By Elizabeth Carter
Seven hit the bulkhead and B'Elanna careened into her, both with such force the wind was forced from their lungs.
"I apologize, but it was necessary."
The two women looked at each other, their eyes wide.
"I didn't say that," B'Elanna uttered.
"Nor did I," Seven answered.
"It was I, your host. The ship you are within."
Blue stared into brown.
Brown stared back into blue.
Voyager continued to shake. The shock waves were no true threat to Voyager with the Borg enhanced shields but it felt like it jarred every bone in the body ten fold over and more than a few sets of teeth rattled.
"Get this ship stabilized," Janeway ordered as she found her command chair.
"Thrusters are firing, Captain," Amanda prompted.
"Damage report?" Janeway craned her neck so that she could see Tuvok.
The Vulcan's dark chocolate fingers danced over the kiosk, his eyes taking in the information, compiling in now from all duty stations. "Warp Engines are off line, we only have thrusters. Minor damage to the deflector array, sensors off line momentarily, shields holding at 90 percent, plasma leaks in main engineering-decks ten, eleven, and twelve. They are, however, contained. No casualties, however sickbay reports several broken limbs, plasma burns, and minor injuries due to the momentary loss of gravity."
The gravity had only been lost for a moment but it was enough, apparently, to shake up the crew. Kathryn thanked the Great Bird of the Galaxy that it wasn't a lot worse. So, they were blind, with no more momentum than thruster capabilities, but at least they had full shields.
It reminded the Captain of the Tardillion devil-rays. They would secrete a venom that made their prey and or predators blind and lethargic, giving the ray time to move away into safety, or consume the prey at leisure. So was Voyager prey or predator? The only certainty was that Voyager was crippled.
Then again, so was the Borg Diamond.
If the Queen was livid before, she was beyond descriptions of anger now. That emotion rippled thought the entire Collective. Billions of minds were quite aware of the state their Queen was in. If the Hive Mind could have known true fear, it shuddered with it now.
Emotions were irrelevant, an inefficient use of time and energy. The Vinculum was a storehouse of all irrelevant data of mind and 'heart', which had to go somewhere. It seemed that a backwards flow had somehow circumvented the firewalls of the Queen and struck her with the virus of emotions.
The Diamond was paralyzed. No sensors, deflector array off line, no shields, no engine capability, and weapons were down to 45 percent. What was most irritating was that the cube was not adapting. Several tactical drones had been damaged and deactivated due to the plasma leaks near the transwarp coil.
'What is the cause of the fluctuation?' the Queen demanded of the Hive Mind.
'Unknown factor in the anomaly. Possibly generated by species 342.' The Collective Voices of billions answered in one voice.
'A biological weapon. Impressive. If it is biological it has a weakness," the Queen commented. 'Shut down all support factions, and realign our systems in 3.36 minutes. We will adapt parameters of the distinctiveness of species 342.' She never had to vocalize her orders. All she had to do was to think it and her directives were obeyed.
"You are species 342," Seven said, her voice crisp.
"Explain your abduction of myself and Lieutenant Toress."
B'Elanna knew by the set of the former drone's jaw that Seven was more than upset. If she had been anyone else, or if it had been several months ago, she would have thought Seven arrogant, but now that she knew her, B'Elanna knew otherwise.
"I apologize," the ship said once more. The voice was not unlike those of the Collective, save that the ship was clearly female. The Collective voice of the Hive mind was as androgynous as its drones. "I have need I am to be without life, soon. The one I carry will be born and I cannot protect her. She will be without guardianship. The Borg will assimilate her. I ask Asylum in the name of the unborn."
B'Elanna and Seven exchanged glances.
"Say that again," B'Elanna questioned.
"I am dying due to an altercation with the Borg. I have scanned you, seen you both I entrust you with the life of my unborn." The ship seemed to shutter. "Time I do not have. I beg of you to take her and flee. The storm is not to last. It covers the birthing only. Not safe she will be when gone is the storm. Your vessel without power it is as long as they are in the storm."
"So you're the cause as to why we got those backwards readings in Engineering and Astrometrics," B'Elanna reasoned. "I don't know what you think we can do for you and your offspring "
"Better I can commune. The bridge must you go."
The young Klingon felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. Something stirred her gut; something was off about this whole thing. Grabbing Seven's willowy arm, she pulled the taller woman to her.
"B'Elanna, we can not learn what it is we need to know without Intelligence. To gain that we must comply."
"No we don't. In fact it's a bad idea to comply."
"Then remain here, Benel." Seven pried her arm free from B'Elanna's grip. But her silver meshed fingers traced over the lines of her wife's hand before she turned.
"Harm you I will not," The ship's metallic female voice reassured. "Need you I do to care for the young."
B'Elanna scowled. 'Yeah right This smells wrong,' thought the engineer. Sucking in a breath B'Elanna exhaled a curse under her breath. 'Everyone encounters tribbles occasionally.' "You are not going without me, Blondie," the Klingon snarled. "What kind of mate do you think I am that would allow her wife to march foolishly into what is so obviously a trap?"
"Bella," Seven said as she continued her long legged stride through the halls of the ship. "I am not without my sense of reason. YIvoq 'ach lojmImey yISam."
B'Elanna stopped. Not so much for what Seven had said, but for the fact her wife had uttered the words in flawless Klingonese. In fact there was no trace of human accent what so ever. It could have been that Seven grew up on Qo'nos. "Trust, but locate the doors." The young engineer translated. "I'd feel better if we located the transporters."
"Even if we could operate them, it is unlikely that they would be operative. Considering the nature of this biological anomaly, I would recommend against transporting," Seven responded.
"Yeah, you're right. But it will still make me feel better if I knew where they were. I am trusting my instinct, Nic, and right now ..going to the bridge is going against them despite what this Tinman says."
The bridge was found with relative ease. The ship had lit the corridors with a soft blue glow differentiating it from the gold ambient illumination of the rest of the ship, showing the two women where to go.
The command center of the ship was as different from Voyager as was the nexus of the Queen's vessel. There was a raised dais, which grew, literally grew, out of the flooring of the bridge. Command kiosks would allow the commander to interface with the ship directly via a VR connection.
"I have seen such an interface before," Seven said, "This contains the master operating system that integrates the ship's programs. This interface turns the Commander's neural signals into computer instructions that manipulate the matrix."
"How do you know this?"
"It is not dissimilar to the nexus of the Queen. Her thoughts are transmitted directly into the Hive Mind. The same would be so here. The interface runs on a grouping of optical crystals that are the heart of the command center."
B'Elanna stood motionless as she watched Seven take custody of the control center. It wouldn't hurt to look. Or at least B'Elanna continued to tell herself this.
"Seven of Nine assessed interface correctly you have. The interface will keep a cohesive integration of all the commander's components and active programs into the persona in the guise of what the commander wants. Directly interface with me upon the Grid of the Matrix, it will."
"If the commander is interfaced with you, is she aware of what is going on in the outside world? " B'Elanna questioned.
"As in a lucid dream."
"Not exactly inspiring confidence here," B'Elanna sardonically supplied. "Look, I have a little experience with pilots interfacing with ships ."
"Benel, I am not Tom Paris. And this is almost exactly how the Queen controls the Collective," Seven said.
"Newsflash. You're not the Queen."
"No, I am not, but I was constructed to be so," Seven remarked. Without another word the tall blonde stepped into the center of the dais. Her left hand closed into a fist. A twitch of her muscle causing the tubules in her hand to slip out and plunge into the data port.
Mizoti paced the confines of the quarters she shared with her newly adoptive mother. Her agitation was growing with each step, each turn. She was worried for her mother. Seven of Nine was taken, as was B'Elanna Toress, and there was nothing that could be done about the abduction. Or at least for the moment, there was nothing that could be done.
Voyager was being shaken apart, people were hurt and there was something that could be done about it. The crews were handling the difficulties springing up all over the ship with the professionalism with which they had been trained. That didn't stop the children, both Mizoti and Naomi, from becoming concerned and worried over what was happening.
"Mizoti, why don't you sit down, huh?" Neelix, who was infinitely kind when it came to children, was clearly concerned over his young charges. "Why doesn't she do something!" Mizoti snapped suddenly as she turned and faced her furry guardian. "She has a powerful ship and she does nothing!"
"I assume that by 'she' you mean our captain."
"Yes," the young girl said with an exhale of exasperated air. My Mother is gone and she ..she isn't doing anything about it."
"Mizoti, that is unfair and you know it. My dear, Captain Janeway is searching even now, even during the difficulties we are facing, to locate your mothers."
"Well... it's not enough. There's got to be a better way." Mizoti began to rub her temple once more. The headache pains were increasing. For a moment it was as if they were going to be gone for good. Then all of a sudden the migraines were back.
Both Neelix and Naomi were aware of the pain the young girl was experiencing, that was why the quarters were illuminated by one half standard lighting.
"Zot, the Queen took Seven and B'Elanna. We just have to find the "
"NO!" Mizoti snarled in a voice that was not her own. "The Collective doesn't have Seven of Nine. If Janeway were intelligent she would realize the transporter signal was different than the one used by the Borg. But she didn't even bother to confirm it. She simply assumed the Queen took back that which belonged to her."
Both of the other occupants looked at one another, uncertain as what to say. The fact Mizoti had reveled this bit of information, though speculative in their eyes, was likened to a warpcore breech.
"How how do you know this?" Neelix asked.
"I know. That's all that matters," the child deferred. "Now we are doing nothing but chasing the wrong ship. And because of Janeway's arrogance she has rendered this vessel impotent."
Naomi frowned. This was not her friend. The words .though similar to Borg-speak, didn't sound exactly like Mizoti.
Neelix was not unaware of what was going on with the little girl. Since the child had been through so much difficulty, he attributed the change of demeanor on stress. Mizoti had suffered so much already, and now to have her mother abducted was enough to cause anyone to lose their typical behavior. After all, when it came to either Samantha or Naomi, Neelix could become possessively protective and positively angry against any opposition that would come between him and his family.
The Talaxian could see this in the young girl. Her anger and frustration were understandable. Being a child and helpless to do anything, she vented her anger on those around her. Of course she would blame the captain for what had happened to Seven. It was reasonable to do so as the captain was in charge of Voyager and her crew, and therefore ultimately responsible for anything that happened on her ship. And thus responsible for Seven.
"Honey I think that the captain is trying to "
"What ever she is trying to do it isn't acceptable," Mizoti snapped.
"Zot . what's with you? Seven and Lanna will come back. Hey, the Queen took Seven before and we got her back. Even IF she is on the other ship, we will still get her back."
"When the Queen reclaims Seven as her own, you will never get her back. Not this time." Mizoti rubbed her forehead as the pain was pounding in her scull. She moaned, then toppled to the grey-carpeted floor of her quarters.
Neelix and Naomi flung themselves to the floor upon their knees. Neelix checked the girl's pulse and found it racing and thready. "Mizoti! .Mizoti "
He looked with orange eyes into the pleading blue of Naomi. "Is she.. she isn't "
"She's not responding, but she is alive."
" We have to get her to sickbay." Naomi swallowed hard, her eyes blinking back tears.
The young girl watched as her stepfather gingerly slid his hands under the prone body of her friend and cradled her into his capable arms. She was heavier than Naomi, though smaller. It was because of the Borg-implants, a space in the Talaxian's mind reasoned. He swooshed out of the pneumonic doors and headed for the turbolift.
The jolting waves had stopped and the floor no longer shuttered, though the captain could still feel the vibrations. At the very least Voyager stopped shaking.
"Shields down to 44 prescient," Tuvok said. "The power supply is decreasing at an alarming rate," Tuvok's static voice announced across the bridge.
For the last few hours, Astrometrics had been trying with futility to find a way to circumnavigate the nebula. Without sensors it was impossible. But it didn't stop them from trying every conceivable way to find a way out of the storm.
Engineering had worked endlessly to repair the plasma leaks, the engines, as well as the deflector array. Now shields were failing. Janeway pinched the bridge of her nose trying to curb the headache she was suffering. Lack of sleep, stress, worry, low blood sugar and the feeling of having lost, all threatened to take her prisoner.
At least her ship had decided that it would try to hang on to life. The main priority to the small woman was the ship's engine capabilities.
She looked at Rothery who was doing what she could with thruster capabilities only. The CO could almost hear the low grumbling under her helmsmen's breath.
Time to stifle the fear. She was the Captain after all. She flipped the switch on the armrest of her chair. "Attention all hands. I want all available engineering and maintenance crews to report to duty posts and assist in repairs. We will, without question, pull through this; we have been in far worse conditions and survived. We will again. If trouble wants us, we will be ready for it. We have two lost crewmembers waiting for us to find them. They are counting on us. We will not disappoint them."
Janeway turned her attention back to the storm. In order to protect those she cared about she had to retreat. "Rothery, pull us out of the hub of the storm, full thrusters."
"Captain?" Chakotay frowned. He had objected to following the Borg diamond into the enigmatic storm, and now the retreat was yet another odd move on his captain's part. It was like maneuvering pieces on a chessboard. A hard play of a single piece only to take it back three moves latter.
"Any port in a storm, Commander," was the redhead's reply. "If we are out of the nexus of this plasma storm we might regain the leverage of your systems. Remaining in there will only deplete them. I am not abandoning our crewmates, but we need tactical advantages to do that."
She didn't have to explain her actions to the bridge crew. After all she WAS the captain and her decisions should not be questioned. But at this moment Janeway felt compelled to justify her actions.
The Queen stared at the viewer, futilely trying to gain a perspective on the vessel that had taken her Seven. Janeway was chasing her because the small human thought the Queen had taken Seven. The Queen was chasing species 342 because they had taken Seven. But why? A living ship stole a former drone and a Klingon hybrid. Or was it an astrophysicist and an engineer the ship needed. That was more likely the cause. And if you are going to steal such personnel, then you might as well take the best.
So why would a living ship need an astrophysicist and an engineer?
Species 342 was heavily damaged, so it was logical to assume that if it could not repair its own damage then it would need assistance in doing so. The storm was a ploy of the ship, out of defensive maneuvers. Once the ship was repaired it was also logical to assume that the storm would dissipate and all damaged areas of the diamond would be repaired without taxed resources.
Without saying a word, the diamond, on reserve impulse engines, started to maneuver away from the storm. Borg technology had enabled the diamond to adapt to the anomaly but at a gruelingly slow pace. It was unacceptable. Pulling back was the best tactical decision available.
Seven's hand trembled as she accessed the port, her blue eyes glazed over staring beyond B'Elanna. The Klingon felt as if her love was staring directly through her. She didn't like the feeling at all. A caramel hand rested upon the black clad arm.
"This one is unique." The voice filtering from the full lips was not Seven of Nine's. It was almost aquatic and multi layered as if back in the Collective. "This one has special memories of you. One called B'Elanna Toress."
"Yeah, well, I want those memories to stay in tact. Where is Annika?"
"She is within." Blue eyes didn't blink. "This one understands the union of life and machine. She is life and machine. She is the most compatible with the one. She will become the one's protectorate."
"The one must survive. Survive she will if linked to one designated as Annika/Seven of Nine. I must preserve the one. Taken you this reason I have. Borg must not have the one. Will bind the one and Seven."
"The hell you will." B'Elanna grabbed the blonde's closed fist. She wanted to break the link between her love and the ship, but she knew if she did she would do irrefutable harm to her lover. "Let her go! NOW!"
"No, I must preserve the one. Installing new directive into cortical node." The blue eyes would not blink, the stare cold and hollow.
"Annika!! ANNIKA, Goddamn it, fight back. Do you hear me, you stupid blonde? Come on honey, adapt to this shit and block her! Got me Damn it! I knew it! I knew it!" B'Elanna's caramel face reddened in anger and fear. "Every damn time you go against your instincts you get screwed."
"The one will be preserved. She will not allow the one to be harmed." Seven's mechanical voice declared.
"No! I will. Goddamn Tinman, I'll harm you, and 'the one.' If you scanned me and my files then you know what I'll do. Back off, Tinman, or I'll show you Klingon hospitality!"
"You can not terminate me or the one. You do and your Annika will be terminated. She has value to you, therefore you will not terminate the one, or me. Therefore the one will be preserved."
"Let her go or I'll cut 'the one' right out of you!" B'Elanna roared.
Seven whimpered. The eyes blinked. "Bella .."
"Nic!" B'Elanna reached up and touched the soft creamy face of her love. "I am here, BangwI I'm here." She wanted to, needed to, convey her support, her love, for this woman who was effectively held prisoner by the ship. B'Elanna wanted to yell 'I told you so.' But she didn't. Instead she held the face of the woman she loved between her hands, hoping against the odds, that her lover would know she was there for her.
"Please ." Tears fell from blue eyes, wetting B'Elanna's caramel hand. "Please don't. Hurting. It hurts so much." Seven cringed, wincing as if suddenly shocked by a wave of pain.
"I SAID LET HER GO!" B'Elanna spun around on her heels, her eyes wanting to lay upon the face of her enemy, but she was IN her enemy and thus no enemy to face. "LET HER GO YOU FUCK!"
"Bella ." Seven's voice was weak. "No you. Please don't hurt the infant." Blue eyes streamed with tears. Pleading eyes pierced B'Elanna to the soul. "Please One and Erin both died . my sons . Azan and Rebi murdered please please Bella not another ."
"Annika, we are talking about a goddamn ship! A SHIP for crying out loud. It's nothing more than a bit of machinery!"
"She is alive. I can feel her essence blending to mine."
"This tin bucket is doing that to you, Annika. You're being conditioned. Don't you see that? This bucket of bolts is playing on your losses. Annika ."
"The one will survive. She will not let you kill the one." The voice was once more that of the ship. Azure eyes stared out unblinking as before. "She will protect the one. It is now a prime directive in her cortical node. She will protect the one even before self preservation."
"Over my dead body," B'Elanna snarled.
"What has been done can not be undone."
"You want to wager on that?" B'Elanna wouldn't look at Seven when the aquatic voice of the ship was using the blonde's vocal cords to speak. She couldn't stand to look at the red-rime of Seven's tear swollen eyes.
In space, none can hear you scream.
That was a lie.
Five hounded kilometers out of the storm and Voyager took a sigh of relief as her impulse engines were back on line. A moment later the ship blinked as sensors came back to life. Tension could almost be visibly seen, creating the tight muscles of the shoulders of the bridge crew.
The Main view screen flashed a brilliant image. The bridge lights flickered, then pulsed blood-red as the ships newly awakened sensors detected the danger.
"OH SHIP!" Rothery yelped.
The Borg diamond loomed precariously close over the hull of Voyager. A cat's whisker could not pass between the two vessels as they careened ever closer. Rothery's fingers danced over the kiosk, commanding Voyager's straining cold engines. Banking her hard to port, Amanda felt the ship moan in protest.
Janeway braced herself in the commanded chair and watched the Diamond skim far too close to the hull of her ship. A riotous ballet of arms and legs tumbled in crimson shadow, as the others vainly reached for support and fell.
The diamond pulled up, hard and fast, lurching with all its power, her own engines straining under the new directive. The whole diamond vibrated as the cold engines pulled to comply with the Queen's orders.
Voyager slowly rolled back to center and righted herself. Janeway straightened and extended a hand to her commander, while she scanned the bridge. No serious injuries, although young Harry Kim sat at Opps as if to make sure it remained in its proper place. The other personnel were already struggling to their feet amid the chatter of damage reporters and the Klaxon's insistent blaring.
"Primary hull scarred," Tuvok, reported his voice forever even, "Hull breach likely if ."
"Captain, the Borg are powering weapons," Harry intersected.
"SHEILDS!" Janeway barked.
"Aye Captain," Tuvok said. "Shields still down 43 percent."
As the sickbay trembled with the impact of the last hit, The Doctor ran a tricorder over the young Norkadian child unconscious on the bio-bed, while Neelix held the hand of a frantic Naomi Wildman.
"She's going to be okay, isn't she?" Naomi said in a very weak voice.
"If Rothery can keep from shaking us apart," the Doctor said dryly.
"Doctor!" Neelix grumbled.
The photonic physician had shaken the girl far more than the blasts striking the hull of Voyager.
"Sorry, Naomi," the Doctor said. "You shouldn't worry for your little friend. I will do everything I can to restore her to full health." There was a slight smugness about the smile he flashed. "After all, I am programmed with over five million ."
"I don't care what programs you have as long as you save her." Only Naomi, a child whose patience had vanished completely, could get away with uttering words so many of the crewmembers had so long wanted to say to the hologram.
"I can help her," the Doctor repeated, apparently unshaken by the curtness in the girl's voice.
"She has really bad headaches, just like Seven did when she was dying. Something is really wrong," Naomi moved to her best friend. "She doesn't talk like Mizoti . It's all wrong."
The ship lurched again, nearly spilling Naomi onto the floor, save for Neelix catching her in his arms.
"Honey, what do you mean 'it's all wrong'?" the Talaxian asked as he furrowed his bushy eyebrows.
"I mean it's not her," Naomi insisted once she found her feet. "Sometimes it's Mizoti, sometimes it's like I don't know, she's someone else .. She's weird then. She's like Seven when she first came aboard, but without the sincerity. "
Both adults looked to one another.
The Doctor's fingers ran over the medical tricorder in his hands, configuring new data into the panel before scanning the sleeping Norkadian.
"Naomi you mean Mizoti reverted back to being Borg." Neelix wanted to make it perfectly clear what it was the girl was talking about. "You said she was acting differently because of the trauma that "
"No, I mean even when the kids came aboard the first time, Mizoti was like Seven but not so Borg. She was always doing un-Borg things but still sounded. Borg. Now she's like super Borg. Like she is more Borg than the Borg."
"Naomi, that doesn't make any sense," the Doctor said even as he was running the tricorder over Mizoti's scull. "The only Borg that is more Borg than the Borg is the Queen."
All three faces looked at each other.
Stunned silence hung in the air.
Neelix grabbed Naomi and pulled the girl back away from the biobed.
The Doctor knew he could never be physically harmed by the Borg, since he was a hologram, but he gulped nonetheless as he stepped closer to his patient. His dark photonic eyes blinked. "Oh my," he said in a hushed tone. He hit his combadge. "Captain, we have a problem." He continued to stare at the prone child's body.
Just then the ship shuddered once more.
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