel at her good fortune at stabbing the Queen at a point where the body armour of two sections met, enabling her to exploit the relative weakness of the join. Risking a glance at the Queen, she was relieved to note that the sudden intrusion had caused the Queen's face to contort in agony and for the assimilation tubules to still, just resting against her skin for a moment. Evidently, the shock of being stabbed was enough to make the Queen pause, even if she wasn't entirely incapacitated.
"You have wounded us "
"Call it a love tap " said Kathryn, suddenly recalling a piece of 20th century slang Seven had come across some years ago that seemed suitably sarcastically appropriate.
"It is irrelevant; now we bring chaos to order; now we have Omega!" declared the Queen, her tubules sinking into the Admiral's neck just at the same moment Kathryn's thumb connected firmly with the indentation she had found on the knife handle that she could only hope would trigger a phaser.
Afterwards, Loquat would try to identify for Doctor Lourdon what exactly caused his eardrum to rupture, but the simultaneous wail from the Queen as her torso exploded and Seven's cry as she dived for the Admiral were both impressively loud, even for Klingons in their final battle cry. For now though, he just followed Seven as fast as he could towards their downed leader, trying not to think about what the metallic looking slime that now covered the Admiral and the immediate surrounding area was actually made of. At the same moment, Harry Kim and Eric Andrews appeared, apparently from nowhere as, in rushing towards the Admiral, Q and Junior forgot to maintain the perception filter.
"Admiral?" asked Seven, collapsing to her knees by the side of her lover who, apart from being covered in what could only be described, even by Seven, as 'Borg goo', now could add a bleeding wound in her neck to the cauterised wounds at her hip and knee.
"I'm fine Seven deal with that would you?" asked the Admiral, gesturing wearily in the direction of the still intact head and spine of the Borg Queen that, in the explosion had been thrown away from the disintegrating body and landed a couple of yards away. Currently, it still appeared to be in a concussed state, with the eyes open but vacant and the jaw seemingly dislocated.
"What do you suggest Admiral?" asked Seven dryly, her eyes filling with moisture as she looked at her bruised, battered and very much alive and human lover who was anything but fine.
"Just stop it from getting millions of drones to assimilate us!" ordered Kathryn, the pain of her wounds suddenly hitting her again as the immediate adrenalin rush faded.
"Of course Admiral," responded Seven calmly before she smoothly rose once more to her feet and crossed to what remained of the still stunned Queen. To the amazement of everyone, she placed her foot firmly on the Queen's spine, as if needing to hold it steady, before extending her assimilation tubules into what Harry recognised as the Queen's cortical node. A moment later, Seven removed her tubules from the Queen and, with them moving gently in the air asked,
"Junior, could you please give me a 'wet wipe' like your mother used when you had stained yourself with caramel chocolate brownie?"
"Umm, ok Seven " agreed Junior, looking as shocked as everyone else at this strange request, although he obediently produced the requested object for Seven who, on taking it from him, proceeded to methodically wipe her tubules before allowing them to retract into her Borg-enhanced hand.
"Everything ok Seven?" asked Harry, transfixed by his friend's uncharacteristic behaviour.
"Yes Mr Kim," agreed Seven politely as she strode back towards Kathryn, "I have assimilated the Queen and am in control of her central cortex. I have required all drones to enter a reduced power state as you can see," she said, looking towards the previously forgotten other drones in the central chamber.
"You have made them zombies, how cool is that?" asked Junior excitedly, only to immediately schooling his face again when he was glared at by his father.
"And the wet wipe?" asked Eric Andrews, unable to suppress the grin at Junior's reaction.
"An appropriate analogy would be how a cadet feels after his only interaction with the first Risan prostitute he could afford," declared Seven.
"Got some experience of that, have you Dad?" asked Junior cheekily, only for any further discussion to be cut short by the sound of Commander Jackson hailing Harry.
"Go ahead Commander," instructed Harry, glancing at Hakmens and getting a reassuring steady nod of confirmation that the nodes were installed and almost ready to start downloading.
"Our scans show that all the Borg Drones have entered some sort of coma-like state across the entire assembled fleet "
"Excellent," said Harry, grinning at Q had they really done it?
"That was your doing Captain?"
"Not mine Jake, Seven's."
"And the Queen?" asked Jake, wondering whether this would make any more sense when they had gone through the full mission debriefs or whether, like so much of the first Voyager's experiences in the Delta Quadrant, there would always just be bits that only ever made sense if you were there, in person.
"Seven's got her under control," explained Harry although his grin began to fade as he looked again at Seven whose face was more expressive than he could ever remember seeing it.
"Seven?" he asked, forgetting about the open comm link, "what's wrong with the Admiral?"
"Do it now!" came the barked order from Voyager, as Doctor Lourdon intervened. Suddenly, without warning, Seven and Kathryn disappeared as the Quantum's transporters energised and transported them away. Left alone in the Borg Vessel, Harry's voice hardened as he slapped his comm badge and said,
"Kim to Voyager what the hell is going on?"
One of the first lessons that aspirational Chief Medical Officers are taught in their shipboard careers is that, in times of battle stress and crisis, there is no room for disarray or chaos in a starship's sick bay: unfortunately, whilst medical staff might be privy to this ambition, the same could not be said of the rest of Starfleet.
"Out of my way Commander!" ordered Doctor Lourdon sharply as her attempt to move around the bed that the Admiral was currently lying one was obstructed by Commander Jackson: on any of the 22 other decks on Voyager he outranked her, but here, in her sickbay, he had two choices, namely get out of the way or get out of the sickbay.
"Sorry " Before he could say anything else, Captains Kim and Andrews rushed through the doors.
"Report!" demanded Harry, coming to an abrupt stop next to Jake, knowing better than to attempt to crowd around the bed that Admiral Janeway was lying on, her battered body now shielded from view by the treatment screens that Jess had activated moments before using the transporters to remove the Admiral's destroyed uniform.
"Admiral Janeway's lesions developed at a far more rapid rate than expected the fitting you saw start on the Borg vessel was an indication that memory loss is now a serious risk," explained Jake quietly, hoping to calm his Captain who was tenser than any of this Voyager crew had ever previously seen.
"We were supposed to be a couple of hours away from that, what the hell went wrong?" asked Harry, obviously losing his battle to stay calm.
"Captain if you intend to stay here it is imperative you keep out of the way and don't shout," instructed the Head Nurse, shooting a pointed look at them he may be Captain, but their patient was far more important right now, and would have been, even if she hadn't been an Admiral. Looking suitably contrite, not wishing to be evicted from sickbay, Harry turned to actually face Jake and repeated his question in a loud whisper through clenched teeth,
"Commander, is there any explanation for why the lesions developed so quickly?"
"Actually Captain, we don't think they did develop much more quickly than they have done on previous occasions a few minutes maybe, but no more "
"Get to the point Jake," instructed Harry, his expression shifting from one of anger to his version of the famous 'Janeway glare' whilst it didn't necessarily get ensigns wetting their pants, it did cause his First Officer to audibly gulp before starting again, less cryptically.
"Jess thinks the phaser blasts caused the Admiral's body to go into shock, allowing the lesions to develop at a slightly faster rate than previous experiences suggested. The lesions are actually developing at the expected time once you factor into the calculation the time that the Admiral spent in the Ready Room with Captain Andrews and Junior when time for the rest of us was 'stopped' "
"That would make sense I guess we were talking for about 3 hours " explained Eric, before asking his own question, "Where's Seven?"
"Her quarters Jess wanted her to take a shower and have the regenerative equivalent of a 'power-nap' whilst she got the Admiral stable for the lesion treatment."
"Stable?" asked Harry, not liking what that implied.
"Not fitting apparently it doesn't make delicate brain surgery easier " retorted Jake dryly.
"Is she going to be ok?" asked Harry, running his fingers through his hair wearily.
"We won't know until Jess lets the Admiral out of the induced coma she's trying to put her in "
"I meant Seven "
"Why wouldn't she be ok?" asked Jake, suddenly concerned. No one had thought to question the blonde's pronouncement that, once it was clear that Jess Lourdon's team were able to assist Kathryn in the short term, she was going to regenerate for a few minutes. Admittedly though, apart from Harry and Kathryn, the Voyager crew were somewhat uninformed about Borg physiology and the various challenges it presented.
"Seven assimilated the Borg Queen and, through that link, is controlling the entire Borg Collective. During regeneration, that 'Collective consciousness' power over the individual drone is unknown what we do know is that Seven was always more vulnerable to manipulation by the Borg Queen whilst she was regenerating "
"Where are you going Sir?" asked Jake, obediently following Harry as he suddenly turned and headed at speed for the sickbay door.
"Seven's quarters " Left rather flat-footed and therefore unable to sensibly join in their headlong rush through the ship, Captain Eric Andrews found himself relatively alone in the sickbay and so, sensibly stepping to the side to tidily wait by the wall, hopefully out of the way, he settled down to stand sentry over their temporarily downed leader. History told him she survived unscathed he really did not want this to be his first mission in which history did not repeat itself
"Computer, state the location of Seven of Nine " instructed Harry as he came to a halt outside Seven's quarters.
"Seven of Nine is in her quarters," came the calm, unhurried response.
"Kim to Seven of Nine " Once again, Harry tried hailing Seven, and once again, his hail yielded no response.
"Bridge to Captain Kim " came the interruption before Harry could continue his repeated hails.
"What is it?" asked Harry, the stress he was feeling forcing him to snap rather than respond calmly, surprising his Bridge Staff.
"Umm, it's the Borg fleet Sir, it's surrendering "
"What do you mean, surrendering?" asked Harry as he strode down the corridor to access the ship's computer via the nearest data panel.
"All vessels have powered down their weapons systems and deactivated their shields Sir they are effectively making themselves sitting ducks " came the almost hysterical response from the young Ensign tasked with manning Ops.
"And their engines?" asked Harry as he pulled up the Ops data so he could see it for himself.
"Powering down "
"Thank you Ensign " began Harry, running his hand through his hair as he tried to comprehend what this actually meant. Was this Seven's doing?
"What are your orders Sir?" asked the Ensign, risking interrupting the Captain.
"Hold position maintaining weapons and shields Ensign, Kim out."
"Captain?" asked Jake, standing next to Harry and trying to make some sense of the rapidly scrolling data.
"I have no idea Jake," came the honest response, only for a new voice to join them,
"No idea about what Mr Kim?"
"Indeed." Seven raised her ocular implant in what Jake now came to recognise as the blonde's questioning face: obediently, he stepped aside so that she could review the streaming data.
"Did you do this Seven?" asked Harry quietly, not sure if he wanted to know the answer.
"Yes Mr. Kim," came the flat response as Seven considered the magnitude of what she had done, "the Borg experiment is concluded."
"Just like that?" whispered Harry, not quite believing what he was seeing.
"Just like that " agreed Seven, shutting off the data screen and blinking fiercely. The last time she had been in the Delta Quadrant she would have immediately suspected a failure of the ship's air filtration systems but now she knew better: the moisture in her eyes was the physical symptom of her emotional response to the final end of the life as she once knew it: the Borg really were no more.
"Sickbay to Seven of Nine." Jess' hail cut sharply through the silence, forcing Seven to swallow (a once irrelevant but now necessary action) in order to be able to find enough voice to respond.
"Go ahead Doctor."
"Where do you wish to proceed?" came the somewhat cryptic question, forcing Jake to look to Harry for any enlightenment.
"The Admiral's quarters I will join you there in a moment."
"Understood, sickbay out."
"Seven?" asked Harry softly, studying his old friend's tear-stained face.
"I cannot lose her now Harry "
"What do you need?" It was the first time Jake had ever heard Seven address his Captain by his first name and suddenly became very conscious that he was probably intruding on an extremely personal footnote to history.
"A steady ship " said Seven quietly, holding up her Borg enhanced left hand between them as she continued in a tearful whisper, " and a steady hand " making Harry focus of her hand, the familiar metal coated hand that was shaking.
"Let's get you to the Admiral " encouraged Harry gently, taking his friend by the arm and guiding her towards the Admiral's quarters which now had the doors open and one of Jess' other doctors looking towards them.
"I " dry mouthed, Seven allowed herself to be manoeuvred slowly towards the Admiral's quarters.
"Jackson to Doctor Lourdon," hailed Jake softly, watching as Harry and Seven rounded the corner.
"Not a good time Jake " began Jess, only for Jake to cut across her.
"Can you get the Admiral awake?"
"She's sedated for treatment " began Jess, only to pause as she considered the unusually emotional tone of voice Jake had spoken in, " why?"
"Because Seven needs her "
"The Admiral needs Seven to treat her " countered Jess, not understanding.
"Seven's left hand is shaking," said Jake flatly, hoping they had enough time.
"I'll rouse the Admiral," came the decisive reply, "Lourdon out."
Left alone in the corridor Jake did something he hadn't done since before he joined Starfleet: he started to pray
"Kathryn?" Tearful, Seven stood at the bottom of Kathryn's bed and looked at her lover who was lying very still in the centre of the large bed, looking smaller than Seven could ever remember seeing her.
"Seven?" Kathryn's voice was weak and the usual huskiness was replaced with a dry, croaking sound as she battled to return to consciousness.
"You are damaged," observed Seven, prompting a startled look from Jess Lourdon, not as familiar with Seven's emotional responses under stress as Kathryn or Harry were.
"A little," croaked Kathryn, trying to turn her head so she could see Seven, causing Harry to push his friend towards his former Captain.
"I did not save you," said Seven, her voice hollow as she stood next to the side of the bed, leaning forwards so that Kathryn could see her.
"Sure you did darling," whispered Kathryn, talking becoming more of an effort.
"The Queen damaged you, I did not stop it."
"Where is the Queen now?" asked Kathryn carefully, drawing on every last piece of strength to talk, leaving nothing left to enable her to reach out and hold Seven's hand.
"And the Borg?"
"You've had a busy few minutes then."
"Kathryn " Seven's eyes were full of tears as she looked helplessly at her lover.
"My hand is shaking."
"Let me hold it them " suggested Kathryn, her eyes becoming increasingly unfocussed as her body started to lose its struggle with consciousness as she tried to reach out for Seven's hand which, with the assistance of Harry, she managed to take and pull up against her chest, knowing Seven would feel the thump of her heart which miraculously, was still managing to beat steadily and with some strength.
"Seven?" whispered Harry quietly, not wanting to intrude but knowing that his friends didn't have much longer unless the blonde could find her composure.
"I " Finding words failing her, Seven turned her watery gaze on her friend, not moving her hand from Kathryn's chest.
"Give me your hand?" asked Harry, gesturing towards her left hand which was still at her side. Obediently, Seven raised it between them, enabling Harry to take it in his own larger one and squeeze it gently in what he hoped was encouragement. "It's time Seven."
"She needs you Seven " began Harry, realising that his own eyes were swelling with moisture as he held his friend's hand.
"The rest of the universe needs her Seven, we all need her but you're the only one of us she needs, she's the only one you need " encouraged Harry, sitting down gently on the bed, forcing Seven to sit down with him, sensing that time was now starting to run out.
"I can't "
"Resistance is futile Seven " he said softly, " go to your Omega " and, gently releasing Seven's hand, he stood up and stepped back, knowing that somehow it would be alright, that Seven would be able to do it: today was not the day the Universe wanted to say goodbye to Kathryn Janeway.
"Clear your staff from the Admiral's bedroom."
"But Captain " began Jess, ready to protest.
"You can monitor the situation from the other room just as effectively," he explained, his tone leaving no room for argument as he took her by the elbow and, with a nod towards the nurses, indicated that everyone needed to leave: some treatments were best kept private.
"What do we do now Sir?" asked Jake quietly, having re-joined his Captain and the CMO in the Admiral's quarters' living area.
"We wait," said Harry simply, resisting the urge to pace.
"For what Sir?" asked Jake again, realising he was probably aggravating Harry but needing to know.
"What do you mean for what Commander! For Seven to save the Admiral!" Harry didn't say 'again' but his tone distinctly implied it as he let his frustration at not being able to do something show.
"Of course Captain, my apologies."
"You had something else in mind?" asked Harry pointedly, fixing a reasonably good impression of the 'Janeway glare, hull plating removing variety' on him.
"There is a surrendered Borg fleet sitting 100 km off our port bow and stretching as far as the Quantum's sensors can detect Captain."
"Yes Commander, and we will get to them when the Admiral is awake," said Harry simply, turning his back on his First Officer in a clear signal to shut up. Sensing that Jake had perhaps not got the message, Jess Lourdon decided to brave her Captain's increasingly darkening mood by observing delicately,
"Captain, there is not that much that we can do for the next thirty minutes or so whilst Seven assists the Admiral in her recovery directly. Might I recommend that you take this opportunity to take on fluids and refresh your uniform? I'm certain the de-briefs and meetings will continue long into the gamma shift once the Admiral does wake up and gets you started "
"No threat about how you're sedating her until next week?" teased Harry, recognising the sense in Jess' words but also drawing immense strength from the Doctor's prognosis for the Admiral.
"Don't get me wrong, she will need rest and recovery time but I'm not stupid enough to think I won't have a bit of a fight on my hands," stated Jess evenly, glad that only Jake was in a position to eavesdrop their conversation.
"Her reputation precedes her?" suggested Harry, recalling numerous occasions when Captain Janeway had irritated the EMH with her refusal to rest.
"News of Admiral Janeway being sufficiently recovered to discuss the mission with you will do wonders for 'Fleet morale," replied Jess, deliberately misunderstanding the question, "but I am serious when I say the Admiral can get you started," warned Jess, knowing that there would be about a ten minute window during which Harry could talk to the Admiral before she would need to rest for a good few hours to recover from the trauma of the lesions and phaser wounds.
"Thank you Jess " and, with a brief flash of the boyish smile that showed a hint of the Ensign Kim that had set off for the Badlands, Harry excused himself to take his CMO's advice.
"Seven of Nine to Dr Lourdon."
"Dr Lourdon here Seven, how can I help?" asked Jess neutrally, her eyes sweeping over the padd that showed the Admiral's lifesigns which, reassuringly, looked like they were improving.
"Could you join with me a cup of replicated black coffee," it was a strange request that somehow, made everyone smile.
"Certainly Seven, Lourdon out," replied Jess smartly before turning to her head nurse and collecting the cup of coffee that she had requested from the replicator as Seven asked for it, "Thank you."
"Unusual treatment Doctor."
"Unusual circumstances Lieutenant," explained Jess lightly before stepping up to the Admiral's bedroom door. Taking a moment to straighten her shoulders and uniform, after all, this was a personal audience with an Admiral of the Fleet no matter how surreal the situation, Jess stepped through the door.
"Seven?" she enquired gently, her eyes drawn to the bed where Seven was lying, partially propped up against the pillows, Janeway held protectively against her right side, both covered with the light bedclothes. Were it not for the fact that Jess knew she still had to reconstruct the Admiral's hip and knee following the phaser burns, she would have thought she was intruding on any other happy couple yet to properly wake up to face the day, or night as the case was here.
"Come in Doctor," instructed Seven, glancing towards the foot of the bed, encouraging Jess to come close enough to perch on it next to her feet. "Thank you for the coffee," said Seven, reaching out with her left hand and taking the cup from Jess before holding it just above her lap, a few inches from Janeway's nose.
"How are you?" Seven frowned at the question was it not Kathryn for whom the concern was necessary, after all, she was the one who was damaged.
"I am physically functioning within acceptable parameters."
"And emotionally?" prompted Jess gently, sensing that Seven's tendency towards accuracy had inadvertently revealed something.
"I will be functioning at the optimal parameter when Kathryn is awake," stated Seven, the coffee cup held steady in her left hand as she studied Kathryn's relaxed face and closed eyes intently.
"Of course." Jess was about to say more, feeling that she ought to manage Seven's obvious expectation of immediate response from the Admiral when she was interrupted.
"Yes Kathryn," said Seven softly, placing the coffee cup on the bedside table enabling her to run the fingers of her left hand gently through her lover's hair.
"Mmm c'fee?" asked Kathryn, clearly not yet fully awake and her earlier dry-mouthed huskiness still very much in evidence.
"Not yet, you are still damaged, but you may have some water," encouraged Seven, reaching for the cup of water that she had previously placed on the bedside table, complete with straw to aid her lover's drinking.
"S'not coffee," grumbled Kathryn having slurped noisily, the liquid having an immediate impact on her ability to speak.
"Your fixation with the bitter caffeinated beverage is irritating," observed Seven as she replaced the cup on the bedside table, taking the opportunity that gave her to blink away the moisture that was gathering in her eyes from the relief that Kathryn did appear to be 'her old self'.
"But you love me anyway " quipped Kathryn, content for the moment to stay lying pressed up against Seven's body whilst it was restrictive it was familiar, reassuring and a comfortable way to wait whilst the neuro-blocker that Seven had to give her before she received the nanoprobes wore off.
"Yes, very much," said Seven seriously, turning her head back to look at Kathryn.
"What's the matter?" She may be still somewhat off-balance having just had major brain surgery but Kathryn Janeway still knew how to read her lover and something wasn't right.
"Kathryn, what do you remember?"
"I'm fine Seven, I'm in the Delta Quadrant on Harry's ship with Qs and Phoebe's great-great-great-grandson I think."
"You think?" Seven was concerned, although she hadn't previously known that Eric Andrews was a relation although that piece of information did make sense.
"I think I got the number of generations right I'm fine Seven, the lesions didn't do any permanent damage, unlike the Queen's phasers " grumbled Kathryn, remembering the two phaser wounds and suddenly extremely thankful that the neuro-blocker hadn't yet worn off.
"I think the Doctor would like to examine you Kathryn," said Seven gently, relieved that they had once again managed to 'beat the odds' as Kathryn would say and intervene before the lesions did their permanent damage.
"Do I have any choice?" asked Kathryn wearily, knowing how stubborn Seven could get but also sensing that this time had been a closer run thing than she would like, with the lesions developing enough for her to start having a seizure, something that hadn't happened for a number of years, since her first diagnosis. She remembered from those early days how stressful and upsetting her seizures had been for Seven and immediately reconsidered her answer, "Do you want to get Jess for us darling?"
"She's already here," said Seven, gesturing towards the foot of the bed, which was just outside the Admiral's restricted field of vision, prompting Jess to rise to her feet and move around so she was crouching at the side of the bed.
"Doctor." Kathryn's tone was a little frosty.
"She brought you coffee Kathryn," chided Seven gently, making Jess want to smile but managing to resist it probably wasn't advisable to think of the Admiral and her lover as 'cute'.
"But she's not helping me drink it," came the grumble, although the sparkling eyes did suggest that maybe, Admiral Janeway was teasing the Doctor.
"How are you feeling Admiral?" asked Jess, deciding to try to regain control of the conversation, if only because she knew that, despite the Admiral's attempts at levity, she was going to start running out of energy soon.
"Assuming I really was shot twice by the Borg Queen's phasers before blowing her up with some sort of phaser knife which I really must thank Junior for, I don't have any issues from the lesions. What I don't know is whether, when the neuro-blocker wears off how the rest of me will feel. Do I still have two phaser wounds to deal with?"
"Yes Admiral there wasn't enough time to treat the phaser wounds before Seven had to start the nanoprobe treatment. I'm afraid you will have to return to sickbay for surgeries."
"The Queen did quite a bit of damage to both your hip and knee; I'm going to have to do full reconstructions. You won't suffer any long term issues apart from some people suggest they have an increased dislike of the cold damp San Francisco winter," admitted Jess, knowing the Admiral wouldn't appreciate a sugar-coated explanation.
"I think that's also known as getting old Jess " joked Kathryn before asking, "so, what's the plan?"
"I think Captain Kim would appreciate a few minutes of your time and then I suggest we transport you to sickbay and get started," said Jess, trying not to look too surprised at the Admiral's unexpected willingness to receive treatment rather than stubbornly demand to remain on duty.
"Computer open a comm link to Captain Kim."
"Kim here," came the slightly surprised sounding Harry evidently he hadn't appreciated that his ship could hail him and, judging by the wide eyed looks from some of his Bridge crew, neither had they.
"Harry it's Admiral Janeway could you join me in my Quarters please?" asked Kathryn cordially, knowing that her polite suggestion would be interpreted as an order to be followed 'at the rush'.
"Yes Ma'am, Kim out," replied Harry smartly, cutting the comm link before she could chastise him for using the dreaded Ma'am as far as Harry was concerned, it was the only title that fitted.
"Captain?" asked Lt Blan nervously as Harry headed for the turbolift.
"You have the Bridge Lieutenant," said Harry, grinning reassuringly at the obviously nervous officer who was the Beta shift command officer and, without another member of the Senior Staff on the Bridge, the person Harry had relieved albeit briefly when he appeared on the Bridge a few minutes earlier to just see how things were, "just keep doing what you were doing," he encouraged.
"I can't Sir."
"Oh?" Harry paused, sufficiently intrigued to delay his departure via turbolift by a second.
"I was praying for Admiral Janeway to wake up," admitted Blan honestly, blushing at the admission which, spoken aloud didn't sound very Starfleet.
"You and me both Lieutenant, how about some new orders then?"
"Yes Sir, thank you Sir."
"Station keeping and anticipating Admiral Janeway giving me orders to steer this ship to the Alpha Quadrant."
"Absolutely Sir, please, permission to tell the Quantum?" requested Blan, feeling suddenly bold.
"You bet Lieutenant," and, on that positive note Harry took his leave of his Bridge, knowing that the Admiral wouldn't begrudge him the few seconds delay as the retelling of it through the decks in the coming hours would do more for ships morale than any holodeck programme.
"Blan to Quantum."
"Quantum here, go ahead Lieutenant."
"The Admiral is awake Quantum."
"That's good to hear Lieutenant what are your orders?" asked the duty officer from the Quantum, wondering, like most people, what was going to happen next.
"Captain Kim has ordered station keeping Sir."
"Understood Quantum will maintain current position and sensor sweeps. Quantum out."
"Come in Harry, thank you Doctor."
"Admiral " began Jess, not entirely at ease with the clear dismissal.
"Seven will supervise and you'll just be outside," instructed the Admiral firmly, her tone and command glare brooking no further argument.
"Yes Admiral, Captain," and, with a final look of her own shot at Harry which he correctly interpreted to mean he would experience much pain next medical if he wasn't quick, Jess Lourdon retreated back into the Admiral's outer room only to rapidly decide that she'd relocate her staff to sickbay as the next time she would see the Admiral it would need to be there.
"How are you feeling Admiral?" asked Harry formally, inwardly wincing at the rather inane sounding question.
"Not much at the moment Harry, which is how I think I'm liking it," said Kathryn flippantly, only to grimace slightly and add, "for one reason or another, I've got a neuro-blocker which means I cannot move or feel anything below my neck. Can you come around this side please?"
"Of course Admiral," and, obediently, Harry moved to where Seven was indicating which would place him in the Admiral's current range of vision.
"Status report Captain?" asked Kathryn finally, when it was clear he wasn't going to volunteer one.
"Quantum is station keeping off our port bow, monitoring the Borg fleet which stretches from 100km port as far as the Quantum's sensors can detect. All Borg shields, engines and weapons are offline with all drones in a suspended state; how and for how long I can only hope Seven can tell us?" asked Harry, looking towards the blonde.
"Indeed; I have assimilated the Borg Queen's cortical node and instructed all drones to resume regeneration having powered down all weapons, shields and engines. They are no threat."
"And the away team?" asked Kathryn, conscious her energy was waning.
"Have returned with the data nodes they are currently in the Brig under guard," said Harry, only to continue to hastily explain on seeing the Admiral's look of surprise, "it was the easiest and quickest way to isolate both the nodes and the crew."
"Only you Admiral the Queen was somewhat fixated with you," explained Harry carefully.
"I guess I'm just lucky like that," mused Kathryn, clearly becoming tired.
"Mr Kim," prompted Seven, looking pointedly at Kathryn and then back to him.
"Do you have any particular orders for Quantum and Voyager Admiral?" asked Harry quickly, recognising Seven's far from subtle hint.
"Yes Kathryn?" From out of nowhere, Q and Junior appeared at the foot of the bed, both still wearing Starfleet uniform although they seemed to both be favouring the rank of Commander.
"Either 'Admiral' me or change," grumbled Kathryn, the twitching of the bedclothes coupled with the flash of a grimace across her face suggesting that the neuro-blocker was starting to wear off and the first spasms of pain begin.
"Apologies Admiral," said Q quickly, with Junior actually doing a very good impression of standing seriously to attention.
"Have the Council met?" Kathryn shot a look at Seven to stop her intervening by summoning Jess she was nearly done.
"Yes Admiral. They committed their findings to a Padd," explained Q, holding up a Starfleet Padd.
"Captain my orders for both Voyager and Quantum are to assist the Q in opening a sub-space rift in order that contact can be made by Q with Species 8472."
"Admiral?" Harry was confused what good would bringing Species 8472 to the dormant Borg Fleet do?
"Q and Eric can explain Harry " said Kathryn before her eyes closed as the rapidly returning pain became too much even as Jess Lourdon, who had once again been monitoring Kathryn's life signs, initiated a site-to-site transport for Seven and the Admiral, leaving Harry and the two Qs in the Admiral's bedroom.
"Dad?" asked Junior, turning nervously to his father.
"She's going to be ok son," reassured Q, putting his hand on Junior's shoulder in an attempt to provide comfort.
"Why don't you help her?" Junior's eyes were watering as he remembered how weak and mortal his Aunt Kathy had looked when the transporter took her away to sickbay.
"It isn't time."
"So make it time," shouted Junior, now openly crying and looking exactly like the teenager he was rather than the immortal he was born to grow up to be.
"She doesn't want it yet."
"What did you mean on the Queen's Cube Q?" asked Harry suddenly, remembering the final taunt the Admiral had thrown at the Queen.
"Who mean what Mr Kim?" asked Q, deliberately being dumb.
"When you said 'she means herself' when the Admiral told the Queen she had Omega," clarified Harry, suddenly realising that if his massive hunch was correct a lot of things would suddenly make sense.
"Oh, that." If it was possible, Q now looked nervous and uncertain.
"Junior? What is your father not telling me about your Aunt?" asked Harry, fixing a firm command glare on the younger omnipotent.
"Cruel Mr Kim, cruel," chided Q quickly, "she wouldn't approve of you picking on the boy."
"And she wouldn't approve of you not telling him Dad. Aunt Kathy is, or rather can be a Q Sir," said Junior seriously, remembering the numerous times she'd reminded him to either respect the uniform he liked to wear or take it off and, for now at least, recognising that Harry should, after all that had happened, be respected for the Captain he was.
"She is Omega?" asked Harry finally, dropping onto the bed as he coped with the shock.
"Has is more accurate, the Council think that's what the brain changes are," explained Junior, wincing at the bad way he was explaining and hoping that his father would take over.
"The Admiral has Delkargian Lesions," corrected Harry, naming the rare and fatal disease that Federation Science had not yet managed to find a cure for.
"No, the Admiral tells those that need to know she has Delkargian Lesions as the treatment for that disease in combination with Seven's nanoprobes prevent her developing the symptoms which look like Delkargian Lesions," corrected Q patiently, 'conjuring' two chairs for him and Junior to sit on so that they were not standing over the clearly shocked Harry.
"So the Admiral's brain ?"
"The Admiral's brain is starting to respond to the Omega and is trying to evolve into that of a Q," explained Q simply, adding, "I'm not a scientist so can't explain it properly."
"The Admiral knows this?" asked Harry, amazed.
"The Admiral, Seven, Jean-Luc, Beverly Crusher and you, Mr Kim."
"Wow indeed. Tell me, Mr Kim, has your tiny mortal mind made sense of it all yet?" The patronising phrasing of an otherwise sensible question was so typically Q that Harry felt it was impossible to take serious offence to it, although he did risk a rather exaggerated frown at Q who obediently responded with a look of mock contrition even as he waited for Harry to order his thoughts.
"You knew about the Admiral's uh, 'potential' when you asked her to mate with you?"
"Yes, and no Junior, your mother came to her senses before anything happened with your Aunt Kathy," explained Q, not letting his son speak.
"And that's also why the Council was prepared to listen to the Admiral when she was negotiating the peace in the Continuum?"
"Was the Caretaker a Q?" asked Harry suddenly, surprising himself nevermind Q, who hadn't thought he'd make the connection that quickly.
"Second cousin several generations back he acted alone in bringing Voyager to the Delta Quadrant."
"But he picked Voyager?" clarified Harry, beginning to see.
"He picked Kathryn he'd been isolated from the Continuum and needed assistance; Voyager was just an extension of Kathryn to him," explained Q neutrally, sensing that the pieces had fallen into place for Harry.
"So the Caretaker was an early Continuum experiment?"
"Yes one of our finest scientists of his generation."
"And Species 8472, don't tell me, third cousin on your grandmother's side with a centuries old grudge that relates to the Borg experiment?"
"Fourth cousin on my grandfather's side actually, and the grudge dates back millennia and is rather more than a grudge, but you're right, the Borg experiment was the final straw as you humans like to say."
"And the Admiral knows all this?" asked Harry, not sure whether to be angry or amazed.
"The Admiral knows all this," confirmed Q, before Junior added, "Seven too, although they both knew different bits until yesterday when they both learnt all of it."
"What happens next?"
"The 'Great Ending' is what Starfleet calls it."
"And the Continuum?" sensing there was still something Q wasn't telling him.
"Peace, across all spaces."
"Wow indeed Mr. Kim, wow indeed."
"Q?" asked Harry eventually, when the silence that had descended on the room was more than he could take.
"Yes Mr Kim?"
"Is the Admiral going to be ok?" He may be a Starfleet Captain but right at this second, he felt like a small, insignificant child lost in a sea of grown-ups all focussed on something way above his head that he couldn't see or hear.
"Of course!" Q's false cheer was jarring, forcing Harry to glare at the omnipotent.
"Q " he growled, distractedly impressed with the fact that it did actually yield an appropriate response from Q who immediately sobered and, clearly choosing his words with an element of consideration declared,
"Today is not the day the Universe, in any space, decides it can cope without Kathryn Janeway."
"So she's going to be ok?" repeated Harry, not liking the vagueness of Q's answer.
"Today is just the beginning of great things Mr Kim, things that we can only just begin to dream of, but I assure you, they are things that will see Kathryn Janeway at the heart of them."
"Where the universe needs her to be, for as long as is right," continued Q, sounding increasingly cryptic.
"Yes Mr Kim?"
"I'm not sure."
"Don't mention if Mr Kim, really, don't ever mention it," muttered Q, looking sheepish as he struggled to cope with the first sincere and genuine compliment he had received in millennia.
"What happens now?"
"We carry out the Admiral's orders," said Q simply, as if she'd just ordered them prepare the Ship for an Admiral's inspection or a similar mundane chore.
"It's that simple?" asked Harry, disbelief colouring his tone.
"It's that simple Harry " agreed Q, before he and Junior blinked out of the room, off to complete their part of the Admiral's orders.
"Admiral's Personal Log, Stardate 61408.9."
"Even by my standards, the last few days in the Delta Quadrant have been eventful." Pausing to take a sip of her whiskey, which, thanks to Jess Lourdon's secret stash, was not replicated, Kathryn Janeway found herself lost in the streaks of light that shot past her window, the only hint to those on board Voyager exactly how fast they were travelling.
"It would appear that yesterday I fulfilled a prophecy that was set in motion millennia ago " again Kathryn paused, only to smirk as she realised something, " which is probably irritating Ben Sisko no end wherever he's ended up " before, taking a sobering sip of whiskey she continued flatly, " I facilitated the end of an experiment, one that had got out of control centuries ago, or at least, that's what I'm supposed to tell myself, not forgetting to be congratulated for re-unifying the most powerful omnipotent species in the Universe, ensuring that inter-dimensional peace is a reality for the first time in generations of omnipotent Q " Again Kathryn paused, unable to find the words to record what she was thinking and feeling. Before she could continue with another sentence however, she was interrupted by the door chime.
"Oh thank god! Enter!"
"Why were you thanking a deity at that moment?" asked Seven, entering the Admiral's quarters and surveying the room quickly for signs of threat.
"Because you have saved me from having to update my personal log."
"You do not normally find the experience arduous," observed Seven, sitting down on the couch next to her lover and automatically re-arranging Kathryn's temporarily immobile legs so that they were draped over Seven's lap, allowing Kathryn to relax back against the end of the couch, her whiskey discarded on the floor..
"The last 72 hours have been somewhat arduous darling, I find I don't have the words to explain it all.
"I see." Seven frowned for a moment before deciding on a solution. "Computer, resume Admiral's Personal Log recording with additional contributions from Seven of Nine."
"Personal Authorisation from Admiral Janeway required," intoned Voyager neutrally, waiting for the input.
"Authorisation Seven Nine Omega," said Kathryn, looking shyly at Seven to see how she'd react to the code, only to see a hint of a smile gracing her lover's face, suggesting that she'd picked the right code after all.
"Authorisation confirmed, resuming recording." Punctuating the statement with a beep, Voyager's computer waited obediently for Seven to start speaking. After a moment of thoughtfulness, Seven rested her hands on Kathryn's shins and, in a seemingly random non sequitur asked.
"How are you feeling Kathryn?"
"What's that got to do with anything?" asked Kathryn, puzzled by the question.
"I have listened to many of your official logs from when you were Captain of Voyager and invariably, after a major event you would start by cataloguing the status of the ship and crew before adding relevant details. Also, I wish to know," decided Seven, gently smoothing the creases from the fabric gathered under her hands.
"And if I were to say I was fine dear?" asked Kathryn, raising an eyebrow in mild challenge whilst reaching for her whiskey once more.
"You would be being deliberately disingenuous," countered Seven, showing off her significantly expanded 'human' vocabulary which she only remembered to explore and use when she was at her most relaxed and unstressed.
"And I wouldn't want to be that," agreed Kathryn archly, taking a small sip of her drink before deciding to indulge Seven's curiosity, "I do actually feel fine in that I cannot actually feel anything wrong with me above my waist and the neuro-blocker is doing its job."
"When is Dr Lourdon returning?" asked Seven, critically eying Kathryn's whiskey glass, knowing better than to challenge her lover on it as Kathryn was extremely self-conscious about her consumption of alcohol and regulated herself particularly carefully when in a command situation.
"In about 3 hours she said she'd be back just before the end of Alpha shift to give me a top-up and help me move into the chair so that I could meet with Harry to discuss commendations for his crew."
"Would you like to have dinner with me in the Mess Hall after your meeting?" asked Seven, wondering how Kathryn would react to the suggestion that she interact with the rest of the crew whilst still restricted to the anti-grav chair and unable to feel her damaged legs.
"Depends, do you know what's on the menu?" asked Kathryn teasingly, thinking of the time when replicator use was tightly rationed and she had to brave Neelix's cooking no matter what he was serving in order to be able to replicate her precious black coffee.
"It is apparently a terran Oriental buffet which, if it is as good as the Klingon buffet that was apparently served right before we boarded the ship should be a good meal," explained Seven, recalling what she'd overheard whilst she worked on a simulation in Engineering earlier.
"Sounds like a plan then do you know if it's been planned for any particular reason?," asked Kathryn, seemingly forgotten that this entire conversation was being recorded as part of her personal log entry.
"It is this month's scheduled 'entertainment' for the crew we failed to notice the pool tournament, beach barbeque and were otherwise occupied for the two film nights. That it coincides with the completion of events is fortuitous but not connected."
"Events that's quite an understatement darling," corrected Kathryn, taking another thoughtful sip of her drink.
"How would you prefer to reference the last five days?" asked Seven, carefully concealing any expression of satisfaction that she'd managed to engineer Kathryn into bringing up the exact topic that needed to be covered for the log entry.
"According to Eric Starfleet calls it 'the Great Ending' but Junior wants the Continuum to call it the 'Great Reunion'.
"But what do you want to call it Kathryn?" prompted Seven, not sure she particularly liked either name although she could understand exactly why each group was favouring their respective pick.
"I don't know I'm not sure it's a great anything."
"Then do not call it anything. Do you think you will have to reference it much?"
"I hope not, apart perhaps from the injuries being listed on my medical history I suspect that Starfleet will want to do their very best not to talk about it, especially since they managed to keep the re-emergence of the Borg a secret," mused Kathryn, continuing distractedly, "on the basis that they've embarrassed me in public with the praise for destroying the Borg once and for all the first time, I doubt they'll want to bring up in public the fact that it didn't quite work, forcing the destruction of millions if not billions of drones once again. Admissions like that don't make for good PR."
"But you didn't destroy any Borg this time," correctly Seven gently, wondering how her lover would interpret that statement.
"No, I just ordered you to render them all entirely defenceless and dormant before allowing Species 8472 to destroy them all without a fight!"
"Hardly Kathryn " chastised Seven, knowing her lover would take some time to understand what happened from the perspective of others. Whereas many in Starfleet would have solely focussed on the victory that destroying the Borg was, Kathryn would always carry with her the burden of the death of so many potential individuals, even if that burden was going to lessen over time with the recognition that achieving permanent release from the Borg Queen's strangulating influence on those who were drones was realistically only a theoretical and not a practical possibility. " what about the impact you had on the Continuum?"
"I still can't believe that Q proposed it should called the Janeway treaty!" groused Kathryn, referring to the agreement that was now in place between Species 8472 or the Qrews as they had elected to now be known as, in homage to that 4th cousin of Q's on his grandfather's side who was the common ancestor they shared with the Qs.
"A perfectly sensible name given that it was entirely down to your determination and strength of character that kept the two groups in the negotiations long enough to resolve millennia of tension and distrust," corrected Seven, remembering the times when Jess Lourdon had had to increase the strength of the Admiral's pain killers and neural blockers so that she could remain at the negotiating table in her chair for longer and thus keep the talks going. "If you had not been able to participate then the ending of the Omega experiment would have yielded nothing; at least with the Janeway Treaty there has been something achieved by that experiment that is of benefit to the Continuum and, by extension to the rest of the Universe."
"But at what cost? All those drones " began Kathryn, only to be interrupted by Seven,
"All those drones would have been terminated eventually without the Treaty my examination of the data cores retrieved from the Queen's central chamber show that the damage by the pathogen was such that the Queen's control of the drones was weak and fractured. At some point there would have been an challenge to her authority from within the Borg that she could not contain and then there would have been a form of civil war, which would have seen millions of Borg die even as the senseless assimilation of new individuals to replenish drone forces continued."
"That was the chaos?" asked Kathryn, not yet caught up on everything that Seven and Harry had learnt from the retrieved data cores so consumed had she been by the negotiations and the urgent need to stop an inter-space war between the Continuum and the Qrew.
"And you were the ordering force, although not perhaps the way the Borg Queen originally intended," confirmed Seven dryly.
"Perhaps not," agreed Kathryn, leaning back to consider everything she'd just learnt and how the last few days now fit together.
"What is your conclusion?" asked Seven eventually, when it was clear Kathryn wasn't going to instinctively verbalise her thoughts.
"I'm not sure I've reached a conclusion yet darling."
"But you have some facts from which to form a conclusion?" asked Seven, knowing that if Kathryn didn't start to formulate some sort of conclusions soon she would be at risk of drifting into her own thoughts and perhaps struggling to emerge from them at some future stage.
"With the help of the Continuum and the USS Quantum, I managed to irritate the damaged Borg Queen enough to shoot me twice with her phasers whilst the entire Borg database archive was stolen. Impressively, this old Admiral managed to be the only casualty from the seemingly suicidal mission which was completed entirely due to the successful assimilation and control of the Borg Queen and all her drones by the beautiful and wonderful Seven of Nine, only for the whole mission to be temporarily ruined by the old Admiral's brain attempting to prematurely evolve into an omnipotent being before the rest of her was quite ready forcing emergency, Borg enhanced brain surgery by the fabulous Seven. Having sorted that out, civil war nearly started on Voyager's doorstep and so, with no real clue what the hell was going on, the bruised and battered Admiral was shot full of pain killers and strapped to a chair and forced to referee an argument between two groups of overgrown schoolboys, both of whom had the ability to end the Universe in a couple of finger-clicks if they didn't feel like talking. Somehow we're all still here, the Borg have been removed by the Qrew on everyone's behalf avoiding widespread destruction across all quadrants due to a Borg Civil War, the Qs are currently having a drunken family reunion that may or may not see the creation of a few new Q and solar systems and I'm going to be able to walk again in about a week according to Jess."
"Anything else?" asked Seven, impressed with the concise summation her lover had provided but not entirely surprised, after all, in Seven's opinion (one that was now shared by the entire crew and all omnipotent beings everywhere), Kathryn could do pretty much anything she put her mind to, including it would seem, become omnipotent.
"Apart from being in love with you and not wanting to become a Q, no, that's it I think."
"You don't want to become a Q?"
"Not unless they can do the same for you darling I can't see there's much fun in being able to live forever if most of it would be without you " admitted Kathryn softly, reaching forwards to lay her hand over Seven's left hand which frustratingly was the only bit of Seven that she could reach.
"Kathryn " Seven didn't know what to say.
"Come lie with me darling?" asked Kathryn, wanting the physical intimacy as well as the emotional intimacy their conversation already had.
"Always Kathryn," said Seven softly, before smoothly standing up, Kathryn clasped against her, "I love you," she whispered as, her precious load carefully balanced, she stepped carefully around the coffee table and headed to the bedroom, only to pause a step or two later.
"Computer, end personal log."
"You tricked me!" teased Kathryn, suddenly glad of the lighter mood as Seven once again resumed her careful journey towards the bedroom.
"Hardly Kathryn, I merely facilitated the recording of your personal log by allowing you to record a dialogue rather than a monologue now, I do recall you mentioning that you had plans the last time we lay together " observed Seven as she gently lay Kathryn down on the bed before quickly lying down alongside her, remembering the few hours of calm they had had together between the Borg fleet coming onto Voyager's sensors and the commencement of the away mission.
"Mmm, now you remind me " agreed Kathryn, reaching to unpin Seven's glorious hair so that it tumbled about her face, " Computer, seal quarters with Borg encryption sequence Alpha Zulu 6."
"Yes Mr Coltaq?"
"What is it Ensign?" asked Harry, not moving from his seat, having no energy to trot across to the Ops Board to see what it was that Coltaq didn't feel comfortable sharing with the rest of the Bridge Crew.
"I've sent it to your terminal Sir," explained Coltaq although, unlike the first time he'd seen this message flash across his terminal he was relaxed and calm. Intrigued, Harry looked down at his terminal to see what had captured Coltaq's attention, only to see the short and simple report state
*Borg encryption code detected, Deck 2, Section 4 Alpha.*
"Thank you Ensign, what is your recommendation Commander?"
"Deletion from all logs with a level ten swipe Sir?" suggested Jake, remembering the first time they'd seen this particular code and understanding what it meant.
"Agreed Computer, delete all references to Borg encryption code activity on Deck 2 and run a level ten wipe on all relevant data sectors, authorisation Kim Alpha Charlie Bravo."
"Acknowledged, deletion completed."
"The world has changed Coltaq, there's nothing to fear about the Borg anymore, least of all for the Admiral."
"Oh, and Mr Coltaq?"
"You might want to get astrometrics to produce some new star charts before we set off for the Alpha Quadrant," suggested Harry mildly, spotting something at the corner of his screen.
"It would seem that the Q have just kicked the party up a gear, or at least got to the speeches" said Harry cryptically, pleased to see that drunken Q at least altered the universe in a constructive fashion.
"Sir?" Jake was confused.
"It would seem that when Q get drunk they make a planet or nine " mused Harry, amused to see the tribute that the omnipotent beings had decided was appropriate where there had been barren space in which to do battle with the Borg there was now a nine planet solar system, complete with an Earth-like sphere seventh from the star at the centre of the system.
"What do you want to bet they call that one Janeway?" asked Jake, marvelling at the solar system now surrounding them.
"They wouldn't dare " said Harry, chuckling at the thought, " really, they wouldn't dare "
In the Continuum, the party had paused for speeches which, in the best traditions of the Q had not been brief or pithy but were instead long and pompous, especially when it became clear that the Qrew were competitive and had attempted to outlast the Q's speakers at every opportunity. Now, finally, it was the turn of the head of the Council of Q to conclude this tedious stage of proceedings which he was doing, albeit slowly.
" and, to conclude this celebration, the Qrew Chancellorship and the Council of the Continuum have reached their first of what we can hope will be many unanimous agreements. We stand together and ask you to raise your glasses in toast to the new planetary system that will forever serve as a memorial to this great moment, the system that will be known throughout the universe in all dimensions as 'Kathryn' "
"I came up with that," said Q pompously, earning him a glare from his wife and a frown from his son.
" and the largest planet, being of particular note and elegance, being modelled and styled after the homeworld of our unifier, Kathryn Janeway, is to be called 'Seven'."
"And I came up with that " added Q, ignoring the look of pure venom his wife was now directing at anyone who made eye-contact. It would seem that, despite the intervening years, she still bore a grudge.
As the crowds of omnipotent beings all broke out into cheers and celebrations (as much out of relief that the speeches were concluded as any real opinion on the planet naming), Junior had to shout to be heard.
"She's going to kill you."
"Who? Your mother?" asked Q, automatically looking around for his wife who now seemed to be enjoying the fawning affection from one of the Qrew, which seemed to please her.
"No, Aunt Kathy."
"Naming the planets after her? She'll kill you!" explained Junior, demonstrating that a teenager's ability to exaggerate wasn't confined to the mortal races.
"But she'll never know, it's only for the Continuum archives, which she'll never see since she's " Q stopped, suddenly seeing his son's point, a point Junior was gleefully making for him,
" which she'll see when she becomes part of the Continuum "
"She's going to kill me," agreed Q, sitting down on the floor, deflated.
"Something to look forward to!" teased Junior, downing the rest of his glass before disappearing off into the crowd to find that Qrew girl who'd been eying him earlier maybe they could make some moons for Seven together, that was always fun...
By the time Voyager was ready to engage her slipstream drives the next day in order to return to the Alpha Quadrant, Astrometrics had redrawn the star charts for the Kathryn System 14 times, and the planet 'Seven' had a group of nine small moons than hung in space around it and decorated the planet's night sky like a string of pearls.
"Admiral on the Bridge!" called out Ensign Coltaq, coming to attention when he saw the anti-grav chair emerge from the turbo-lift.
"As you were," ordered Kathryn, smiling at the crew of now familiar faces, no longer feeling the pang of disappointment when she stepped onto the bridge and remembered that this wasn't her ship and wasn't her crew: these young officers were not her alpha shift for this wasn't, despite Harry's command generosity, her Voyager, but they were a fine crew, and one that she was extremely proud to have shared a ship with.
"Admiral, it's good to see you on the Bridge " said Harry, wondering what had brought her to the bridge moments before they were ready to depart for the Alpha Quadrant.
"Try saying it like you mean it Mr Kim " joked Kathryn, taking a sip from her coffee mug, causing Harry to blush and Jake to almost smirk, "tell me Lt Blan, is the course laid in?" asked Kathryn casually, addressing the young Helm officer from the far side of the Bridge, her reliance on the anti-grav chair preventing her from actually crossing the Bridge to talk to him more directly.
"For the Alpha Quadrant?"
"Yes Ma'am, sector 001," explained Lt. Blan, wondering what was going on.
"Yes Admiral?" Now it was Harry's turn to be the nervous young officer. What was she up to?
"Did you receive new orders from Starfleet?"
"Is there another Admiral on board that I've not met?"
"I thought I'd cured you of disobeying orders " she mused, inwardly enjoying the poorly concealed looks of fear and panic starting to appear on various officers' faces, " but maybe I did set a bad example."
"I'm sorry Admiral, I don't follow " stuttered Harry, looking towards Seven who was standing at the auxiliary engineering station evidently as confused as everyone else.
"Your original orders were to visit the Delta Quadrant for how long Mr Kim?" asked Janeway, fixing a mild force 1 glare on her former Ops officer which was enough to cause most below Captain to wilt a little.
"6 months Admiral."
"And we've been in the Delta Quadrant how long?"
"62 days Admiral," said Harry promptly, beginning to get an inkling as to where her questioning was leading.
"And if you've not received new orders from Starfleet and I'm the only Admiral around " suggested Kathryn, her eyes sparkling as she saw the dawning realisation of what she was saying sink in for Harry, as clearly her prognosis from Dr Lourdon was good and a return to Starfleet Medical was not required.
"I think we need some new co-ordinates "
"Anywhere take your fancy Admiral?" asked Harry, crossing to stand by his Helm officer, ready to input the new co-ordinates.
"Wherever takes your fancy Captain, the Delta Quadrant's waiting for you."
"Waiting for us Admiral."
"No Harry, waiting for the Captain of Voyager; Computer, rescind command privileges for Admiral Kathryn Janeway and restore full command authority to Captain Harry Kim, authorisation Janeway Yankee Alpha Six."
"Command authority restored."
"Admiral " Harry's protestations were forestalled by Admiral Janeway's raised hand.
"Captain Kim, your crew are standing by for your orders," reminded Kathryn gently, watching him as he looked around his Bridge at his Crew, seeing them all stand alert at their posts, their faces showing varying mixes of curiosity and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume their Delta Quadrant exploration as originally intended before the 'Borg contact' happened.
"Seven, is there anywhere you'd recommend?" asked Harry, hoping his old friend might help him out of this corner he was now in. Glancing at her lover, Seven canted her head and raised her ocular implant in what Jake was beginning to recognise as the blonde's equivalent of a rather pointed smirk.
"I imagine Species 218 would welcome a visit, since we are 'in the neighbourhood'," said Seven carefully, aware of the confusion this was causing for the Bridge Crew.
"Great idea, Admiral?" asked Harry, turning back towards Janeway.
"What's the point of having an Ambassador if we don't ever visit?" asked Janeway, confirming what she thought of Seven's suggestion.
"Lt Blan, lay in a course for the Federation Delta Quadrant Embassy on the Talax colony, warp 3" instructed Harry, crossing the bridge to retake his seat.
"Course laid in Captain," confirmed Blan a moment later, the computer recognising the known Federation landmark and plotting a route accordingly, even though their approach vector was through uncharted space.
"Admiral?" offered Harry one final time, turning back to look at his former Captain, "you do still have the keys " he reminded her, recalling the 'token' he'd created for her when they'd taken joint command. Recognising the spirit that the opportunity was being offered in, which was a long way from the nervous Captain who'd led the Voyager-C into the Delta Quadrant 62 days earlier, Kathryn Janeway squared her shoulders and looked as she always had done, straight at the back of Helm's head. It wasn't Tom Paris, and this wasn't her Bridge but it was still a Voyager and, no matter what rank insignia she was wearing, she would always be the Captain for this order.
"Engage," and, on that single word a button was pressed and Voyager-C's powerful warp drive purred into life, launching the ship and her crew away from the Alpha Quadrant, deeper into the Delta Quadrant. History would record the last few weeks as one of the Universe's decisive moments but that was now history, consigned to the past, a past that ensured the future would always take note of the name of Kathryn Janeway as a true Starfleet hero, but that was the future. Now, in the present, there was a Quadrant to explore and maybe, if Kathryn Janeway was lucky, they'd finally find that nebula that had coffee in it after all, this was the Delta Quadrant and, as experience and the Q had taught them, literally anything could, and would, happen, but until it did, Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine were more than happy to let the Universe look after itself.
"Fancy some lunch?"
"Admiral's prerogative, I'm sure you understand " said Kathryn, raising her coffee mug in acknowledgment to the crew before, with Seven's assistance, excusing herself from the Bridge to go and rest in her quarters with Seven, the exertions of the morning more draining than she'd care to admit.
"Permission to speak freely?"
"Go on " encouraged Harry, intrigued to see what his First Officer wanted permission to say.
"I want to be like the Admiral when I grow up." It was the utter seriousness of Jake's tone that made Harry grin.
"Commander, you're not the only one..."
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