DISCLAIMER: I own nothing but my imagination in this Star Trek: Voyager / Stargate: Atlantis crossover story. Star Trek: Voyager belongs to Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor, Paramount Studios, UPN, Viacom and whoever else owns pieces of the Star Trek franchise. Stargate: Atlantis belongs to MGM, SciFi various individuals and companies and whoever owns them.
SPOILERS: For ST:V and SG:A – to the end of their respective series (although focusing on the first three years of Atlantis). Everything beyond is definitely takes a dive into the wide ocean that is Alt-U.
WARNING: Descriptions of slavery/forced prostitution (nothing graphic); violence; mature themes.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To ladyjanus03[at]yahoo.ca

Be My Homeward Dove
By ladyjanus


Part 4

Kathryn stares at her friend in utter shock. When Elizabeth had told her that she was finally ready to brief Voyager's captain and officers on her past, Kathryn's heart had soared—but this? Yet, looking up at the other woman's face, she knows that Elizabeth is telling the truth.

"Stable planet to planet wormholes?" B'Elanna's snarl of disbelief startles them all as it shatters the silence. "What by the fires of Gre'thor are you talking about? That's impossible—the subspace stresses would tear both planets apart!"

"Commander Torres, please allow Dr. Weir to continue." Kathryn's order is unmistakable, and despite the glower on the half-Klingon's face, she obeys.

"I know it's hard to believe, B'Elanna," Elizabeth says sympathetically. "And, from what I understand from various things I've heard people say since I've been here, the phenomenon you call a wormhole may have nothing to do with our Stargate wormholes—like I said, I know very little science. What I do know is that the Stargates are able to establish connections across vast regions of space, and that is how we finally began to explore worlds outside our solar system—not with ships, like your Earth did, although we did eventually develop our own hyperspace ships with the help of our allies. Our explorations began with simply dialling an address into the Gate, sending through a probe to test the atmospheric and general conditions, then stepping through the event horizon."

"Stepping through the event horizon?" Paris croaks.

Elizabeth chuckles at their obvious disbelief. "You could walk through it as naked as the day you were born, Tom, and come out the other side perfectly fine—although you might want to make sure of the conditions on the other planet beforehand. The way Carter explained it to me is that the Stargate disintegrates a person or object that crosses the event horizon, storing the information as energy in some type of buffer, then transmits the information through a stable artificial wormhole through subspace to the receiving Gate's buffer, where it's reintegrated back into matter as it crosses the event horizon out onto the planet being explored."

"My god, it's a long-distance version of our transporter," Harry Kim whispers, "something similar to the Sikarian Trajector."

It's Elizabeth's turn to stare in complete surprise. "A version of your transporter?"

"What you describe is similar to the way our transporters work, Elizabeth," Kathryn says ruefully. "The targeting scanners scan a person at the quantum level, once a transport lock is established, the transporter beam then dematerialises the person, converting them to energy, transmitting it through subspace and storing it in a pattern buffer, from which they are reintegrated at their destination."

"But our transporters are fairly short-ranged," B'Elanna explains. "From a planetary surface to orbit is the usual limit to the distance across which transports are effected."

"Although, I did transport from the Utopia Planetia shipyards in orbit of Mars, directly to Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco once during a Fleet emergency," Chakotay murmurs thoughtfully.

"But the Trajector was able to send Harry and a certain Sikarian young lady across twenty-five to thirty thousand light years of space to another planet," Paris says as Kim blushes with embarrassment.

"We tried to acquire the technology, but it wasn't compatible with Starfleet technology—it started to damage the ship," B'Elanna continues in a quiet, sober voice.

Kathryn remembers how the Sikarian debacle had nearly shaken her faith in the young woman she'd chosen to be her chief engineer—and had shaken her faith in Tuvok, her closest friend and confidant ... the person she'd trusted to be her 'moral compass'.

"Furthermore, it had to be done in orbit of Sikaris," the chief engineer says, "as the planet itself acted like an amplifier to send objects across such a vast distance."

"Tell me, B'Elanna," Elizabeth says thoughtfully, resting the book on the briefing room table and pointing to the Stargate. "Was the planet's crust rich in naquadah?"

Torres' eyes widens in shock as Kathryn's breath catches in her throat.

"Kahless … not only the crust—almost the entire mantle was made of the quartzite precursor!"

"Thought so—one of the things Samantha Carter told me is that naquadah can not only absorb a great deal of energy, it can also act as a signal amplifier. An effect of that property is that it keeps the patterns stable and coherent in subspace over vast distances between Gates."

"Just how far could you travel between these Stargates, Elizabeth?" Kathryn whispers hoarsely as the implications of naquadah-based technology fall into place in her mind.

Elizabeth's gaze lingers on Kathryn for a moment—almost like a tender caress. "Let me put it this way, Kathryn, I didn't enter your Milky Way Galaxy from my Milky Way when I ran from the Replicators; I entered it from my Pegasus Galaxy."

Kathryn's voice sticks in her throat. "The Pegasus Galaxy?" she croaks out staring at her in absolute shock.

"In early 2004, after a new administration came into power in the US government, I was brought in to oversee this extraordinary program," Elizabeth replies. "At this point the Stargate had been in regular operation for over seven years and was run by the US Air Force. It looked like they would have to go public with the program, so President Henry Hayes was looking to put a more acceptable face than the American military industrial complex on it from a public relations point of view, and thought that an internationally known diplomat would smooth things over with our allies. There were also some political machinations going on behind the scenes, and Vice President Kinsey, who had more than a few contacts with some very shady characters, thought I would be more pliable … more easily controlled and amenable to his ah … needs than General Hammond, the then leader of Stargate Command. Let's just say that it didn't work out terribly well for him—I proved to be quite uncontrollable.

"I was only in charge of Stargate Command for a few weeks—but they certainly weren't boring. During that time, the armada of a very powerful Goa'uld System Lord called Anubis decided to pay us a visit—bring our upstart little planet back into line since we'd already taken out Ra, Apophis and a number of their brethren. While I tried to get up to speed on the program, the premiere Stargate team, SG-1, raced against time to find a weapon capable of defending Earth—they had found reference to the Lost City of the Ancients. The leader of the team, Colonel Jack O'Neill, went as far as to download an entire Ancient database into his mind in order to find it and the data overload damned near killed him.

"However, they found that the powerful weapon they were looking for was on Earth, ironically—in an Ancient outpost under the ice of Antarctica—but its power source, a zero point module, had been depleted. O'Neill, using the Ancient knowledge, found us a replacement ZPM in another outpost called Taonas, left behind by the Ancients on the planet Proclarush, which circled a dying star. O'Neill then used the weapon's platform to destroy Anubis' fleet. Afterwards, another System Lord called Ba'al tried to step into the power vacuum, so I tried to negotiate an alliance with a number of lesser powers he was trying to wipe out—that didn't go so well—while also trying to help our allies, the Asgard, deal with the first type of Replicators we'd come across. Anyway, once Earth was relatively safe again, the President assigned me to oversee an international team working at the Antarctic base, charged us with finding location of the Lost City, which we did about six months later."

Elizabeth's voice holds them enthralled as she continues her story. "Millions of years ago, the Anquietas were forced to leave their home galaxy by their brethren, the Ori, with whom they'd had a philosophical dispute. As these Ancients evolved, they began to be able to ascend. The Ori faction of Ancients believed that ascension made them gods and that lesser, unenlightened, un-ascended beings should worship them, and be controlled by them through religion, while the Anquietas faction believed in strict non-intervention in the affairs of the un-ascended. In the subsequent war, the Ori and their followers decimated the still mortal Anquietas, so the survivors, looking to start over, left their galaxy and came to the Milky Way in a number of vast city-ships. It seems that most went about their lives, living and dying as people do, while those who could achieve it often chose ascension. They seeded many planets—those viable for colonisation or rich in resources—with Stargates, building a vast network across the stars, through which they could maintain their technology base.

"However, it seems that one faction chose a third path; to try and recreate their species, bring about a second evolution of their kind, if you will, and watch them grow on a little blue planet tucked away in a little corner of the galaxy." She smiles gently, holding Kathryn's gaze—making no mistake regarding what she was speaking about. "You see, the Anquietas began to die of a devastating plague, which for some reason they couldn't eradicate. Some think that it might have had something to do with the Ori—that's their usual modus operandi, spreading a plague among those who would not accept their religion and the enlightenment they promised, although it's debatable whether they ever ascended a single soul. Apparently, the Ori drew their power from people's worship of them. Again, those Anquietas who could manage it reached for ascension; while about one to five million years ago, the few that remained uninfected took their city-ships and fled to other galaxies. At least two that we know of made it to the Pegasus Galaxy; one was the city-ship that had been stationed at Earth's Antarctic outpost—the one called Terre Atalantus."

"Atalantus ... Atlantis?" Kathryn gasps as the name sinks in. Elizabeth nods with a wide grin.

"But Atlantis was clearly a Greek legend!" Chakotay explodes, unable to suppress his disbelief any longer. "Plato's writings state that it sank beneath the waves of the Atlantic, just outside the Pillars of Hercules—the Strait of Gibraltar."

"Well apparently Plato heard it from the last surviving Ancients who were forced out of Pegasus about ten thousand years ago after they got their arrogant asses kicked by the Wraith," Elizabeth says in an incredibly dry tone. "Apparently their Human seeding program had worked so well on Earth that they decided to do the same in their new stomping grounds. But instead of seeding just one planet, they seeded thousands of planets with a species created in their own image—I suppose that this time, they didn't want to put all their eggs in one basket. They also set up another vast interstellar network of Stargates. However, one of the planets they ended up seeding with Humans held a dark secret of its own; it was home to an insectoid species we've come to know as the Iratus bug. The Iratus has the ability to inject its DNA and a special enzyme into its prey—usually small rodents and lizard-like creatures, probably to make them a more compatible food source. But somehow, Iratus DNA recombined with the DNA of the fledgling Humans on that planet to give rise to the Wraith.

"We don't know what happened in the intervening time between the Human seeding and the rise of the Wraith to a galaxy-wide scourge—either the Ancients didn't know about it or didn't consider this new species a threat, but the Wraith were allowed to evolve, which they did quite handily, reproducing with the efficiency inherited from their insectoid progenitor. There was also evidence to suggest that some Ancients may have even helped it along—experimented with them, which may have resulted in their incredible leap in intelligence over such a short period of time."

"Why in God's name?" Paris voices their collective outrage.

Elizabeth shrugs. "Because it was something new ... because they were arrogant and thought they could control them ... because they were so smug in their belief that their technological superiority could not be surmounted. Take your pick. But I found that the fundamental Wraith language is based on Ancient, and though their ships are partially organic, the inorganic parts were also based on Ancient design. However, as I said before, wherever they went, the Ancients left some dangerous things behind—Pegasus was no different. By the time they realised the Wraith were a threat, the cunning predators had already spread to the stars and begun feeding on all those helpless, primitive Human worlds, and like insects are apt to do—breeding exponentially from a single queen on board each of their vast hive ships. Therefore, although Wraith technology was considerably inferior to the Ancients—"

"The sheer weight of their numbers negated that advantage," Kathryn whispers, the unspeakable horror of it rising in her gut.

Tuvok's voice is measured, betraying no emotion. "It became a war of attrition."

"Exactly, and with every victory ... every piece of captured technology, the Wraith learned at a frightening pace," Elizabeth replies grimly. "To give them credit, the Ancients did try to protect their Human worlds, but by the end of a war that lasted a thousand years, only a handful—less than a couple hundred Ancients—remained in Atlantis, which had been besieged for a hundred years before they raised the great shield and sank the city beneath the waves of Lantea. They decided to return to their last refuge … to Earth through the Stargate to live out their lives before dying or ascending; the Atlantis Gate was the only one in Pegasus capable of dialling Earth—at least we had that much security.

"Atlantis was left to slumber for ten thousand years before my expedition walked through its Gate on July 16, 2004 and in that time, the Wraith continued feeding on the Human worlds, rarely allowing them to progress in technology beyond farming and hunting. They did so in a very simple way—by not letting the populations grow to the point where technological innovation becomes a must. They did what any good farmer does; cull their Human herds every so often. Then they would go into hibernation, allowing those worlds to recover—like fields left to fallow—or some hives would move onto another feeding ground that could support them for a while."

"My gods, that's horrible." Chakotay's hoarse whisper voices their collective revulsion. "How could the people who lived there survive?"

"Many didn't, commander," she replies gently. "Others adapted in various ways—and not always in a good way. We were fortunate that the first group we met were the Athosians. Their leader, Teyla Emmagen, joined my premiere Stargate exploration team, helped us make contact with other planets we could potentially ally or trade with. Teyla and many of the Athosians developed a sixth sense for telling when Wraiths were nearby. Apparently, a couple of centuries ago, a Wraith scientist, in order to make his food tastier, tried some genetic engineering—introduced some Wraith DNA into his test subjects—but it didn't work quite as he expected. Now, the Wraith are joined telepathically, and what ended up happening is that the test group of Humans developed the ability to sense the Wraith—tap into them telepathically.

"Once he realised what was happening, he destroyed his subjects, but not before a number of them escaped through the Stargate, bred with the populations of the planets they gated to. Teyla eventually developed the ability to not simply sense the Wraith's presence, but telepathically link with individual Wraiths. She could see, hear and experience everything the Wraith was experiencing, but it wasn't a one-way link. Once the Wraith sensed her presence in his mind, he could do the reciprocal, even go so far as take over her mind and make her do things.

"Another group we met consisted of a few thousand children and young adults, barely out of their teens, living in one small area of a large forest. While surveying the seemingly deserted planet, one of our puddlejumpers mysteriously lost power and went down. Dr. McKay found a dampening field that knocked out all technology and went to turn it off, only to discover that it was the children's defence against the Wraith so they wouldn't be culled. But it came at a price—in order to keep the population low enough so the children wouldn't expand their settlements outside the field, whoever set it up also set up a system, almost a religion, whereby when a young person turned twenty-five, they committed suicide ... a ritual sacrifice."

"Jesus," Tom whispers, face pale as he meets Harry's shocked gaze; Harry Kim had barely been twenty-one when he'd joined Voyager's crew.

"Then there were the Hoffans, who managed to carry on three hundred years of biomedical research despite the culls, by hiding caches with copies of every book and piece of information they'd ever acquired," Elizabeth continues in an almost dispassionate voice. "They were looking for a vaccine against the Wraith feeding enzyme—poison the well, so to speak. My CMO, Dr. Carson Beckett even worked with them for awhile, until they made what they thought was a breakthrough. Despite Carson's pleas and objections, they went straight to human trials. And although they found that it killed over fifty percent of those who received it, within weeks the Hoffan government put it to a referendum, which resulted in ninety-six percent of the population voting to use the vaccine.

"It worked—fifty percent of their population died and the rest were immune to Wraith feeding. But the result was nearly one hundred percent casualty. Once the Wraith found they could no longer feed on the Hoffans, they showed up at Hoff en masse and bombarded the planet—wiped the Hoffans from existence as an object lesson to all those who would get any ideas in that direction."

"Don't tell me it was all like this!" The Doctor is completely aghast.

"No, it wasn't all like that." The faraway look in Elizabeth's green eyes makes Kathryn's heart ache for her. "Atlantis is indescribable—I could have spent ten lifetimes there and barely scratch the surface; and I know that almost everyone on the expedition felt the same way. I never lost the feeling that every time I turned a corner or simply walked down a corridor of the city—I would find something new ... that something absolutely breathtaking and wondrous was waiting for me. Don't get me wrong, many times it was a struggle just to survive ... we nearly didn't make it through our first year, and the Pegasus Galaxy made me lose a lot of my Earth-borne ideals. But the three years I spent in Atlantis were the most extraordinary years of my life."

"Captain Janeway," Mistress Holsomi purrs as she slinks into the conference room of her ship, Valour's Price, the lead ship in the caravan. A two metre tall Amazon, the Cazenchin matriarch exudes sexuality with every breath ... every step she takes, and is well aware of it. "You have returned—and who have you brought for me today?" she asks, walking past them with felinesque grace and without a second glance.

Kathryn knows this is deliberate; Holsomi must save face before the assembled Traders Council, and she, Kathryn, must do everything to help her. Looking at all the unfriendly—if not downright hostile—faces, she knows that if the matriarch loses control of the situation, it can only end in weapons fire against Voyager.

"Mistress Holsomi, may I present Voyager's Ambassador and Chief Negotiator, Dr. Elizabeth Weir."

"Another one!" The disgust on the young Cazenchin male's face is obvious. "First Chakotay, then you, now her—you've kept us waiting two days for this? What is there to negotiate?"

"My apologies, Mistress Holsomi," Elizabeth says; she deliberately ignores the young man. "I have been indisposed since Captain Janeway and I were rescued from the Fen'Domar. It has only been in the last day that I have felt strong enough to undertake my duties."

"Two of you were taken?" another voice boomed—this time a large female standing directly behind Holsomi. "Commander Chakotay made no mention of this—only that the Captain was kidnapped."

"Tell me, Mistress Kalona," Elizabeth continues, surprising Kathryn with how quick a study she was with identifying individual Cazenchin. "Would you have allowed such information to leak out, even among your friends? Admitting to the capture of our Captain is one thing—we needed her returned; the ship needed her returned. But admitting that he was less than an experienced negotiator ..."

"Even the most inexperienced child has more sense than to do that," Kalona finishes with a sudden smile.

"And the reason Commander Chakotay was willing to pay such a high price," another male, Radan, murmurs thoughtfully.

Elizabeth says nothing, allowing them to draw their own conclusions. Kathryn marvels at the way she plays the room, and regrets that she didn't go to her earlier when things had started to heat up.

"I still see nothing to be negotiated," the first Cazenchin man continues derisively. "The resources on that planet rightly belong to us!"

"Be quiet, Sardo," Kalona orders. "I think it is in our interest to hear what Mistress Elizabeth has to say."

Kathryn's eyes widen at Kalona's address to Elizabeth; the title Mistress in this matriarchal culture is a very prestigious one—even she is always Captain here.

Her friend treats the title with the sober ceremony it requires; she bows formally, her right hand over her heart. "Thank you, Mistress Kalona, Mistress Holsomi, for your kindness." Lifting her gaze again, she addresses Holsomi directly.

"Mistress Holsomi, Voyager will uphold our previous trade agreement to the letter. We will mine the agreed upon ores in the agreed quantities; that is not negotiable." As faces start to darken at her seeming intransigence and the first rumblings of discord begin, she continues in the same measured tones. "However, we are not unsympathetic towards the situation our friends, the Cazenchin Traders, find themselves in due to unforeseen circumstances and through no fault of their own. As such, we have a new proposition to place before this Council."

Holsomi's gaze is wary, but she nods her assent to Elizabeth. "Please continue, Mistress Elizabeth."

"Thank you, Mistress Holsomi. In my culture, we have a saying, 'time is money' and I believe that given the Cazenchin Traders' long history of plying the trade routes in this sector of space, this axiom is even more applicable." Again, the background voices rose above the occasional whisper, and Kathryn got a sense that most of the Traders agreed. "Then what if we trade with you a piece of technology that would not only help to take some of the load—required to run your other shipboard systems—off your warp cores, but in doing so, make your ships faster and considerably shorten the time you spend getting to your ports of call."

A collective gasp seems to suck all the air from the room as they stare at Elizabeth in shock.

"Our engineers tell me that with this generator taking the primary load of your environmental and other systems from the warp core, your ships would be able to take advantage of your propulsion systems to the fullest of their designed capacity—a sustainable warp velocity of warp 7.5, with a top velocity of warp 8.75 or even warp 9 for a short time."

After a few moments, Holsomi breaks the dead silence. "I thought the rules of your Federation forbade the trading of your technology." Her voice is as hard and angry as her eyes.

"That is true," Elizabeth replies placidly. "The Prime Directive holds for all Federation, or Federation-enhanced technologies, which includes most of the technology on Voyager, and it is a directive we will adhere to. But this generator is categorically not Federation technology—it's a rather recent acquisition," she says smiling at the startled look on the Cazenchin leader's face.

"Why was this not mentioned before?" the young man, Sardo, shouts angrily. "No mention was made of other technologies that could be traded! And every item we asked about, Commander Chakotay would only say that it was covered by your Prime Directive."

"Perhaps because everything you saw was probably Federation technology," Elizabeth counters smoothly. "Let's face it, Voyager may be an explorer ship, but she is first and foremost a ship in the Federation's Starfleet—which is also a military organization."

"What has that to do with anything?"

"What she is saying, Sardo," Mistress Holsomi says, anger evident in her voice, "is that Voyager is crewed mainly by soldiers, who have soldier mentalities. There are scientists on board, but they do not make the decisions regarding the ship and its technologies, the soldiers do."

Mistress Kalona chuckles shrewdly. "And what soldier do you know of who would willingly give up any advantage or technology—especially new technology that they haven't yet had time to implement on their ship perhaps? It is against their nature."

"My engineers have been studying it in their spare time, but at the moment, Voyager doesn't really need it—our warp and auxiliary power systems are more than adequate to keep the ship at a sustainable velocity of warp 7.5 or higher," Kathryn explains. "Of course, given how far we are from home, we're always looking at ways to get there faster and conserve fuel where we can. We've recently determined that this new generator is compatible with Voyager's technology and will be able take some of the load off our warp core. In the last two days, my engineers have had the time to start preparing for the integration of the generators into our replicator systems, airponics bay, mess and lounge areas, and as backup generators to those that have autonomous power systems, such as the environmental systems, main computer, sickbay and the holodecks."

"Where did you acquire this technology?" Mistress Holsomi demands; she's clearly impressed and her eyes flash with definite desire. "What powers it?"

"We acquired it from a small group of explorers called the Tau'ri," Elizabeth replies smoothly, using the Goa'uld name for Terran humans; Kathryn marvels at the ease with which she's able to dissemble, yet still tell the truth—mostly. "They were headed elsewhere in a very different direction, but our captain and crew were able to do a great service for their leader. In gratitude, she bestowed this gift."

Kathryn hands Holsomi a PADD with the first generation device's specifications and schematics. "It's an autonomous generator that uses refined veroxi-transquartzite as a power source."

"But that's useless slag!" one of the other councillors shouts in outrage.

"One man's garbage is another man's treasure, Mistress Asara," Elizabeth says sagely. "This is another truism my people have come to know quite well."

"That was not one of the ores Commander Chakotay included in the trade contract," the belligerent Sardo says suspiciously.

Elizabeth simply stares at him, arms crossed about her chest, one elegant eyebrow lifted—looking remarkably like a teacher regarding an exceptionally dim-witted student.

"It's slag, Sardo." The older man, Radan, doesn't add 'you idiot', but they all hear it nonetheless. "It's as common as dirt—why would they waste precious tonnage on something they can pick up in practically any system? All it would have done was alert us—make us suspicious that they were hiding something that required that slag." He smiled admiringly at Elizabeth. "I for one would be very interested in acquiring this technology—and so would everyone in this room I would wager—provided it can be proven safe to use and that we can maintain it."

"That goes without saying, Trader Radan," Elizabeth replies, returning his smile. "And once you have had a chance to study the schematics and specifications, I have no doubt you will be quite pleased."

"And what would you want in exchange for this new transaction?" Holsomi asks, shrewd eyes narrowing.

Elizabeth's smile becomes a full-blown grin. "Only to be allowed to add the ore to the list of minerals we're already mining, Mistress Holsomi," she replies to their surprise. "Believe me, if Lieutenant Commander Torres doesn't have to close down this mining operation and set up another in just a couple of weeks, everyone on Voyager will be much happier for it," she quips and there are chuckles all around; no doubt all of them had at least heard about B'Elanna's formidable temper. "Of course we would also mine and refine enough for you—same percentage split as before; seventy-thirty." Stepping closer to the alien woman, she continues as she holds her gaze. "Our alliance with the Cazenchin Traders is very important to the Federation; we will do all we can to maintain and honour it."

"Your Federation is very far away, Mistress Elizabeth, Mistress Kathryn."

"Our Federation is wherever we are, Mistress Holsomi," Kathryn replies with equal solemnity and, placing her right hand over her heart, bows to the Cazenchin leader.

"That was completely amazing," Kathryn says for what must be the fifth time since transporting back to Voyager. "I can't believe how you brought them around so quickly and made it seem so easy—they were eating out of your hands."

They are leaving the turbo-lift after Kathryn's impromptu tour of the ship. On returning, they had immediately been summoned—"Borg don't do requests," Kathryn had said laughing indulgently—to astrometrics for a briefing with Annika Hansen regarding Voyager's upcoming route, long-ranged sensor scans and the possibility of regaining contact with Earth using something called the Midas Array. Then it was on to Stellar Cartography for a briefing with Meghan Delaney on all matter of stellar phenomena, as well as a request to study a binary pulsar they would be encountering in a couple of weeks, and finally, to main engineering to meet with B'Elanna for a progress report and for Kathryn to thoroughly examine the prototype naquadah generator.

Watching Kathryn with her officers has been an eye-opener for Elizabeth—and with B'Elanna especially, it was something to behold. The conversation had gone straight over her head, but it held the same quality as watching Rodney McKay enthusiastically discussing some new piece of technology or theory with Dr. Zalenka, except without the Atlantis chief scientist's overweening ego and cutting snark.

There was an easy camaraderie and respect that spoke of a decade of fellowship and friendship between captain and chief engineer; Elizabeth watched the free-flow of ideas with awe as they finished each other's sentences, moved easily from theory to practical reality. It suddenly occurred to her that Kathryn truly knew all this stuff—this science of subspace flow-fields, sub-atomic resonance capacitance and warp bubbles—which sounded, even to her trained linguist's ear, like they'd veered into an alien language that had been so poorly translated into English, it had been rendered incomprehensible.

It strikes her that Mistress Holsomi's statement—that Voyager is crewed by soldiers with soldier mentalities—is a patently untrue stereotype, although she'd taken pains to encourage it. Judging by Kathryn and B'Elanna, she is willing to bet that each crew member was far more than just a soldier.

She understands now why she remembered Tom Paris' kind face floating over her in sickbay, or why, when she'd asked the computer for Celes Tal's location—depending on the day, it had indicated that the young Bajoran could be found on duty in engineering almost as often as in astrometrics, where she'd said she was assigned. Furthermore, Sarnik, the Vulcan-Romulan hybrid served both in sickbay and as a pilot during gamma shift; Samantha Wildman and Juliet Jurot, a Betazoid-human hybrid, were both sickbay attendants and science officers, while Telora Olawende, the Vulcan-Human hybrid, served in security almost as often as she worked in the science labs.

And what is Kathryn? The thought suddenly rises in her mind as she realises she hasn't responded to the other woman's admiration for her diplomatic skills.

"No more amazing than a captain who is also a scientist and an engineer, and not so bad at diplomacy herself," she quips.

Kathryn starts, blue eyes widening at the compliment; a deep blush stains her neck and cheeks, giving her an adorably shy look. She seems tongue-tied for a moment, and then chuckles, "Touché, Dr. Weir, touché."

After walking in silence for another few moments, Kathryn stops at a doorway. Her hand hovers over the key-pad for a beat before tapping in a code; the door opens.

"Well, today was a good day," she says quietly. "What do you say we celebrate with a late supper?"

There is an air of expectation between them; Elizabeth wonders if Kathryn feels it also. She smiles, replying, "I'd like that," before following the other woman into her quarters.

Kathryn's quarters are just as Elizabeth has imagined the captain's quarters would be; neat and uncluttered. She understands this from her time in Atlantis; though it is ostensibly her private area, like her ready-room, it is still an extension of the Captain … the leader. However, although Elizabeth is glad to see the little touches of home, she would love to know where Kathryn lurks; perhaps behind the closed door to her left, which she surmises leads to the bedroom.

In Atlantis, it had been the same for her. Dr. Weir was front and centre almost 24/7 in any part of the city—her ever-present headset always tuned to the pulse of the city … in her office and even in her quarters. Elizabeth dwelt in her notebooks of translations, poetry and little doodles … in the occasional movie nights with John and his team, when she allowed herself to let her hair down … on the balconies she explored and catalogued with delight on her 'slow' days … in the south tower, which housed one room with a mirrored wall where she could go in the dead of night, simply turn on some music as loud as she wanted, and dance.

A hand touches her arm lightly. "Elizabeth?"

She meets Kathryn's puzzled gaze and realises the other woman has been speaking while she's been caught up in her own thoughts.

"Any preferences?" It's a query she's obviously made before.

Elizabeth shakes her head as if to clear it. "Sorry, just zoned out for a minute there. No, I don't have any preferences really. I'm fine with whatever you're having." As Kathryn smiles and turns to the replicator, she continues, "I've been trying different cuisines with different people since I've been here—though I had to draw the line at the gahg Tom Paris tried to feed me."

Kathryn laughs as she removes a bowl of rice-like grain from the machine. "I'd imagine that B'Elanna drew the line there as well!"

"Definitely!" Elizabeth smiles as she remembers the disgust for the wriggling worm-like gahg on half-Klingon's face. "She doesn't seem very comfortable with her Klingon heritage at times, though Tom seems to have embraced it wholeheartedly."

Kathryn gives a low chuckle. "B'Elanna has a love-hate relationship with her Klingon side," she explains removing another dish from the replicator. "And Tom genuinely loves B'Elanna, Klingon side and all—knows it's an important part of her and Miral. So regardless of B'Elanna's ambivalence, he's taken it on himself to make sure Miral knows both her Klingon and Human heritages. Besides, he actually likes gahg—apparently acquired a taste for it and a lot of other alien dishes years ago, probably when his father was expected to entertain important dignitaries."

"His father?" Elizabeth asks as she puts the cutlery Kathryn has replicated in their proper place settings on either side of the dinner plates.

"Admiral Owen Paris," Kathryn replies, gesturing for Elizabeth to take the seat on her right before settling in her own chair at the head of the table. "He started out as part of the diplomatic branch of Starfleet back when Tom was a boy—was part of the science and exploration corps when I first got to know him back at the Academy and then on my first voyage. It involved quite a few first contacts. Right now he serves as the head of Starfleet Operations."

"That's quite a legacy to live up to," Elizabeth says soberly.

"Yes. It took me longer than it should have to see that the officer, who had been such a mentor to me at the Academy and as a young officer, wasn't perhaps the man Tom needed to be a father to him." Kathryn's voice is quiet, wistful. "Anyway," she continues, shaking out her napkin. "Their relationship has grown much stronger in the last few years, and Owen dotes on B'Elanna and Miral already."

Elizabeth remembers Annika Hansen's report. "Right, you have contact with Starfleet sometimes through the Midas Array?"

Kathryn nods, smiling as she pours a sparkling blue beverage from a long, thin carafe into tall, narrow champagne flutes. "Well, help yourself—this is called Zynth, a ceremonial wine of the Ostalzi. We met them about a year ago—lovely people, if a bit overly religious for my tastes at least. It is the only beverage they are allowed to partake in with zynkanti—strangers."

Elizabeth nods as she helps herself to some of the grain dish; it's mixed with vegetables and she can identify bits of red and orange bell peppers, celery and zucchini.

"The grain is called nuusa, a Betazoid grain, while the meat is actually good old-fashioned Terran turkey, sliced and served on thin slices of noakin root. The purple sauce is tulaberry compote, but I can replicate some cranberry sauce if you like."

"No, that's fine," Elizabeth assures her, surprised at the note of anxiousness in Kathryn's voice. "I want to try new things."

She starts with the nuusa, which has a slight almond-like flavour that contrasts beautifully with the crisp, raw Terran vegetables. "There's a slight flavour of something like raspberries and lemons that really compliments the almond flavour of the grain," she says in surprise.

Kathryn chuckles. "Actually it's the nuusa grain itself. The almond flavour comes from the outer coating, while the aromatic raspberry and lemon flavours comes from the inner kernel. Its leaves are sometimes used as a substitute for lemon rind."

The slice of turkey breast is tender and succulent—not at all dry—and tulaberry tastes like a fusion of many different berries, yet like nothing she's ever tasted and it doesn't overwhelm the flavour of the turkey, which cranberry sauce is apt to do at times. But it's the noakin root that really surprises her. In texture, it's a bit like water-chestnut slices, and the taste is sweeter and a bit nutty, but like walnuts rather than peanuts.

The entire effect together with the turkey and berry sauce is nothing short of heavenly. She takes another bite and can't help but sigh contentedly as she chews, savouring the blends and bursts of the different flavours and textures in her mouth.

Kathryn chuckles again, blue eyes sparkling with mischief. "I take it you like it?"

Elizabeth feels a small flush of embarrassment at her very vocal response to the food, but the feeling doesn't linger.

"Mmm … it's heavenly," she manages after swallowing. "But then you knew it would be."

"My mother's recipe."

"Ah—you see, now that's what I don't understand," Elizabeth muses, her own impish sense of humour coming to the fore. "If it all exists in your computer's memory as recipes and molecular patterns, how in the world did you manage to burn an entire pot roast?"

Kathryn chokes on a mouthful of nuusa and hurriedly coughs into her napkin, face turning beet red and eyes watering. Elizabeth can't help but laugh, although with Kathryn's continued coughing, some of that mirth turns to concern and she leans over to pat her friend on the back.

After a few moments, the coughing fit subsides and Kathryn takes a sip of wine. Feeling a little awkward, Elizabeth removes her hand and asks in concern, "Are you okay?"

"Fine," is the hoarse reply, "I suppose Tom couldn't wait to tell you about that." The sheepish smile on Kathryn's face is a relief.

"Actually, it was Tal, who had it from Harry, who in turn got it from his friend Lindsay, apparently," she chuckles before taking a bite of her light, fluffy dinner roll, which she's smothered in butter. Usually she's very aware of fat content, cholesterol and other dietary pit traps discovered in the Twentieth Century, but tonight she doesn't care. Tonight, a dinner roll this decadent deserves to be drenched in real butter.

Kathryn mutters something unintelligible, prompting Elizabeth to laugh even harder at her absolutely indignant—and rather adorable—expression. "Incinerate one little pot roast," she rants, "and they brand you incompetent in the kitchen."

"Actually, I think the phrase used was 'too incompetent to boil water', Captain Fire Hazard," Elizabeth teases. "And the general consensus is that the only thing you can be trusted to replicate safely is coffee, because given the quantities you consume, its molecular pattern has etched itself indelibly into the replicator circuitry."

"I see that my crew has way too much time on their hands," she comments dryly. "I'm going to have to look into that. But what about you—I know you said you can cook. What do you like to make?"

Elizabeth laughs. "Strictly meat and potatoes kind of stuff that I learned from my mother," she replies. "Staples like how to cook steak, pork, chicken and fish properly. She considered knowing how to make the perfect meatloaf with mushroom gravy an essential skill. Picked up a few pasta dishes here and there; I can make a mean veggie lasagne, fettuccini Alfredo with chicken, three-cheese tortellini primavera—provided I can get the tortellini already stuffed. I never did learn the fine art of pasta making. Soups are quick and fun, salads are fairly easy—many have nothing to burn," she teases and Kathryn laughs, snorting delicately as she swats Elizabeth's arm.

"But what I really like to make are desserts—especially anything with chocolate," she continues. "Had a fling with a sous chef in Paris one summer—taught me a few things both in and out of the kitchen."

Elizabeth looks for and catches the undeniable flare of interest and desire in Kathryn's eyes at her flirtatious statement. It's gone a moment later—when the captain pushes to the fore and changes the subject to setting up a ambassadorial/first contact department, as well as choosing assistants to help her—but it was there.

"Target their weapons' array! Take them out!" Janeway orders as Voyager is rocked by a series of explosions.

Chakotay looks up from the ops display; Kim is lying unconscious at his feet. "A third Fen'Domar ship is coming out of the nebula," he reports. "Captain, I think now is the time to try our little surprise."

She regards him gravely for a moment and then nods. "Do it!" she orders taking her seat.

Chakotay relinquishes ops to the replacement officer and returns to the first officer's seat as two security officers, the on-duty field medics for the shift, tend to Harry's injuries and get him ready for transport to sickbay.

"Chakotay to engineering—squeeze play! When all three ships are within twenty thousand kilometres, vent the plasma."

"Aye sir!"

"Tuvok," he continues. "Ignite the plasma on my mark using a photon torpedo—one quarter yield. Paris, stand by to take us out of here at maximum warp."

"With that concentration of plasma, the best I'll be able to do without setting our tailpipes on fire is warp 6.5," Paris says frantically getting his course plotted.

"It'll have to do," Chakotay replies meeting Janeway's gaze. She gives him a confident smile as she leans forward studying the forward view screen. Chakotay studies his tactical plot and notes the plasma discharge he's been waiting for.


A photon torpedo hurtles toward the enemy ships as Voyager leaps to warp. The resulting explosion blossoms with the brightness of a nova, destroying one ship and severely crippling the other two.

"Well done, commander," Kathryn says with a grin as the bridge lights return to normal. He nods and returns his attention to his display as she rises to survey the damage. "Report," she orders above the frantic activity to restore the bridge.

Chakotay sits on a bench in the airponics bay contemplating a pot of yellow roses. He's been on duty over twenty-four hours, they all have been. The ship has taken a beating, but a lot of the damage is minimal thanks to the skill of Torres and her engineers.

They are now hidden in orbit around the third moon of a gas giant planet effecting repairs. Hopefully, the ionic interference would keep them hidden from the Fen'Domar. Kathryn had dismissed the senior staff over an hour ago with the admonishment to get some rest—but as tired as he is, he finds it difficult to get to sleep at 1000 hours in the morning, especially since Annika is regenerating. Therefore, he'd gone for a walk in the hopes of clearing his mind enough to get some sleep and had ended up in airponics, contemplating yellow roses and other flowers.

The sound of the bay doors opening startles him and he looks up from his little corner near the port wall. Through the rows of plants he sees Elizabeth Weir advancing towards the small stand of fleshy shoots that looked like bull-rushes. She kneels in front of them and begins pruning the branches from the central stalk of each plant and placing them in her basket after cutting off the large brown terminal fruit from each branch.

The stalks are used in a variety of vegetable dishes, and although she's been on board for a relatively short time, she's delighted the crew with tarts and cakes made from the rich, sweet fruit.

Suddenly, she drops the pruning knife and stares down at the plants, wrapping her arms around herself and sobbing quietly as she shivers uncontrollably. There was almost a palpable aura of terror emanating from her shaking form. Chakotay studies her face with its high cheekbones and sharp-cut features; she is frightened to death and he realises with a start that this is the first time Voyager has been in battle since she came on board.

After a few moments, Elizabeth seems to get a hold of her emotions, drying her eyes and moving away to gather some broad leafy vegetables. For the first time since the woman came on board with Kathryn, he realises how isolated she must feel. She probably hasn't had much chance to talk to Kathryn since the Fen'Domar attacks had begun three days ago, after they'd parted ways with the Cazenchin. Once they'd realised that the Fen'Domar were actively looking for Voyager and had set a trap to capture them, they knew that going to Tontrai—continuing their course in the company of the Cazenchin—would have only put the traders in further danger. They'd hoped to get across the boarder into the Mija Confederation without alerting the Fen'Domar, but no such luck.

Kathryn had left the bridge only two or three times in the last two days, preferring to take her meals and naps in the ready room. However, he'd accompanied her back to her quarters—with the admonishment to follow her own orders and get some rest—before continuing on to the airponics bay.

Elizabeth has probably been in the mess hall since early in the morning, preparing meals for those just going on and getting off duty. Now, she appears to be collecting food for lunch; she looks scared and exhausted, but continues to do her job despite it.

He realizes suddenly that he's relegated Elizabeth Weir to the category of "Kathryn's friend" and for some reason he hasn't bothered to get to know the woman at all … reached out to her as he's done on other occasions when they've picked up passengers. This disturbs him somewhat and he also realises that he's never really thought about how much she's contributed in the short time she's been onboard. Engineering—in fact, most of Voyager's departments seem re-energised now, frantically and enthusiastically looking into ways to incorporate naquadah-based technology into Federation technology.

His sudden movement as he changes position alerts her to his presence, and her head snaps up as she rises and scans about for his presence. Chakotay steps out of his shadowed corner and moves towards her.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Weir, I didn't mean to startle you," he says quietly.

She composes herself quickly and offers a small smile. "It is alright Commander Chakotay. I ... I was just gathering lunch. I am sorry to disturb you," she finishes softly as she picks up the baskets.

"You weren't," he answers, taking one of them from her. "I was just heading back to my quarters. I always go for a walk to unwind after battle." Chakotay follows her out of the garden. "How are you doing?" he asks as they turn into the corridor.

"I am doing fine now ... since the battle ended," she replies looking at him uncertainly. "Is it always like this?"

"I'm afraid so," he answers quietly. "In fact it can get a whole lot worse."

She nods with a solemn expression as they enter the turbolift. "I guess I'm not really used to it anymore," she says softly, her eyes distant as if looking at something unimaginably far away. "In Atlantis I was, but not anymore."

"Report," Kathryn barks entering the briefing room and settling in the chair at the head of the table.

"None of the Fen'Domar ships seem to be capable of sustaining above warp 7.5 for any length of time, captain," Tuvok replies quietly. "However, they are as formidable as the Cazenchin—and our own intelligence—have indicated when it comes to their shielding and weaponry. Offsetting that are our shields and our own weaponry—their quantum missiles appear to be ten percent weaker than our photon torpedoes, while our quantum torpedoes are vastly superior, but we must keep in mind that we have only seventeen at the moment. Their energy weapons are comparable however, although with Lieutenant Torres' modifications to our shields, we ought to be able to withstand their phaser fire. The weapon that will be most difficult to defend against is the subspace plasma lance."

"Captain, I think that once we learn the subspace frequency of the lance, we may be able to use the deflector to compensate," Seven interjects and Kathryn nods—that means they had to survive a hit from it at least once.

"So our greatest asset might just be our speed—at warp 8.5 it would take approximately six days to get across at the narrowest point," Kathryn continues thoughtfully. "But, if we head straight for the boarder with the Mija Federation through the Weyhana Sector, it would be the easiest way to put the Fen'Domar Empire behind us. I think we can shave some time off that by going to warp 9—"

"I'm not sure about that," Chakotay says with a rueful smile. "You're forgetting the phased mines all along the boarder with the Mija Federation," he reminds her to her chagrin.

"Not necessarily, commander," Paris says with a grin. "What about using the Sunbirds as mine-sweepers? Their sensors are equipped to detect minute discontinuities in space-time as an offshoot of the metaphasic shield tech we've equipped them with. It's a similar type of phasing isn't it?"

"Yes, of course!" Kathryn yelps smiling in surprise as she remembers the small two-man fighters Paris and Kim have developed. "How many of Voyager's crew have been certified on the new fighters?"

"As far as piloting goes, Ensign Tabor, Ensign Bristow, Jenny Delaney and Lieutenant Ghorima are probably the most ready," Paris replies promptly. "Gunnery is a little better—there Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Ramirez top out the class, followed by Ayala, Olawende, Marsters and Gerron. Tabor is best with Chakotay and Crewman Marsters, while Freddy Bristow and Jenny Delaney work best with Ayala and Olawende respectively, and Ghorima is best with Ramirez and Olawende. All the pilots are about the same with Gerron."

"Alright, work on integrating them into squads of two in the simulations," Kathryn orders as Paris enters it into his PADD. "I want to be able to relieve the sweepers when needed. We'll work it with two fighters running sweeps for the hemisphere of space ahead of Voyager, one taking the port quadrant and the other starboard."

As Paris nods, Harry chimes in, "We should also tie the Sunbirds into Voyager's sensor net so we can anticipate their moves and react accordingly."

"Good idea, Harry," Kathryn replies encouragingly. "Let's see if we can get through this without engaging them the Fen'Domar again."

"I guess it was wishful thinking on my part that we could get away without having to engage them again," Kathryn says ruefully as Voyager races towards the orange K-type star devoid of a planetary system. She meets and holds Elizabeth's gaze for a moment, before returning her gaze to her command console.

Despite the relative crudity of their weapons in comparison to Voyager, the Fen'Domar ships are still hellishly effective en masse. The ship bucks again beneath her and Elizabeth hangs onto her seat in the first officer's chair. She'd been on the bridge, finalising their preliminary negotiations with the Mija Boarder Authority for Voyager's entrance into their territory when the Fen'Domar attack came.

"Bridge to engineering," Kathryn calls down the comm. "Re-route power to reinforce the aft shields."

"All ready on it!" B'Elanna growls and Elizabeth can hear the fine edge of tension in her voice. This is the first time Tom will be testing the fighters in battle. "Bringing shield layering on line ... now."

"Dropping to one quarter impulse," Chakotay reports from the helm, his fingers dancing on the console as they swing into the star's gravity well. Elizabeth closes her eyes briefly as the star flares brightly for a moment on the forward viewscreen.

"Sunbirds away," Tuvok says, his voice calm as the small ships plunged into the star.

Elizabeth spares Paris and his teams a brief prayer of good luck, knowing he'd wanted more time to practice before being needed in battle. Paris wouldn't have them do anything fancy, but still—

"Shield layering complete, captain," Torres brisk voice reports from Kathryn's command console. "All shields reinforced to 250%—it's the best I could do without the modifications for the Soliton system being in place."

"No apologies B'Elanna," Kathryn replies, sparing her a smile.

"Sunbirds report they're fully fuelled on solar plasma and ready for engagement," Tuvok continues unemotionally.

"We're being hailed by one Ondoral'fen Kor'voh, captain," Kim says with quiet urgency.

"On screen," Kathryn orders as she rises and moves quite deliberately to stand in the middle of her bridge. Tiny as she is, she still projects a commanding figure. Elizabeth fights the urge to shrink back into her chair.

The Fen'Domar commander glares at Voyager's captain in disgust and she returns it with her own steady steely gaze.

"Captain Janeway," he sneers, the universal translator doing a more than adequate job of conveying his contempt. "We have you surrounded; you are outnumbered ten to one and five more ships will be here shortly. Surrender your ship now and we just might consider making you and your degenerate females ... concubines."

Concubine ... another euphemism for whore.

"I don't think so, Ondoral'fen Kor'voh," Kathryn replies in a diamond-hard voice. "We'd rather die than be Fen'Domar slaves. Hasn't centuries of tangling with the Mija and even the Cazenchin Matriarchs taught you anything about female leaders?" she asks with an equal measure of contempt; his face goes nearly purple with apoplexy.

"You will pay for your insolence and the death of my nephew," he growls furiously. "I will see to it myself."

"If you live long enough," she returns coldly and cuts communication. "Janeway to Paris—they can bring down your shields if they hit you with that plasma lance, so you need to come out fast and hard with evasive manoeuvring, deflectors jamming."

"Understood, captain," Paris answers in a quietly unyielding voice, which reminds Elizabeth of tone of John's voice during battle.

"For the honour of Voyager!" a youthful voice screams over the comm and Kathryn can only gape in surprise as the other team members answer as one.

"For the honour of Voyager!" they roar.

"All right boys and girls, let's go kick some Fen'Domar butt," Paris quips, barking a harsh laugh.

Kathryn looks at Tuvok in askance. "Their new battle-cry, captain," he says in his most non-sotto voice as she grins and shakes her head.

"You might have warned me Tuvok."

"I will remember that should they ever decide to change it, captain," he replies as the Fen'Domar's first volley of quantum missiles impacts their shields. The aliens have learned fairly quickly that their nuclear missiles were like mosquitoes against Voyager's shields, and since then, every ship has gone after her with everything else. For the last two days, there had been no less than six ships hounding her at any one time. No sooner would they use their superior speed to leave one group behind, when another would take their place, intercepting Voyager with ships drawn from the Mija boarder.

"Thanks," Kathryn says dryly as she takes her seat again. She spares Elizabeth another quick smile before returning her attention to her console. "All right Tuvok, they seem to have settled on a box pattern—I don't think they understand quite yet that the star is our friend. Voyager will take Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta and Zulu designated targets, split the rest between the Sunbirds—tell them to aim for the lance and phaser banks of each ship."

"Understood Captain," Tuvok acknowledges, passing her orders.

"Engage at will!" She orders as another volley of missiles rocks Voyager.

Watching the bridge officers as they work together like a precision machine—no, a well honed Roman Legion, for they are a weapon of flesh and bone and duratanium—Elizabeth realizes that Voyager herself has become an angry wolf on the edge of a snare, baring her teeth at the hunters stalking her. The Fen'Domar ships all target Voyager at once, trying to encircle her and drive her into the star.

She feels the crew's anticipation as they all silently will the enemy to get closer—Voyager will get hurt, but Tuvok is hitting them at least as hard as they are hitting the ship. Elizabeth watches the two ships flanking Voyager on both port and starboard, and the two from the top and bottom close to take their triumphant shot with their short-ranged subspace plasma lances.

"Paris now!" Kathryn orders savagely as Tuvok changes tactics to concentrate Voyager's fire on the five ships directly ahead.

The Sunbirds scream from the star, pouring on fire on the Fen'Domar ships that have sailed blithely into Kathryn's deadly trap. Absently, Elizabeth watches the fighters' lightening fast manoeuvres.

One enemy ship vanishes in a violent boil of light as one last fighter bursts from the star, hurling the bright ball of a stellar core fragment directly into their teeth. As that fighter races back to the safety of the star, the other Fen'Domar ships are bombarded with fire from the rest of the hellishly fast fighters.

"Chakotay, course 4-3-4 mark 7!" Kathryn orders. "Evasive pattern omega-3."

"Aye captain," he acknowledges entering her orders into the helm. "Course 4-3-4 mark 7, evasive pattern omega-3."

"Mr. Kim, target Foxtrot's shields are fluctuating in sector delta 4," she observes calmly. "Hit them with a ten second deflector blast in that spot—it should send them on course for the star and take them out of the equation."

"Understood captain," Kim replies as Voyager is rocked again.

Elizabeth watches with satisfaction as Tuvok's torpedoes take out another enemy ship, and then another skitters out of formation as Kim sends them careening towards a fiery death, because she is sure the Fen'Domar have no concept of metaphasic shielding. However, Voyager is still taking hits as she shudders violently again.

"Captain!" Torres' voice over the comm is urgent. "We've lost two lateral plasma injector ports in the starboard nacelle—if we take another lance shot like that we could lose the nacelle all together!"

"Hard to starboard, Chakotay!" Kathryn orders.

Another blast rocks the ship as Chakotay turns their vulnerable starboard flank away from the enemy. Voyager shudders as two more ships blow up from Tuvok's and the Sunbirds' combined weapons' fire.

"The remaining three ships are withdrawing, captain," Tuvok reports calmly. "The last is caught in the star's coronosphere—" He is interrupted by a magnificent explosion and Voyager rocked from the force of the blast. "The remaining ships have gone to warp 2—they are unable to sustain higher warp velocities with the damage they sustained."

"Thanks Tuvok—now, all that remains to be seen is how high a warp velocity we can sustain," Kathryn says meeting Elizabeth's gaze with a tired smile. "Order the Sunbirds to fill up their solar plasma reservoirs and head back to the barn."

"Aye captain," Tuvok acknowledges.

"Actually, captain," Harry Kim said with a soft chuckle. "It may be any velocity we choose once we're repaired—" He continues as she looks at him in surprise. "Annika's been up to her hacking tricks again," he laughs as a slow smile spreads over Kathryn's features.

"Janeway to sickbay—Annika, what have you been up to?" she calls in amusement; sickbay was the safest place for the young pregnant woman as well as all of Voyager's children.

"Captain, using the deflector discharge as a carrier for a modulated subspace signal, I have downloaded the specifications of the Fen'Domar weapons' systems," the former Borg woman explains simply in that wonderfully uninflected voice. "We now have the subspace frequency for the plasma lance and the phasing specifications for their mines. I have determined that flooding the space ahead of Voyager with warp-phased tetryon particles, emitted from the deflector array, will disrupt the cloaks of those mines in our path, rendering them functionless."

"Good work, Annika," Kathryn praises with a smile. "Good work everyone!"

Elizabeth is gratified to see the crew's tired, but enthusiastic grins.

"All right people, let's get started on those damage reports," she says above the good-natured groans.

"She hacked their systems?"

Kathryn turns her attention to Elizabeth, chuckling softly at her disbelief. "They're just lucky she wasn't interested in recording them in their skivvies and broadcasting it across the sector." The captain's eyes twinkle merrily. "Her first attempt at hacking involved using a Malon freighter's own internal sensors to spy on them while we were building the prototype Delta Flyer; they were building a rival shuttle to try and salvage one of our probes before we could get to it. Needless-to-say, they didn't win and our Seven hates to lose ... and so do I!"

Elizabeth finds Kathryn's low growl unbearably sexy and has to fight her instinctive reaction to it. "Dinner tonight?" she asks quietly instead.

"That would be lovely," Kathryn replies, favouring her with brilliant smile before returning her attention to Tuvok and the PADD he hands her.

Elizabeth looks up tiredly from sweeping up the last of the dirt from the plants that had fallen over during the last-ditch battle with the Fen'Domar as Voyager raced across the boarder into the Mija Confederation. It had been fierce and terrifying as she'd remained in medlab two supervising Naomi and the other young children, while Samantha helped treat the wounded in the main sickbay.

As soon as she had been allowed, she'd gone first to the mess hall to make sure everything was still in place and so far, there had only been a few overturned storage bins and fallen pans. When she'd surveyed the damage to airponics however, she'd nearly cried, but even that was salvageable if she worked fast. A call to maintenance had netted her a harried department head who had told her that it was a low priority. Even now she couldn't believe she'd actually snapped at him and told him he'd better make it a higher priority unless they could eat dilithium crystals and drink warp plasma.

As it came out of her mouth, she'd almost expected the wrath of god to come down on her, but Lieutenant Ramirez had laughed and said he'd see what he could do. Twenty minutes later, Chell had arrived with a small group of crewmen and briskly set about helping to clean up the mess, salvaging what could be replanted and what she would use for meals and preserve for the next few days. She'd gone back to the mess hall and began to preserve the fruits and pickle the vegetables or freeze dry whatever she didn't have an immediate recipe for. In between cooking meals and serving them to an exhausted crew, she's been running down to airponics to see how the plants are catching. They've lost about ten percent, although much of that had been salvageable as windfall.

Sighing softly, she feels tired to the bone as she looks around the nearly spotless bay; after this she can mercifully go to bed—it must be getting close to 11:00 p.m. ... 2300 hours in military speak, she reminds herself. She crouches to pick up the last bit of dirt and sees one of the pollinating beetles on the floor under a shelving unit. She picks it up and grabbing one of the small containers on the worktable, goes hunting for more escapees—crawling around on her hands and knees plucking them out of odd corners and crevices. She realises that this will have to be reported to maintenance in case there might be a problem with them gumming up the works.

As she rises and heads back to the proper plot of plants for the beetles, she hears a soft sound; the soft, sobbing sound of someone crying. She stands paralysed by the desolate sound. She didn't hear the door open or anyone come in, and she doesn't want to intrude on someone's privacy, but she can't just leave them like this either.

What's the worse that can happen? I'll get slapped down and asked to leave.

Elizabeth moves carefully around to the flower garden—not that there are many blossoms tonight—and stops short as she sees Kathryn kneeling by the plot of broken rose bushes. She remembered the yellow roses she'd once seen in the captain's ready room and knows there's some significance to them for Janeway.

For a moment, Kathryn looks as fragile as all those dying, faded blossoms she'd swept up and placed in the recycler—the petals falling apart as she touched them.

"They'll bloom again, Kathryn, I promise." The words are out of her mouth before she realises it and Janeway's head snaps up, an expression of horror etched on her face—as if she'd been caught doing something terrible. She stands up quickly and turns away to wipe her eyes.

"I—I didn't realise anyone was here, Elizabeth," she said hoarsely.

"I was hunting escaped beetles," she replies lamely holding up the jar. "I'm sorry I intruded, but it's difficult to hear someone in pain and not ask if you can help," she continues softly. "You, everyone has helped me a lot, so I wanted to ask if there was anything I could do to help."

"No Elizabeth, I'll be fine," she says taking a breath and turning to face her as she struggles for control. "Just a few things coming one on top the other ... Noah Lessing was severely injured during the battle—plasma burns to his arms and torso ... damage to his lungs when he breathed in the fumes. We nearly made it through ..." Elizabeth can hear what she doesn't say; they nearly made it through without further injuries to her crew. "I came here to think—" She breaks off with a soft sob and stares down on the twigs, bare of even most of their leaves.

"And the roses were the straw that broke the camel's back," Elizabeth finishes and Janeway nods sadly. "Even the hardiest dromedary needs a mouthful of water in the desert every now and then, Kathryn," she says softly, going towards the other woman on impulse and drawing her into a tight embrace. She feels the captain tense as she strokes her hair and back, then relax against her as she began to cry softly again. "You're not all right, Kathryn. You need rest and you need your friends to help you, to hold you until this passes. Let's get you back to your quarters and I'll call B'Elanna and Sam, all right? There's no need for you to be alone like this."

Kathryn pushes against her and moves away, looking ashamed—ashamed for the weakness of needing a hug, human contact. "I'm sorry Elizabeth," she says softly. "I'll be fine—"

"No, you won't," Elizabeth counters in an implacable voice. She looks Janeway directly in the eyes as the captain stares at her in surprise. "Come, let's get you presentable—get rid of the worst of the damage, then we'll go back to your quarters and call your friends. You can throw me in the brig tomorrow."

Janeway looks at her a moment longer and then laughs softly as she says in a quiet threatening voice, "I just might do that." Elizabeth draws a clean basin of water and, as Janeway washed her face, calls maintenance to report the beetles.

"Rogue beetles huh," Kathryn says with a spark of humour as they leave the airponics bay. "I wonder why that musical group, we were listening to at dinner the other night, called themselves the Beetles—that image couldn't have helped them much."

Elizabeth laughs at the misconception as they enter the turbolift. "Not b-e-e-t-l-e-s but b-e-a-t-l-e-s, a play on the word beat as in a musical beat. Their music was really great—even my generation liked it—the words transcend any era. Along with most of the Motown set, my other favourite band from that era was Simon and Garfunkel—" Suddenly inspired she begins to sing.

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December—
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock;
I am an island.

She smiles into Kathryn's tear-filled gaze as the turbolift opens and they walk out into the silent corridor. "That's from Simon and Garfunkel; it's called "I am a Rock". Of course if you don't want anything quite so depressing there's always "Feelin' Groovy"—it's a little more up tempo." She grins at Kathryn and begins a little goofy song and dance to make the other woman laugh.

Slow down, you move too fast
Got to make the moment last
Kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy

Ta na na na na na
Feelin' groovy

Hello lamppost, how you glowing
Come to see your flowers growing
Ain't you got no sign for me
Tu du du du feelin' groovy

Ta na na na na na
Feelin' groovy

Kathryn laughs hard as Elizabeth executes a little twirl and tips her imaginary top hat. "You do take the cake, Elizabeth," she says softly.

"And you just need to kick down the cobble stones a little more, captain," Elizabeth said as they walk to Janeway's quarters. "I know it's hard to—but sometimes you just have to say "Calgon, take me away" and slip into a nice hot bubble bath up to your chin for an hour. Barring that, a litre of your favourite ice cream in bed will do quite nicely."

She follows Kathryn into her quarters and turns to her firmly. "I'm just a bossy little busybody tonight, so why don't you go get ready for bed—take a shower, relax and I'll call B'Elanna and Sam—see if they can come over for a half hour—" As Kathryn starts to hesitate, she says quickly, "The Captain of Voyager doesn't have to make important decisions tonight, Kathryn. Get some rest so you'll be fresh when you do need to make them."

"All right," the other woman murmurs tiredly. As she turns to the bedroom, she stops and looks back gratefully. "Thank you."

Elizabeth feels her emotions tighten in her chest and nods. "You're welcome, Kathryn; now skedaddle," she orders. She watches in concern for a moment as the older woman moves slowly around her bedroom, before moving to the living room to call Torres and Wildman.

As she waits for the other two women, she wonders how Kathryn coped before with the injuries and deaths of her crew. Her guess is that like tonight, she would isolate herself, cry a little and then soldier on.

She looks up when the door chimes and calls for it to open. Torres and Wildman look at her in anxious concern and she smiles.

"Where is she?" B'Elanna demands with a fierceness Elizabeth finds wonderful.

"In the shower," she replies as she helps the other women place the items, she's asked them to bring, on the table. "I've sort of been ordering her around—she seemed ready to drop from sheer exhaustion, and not all of it physical."

Sam and B'Elanna share a look and both chuckle softly. "We're going to have to do something about that deceptive exterior of yours, Elizabeth," Samantha says, removing her uniform to reveal her short, lacy nightgown. "Thanks for suggesting a slumber party—God, I haven't done that in years."

"Before I went to Atlantis, my friends and I would use any excuse to have one or go to one—of course we called them "girls' night in" then," she laughs as she goes over to the replicator. "Do you know what flavour ice cream Kathryn would like?"

"Give you one guess," Torres teases, peeling off her pants from over the old-fashioned shortie nightie and matching shorts.


"What else?"

"Good Lord," Elizabeth says shaking her head as she programs up a bowl. "Well thank goodness the replicators are back on-line—what she needs now is comfort food and Delta Quadrant take-out is not my idea of comfort food no matter how you cook it—"

"Well you cook it very well," Sam chuckles.

"Yes she does," Kathryn agrees from the doorway as she looks at them in surprise while running a towel through her damp hair. "What's all this?"

"We're having a slumber party," Torres mutters.

"A what?" she asks in shock.

"We're sleeping over," Sam said firmly as Elizabeth and B'Elanna laugh. "Now go put on your nightgown and come have some ice cream, cookies, potato chips, pretzels—and what ever—get thoroughly sick and giggle for half the night before we fall asleep."

Kathryn rolls her suspiciously moist eyes at the ceiling. "Oh great, now I have three of them to boss me around all night," she says, disappearing into the bedroom as the others dissolve into hilarity.

"Replicate yourself something Elizabeth," Torres orders grinning. "If I have to wear this little get-up, so do you."

Elizabeth laughs and goes back to the replicator. "I can't imagine there are many Klingons out there tonight wearing shortie nighties with matching panties."

Kathryn low chuckles are infectious as she enters wearing a short peach tunic. "I think I can see Gawron in one, don't you B'Elanna?" she asks and picks up the bowl of ice cream as Elizabeth goes into the bedroom to change.

After she slips the short cotton shift over her head, she checks her reflection in the mirror and has the unaccountable feeling that someone is watching her. Suddenly, her reflection seems to be that of a stranger—her hand flies up to her mouth to stifle the involuntary scream clawing at her throat. Flattening against the wall next to the mirror, she shuts her eyes tightly and forces herself to take deep breaths until the feeling subsides.

Just a hallucination, nothing more, she tells herself firmly and clings to that thought like a mantra. She doesn't even want to think about what it might mean otherwise.

"Hey, did you get lost in there?" Torres calls.

"No, just checking Kathryn's bra size," she laughs, stepping swiftly past the mirror without looking at it. "She's rather well endowed for such a little lady," she teases as she returns to the living-room.

Kathryn throws a pillow from the couch at her, while the others howl with laughter. "I'll have you know that I've been told that my breasts are just the right size many times—one handful each," she says primly returning to her ice cream.

"So when did you start developing Elizabeth?" Sam asks with a grin.

Elizabeth thinks about it as she helps herself to some ice cream. "As far as I can remember at twelve—I got my period and then my best friend, Joanne, got hers a week later. It pissed her off royally because it was just before a big competition for a spot at the Conservatory," she sighs nostalgically. "I always teased her about it—told her that was why she played so well—she could take her cramps out on the violin. My boobs started showing up about six months later. You Sam?"

"I was going on thirteen," Sam answers. "You know the cliché about wearing white—I was mortified and immediately beamed home from school in tears," she chuckles. "My poor mother—anyway, my breasts started about the same time. Your turn B'Elanna."

"Klingon girls are usually early developers," Torres replies; Elizabeth can tell she's uncomfortable.

"How early?" Kathryn asked curiously.

"I got mine when I was nine and my breasts started about a year later," she replies quietly.

"That couldn't have been easy," Kathryn says sympathetically.

"My mother was so proud, and I just wanted to die," Torres laughs. "For a while there I thought they'd never stop growing—although it all evened out in the end."

"And quite a nice evening out it did too," Elizabeth teases. "And what about you, Kathryn?"

"I figured my period would never come." Kathryn blushes as she gives her response. "So I gave it up as a bad joke when I turned sixteen—"

"What?" Torres yelps.

"Was there a problem?" Sam asks in concern.

"No, not that any doctor could find," she replies grinning. "They said not to be concerned and they would start me if I didn't start on my own within six months, but I did a couple of weeks afterwards—and my sister Phoebe, who's four years younger, started three months after me. Anyway, these two gals didn't start showing up until I was nearly seventeen and were tender like hell for months."

"I remember that," Sam laughs. "I was in agony—can you tell I was a melodramatic kid?"

"That's one good thing about being Klingon—no such problems," Torres crows. "No tenderness and no cramps."

"I could murder you for that," Elizabeth laughs. "Summer camp that year was hell—there were eight girls to a room. One girl would start, then another—like we were bloody dominoes. I could swear it stretched the agony out for a few more days."

"Oh Lord," Samantha groans. "Naomi will be starting puberty soon—and from what I know, K'tarian adolescence is hell."

"Well enough about this," Kathryn chuckles. "I'm in the mood for some music—what about that guy Simon Garfunkel you were talking about?" Elizabeth bursts out laughing. "I'd like to hear the rest of those songs you were serenading me with."

"That's Simon and Garfunkel," she corrects Kathryn as she brings her giggles under control.

"Serenading?" Torres asks in surprise.

"In the turbolift and corridor," Kathryn explains.

"Computer, play musical selections by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel starting with "I am a Rock" and "Feelin' Groovy", followed by "Mrs. Robinson", "Sound of Silence", "Scarborough Fair", "America", "The Boxer", "Bridge over Troubled Water" and "Homeward Bound". Start playback."

She watches Kathryn leans back into the couch as the music starts and the four hundred-year-old song—that voices her pain—flows from the speakers.

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December-
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock;
I am an island.

I build walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship;
Friendship causes pain.
Its laughter and its loving I disdain.
I am a rock;
I am an island.

Don't talk of love.
Well, I've heard the word before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died.
If I'd never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock;
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me.
I am shielded in my armour,
Hiding in my room
Safe within my tomb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock;
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain,
And an island never cries.

As the last strains of "I am a Rock" gives way to the mellow tempo of "Feelin' Groovy", B'Elanna pins Elizabeth with a toothy shark's smile.

"You and I seriously need to talk Twentieth Century music and the next Cabaret."

Elizabeth nods; she's willing to help the women's team beat the men, but she's not comfortable with the idea of singing and dancing for an audience. Although she's kept it up privately—more as exercise than anything else—she hasn't really danced publicly since before her first internship at the United Nations, when she'd decided to become a professional diplomat.

And for over fifteen years, she's kept that more-than-a-little-wild exhibitionist streak of hers firmly under control. Perhaps it's time to loosen those restraints just a little bit.

Part 5

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