DISCLAIMER: This Star Trek Voyager story utilizes characters that are copyright © by Paramount Pictures. No infringement on their respective copyrights is intended by the author in any way, shape or form. This is an original story. The story and non-trek characters belong to the author.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: A very heartfelt thank you to Pam, Beta Extraordinaire. Your expert help and untiring dedication to this story is greatly appreciated. Also thanks to Victoria, for listening to me talk incessantly about the story and characters. Your support means a lot to me. And to WW for her continued encouragement and support.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a sequel to my Star Trek Voyager Story, Unexpected Arrival. It takes place approximately ten months after the end of Unexpected Arrival.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Into the Void
By RJ Nolan


Chapter One

Seven walked into the bedroom, wondering what was taking Del so long.

Del looked up from where she was running through the replicator's choices for footwear. She smiled as Seven drew closer, admiring her attire. She was dressed in a dark blue tank top with a long sleeve white cotton shirt over it that was hanging open, showing an enticing bit of cleavage. The light tan cotton pants fit her perfectly and accentuated her long legs. Seven's hair was down and cascaded across her shoulder. Forgetting all about her shoes, Del turned away from the replicator and approached Seven.

Seven stepped back before Del could take her into her arms. She had seen the look in Del's eyes and knew if they touched they would never make the party.

"We are going to be late."

"I can be quick," Del promised huskily.

Seven struggled with the temptation. Her heart rate picked up and she unconsciously licked her lips. She tried to force away her rapidly rising arousal.

"We can't," Seven groaned, taking another step back.

Seven's back came into contact with the bulkhead next to the replicator; she had nowhere else to go.

Del's eyes took on a predatory gleam as she took that last step forward and her body made contact with Seven's. Del grinned when Seven's body surged forward into hers just before their lips made contact.

Seven pulled away from the torrid kiss, feeling her implants struggle to even out her breathing.

"Everyone will be waiting."

"Let them wait," Del said as her lips trailed down Seven's long neck.

Seven's hand shot down and grabbed Del's hand before it could slip between her legs.

"It's your birthday party; you have to be there on time," Seven panted. She knew she couldn't take much more of this. Another second and she was going to forget all about the party and everyone waiting. Pushing against Del's shoulder with her free hand she managed to slip out of Del's embrace.

"B'Elanna, Janice, and Carrie will be so upset if you don't show up for your own party."

Del grumbled in frustration. She didn't want to spend her birthday with a bunch of people; she would much rather spend it with Seven naked in her arms. Now that was a celebration as far as she was concerned.

Del looked at Seven and saw the pleading look in her eyes, as well as felt how serious she was. She knew just how much this party meant to Seven. When Seven found out her birthday was approaching a few weeks ago, she had been excited about having a party for her. Del had spent her birthday last year in Voyager's sickbay, unconscious.

Del shook her head; she could hardly believe that she had been on Voyager for a year. Her life had changed so radically in such a short time. It was hard sometimes to even remember what her life was like before Seven became such an integral part of it. Seven truly was the other half of her soul. She could honesty say she did not miss the Alpha quadrant. Every thing she needed, everything she would ever need was right here with her in this room.

Forcing herself to smile at her lover, she held out her hand. "Come on. Let's go before all the food gets eaten."

Seven looked down at Del's feet and her implant over her eyebrow quirked.

Del laughed. "Oops, almost forgot." She quickly stepped back over to the replicator and picked out a pair of sandals. Her attire was similar to Seven's. "All set, let's go." Del leaned in for one more quick kiss before they headed for the holodeck.

Del smiled when the holodeck doors slid open revealing a beautiful beach at sunset. The party was in full swing by the time they arrived. Del had made a point to introduce Seven to some of her favorite locations on Earth via the holodeck. While the cabin at Big Bear was her favorite, Seven had quickly come to love the ocean. Janice and Carrie were both from Earth as well and had suggested an evening beach cookout and bonfire for Del's birthday.

"Hey! It's about time you two got here. Stop for a quickie?" B'Elanna teased. Del scowled and Seven blushed vividly. B'Elanna threw back her head and roared with laughter. "Come on, everyone's waiting to eat 'til you got here."

B'Elanna led the way down to the beach. Two long tables with benches had been set up and were filled with people. Everyone was already sitting down and it was obvious they had been waiting for the birthday girl. The tables were overflowing with food of all types.

A cheer went up when several people spotted Del.

Del grinned and waved. "Let the party begin!" She was bit surprised when she didn't spot the Captain or Chakotay, then remembered that the Captain was away on a diplomatic mission to negotiate passage through the next star system leaving Chakotay in command.

Seven looked around as they followed B'Elanna over to where Janice and Carrie were sitting.

"What's wrong?" Del asked, sensing Seven's sudden change in mood.

"I don't see Kara."

Del looked around quickly trying to spot the woman. "Maybe she got hung up and just hasn't gotten here yet. She said she would come."

Seven turned at the sound of the holodeck doors opening. A brief smile crossed her face when she spotted the lanky redhead standing just inside the door.

Del followed Seven's line of sight and smiled. "See. I told you she'd come."

Kara hadn't moved from her spot by the door, and even with all the people present Del could sense her unease at the social situation.

"Why don't you go over and get her," Del suggested.

Seven smiled gratefully and headed for her friend.

Two months ago Del decided to switch to the Beta and then the Gamma shift for several weeks on each rotation to get to know the people in the Science department better. With Captain Janeway's permission, Seven had made the switches as well. Lieutenant Kara Jarvis worked the Gamma shift in Astrometrics.

Seven had felt an immediate empathy for Kara. Since regaining her own humanity, she had become more aware of the people around her. Her fellow crewmembers barely acknowledged Kara's presence in Astrometrics. She was given an assignment, and then ignored. In the three weeks she spent on the Gamma shift Seven never once saw Kara socialize with anyone. Unbeknownst to Seven, she was known aboard ship as a loner. People had tried in the past to make friends with Kara only to be rebuffed. Seven for reasons she couldn't quite explain even to herself, felt compelled to try and befriend the woman.

Seven made a point to seek out Kara and work with her on whatever task she had been assigned. At first, the woman had been suspicious, but had eventually realized that Seven actually was interested in her work and the insights she had to offer. Seven found Kara to be much more knowledgeable in many areas than her fellow officers, but she rarely voiced her ideas to her more outgoing and opinionated co-workers. By the time Seven had returned to the Alpha shift, she and Kara had established a comfortable working relationship. But Seven wanted more than that, she wanted to be Kara's friend.

Once Seven no longer worked the Gamma shift she began to appear in Astrometrics just before the shift change over from Gamma to Alpha. Seven approached the redhead and invited her to dinner with her and Del. It had been slow going at first; Kara had politely refused numerous times. But Seven was nothing if not persistent; no matter how many times Kara said no Seven just kept asking. With a bit of encouragement and coaching from Del she had managed break through the woman's formidable defenses.

Kara smiled as she watched her friend approach. She had vowed long ago never to let anyone get close to her again; it wasn't worth the pain. The friendly overtures from her co-workers had eventually turned to disdain and that was just fine with her. All the things she had done in the past to isolate herself from anyone attempting to befriend her hadn't worked with Seven. She still couldn't quite believe that she was actually friends with Seven of Nine. She had always been intrigued by the beautiful blond, but would never have approached her, for many reasons.

When Seven first began showing up at the end of her shift, Kara had been mistrustful of her motives, thinking the woman was double checking her work now that they were not working together every day. She had been flabbergasted when she realized Seven wanted to be her friend. Kara fought it as long as she could, knowing the kind of pain letting someone close to you could bring, but Seven never gave up no matter how many times she rebuffed her. Seven had eventually managed to work her way passed her defenses and become her friend.

"Hi, Kara. I'm glad you came."

"Hey, Seven. Thanks for inviting me. Are you sure the Commander doesn't mind?"

Kara was uncomfortable around Del. Her only contact with empaths had been with counselors during her Starfleet training. They had picked and probed trying to get her to open up to them. She hated it. Every single one had urged her to have her 'disfigurement' removed. They would never understand.

Seven frowned; she didn't understand why Kara was so leery of Del. "Of course not. She likes you," Seven said.

Kara couldn't remember the last time she had been around so many people. She avoided socializing with any of the crew and kept to herself. Kara followed Seven over toward the table where Del was sitting with Janice, Carrie, B'Elanna, and Tom.

"Happy Birthday, Commander," Kara greeted when they reached the table.

Del smiled up at Kara. She was tall with a rangy build. Her coppery red hair was shoulder length and pulled back into a pony tail. Her face was marred by a large scar that tracked from just above her right eye brow diagonally across her face ending at the jaw line on the left side of her face. If you looked past the scar, Kara had a beautiful oval shaped face and fair completion with expressive hazel eyes. Del always wondered why she never had the scar removed. Unsurprisingly, Seven had never mentioned the scar.

"Hi, Kara. We're off duty so it's Del … remember?" Del had repeatedly encouraged the young woman to use her first name when they were off duty.

A vivid blush spread across Kara's face making the pale scar stand out. "Happy Birthday … Del," she finally managed, extremely uncomfortable. She couldn't help wondering if the woman could read her thoughts as well as her emotions.

Seven slid into the open space next to Del.

Kara looked around seeing all the seats were taken. "Well … um… I'll see you later."

She turned away to look for a place to sit, feeling totally out of place. You're such an idiot. What were you thinking? You don't belong here. You should have never come! Although she knew everyone present at least by name she wasn't comfortable with the thought of sitting with any of them.

Kara jumped when a warm hand landed on her arm, keeping her from walking away.

"There's plenty of room right here. Have a seat," Del said. She slid over closer to Seven, and opened a spot at the end of the bench for Kara.

Del had sensed Kara's extreme unease, but got a blast of panic and realized just how close she was to bolting when she touched her.

She leaned over close to Kara so no one could overhear. "Relax, you're among friends." Del felt Seven squeeze her thigh under the table. She realized Seven would have had no trouble hearing what she was saying to Kara.

Kara looked up in shock at Del, startled by the warmth and understanding in the woman's eyes. She blushed when she realized Del must have read her emotions when she touched her.

Del had intentionally tried to stay out of Seven's developing friendship with Kara. She had supported her and gently encouraged her when she got discouraged but wanted Seven to develop a friend of her own. Although they socialized frequently with Janice and Carrie as well as B'Elanna, Del wanted Seven to experience what it was like to build a friendship with someone. Del liked Kara. She sensed the woman's continued unease around her which wasn't uncommon, in her experience. Most people were uncomfortable with the fact that she could read their emotions. In Kara's case, it seemed deeper than that and she didn't know why. She continued to harbor the hope that one day Kara would grow more comfortable with her.

Smiling reassuringly at the woman, Del gave her arm a quick squeeze before turning to their tablemates.

"Let's eat!"


Chapter Two

Del said goodbye to the last group of guests. The party had been a big success. They had dinner and then when the sun went down, a huge bonfire. Neelix had made an immense birthday cake much to Seven's delight. Gerard from life sciences had brought his guitar and almost everyone offered up a song from their home world. Del could feel Seven's euphoria from across the room. Seven was standing at the shoreline talking to B'Elanna and Tom. The four of them were the only ones left in the holodeck.

Del made her way over to them. She stopped next to Seven and wrapped her arm around her waist. Seven happily pressed against Del's side.

Tom grinned at the two. Since she had started working in Astrometrics full-time, he didn't see as much of the Commander as he used to.

"So, Commander, how's married life treating you? Feeling the tug of the old ball and chain yet?" he asked with a smirk.

Del scowled at him when she felt Seven stiffen beside her. Del knew he was just kidding, but was willing to bet Seven didn't understand what he'd asked. Although, it was obvious from her rigid posture that she did know it wasn't complimentary.

B'Elanna caught the look on Seven's face before she could hide it and elbowed Tom sharply in the ribs.

A sudden idea occurred to Del; she smirked right back at Tom. She knew he and B'Elanna had gotten more serious in the past few months.

Tom looked nervous all the sudden. He didn't like the smug look on the Commander's face one bit. He silently cursed his big mouth, wondering what he was in for.

"Well actually, Tom, I love being married to Seven. I find our marriage …" She gave Seven a scorching look. "Very satisfying." Seven's eyes widened and an endearing blush covered her cheeks. "Yeah … extremely satisfying," she murmured, her voice taking on a velvety tone. She tried not to laugh when Tom squirmed uncomfortably. She met Tom's eyes. "You should give it a try," she suggested, her gaze going to B'Elanna.

Tom's gaze followed Del's over to his lover. "Um… yeah … that would be good…" He was so caught up in fantasizing about just what Del found so satisfying about her marriage to Seven he didn't realize what Del had said or what he had just agreed to. When he did his face went pale and he did a great impression of a gasping fish.

"No way!" he finally managed to get out. Tom winced at the look on B'Elanna's face. "Umm … I didn't mean … umm … no way … no way… I umm … I umm…" Tom stammered, looking at B'Elanna pleadingly.

Del fought to keep her mirth off her face. Seven watched puzzled by the whole thing.

B'Elanna reached out and grabbed Tom's arm. "Let's go, flyboy, before you get yourself in any deeper," she snarled.

Tom gulped audibly as B'Elanna dragged him away. She glanced back over her shoulder at Seven and Del and grinned, then winked at the two women. She schooled her features and once again glared at Tom before she jerked him out the door.

Del roared with laughter when the holodeck doors closed behind them.

"I do not understand. What did he mean … ball and chain?" Seven asked a still laughing Del.

"It's nothing; he was just being a jerk." Del sighed when Seven's eyebrow rose in question. "Can we talk about it later? Why don't we enjoy whatever time is left in the program," Del suggested as she drew Seven into her embrace.

Seven sighed as her body settled against Del's. She was always amazed at how well they fit together. "Happy Birthday," she whispered lovingly.

Del met Seven's eyes and fell into their vivid blue depths. Their lips met in a soft, gentle kiss.

"Do you know how much time we have left?" Del asked when the kiss broke.

"Computer, time remaining on current program?" Seven queried the computer.

"One hour, forty seven minutes."

Del was surprised. Holodeck time was much prized aboard Voyager and the program had already been running several hours.

"Everyone who attended contributed some of their holodeck time for your birthday."

"Well then, we don't want it to go to waste. What do you say we have a little party of our own?"

Seven looked at Del questioningly, wondering what she was suggesting. The hand that slid up and started kneading her breast rapidly gave her a hint. She smiled sexily at Del then turned and walked away.

Del frowned at Seven's sudden departure; she could easily sense her arousal. She grinned when Seven called for the arch and began to set Borg encryption codes on the doors.

Doors sealed to her satisfaction, Seven turned back toward the beach. Her eyes widened and she felt her heart pound when she spotted Del. She had shed her clothes and stood nude at the water's edge. Seven stopped just out of arms' reach and stared. The moonlight shining down on the black water threw Del's body into vivid relief and her skin seemed to glow. Seven was mesmerized by the beauty before her.

Del stepped forward and her hands went to Seven's shirt pushing it back off her shoulders. Her tank top and bra quickly followed. Seven seemed frozen in place and stood placidly while Del removed her clothing.

Del stood back and gazed at Seven in all her glory. She had been aroused as she undressed Seven, but she felt her arousal soar at the sight of Seven's body glowing in the moonlight. She pressed their bare bodies together causing them both to groan at the sensations inspired.

"You are so beautiful, my wife," she murmured in Seven's ear.

Seven clasped Del tightly to her. "I love you."

Del pulled away slightly. "Come swim with me?"

Seven looked hesitant. They had come to this beach several times, but she had never been in the water before and the waves scared her.

Sensing Seven's fear and the reason for it, Del smiled lovingly at her. "Computer, remove the waves."

In the blink of an eye the ocean calmed and became still as glass. Del took Seven's hand and led her into the water. One advantage of the holodeck was the temperature of the water was very warm, not at all like the real Pacific Ocean.

They walked into the water; when it reached their knees Del stopped suddenly. She and Seven had shared the hydroshower many times, but as far as she knew Seven had never been fully immersed in water.

"The water won't damage your implants will it?"

Seven laughed. "No, I won't rust!"

Del chuckled. She had finally gotten Seven to the point where they could discuss her implants without discomfort. Del smiled at the memory of all the hours she had spent exploring every inch of Seven's body and her implants.

"Come on then." Del took Seven's hand and led her into the water until it was just below their breasts.

Seven gripped Del's hand tighter when she felt her body becoming buoyant.

Del drew Seven into her arms. "Relax, your body weighs less in the water." She took Seven's lips in a soft kiss that quickly escalated. Del's tongue pressed into Seven's mouth and began to wrestle with hers.

Seven's body surged into hers as the passionate kiss escalated. Del stepped back trying to keep her balance on the sandy bottom. Seven continued to press forward.

"Wait, love … We'll fall."

Seven whimpered in protest but backed up slightly.

Del had planned on teaching Seven how to float, but quickly changed her mind when she sensed Seven's blazing arousal. She also felt the insistent pulsing between her own legs. Grasping Seven's hand, she urged her quickly toward the shore. There were several blankets lying in the sand near the remains of the bonfire. Del quickly shook the sand off one of them then laid down on it. She moaned when Seven followed her down and immediately straddled her thigh.

"Wait, love … I … Oh God," Del groaned when Seven's fingers plunged deep into the soaking wetness between her legs. She could do nothing but give in to the pleasure that was rapidly spiraling out of control.

Seven felt Del's inner walls begin to flutter around her fingers and picked up the speed of her thrusts. She whimpered in relief when Del raised her thigh and pressed it harder between her legs. Seven immediately began to thrust against Del's hard thigh.

Their climaxes struck almost simultaneously. Seven slumped into Del's arms as the aftershocks continued to ripple through her body.

When Del shifted uncomfortably, Seven rolled off her and onto her back. Her eyes snapped open in surprise when Del moved on top of her. She looked into the blazing blue eyes above her and felt her arousal return with a vengeance.

Del kissed Seven passionately as her hands roamed freely over her body. Placing kisses across her face and over to her ear, she murmured huskily, "Spread your legs for me, love."

Seven whimpered knowing what was to come. Her legs opened wide to provide room for Del.

Del slowly made her way down Seven's body. She kissed and licked the alternating bands of metal and flesh that covered Seven's abdomen.

Seven's hips began to thrust against Del. She put her hand on Del's shoulder urging her lower. "Please … lick me," she begged.

Del slid the rest of the way down and lay on her stomach between Seven's legs. She began to lap up the abundant juices she found, savoring the taste that was all Seven. Seven let out a hoarse cry and her hips bucked in Del's face. Del quickly wrapped her arms around Seven's thighs to hold her in place. Sensing how close Seven was, she reached down with one hand and spread Seven open before plunging her tongue deep inside.

Seven lost all sense of reality as her world spun out of control. She was no longer aware of the blanket beneath her or the moon shining brightly down upon them. All she could feel was the exquisite building pressure caused by Del's tongue working between her legs. She tried to hold back her climax as long as she could, but it was a useless struggle. The pleasure coiled in her belly and spread like wildfire through her limbs. She cried out as she fell over the precipice.

When she became aware again she was cradled in Del's arms, her head resting on her chest and Del was lovingly stroking her back. She lifted her head and stared into Del's eyes.

"Welcome back," Del said, leaning down to kiss her softly. "We should get dressed; our time is probably almost up."

Seven grumbled in protest, but knew Del was right. She forced herself away from her lover's body and helped her gather their clothes.

Once they were dressed they headed for the door. Seven removed the Borg encryption codes from the door.

"Warning, time will expire in five minutes," intoned the computer.

"Perfect timing." Del smiled at Seven and wrapped her arm around her waist. "Thank you for a wonderful birthday, love."

Seven smiled lovingly into Del's eyes as they stepped out into the corridor. Taking her hand, she urged her down the corridor, intent on continuing the birthday celebration in a more private setting.


Chapter Three

Del glanced around as they entered the mess hall. Several people waved at the couple in greeting. They had barely gotten seated at their table when Del felt a strong wave of emotion wash over her. She glanced up to see Kara rapidly approaching their table with a data pad clutched in her hand; she was not happy.

Seven looked up just as Kara reached the table. She smiled brightly at her; it was rare that Kara showed up for lunch. She usually was sleeping after working the Gamma shift. Seven's greeting died on her lips when she got a look at her friend's angry face.

"Why did you do this?" Kara demanded, shaking the pad in her hand at Seven. She couldn't believe it when she'd gotten the message. She hadn't been able to sleep and was relaxing in her quarters when her computer console beeped indicating a priority message. She had immediately queried the computer to Seven's location.

Seven was confused; she had no idea what Kara was talking about.

Del on the other hand had a fairly good idea.

"If you're talking about your transfer, Seven had nothing to do with it. I requested it," Del said calmly.

Kara glared down at Del. "Why?" she demanded stridently. She didn't want to be transferred to the Alpha shift; she liked it just fine on Gamma.

"Excuse me, Lieutenant," Del said sharply, stressing Kara's rank.

Kara stared at Del for several moments, trying to get control of herself. After all, this woman was her superior. Del met her stare passively refusing to react to her anger.

"Sit down and have lunch with us, then we'll discuss any concerns you might have," Del said, trying to defuse the situation a bit.

Kara's shoulders slumped and she slid into a seat at the four-man table in defeat.

Seven glanced at the two women. She didn't understand why Kara was so upset. When Del had told her about Kara's impending transfer she had been thrilled about the prospect of working with her friend every day. She thought Kara would have been excited and happy too. Although Del was technically assigned to Astrometrics, because of her position as Science Officer she was frequently needed on the bridge or other areas of the ship supervising the various sections under her purview. Seven had been looking forward to having Kara in Astrometrics on a daily basis.

Del could sense Seven's confusion. She smiled at her reassuringly before turning her attention to Kara.

"We're going to have Seven's favorite lunch; grilled cheese sandwiches and an ice cream sundae for dessert. Would you like that or something else?"

Kara smiled despite herself. She was well aware of Seven's obsession with grilled cheese sandwiches; it was the first meal she had ever shared with her and Del.

Realizing there was no point in alienating the woman any further, especially if she wanted to be transferred back to the Gamma shift, Kara gave in gracefully.

"What you're having will be fine. Thanks."

Del smiled in acknowledgement before heading for the replicator.

Most of the conversation at lunch had been between Del and Seven. Kara had tried several times to bring up her transfer, but Del refused to talk about it until they finished their meal. What Del was really doing in insisting they finish their lunch was giving the young woman time to settle down. Del knew it was difficult because of the situation on Voyager where you worked and socialized with the same people, oft times your superiors. She didn't want to segregate herself from the crew as Janeway did, but she also knew she needed to be shown the respect due her while they were on duty if she was to be a successful leader.

Del pushed her empty plate away and looked at Kara expectantly. "Now, what was it you wanted to ask me?" Del said, stressing the word ask.

"Why did you have me transferred to the Alpha shift?" Kara inquired respectfully. She had finally managed to calm down and realized Del was trying to help her. Confronting a superior officer and demanding anything was not a particularly bright idea.

Del had known this was going to be a hard sell, but hoped that Kara would be willing to take the chance to work with Seven. Kara had originally been on the Alpha shift, but within a month of being stranded in the Delta quadrant had requested transfer to the Beta shift. A few months after that, she had again requested reassignment, this time to Gamma. Del didn't know why Kara chose to isolate herself from everyone and everything, but she was an outstanding worker and her expertise could benefit the ship much more so on the primary shift than as part of the skeleton crew at night.

"I feel it's in the best interest of the ship for you to be on the Alpha shift. You're not the only person being reassigned. There have been a number of reassignments in the science departments," Del explained hoping to defuse some of the anger she still felt emanating from Kara, though the woman was doing a good job of hiding it.

Kara didn't care who else was transferred where. She just wanted back on Gamma shift. She liked the solitude of the quiet night shift. No one bothered her and it was much easier to keep people at arms length.

Seven, hoping to placate Kara spoke up. "We'll be able to work together every day." She smiled brightly at her friend, unable to hide her pleasure at the prospect.

Kara looked over at her friend and felt bad. She knew Seven was going to see this as a rejection, but it really wasn't. It didn't have anything to do with her. For a moment she was tempted to explain, then quickly pushed away the impulse.

"I'd be happy to work with you every day, Seven, but not on the Alpha shift." She turned toward Del. "I'd like to be transferred back to the Gamma shift."

Seven's face crumpled in disappointment and she felt an unwelcome surge of her old insecurities. Was Kara only her friend because she had forced it on her?

Del met Kara's eyes evenly. "Request denied." Del's tone was a bit sharper than she intended; whether she wanted to or not she was reacting to the sense of rejection coming off Seven.

"So that's your final decision?" Kara was already planning on approaching Captain Janeway to request Del's orders be overridden.

Del had no trouble deducing just what the woman was thinking by the emotions rolling off her.

"No. It's Captain Janeway's final decision. The orders came from her, not me."

Kara felt her anger return full force; she needed to get away before she said something she would regret. She stood and picked up her data pad. "Permission to be dismissed, Commander," she said formally.

"Kara…" At the woman's forbidding look Del sighed in defeat. "Dismissed." Without even a word or glance at Seven, Kara spun on her heels and walked away. Well, that certainly didn't go as planned. Still, Del was hopefully that Kara would eventually adjust to working on the Alpha shift and see the benefits not only to the ship, but to herself as well.

Del had worked with or observed all the people on the Alpha shift in the Science Sections from the Head of the each department down to the lowliest crewman. She had then shifted to the two smaller shifts and done the same thing. There were people on the Alpha shift who didn't deserve to be there as well as the opposite — people like Kara were on the two later shifts that should have been on the Alpha shift. Since Voyager had no formal Science Officer before she took up those duties, those types of decisions had not been made. Unless someone specifically requested a transfer the shift they were originally assigned to when the ship was thrust into the Delta quadrant was where they remained. Janeway had approved very few transfers over the years. Del had taken it upon herself to do a through housecleaning and reorganization of the shifts of the people within the Science Departments. Janeway had baulked at first, saying things were working just fine, but at Del's insistence and with Chakotay's support Janeway had finally agreed to the changes she wanted to make.

As far as Del was concerned even with all the conflicts and battles to survive that Voyager seemed to fall routinely into things had been too status quo for too long. It wasn't right to keep the same people on Alpha shift just because they had happened to be assigned to it. On any other ship you had to earn the right to be on the main shift and continually prove that you belonged there. B'Elanna agreed with her and had recently started the same process in Engineering. Tuvok was still considering doing the same thing with Security.

Del hadn't known when the reassignment orders were going out; she had been waiting for Janeway to issue them. Janeway had returned yesterday after successfully negotiating Voyager safe passage thru Zeleneain space. She wondered how many other unhappy people she would be facing today besides Kara. She didn't expect any protest from the people being moved to the Alpha shift, but she knew there would be some very unhappy crewmembers when the ten people being removed from the Alpha shift received their orders.

Del rolled her tight shoulders forward trying to ease some of the tension in her back as she headed for her cabin. She idly wondered if she should stop by the hologym on the way to work out some of the stress. After lunch she had gotten a warning call from Chakotay. He had informed her that in the previous hour he had received twelve requests to see Captain Janeway. It was worse than she thought; there were several people she assumed would welcome the chance to be assigned to the quieter shifts.

She had to give Janeway credit though. Once you convinced her of a course of action she backed you up 100%. The captain had immediately issued a department-wide communiqué informing all crewmembers that the transfers were non-negotiable. That hadn't stopped each of the twelve affected people from sending her a request to intervene with Captain Janeway on their behalf. The requests had ranged from polite to bordering on the insubordinate. She had taken a page from Captain Janeway's book and sent out a blanket communication to all involved personnel informing them that the recommendations for the reassignments had originally come from her and that they were not going to be changed. Del had known the transfers would cause turmoil at first, but was convinced it was the right thing to do. She only hoped that with her own and Captain Janeway's response, the complaining crewmembers would accept their transfers gracefully.

She keyed the door to her quarters giving up on the idea of stopping by the gym. She opted for a hot bath instead. Seven had informed Del earlier that she was going to continue to work for a while on the scans of the protonebula they were approaching. Seven explained she hoped with enough data she might convince Captain Janeway to let her and Kara go on an astrological survey to explore the nebula. Del had encouraged Seven, knowing she wanted to do something to show Kara the advantages of being assigned to the Alpha shift. Away missions of this type were rarely if ever offered to Gamma shift personnel. And a chance to explore a protonebula was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Forcing away all thought of the disgruntled crew and reassignments, she set the door chime to do not disturb and headed for the ensuite. She should have time for a nice long soak before Seven arrived.


Chapter Four

Del resisted the urge to whistle as she made her way to the hanger bay, but just barely. She was relieved to be getting off the ship. She had been mistaken in thinking all the transferred personnel had finally accepted their reassignment. Three disgruntled crewmembers that had been transferred off the Alpha shift, refused to accept that they had been reassigned. After repeatedly denying them appointments over the last three days, they had individually taken it upon themselves to confront her in Astrometrics. She had shocked all three by immediately putting each of them on report. Although Del realized they were in a very unique situation with people working and living together for years at a time, it was still a Starfleet vessel and certain standards of conduct were required. Morale had suffered because of the transfers, but Del was convinced that in the long run things would be better.

Seven and Kara were originally supposed to go on the astrological survey, but after much pleading with Janeway, Del convinced her to allow her to accompany them. Her relationship with the Captain had become very amicable. There had been a period right after her marriage to Seven where Janeway seemed to revert to her former animosity toward Del, but within a month of their marriage had seemed to accept it and return to her friendlier behavior. Del was pretty sure the Captain had enjoyed her begging. Janeway had kept a tight reign on her emotions during the meeting, but the mischievous sparkle in her eyes had given her away. Del would bet anything Janeway was well aware that she wanted to get away from certain crewmembers more than she wanted to go on the away mission. Her suspicions had been confirmed when she stepped out of Janeway's ready room and met the eyes of a smirking Chakotay, who wished her a quiet trip.

She smiled when she spotted Seven waiting next to the shuttle craft.

"Where's Kara?"

Kara had seemed to accept that she was stuck on the Alpha shift, but she had remained very cool to Del whenever they interacted.

"She's doing the preflight. Everything is set and ready to go. We were just waiting for you."

"Well, then what are we waiting for… let's go!"

Del grinned lasciviously. She couldn't help but admire her spouse's physique as she headed up the ramp into the shuttle ahead of her. Her flexing gluts in the tight biosuit were hard to ignore. Too bad it wasn't just the two of them on the shuttle. Pushing away the arousing thoughts she quickly followed her wife into the shuttle.

Kara continued to gaze out the viewport in astonishment. The nebula was even more amazing than she had expected. She glanced over where Seven was running continuing scans.

"Did you get the same pulse again?"

Seven had been scanning the center of the nebula when they had picked up a strange reading. There appeared to be some type of anomaly at the center of the nebula, but so far the computer had not been able to tell them what it was. They had not picked up any sign of an anomaly from the previous scans run while still aboard Voyager. Wanting to make sure they didn't miss anything, they had been slowly progressing toward the center of the nebula for the last two hours while running continuous scans. It had been a typical survey mission up to this point.

"Yes, but the computer still can't interpret it. We need to move closer," Seven said.

Del was at the controls of the Type 2 shuttle. It wasn't built for comfort, but it was maneuverable and fast. It had been quite some time since Del had been in one of the small shuttles and had forgotten what close quarters they were.

She maneuvered the shuttle further into the nebula toward its center. They had almost reached the center when the shuttle suddenly rocked and alarms began to blare.

"What the hell was that?"

Seven quickly scanned the console in front of her.

"We have a malfunction in the starboard nacelle. We're leaking plasma and engines are off-line."

Before Del could comment on Seven's news, the shuttle was jolted violently and they were all thrown to the floor. As they picked themselves up a new set of alarms blared.

"Commander, you better take a look at this," Kara said when she regained her seat.

Del could feel the tension suddenly coming off Kara. Whatever it was, it wasn't good. She turned to look at Kara's display console.

"How is that possible?" Del asked incredulously.

They were now several hundred kilometers further from the center than they had been before the jolt.

"The nebula appears to be expanding… rapidly. That last jolt was a minor expansion. If it happens again we could be torn apart by the gravimetric shear as the nebula expands. There were no signs of this on our original survey. I think that strange reading we picked up before was the build up to the surge," Kara explained quickly. "It stopped immediately after the expansion."

Quickly realizing how serious this could be Del wasted no time in acting. "Seven, contact Voyager and tell them to get us out of here." Without engines, they were going to be sitting ducks.

Seven contacted Voyager, her voice calm as she explained their situation. They were informed that Voyager needed to move into the nebula to be within transporter range.

"Commander," Kara called, "I'm getting the same reading as before but much stronger this time."

"Everyone strap themselves in," Del instructed her companions. "If there's another wave it's going to get rough. We just need to stay in one piece 'til Voyager gets here."

Del turned the shuttle using thrusters and tried to push them away from the center of the nebula. That appeared to be where the expansion waves were coming from.

"Here it comes again," Kara cried stridently.

Janeway grabbed for her chair as her ship rocked violently. They had just reached transporter range when the building wave they were monitoring let go again.

"Get them out of there, Harry!"

Harry Kim hung on to his console with one hand and worked frantically over the controls with the other trying to get a lock on the away team members.

Voyager bucked again more violently than the last time. The force was too much for the inertial dampeners and everyone was thrown to the floor by the shock wave. The screen filled with a bright flash of light.

Janeway scrambled to her feet and stared in horror at the spot where the shuttle had been moments before.

"Harry, did you get them?"

Harry stared down at his board then up at the viewscreen in shock. He looked down at Janeway with a dazed expression and shook his head.

"Scan for the shuttle!"

Janeway's sharp command brought Harry back to his senses.

He ran the scans several times; each time coming up the same. He shook his head again and his eyes filled with tears.

"It's gone," he said huskily.

Janeway was not giving up. "Scan the area for any life signs."

Every eye on the bridge was on him as Harry performed the scan. His shoulders slumped and he looked down at his captain with pain filled eyes.

"No life signs."

"Are you picking up anything?" Janeway demanded.

"All I'm picking up is some scattered debris. I'm reading plasma residue so it must be part of the nacelle."

"What about the rest of the shuttle?"

"No sign of it. It must have been destroyed in the explosion."

"Take us further into the nebula, Tom," Janeway ordered. "Harry, I want you to run continuous scans. Find that shuttle!"

Janeway fought the urge to bury her face in her hands. This couldn't be happening. It had been a simple astronomical survey.

Part 5

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