DISCLAIMER: Voyager, and all it's characters belong to Paramount. I am not making profit from this tale it is purely for fun. No copyright infringement intended.
RATING V:R, S:NC-17(maybe)
WARNINGS: F/F interactions. If you are under 18, this is illegal where you live, OR the idea of two women in love/attracted to each other offends you PLEASE go read something else!
NAUGHTY WORDS WARNINGS: there are some, but they are not gratuitous, or often.
DARKSIDER WARNING: There is ALOT of lightside interaction here. You've been warned.

I would like to thank Wyrdemage, TJ, Nicole, and Rebelgirl for their Beta time. I have been bouncing ideas off of them, sending them stuff, bugging them and being a general nuisance for quite a while and they are ALL so wonderful to me! I love you girls!! <hugs>

November Rain
By Cirroco DeSade

Chapter 9

Seven of Nine, former Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero one, nee Annika Hansen, was feeling every one of the countless frailties that being human had bestowed upon her despite her Borg enhanced physiology. Thirty-four solid days of hard work with sometimes double and triple shifts had put her in this state. It all started with the revelation that Voyager would have to undergo changes to become a generational ship. After only a week of research and planning, decisions were made on how to alter the ship and major renovation got underway. Everyone on the senior staff was assigned tasks beyond their ordinary departmental duties and was in charge of their own crews.

Seven's small crew of engineers was to take on the task of converting the aeroshuttle, and its shuttle bay into a safe daycare center. Fortunately, Janeway had never used the 'Captain's Yacht', so its loss was insignificant. The shuttle's location, flush to the underside of Voyager's primary hull, was going to be reinforced with extra shielding. In addition, they were to upgrade the deflector systems, from the FSQ-2 level originally installed at the shipyards, to the more reliable "Borg and Federation Bastardized Deflector System" as B'Elanna liked to call it. Beyond that, other upgrades would be made to the engines and weapons systems of the shuttle.

The crew also had to retrofit the yacht to include a more aesthetic atmosphere and space for children instead of the complex scientific systems already present. The yacht could currently support a scientific crew of five with a pilot for a two-week planetary mission. It was obvious that the shuttle could not be used for the more active times in the children's days. Yet, it was an ideal safety and escape facility. Therefore, the whole shuttle bay and its accompanying cargo bay were being redesigned.

The shuttle bay itself would become the primary environment for the daycare. The cargo bay above the shuttle bay was being retrofit into a park environment. They were installing a system that could alter the lighting and gravity to suit each child's native conditions.

The revelation that there were not just seven babies coming but twelve had initially alarmed the senior staff. However, between Seven, B'Elanna and Harry, the plan had allowed enough daycare space to care for four times that number if necessary. Whether there was enough housing for more than twenty was still debatable.

However, the crews had been involved in their work for less than week when Voyager was attacked by yet another series of Delta Quadrant pirates. It was a relatively short incursion, lasting only the greater part of a day, but Voyager still took heavy damage in some areas. Therefore, the crews were not only busy putting the ship back together, but also trying desperately to accomplish their alterations before the three Bajoran babies were born.

The former drone was positively exhausted as she entered her quarters. She felt personally responsible for making sure that Voyager's future residents had a safe environment, and her team was behind schedule because of the attack. On top of that, she felt responsible for the attack since she had not been spending as much time in Astrometrics before it occurred. Guilt was an emotion she fought often and did not enjoy. Of course, a discussion with Tuvok a week prior had given her some relief from these feelings of guilt. He pointed out that logically she could not predict pirate behavior and it was possible that even if she had been in Astrometrics at the time she might have missed their approach.

Yet, the past months had brought many happy moments as well. One positive development that she cherished was that she had begun spending time with B'Elanna again. Their friendship seemed to be growing and the hybrid no longer seemed to avoid her presence. They had resumed their working dinners, often only ending when the Captain came and told them they were overworking, or when B'Elanna started yawning.

Another pleasing change was the attitude of the crew. Despite the heavy load everyone was under, it seemed that almost everyone was excited about the upcoming births. The crew was beginning to feel like even more of a family than before, a close-knit community in fact. Seven privately believed that Voyager's crew had transcended their own cultural norms over the many years they had been together. The ship's crew could now be considered its own culture, its own society. She believed that the crew's palpable excitement was a sign that they were ready for Voyager to become generational.

Finally, Seven's personal life was becoming more fulfilling. For once, she did not feel so alone. On the days she was not working doubles, she would take time to be with her friends, or if she was available, her Captain, who was also her lover. Kathryn tried to make sure their schedules coincided as often as possible, and if the older woman worked late, she always tried to track down the former drone afterwards to see if she wanted to do something. Janeway had taken Seven back to her Indiana program several times now, usually spending precious rations to have the replicators produce a portable meal, then taking the Borg somewhere within the borders of the small agricultural community where the redhead grew up. Seven found it quite satisfying to have the opportunity to learn more about the captivating woman's history, or to be able to just spend time holding each other.

Seven had been enjoying her time off duty with Kathryn so much that she was actually neglecting herself somewhat. Whenever Kathryn appeared, she always tried to make time for her. The redhead had spent most of the last two weeks at Seven's residence in fact. By now, Seven had programmed her door to recognize the older woman and allow her in anytime she liked. Janeway did not usually just appear at Seven's quarters unannounced however; she genuinely tried to be respectful of the Borg's privacy. However, Seven had told her many times that this was not necessary. The last few nights Janeway had been amorous, and Seven had been thrilled at the passion of their lovemaking. Nonetheless, she had not regenerated in well over her prescribed time, and she had undertaken extra long shifts. She knew she had to regenerate more often, to strike a balance between her love life, her work life, and her physical needs, as this had happened several times in the last month. She really needed to relearn how to tell Kathryn no, but she could not seem to deny anyone close to her anything.

As she entered her living area, she found her beloved sitting upon the low couch in front of the windows. She was surprised to find Kathryn waiting for her, as she had talked to her over an hour ago and the Captain had still been working. The smaller woman held a PADD in her right hand, but that hand was flopped bonelessly onto the couch. Her left arm was draped over her eyes, her head lying back, as if she were blocking out the light.

"Kathryn?" Seven asked softly. The older woman made no move to acknowledge the Borg and the only sound Seven could hear was her slow, deep respirations. Seven concluded that the redhead was already fast asleep. She knew that Kathryn had been pushing herself too hard, and had worried that the older woman would not allow herself the kind of rest she needed. It never occurred to Seven to realize she was guilty of the same thing.

Seven strode across the room softly, leaned down, rearranging limbs and gathering the somnolent figure up in her arms gently. Kathryn did not wake, a testament to her exhaustion, but she did cuddle up into the soft breast of the woman who carried her. Seven bore her into the bedroom, and lay her upon the bed. She carefully divested the woman of her clothing, and then lifted her up again. Rearranging the covers on the bed, she placed Janeway underneath and tucked her in. Finally, she deposited a soft kiss upon the cherished lips. She prepared her lover's uniform for the next day, and laid it on the table next to the bed.

After that, she disrobed, took care of her own uniform and then walked into her bathroom. A quick run through the sonic shower allowed her to feel clean after her long shift today in grimy little used Jeffries tubes. She cared for her teeth, then removed her hair from its bun and brushed it out. While she was brushing her hair, she began to feel even more tired than before, since she always found the act relaxing. Suddenly a yawn escaped from deep within her. She blinked in surprise at her own reflection, as she had not realized she was capable of yawning. Shrugging, an act she did not even notice she had done, she set down her brush and strode up to her alcove.

She set her cycle to last through the night, a full seven hours. She usually did not have to regenerate this long; however she was overdue and could feel it. She was long since over her bafflement at how she preferred to regenerate in the nude, now that she had privacy, so that's exactly how she entered the alcove: bare naked and hair released from its ordinary restrictions. Her last sight was her beloved Captain, across from her, in her bed, sleeping peacefully. Then the energy of the ship surged through her, her cortical node shutting out her human control and feelings, closing her eyes, and relegating the being that was Seven of Nine, and also Annika Hansen, to a place where time was irrelevant and she had no control.

Six decks away, B'Elanna wondered how she had managed to exhaust her body so thoroughly yet her mind would not quiet. She had just spent another long day tracing power flow issues to the lower shuttle bay. As she tossed her tunic over the back of her couch and headed to her replicator, she mused that it would have been a lousy day if it had not been for the company. Yet, at the same time her company was what made the day bittersweet.

It was not the first time in the last month that she had spent an entire day in the presence of Seven. She was sure that it would not be the last time, and that fact secretly thrilled her. They were the heart of the design team. The two women were the ones who made impossibilities possible, who fixed the major problems after searching out what kept something from working. Sure, Harry had contributed with brilliant theory, but in reality his talent with a spanner was limited compared to the two women.

The hybrid punched in a command for a glass of Jack Daniels. While she could not afford to get good and legless as she would like to do, she figured a good strong belt could not hurt, especially if it dulled her mind a bit. She returned to the couch with her drink and tried to purge all thought from her brain. However, her heart and mind kept coming back to Seven. The sweet torture of lying so close to the beautiful woman in a cramped Jeffries tube was almost more than she could bear. Yet, she did not want to go back to being away from her. The moments of friendship had become the main joy in B'Elanna's life.

B'Elanna decided that time, and maybe even Janeway's love, had been good for Seven. The former drone's dry wit was more prevalent, often catching B'Elanna off guard, but always amusing her. Seven smiled more often and was not as guarded with her emotions in the presence of her friends as she was in the past. Finally, when the two of them were alone, Seven opened up and relaxed like there had never been a single moment of tension between them. B'Elanna thought it was just so typical of Seven to forgive so thoroughly.

At least tonight she had not had to endure the Captain's appearance and retrieval of the blonde. The hybrid was slowly forgiving Janeway for hurting the young woman so long ago, but only because of how well she was treating her now and the fact that Seven was so utterly happy. Janeway was not making grand gestures, yet she was not hiding her love for Seven in front of her crew. The couple's smiles were unguarded, their hands often linked as they walked together, and so many other small things that said they were together. B'Elanna thought she did a good job of hiding the hurt at watching them. The worst times of course were when Harry was present after the couple left their presence. He would always look at her as if she were an injured puppy he wanted to care for.

Janeway had obviously figured she had fences to mend with B'Elanna. Slowly, but surely, she had begun inviting B'Elanna along with the couple in the late evening. The crew was all dead tired, everyone's time spread thin, but Voyager's crew knew how to relax when they could, to find ways to blow off steam as often as possible. Sandrine's was almost constantly running at night these days, because it was the most economical way for everyone to get some down time in the holodeck. B'Elanna had found herself in Sandrine's twice in the last two weeks with the happy couple. Janeway's husky voice in invitation and Seven's hopeful eyes was an impossible combination to turn down. They only sat and drank the first time, but on the second occasion, the Captain had challenged B'Elanna to pool after a few drinks. Seven had taken great delight in their competitive fire and, in the end, it was Seven's beaming smiles that had made B'Elanna lose her ability to shoot. That night B'Elanna finished drinking alone in her own quarters, trying not to wish that the situation were reversed, that she had invited Janeway along as she went out with her beautiful girlfriend. It was so damned futile and annoying to be jealous of the Captain. Janeway was so together, so commanding and brilliant. The woman had stood toe-to-toe with the Borg Queen and won; mocked Q and survived. She was a living legend.

The only thing B'Elanna was sure she had in equal abundance to Janeway, if not surpassing her, was honor. Therefore, she refused to lose any of it to the older woman. She had reigned in her emotions, and she was being the perfect friend to Annika, at least in public. In private, she could break down when she needed to.

B'Elanna finished her drink, recycled her glass and strode through her bedroom into the en suite. She prepared for sleep then strolled back out to her bed naked. She reached down and plucked her stuffed targ off the pillow. Hugging it to her body, she fell back onto the covers. Then she lifted it to look in its glassy little eyes.

"Well, Toby, I got to spend the whole day with her," she said to the stuffed animal.

Deep into the gamma shift, Kathryn, still within Morpheus' grasp, tossed onto her side. Something was disturbing her sleep and her hand reached out exploring the bed in front of her, seeking the comfort she craved. Even in sleep her brow furrowed and her jaw set when she did not find what, or rather who, she was seeking. Her discomfort finally roused her and she searched the bed for Annika through bleary eyes. Blinking to clear her vision, she did not see the young woman. She did see her uniform across from her on the bedside table, neatly folded, pips and badge already in place.

Her head still resting on its pillow, Kathryn smiled at the small gesture of domesticity that she knew was her lover's. It could only be Seven's doing since her last memory was of working on reports in the living area. Janeway knew that when she was this tired if she did manage to make her own way to bed she always just tossed her clothes to the floor as she stripped and dealt with them the next morning. The redhead recognized that she was quickly becoming addicted to Annika's loving ways. She laughed when she decided that she was already hopelessly gone, after all it was her subconscious need for the blonde that had awoken her.

Seven's attention to her needs continued to surprise her. All the little things the young woman did, her very tenderness proved to Janeway that her one time student had far surpassed the teacher on her road to humanity. Kathryn recognized that she had lost a great part of her own humanity along the long journey home by closing herself off. Annika was a perfect match for her in this sense because she refused to be a submissive partner, even when she was completely giving. Somehow, somewhere along the line, Kathryn had relinquished control of her heart to Seven, and when the young woman made a demand, she found herself hastening to obey. The redhead shook her head and laughed at this realization, even as she accepted that Seven had never taken advantage of that power dynamic, if indeed she recognized it.

Kathryn sat up in the bed, finally granting herself a few moments to look at her lover across the room. It only made sense that Seven was regenerating. A small selfish part of her wished that Annika did not have to continue to submit to regeneration so that she could have the young woman beside her in the bed every night. The rest of her had long since come to see the beauty of Seven's duality and accepted the necessity of her regeneration. Kathryn knew that if someone had told her in the beginning that she would one day be able to look on Seven's implants and see beauty, to feel a need to caress them, she would have told them they were being ridiculous in no uncertain terms. Years ago she saw nothing inviting about anything Borg, nothing positive at all. Yet, sitting here looking across the room now she could only marvel at the majestic beauty that her lover possessed.

If Janeway had been intrigued by Seven's beauty while watching her regenerate in her alcove in Cargo Bay two, she was now utterly captivated by this site. Framed by the once imposing alcove, green lightning over her head like a halo, her body was rigidly erect, a picture that rivaled any Da Vinci painting in its beauty. The remaining external Borg implants accentuated a heavenly body, meshing cybernetics with silky skin and scars of a lifetime that only Seven would ever understand completely.

There were simple claw-like implants, similar to the one Seven had on her right cheek, scattered about her body. A large one remained on the woman's right bicep, covered in much scar tissue. There was a twin to this implant in an otherwise unblemished right leg, set into the outside of her thigh. It did not bulge or exit from the skin, but its path could clearly be viewed through the almost translucent alabaster skin. Another one resided below her left collarbone; it was small and it was so perfectly symmetrical that it almost looked like a piece of jewelry. Finally, Janeway knew from memory the twin implants in the small of her back. They mirrored each other a few centimeters away from the spine. Their tendrils dove inwards to the spine and Seven had explained that they were firmly enmeshed around her spinal cord, following its path all the way to her brain. Those implants received the energy she took from regeneration as well as transmitting instructions back and forth from the alcove. They were the implants she would never be able to remove. There was no way to extricate them from a spinal cord that had finished maturing around them; in fact there was no way to tell where organics ended and cybernetics began in their case.

However, these small implants could never make the same impression that the more obvious signs did upon the beautiful body. One example was Seven's abdominal implant. Through her biosuit, it looked like simple bands; but seen without clothing they were so much more. The bands followed the lines of the major muscle groups, erupting upon the surface in soft lines. The lowest band followed her hips, and on the left hip, a tendril shot off in two directions: one going into her gluteus, the other into the top of her quadriceps. What was not visible was the fact the bones in both her legs were reinforced by the Borg technology.

Then, the left forearm covered in a gray and silver meshwork so thorough that it almost seemed organic itself until you got to the wrist and the mesh erupted. From there, the mesh lay upon and in the skin in flat bands covering tendons and fingers. Fingertips were completely obscured, never to be able to receive a human tactile response, no fingerprint to exist. Janeway remembered the feeling of this metal tracing over her skin with a shiver of excitement.

When she had first allowed herself to feel Seven's cybernetic hand upon her, she was a bit frightened and somehow saddened. Seven had sensed it and immediately explained the differences between her hands. Her 'normal' human hand could feel and respond like any other human's, she had told her. Then she picked up her left hand and laid her fingertips upon Kathryn's chest, just over her heart.

"With this hand I can feel either everything or nothing," the young woman said softly. Kathryn remembered being confused by that statement and then Seven continued. "With my cortical array, I can turn off all sensation if needed. As a Borg, if I needed to reach into a burning control panel to finish a task, I would be able to and not have any tactile response. Conversely, I can 'feel' so much more than my human hand would allow me with this hand. I can measure your heart rate if I wanted, but I can also 'feel' the pulsation of the valves of your heart as they open and close. I can tell you your skin's temperature, or I could discover the chemical composition of your sweat." Seven then removed her hand and looked at her palm then Kathryn. "The metal is malleable. I can use this hand to cut through wire, metal… or flesh." Kathryn had watched in stunned amazement as the mesh reshaped. The inside edges of the metal became dangerously serrated. Then the mesh reshaped again, the fingertips covered in various shaped points. "Or I can work directly on a problem if needed without a set of tools."

Seven looked Kathryn in the eye as she closed her hand in a fist and assimilation tubules erupted slowly. "My tubules can take life and make it Borg… my greatest shame." She looked down sadly. "Yet, they can also interface with any technology directly, and I have learned through the doctor how to retrieve nanoprobes so that he can heal people. He has theorized that I could reprogram and deliver them myself, but the very invasion of the tubules through the skin of a person is damaging, not to mention traumatic to anyone who is familiar with the Borg."

Kathryn had overcome one of her fears that night. She had looked into her lover's eye and seen the pain she was trying to conceal. Swallowing hard, she had tentatively reached out to touch the tubules. They were soft and warm, and she had to control a flinch when they became flaccid in her hand. Looking back into Seven's eyes, she had asked what she felt, and the former drone explained that unless she concentrated on blocking out the sensation they were extraordinarily sensitive. Kathryn had overcome over her fears quickly after that. The scientist in her wanted to understand, to study, but she could sense her lover's discomfort. Surprising both herself and Seven, Kathryn had leaned down and kissed the tubules tenderly, then smiled at the blonde.

Kathryn felt a wave of tenderness run through her now, as she sat and reflected on that night. They had made love slowly for hours after that. Kathryn had wanted to somehow convey how she loved everything about the young woman. She had touched and loved implant and skin alike, with lips and teeth and tongue. When Annika had reciprocated, Kathryn had asked her to use her left hand to fill her, and when she climaxed they came together afterwards, holding onto each other as if trying to fuse into one. Annika had cried in her arms and Kathryn had known she had done something inherently right.

As she sat there studying her lover, she could not help feeling amorous, even as she recognized they probably would not have time enough that morning. However, she wondered if she could do something for her lover, leave her something bright to start her day, and let her know that she was loved. The older woman gathered herself out of bed and tidied it up. She knew Seven preferred her space neat, so she tried to be extra conscious of her own, sometimes messy, habits.

Striding over to the alcove's control panel, she slowly accessed the cycle control databanks. Seven had been teaching her how to read the Borg writing, but it still came slowly to her, and she did not want to inadvertently end the cycle. She knew how to begin and end the cycles easily enough, but the fine details like reading time remaining took her long moments to process. She felt elated when she realized that her lover would step out in thirty minutes, giving them an hour together before alpha shift.

Kathryn hummed a tune as she retrieved her uniform, ran through the sonic shower and dressed. As she returned to the bedroom she left a soft kiss on Seven's cheek then head out into the living area. Seven had told her she could sense things when in her cycles, as she was not truly unconscious. She hoped that would something she sensed and maybe enjoyed.

Striding up to the kitchenette, she programmed the replicator for a carafe of orange juice and a thermos of fresh coffee. Somehow, the blonde had made sure that when Janeway ordered coffee it was steaming, as she liked it, and the blend had a hint of mocha. Seven had also instructed her on several variations available, including French vanilla and hazelnut, but Kathryn was still so overwhelmed by the robust taste of the mocha that she had not tried any of the others, preferring to wait until a special time to surprise her senses again. However, she reminded herself to ask her lover if she could reprogram the ready room replicator to give these blends also.

She set the table and left the juice and coffee waiting, then went to the replicator again and thought about what flowers she had not given Annika yet. Grinning a moment later, she retrieved an arrangement of Betazed wildflowers. The tiny purple, pink and blue flowers hung like little bells from long, soft-green stems, and the arrangement was set in a globe-like crystal vase. She set that in the middle of the table then returned to the replicator and order a simple meal that even she could not ruin: a mixture of fruits, muffins and fresh croissants with several cheeses.

Just as she was finishing setting down the last plate she felt long arms wrap around her waist and pull her back into a warm soft body. Kathryn closed her eyes and lay her head back on a strong shoulder even as she felt Seven's warm breath caress her ear.

"Good morning Kathryn," the young woman purred then kissed the redhead's cheek and smiled.

"Every morning with you is good my love," the older woman replied.

Midmorning found Kathryn almost through going over the reports that had piled up on her desk in the last day. She had taken a break to replicate a fresh cup of coffee and was just settling back down at her desk to go over the final report. It was Tuvok's weekly assessment of security and tactical. His usual concise reports were the easiest for her deal with, therefore she usually saved them for last. She grinned as she read each section, finding nothing unusual, warmed by this little normalcy in the often-insane Delta Quadrant life. Then she hit the last section. She had been expecting him to request new personnel to train to replace the two female security officers he would be losing within two months at least temporarily. Since the two women, a Bolian and a Human, were pregnant, Starfleet regulations required they be transferred to another department or given a leave of absence within a third of their pregnancies. A leave of absence was impossible in Voyager's situation, so the women would be transferred to safer departments. She, Chakotay and Tuvok had already decided where to place the women, depending on their training and skills. She had left Tuvok in charge of finding who he would like to be able to float into their positions, and the three of them had also decided it would be wise to train more than two replacements, as the replacements would need to carry out their normal duties as well. Janeway's jaw firmed, the muscles twitching under the pressure, and she opened a link to the bridge.

"Tuvok to my ready room," she said, trying to sound normal.

"Acknowledged," she heard him answer and the link was severed.

She used the few seconds he needed to hand off his station then come down the stairs of the bridge to her ready room to control her breathing and heart-rate. The chime of the door sounded and she immediately called out for his entry. When he strode into the room, she studied him.

"Tuvok, old friend, I don't understand," she finally said.

"Captain, am I to infer you are speaking about my choices in replacement personnel, or more specifically one party?" he asked in his standard concise tones.

She resisted the temptation to shoot a level ten glare at him, knowing that to do so would only make her look foolish. "Seven," she finally answered in a low voice.

"I had anticipated you might have some questions about her inclusion. I assure you she is a logical choice at this time," Tuvok responded evenly.

"Then, by all means, please explain," she said, while still trying to withhold the irritation from her voice. She had begun to realize she was being childish, but could not stop herself from pursuing the matter.

"Seven of Nine is, as you know, a formidable fighter. I do not know if you are aware that she has become my student in ketarja. She has been an excellent student, and it has tempered her fighting style. Through our efforts together, she has begun to develop a stronger interest in Starfleet. I believe given time and the proper guidance she will make a fine addition to Starfleet." He paused and raised an eyebrow. "Further, I believe that not only could Seven learn much from our current security team, they would, in turn, have the opportunity to learn from her. She has a fine intellect and has the assimilated knowledge of countless species, including tactical data. I must confess that I did not understand how confusing it was for her to try to overcome her Borg conditioning whenever we had hand-to-hand engagements with enemies. Previously, I judged her actions to be extreme. Yet, I understand now she simply needs more concise guidance, and is enthusiastic in her endeavors." He finished and waited for her response.

"I had not realized she was learning to fight with you Tuvok. I thought you were teaching her meditations," She answered with a little disbelief.

"Initially, that is all I taught her Captain. When I felt she was ready for the next step, I invited her to take it. Nevertheless, Vulcan priests practice the ancient art of ketarja and it involves long meditative periods, drawing the body, soul and mind together in balance," he rejoined.

"I see," the redhead said quietly, then paused. He was patient with her as she thought through his words. "I am still not sure I like it. What about Astrometrics? The data she provides is priceless, and nobody else can do it as quickly or accurately as her."

"Another logical reason to give her department some time without her. No department should depend so heavily on one individual. I believe there are officers under her command who have become complacent because of her skills. In addition, I do not intend to take her away from her department entirely, merely submitting her to training and the occasional mission. Right now with the retrofit taking place, I cannot run a vigorous training schedule with anyone, and I intend to work closely with Seven of Nine on her training times. She need not function as a security officer aboard Voyager except possibly in extreme circumstances. I dare say, in those circumstances she would probably already be in the thick of things, as her encounter with the invading Llannari in Engineering demonstrates." He paused briefly as the Captain snorted and raised his eyebrow as if tolerating her. In truth, he had meant to amuse the woman. It was good that she was no longer emotional as she would be more inclined to think through the logic as he presented it. "In time, I would also like to formally train her for the bridge tactical station. She already serves as a bridge officer in times of crisis, often offering tactical advice on species to which she is familiar. Yet, she is unfamiliar with the reasoning of Starfleet protocol. I believe it would be a worthwhile subject to elucidate. Indeed, she has been very amenable to explanations I have given thus far. Beyond that, I believe my own staff could benefit from her technical knowledge of so many species. We have discussed her willingness to program simulations that would provide realistic scenarios from differing aggressive species for my staff. I believe her 'fresh' perspective would be a welcome challenge."

The Captain rose from her seat and slowly paced up the stairs to her window. Tuvok waited patiently for her. "I see you've given this a lot of thought, and I find I cannot disagree with you, even if I'd like to. Permission granted on all your candidates."

"Thank you, Captain," he replied without the slightest hint of triumph. After all, he had believed it was highly unlikely that she would disapprove after he reasoned with her. She simply nodded. "Captain, I am curious." Her head perked up when he said this, her eyes questioning. "Do you realize that this is the first time you have questioned a personnel request I have made in the entire time we have served together aboard Voyager?"

Rarely did he approach her with a question like this. In fact, it was only when he thought she had an important lesson to learn. After several minutes had passed she looked back at him again. "I... just want her safe," she said quietly.

"As do I Captain," he replied. "Nevertheless, you must allow her to grow into her full potential despite the risks. I believe that if you will try, you will find the ability to allow her freedom and have faith in what is meant to be. The reward for this is that you are more likely to experience everything as it should be."

"I … understand. Thank you old friend," she answered softly, then inclined her head to indicate that he was dismissed. He locked his eyes with hers, and she could feel his caring and friendship through the look in his brown eyes. A few seconds later he dipped his head in a respectful nod, then turned smartly on his heel and left. Meanwhile Kathryn returned to her window and watched the stars streaking in the warp bubble, thinking about everything he had said.

Chapter 10

A few weeks later, the senior staff gathered once again for their weekly meeting. Everyone present showed their fatigue in varying degrees, as everyone had been working extra shifts trying to finish the ship's preparations. With only nine weeks left before the first Bajoran baby was due, many of the staff was feeling the pressure to make sure their sections were complete. It was a formidable task, yet those present were among the most determined officers ever to work aboard a starship in any quadrant. Not one individual gathered took their job lightly.

Kathryn looked around the room as she listened to Neelix's report. She was proud of her crew's efforts. Harry Kim and Tom Paris both appeared to have weathered this crisis very maturely. She would dare say that the two young men had grown a lot in the past couple of months. She knew that they had also somehow mended their friendship. She was unaware of what had created the rift that had kept them distant for a while, but she recognized that in the meantime Tom had obviously undergone some kind of personal growth. He was starting to resemble the man she always believed he could become.

She had to resist a chuckle at Chakotay's appearance. For a man who had always been meticulous in his appearance he was almost haggard. She knew he would not allow himself to withdraw in any way from his first officer's duties. He would not delegate some responsibilities that even she had encouraged him to share. He was insistent that if he was going to adjust to marriage and fatherhood he should do it immediately. She had backed off and let him take on all the burdens, yet she and Tuvok often surreptitiously double-checked some of the more serious challenges he handled just in case.

The only ones not showing visible signs of strain were the Doctor, Tuvok and Neelix. If the Doctor were to show signs of stress she would be worried indeed. However, that was far from the case. He appeared very happy. Actually, he was exuberant earlier when he gave his progress report of the medical side of the pregnant women. He also reported that the two nurses he had been training were excellent students. One, a Bajoran crewman was originally part of the Maquis crew. He had asked if he could continue to train her beyond obstetric issues a couple of weeks ago, and he reported today that she was naturally medically inclined. The Captain gave approval of his request to make her assignment to sickbay permanent.

The other nurse he was training was none other than Sam Wildman. The ship could not afford to lose her scientific abilities and training in her department permanently, but he was happy to note that his patients found her presence and advice very comforting. As the ship's only mother at present, many of the pregnant women had found ways to schedule at least one appointment while she was on sickbay duty. Janeway had requested her presence a couple of weeks back to get an informal report on the feelings of Voyager's expectant mothers. In an ironic twist, Sam's report on how the women felt was a comfort to the Captain. Apparently, all the women found the crew's efforts touching, and they all had complete faith in Janeway to protect them and their unborn children.

Tuvok would not show any discomfort, and she had only seen him stressed once in their association. It was shortly before he left her ship for a personal leave, before she had even taken command of Voyager. She had known better than to ask then as she realized from their already significant friendship what was about to occur for the man. Protocol and her own sense of honor prevented her from discussing his Pon Farr with him, so she merely pushed her ship a little harder to arrive at Vulcan faster and wished him well on his leave.

Finally, Neelix, well he was almost constantly exuberant since the announcement. She had come into the mess hall more than once to find him cooking something special for one of the pregnant women. He had endeavored to educate himself on what was nutritionally best for the different women through numerous discussions with the Doctor, but beyond that, he was a big believer in feeding cravings. This was the first time she had seen him going quite this far out of his way to make sure his cooking tasted exactly like a crewmate desired. The fact that other crewmembers would sit around the pregnant woman and look upon her meal with desire in their eyes had prompted him to expand his normal routine somewhat to include some of these new recipes for the whole crew, even if he found them boring compared to what he could do with Talaxian peppers and leola root.

Janeway refocused her attention on what the Talaxian was saying, but she found she had already expected his request. It had been something she had been thinking about in conjunction with other of the ships needs.

"It would be helpful if we could find a nice little planet to gather some foodstuffs Captain. Some fresh fruits and vegetables would really hit the spot," he said with his typical goofy grin.

She quirked an eyebrow at him and her own crooked smile framed her face. "Actually Neelix, you won't need to convince me there. The Doctor had already discussed the need for more natural vitamin intake, and brought it to my attention that you had been doing such a good job so far that we were beginning to run low in stores. He also brought it to my attention that we are in dire need of a break, and that everyone's health could benefit from some fresh air and relaxation," she stated with a smile directed at the Doctor. Gazing around the table she noticed that everyone seemed to be taking this news very well, many smiling broadly. "I realize that we have all been pushing hard, and though we cannot afford to get lax now, many of you are actually ahead of schedule so I think we can afford it. Therefore, I have asked Astrometrics to find suitable planets for not only resource collection, but also a week of shore leave. Seven has assured me that the third planet in the next system is suitable for our needs. Tuvok, please assemble a team to go ahead of us and find a landing site," she said to the Vulcan. She had to suppress a laugh at the shocked expressions around the table. She was not known for an inclination to land Voyager unless it was an absolute necessity.

Tuvok answered in the affirmative and she smiled openly at those around her. "I have never been more proud of a crew than I am now. I want you all to know how much I appreciate your efforts. With that in mind, I am going to insist that after the work on resource gathering, I expect everyone present to take a full week's leave. Chakotay and I will draw up a schedule and will seek volunteers for a skeleton crew." She looked around at the happy faces. "Anything else?"

"Actually Captain," B'Elanna spoke up. "This would be a perfect time to separate the aeroshuttle from the ship and ground it separately. We were going to have to conduct a space walk for the final exterior upgrades like the deflector and cloak, but it would be so much better to do it in an atmosphere. With your permission, I could assemble a crew and we could have them done in two day's time."

"How many people would you need B'Elanna?" Janeway asked.

"I think the crew we have already working on it, with Seven and Carey in addition would be perfect. That's seven total ma'am." B'Elanna was warming up to the idea of having the shuttle finished and was openly grinning now. "We might even be able to finish the interior also if I had a few more of my engineers working on the EPS relay internally simultaneously."

"Very well B'Elanna, assemble everyone you need to complete the job in two day's time. However," she lowered her eyes seriously, raising a finger significantly at the same time, "I want your crew to get their full week of leave. Therefore, none who work on this crew with you will be able to work the skeleton crew. So be sure and leave a few of your engineers available to cover engineering while you are gone."

"Aye Captain," the chief engineer responded.

Kathryn smiled at everyone, enjoying the feeling of warmth she had from her command staff at this moment. "Anything else?" she asked again. No one spoke up so she laughed and dismissed them.

Seven was the first one out the door and seemed to be in a hurry to get back to work. Her long legs carried her quickly to the lift, and she only had to pause a second while the lift doors opened. B'Elanna had to practically sprint across the bridge to hop in the lift with the taller woman.

"Hey where's the fire?" the engineer quipped as she caught her breath. She found it endearing when the blonde pulled a face for a moment; it was clear she was accessing her database on slang to translate.

"Ah," the Borg mumbled after a second. "I merely want to get to Astrometrics in a timely fashion. I would like to assist Icheb in setting up the proper scans of the planet we will land on before my security training session at 1100."

"I don't suppose we could get you together today and discuss the aeroshuttle's retrofit? I always like having your input." The slightly older woman smirked.

"Indeed" Seven responded sounding surprised. Seven was a little insecure over the fact that they had once been this close before, then B'Elanna had shut her out of her life altogether. She had been enjoying their time together again, but was confused by her feelings on the matter. "We could discuss your plans over dinner?"

"Sounds great," B'Elanna enthused.

"Very well, come by my quarters at 1830," Seven said. "You may want to dress casually, as we usually do."

"Uh, I don't want to interrupt your night with the Captain," B'Elanna said as she panicked at the idea of being alone with the couple in a private setting.

"Kathryn has the bridge until 2100 tonight B'Elanna. Harry comes by once a week and I cook for him. It will be just as easy to cook for one more and you can receive his input as well." By now, the pair had walked into Astrometrics and Icheb had turned from his console. The young man was staring curiously at his mentor, his head canted at an angle, waiting patiently to begin talking to her. "I apologize jonwI, but I must speak with Icheb now if I am to maintain my schedule."

"Okay, I'll see you tonight then," B'Elanna answered amiably then turned and left.

At 1820 that evening B'Elanna stood in the corridor outside Seven's door. In a flash of excruciating memory, she was transported back in time to the last time she stood here. Unknowingly, she placed her hand upon the door the same way she had after Seven had asked her to leave. She had to fight back a wave of sorrow that threatened to overcome her.

"Hey Maquis," Harry said, his sudden appearance startling her. "I didn't know you would be here tonight."

The young man was dressed handsomely in a dark blue tunic over a white shirt with a lighter blue pair of pants. In his right hand, he carried a bottle of wine. He smiled broadly as he rang the chime. The door opened immediately and Harry indicated she should enter before him.

As soon as she walked through, she felt overwhelmed by the magnificent smell that had gathered in the Borg's quarters. She actually paused a few steps in and inhaled deeply just to savor the aroma. "Kahless Seven. That smells delicious," she exclaimed with a big grin. "How long have you been cooking?"

"Approximately twenty two minutes," the blonde answered from behind the small counter that defined her cooking area. The young woman was just finishing the meal and had begun divvying up servings onto plates. B'Elanna was thrilled to see that Annika was dressed in blue jeans and a rather plain white button down shirt. Something about seeing her dressed in looser fitting clothing made her look more appealing, more sensual. Harry had already walked over to the table with the bottle of wine he had brought and was pouring it into three glasses set upon the table.

"I meant when did you learn to cook," B'Elanna asked as she stood and watched what was obviously a routine with her two friends.

"Oh," Seven replied. "Right after you…" her head popped up as she realized what she had been about to say but very quickly she refocused on the meal. "That is to say seven months, twelve days ago I began experimenting with preparing fresh meals in my new quarters. It is satisfying." She was obviously uncomfortable, yet stoically trying to overcome it.

Harry surreptitiously observed both women, seeing that they were going to ignore the slip. As much discomfort as he might feel being in the situation, he was determined to help heal their friendship. His heart ached for each of them as they tried to move beyond their common history. They were both so fragile in matters of the heart. He knew B'Elanna lived behind her defensive walls, still stinging over so many disasters, so many abuses. He also knew that Annika was almost an innocent to her emotions, the years of being Borg leaving her unprepared for the wide range of feelings that came with being human.

"Hey Maquis, don't just stand there, grab a couple of plates and bring them over here. I'm starving," he said trying to deflect the tension with some normalcy.

"You are always starving," both women said almost in unison quite accidentally. In turn, he blushed and they grinned at each other. Nevertheless, B'Elanna did move over to the kitchenette's island and grabbed two plates, bringing them to the place settings. Seven followed shortly behind with the final plate and the two women sat down at the same time. Harry had already taken his usual seat across from Seven, which had left B'Elanna to take the seat next to her.

The engineer followed Harry's example, and just dug into the meal in front of her. The moment it hit her mouth though she moaned with delight. "Oh my God! I haven't had stir-fry this good since the Alpha Quadrant," she declared, happily staring at the woman next to her. She caught the small blush that passed over the young woman's features, and her hearts ached, a pang of unrequited love grabbing them tightly.

"Thank you B'Elanna," Seven replied very quietly.

Harry grinned and mumbled through a half-full mouth, "Un yeah, s'good Sev," then continued eating. The women shared a moment of amusement at Harry's expense, and then went back to their meal.

Several hours later, after dinner was done, and they had run circles around the landing plans B'Elanna had brought until all of them were satisfied, the Captain appeared at Annika's door. The hybrid was a little surprised, and maybe slightly hurt, that the door recognized her and allowed her entry automatically. It was a telling sign as to how far their relationship had grown for Annika to allow her carte blanche entry like that. The older woman had obviously stopped by her own quarters and changed to reflect Annika's desire for casual attire. B'Elanna admitted to herself that Janeway looked very alluring in her outfit, midnight blue pants and a matching silk shirt. The casual grace that the Captain usually carried herself with was present, but somehow, she seemed more feminine and less authoritative. The Klingon watched her as Seven rose from the couch to greet her, a soft kiss on the cheek and equally soft words in her ear. Janeway's smile was soft, more of a glow from somewhere within, and her shoulders loose, instead of the steel she presented in staff meetings or on the bridge.

"Harry, B'Elanna," Kathryn finally addressed the two on the couch a moment later. "I'm so glad to see you both here. You are the last two I needed to track down. I am hosting a poker party in the holodeck on the first night of shore leave for the senior officers. Everyone else has already agreed, so I hope I don't have to do anything drastic to make you come," she stated with a smirk.

"Ooh I'm game," Harry enthused. "What time?"

"Nineteen hundred hours in holodeck one," she replied. "B'Elanna?"

"Well, I guess if everyone's there that means I'll have lots of victims," the hybrid answered. In all honesty, she was not very enthusiastic about the idea, but did not want to turn Janeway down, especially since Seven looked at her like her heart would break if she did. The Borg's spectacular smile after her jest just confirmed she had done the right thing. "Count me in Captain, but be prepared to give me all your rations," she said with a particularly playful grin.

Kathryn raised her eyebrow rakishly. "I think you should be more concerned over your own rations. Now that that is settled, I think I will raid your kitchen Annika. I smell stir-fry," she exclaimed while rubbing her hands together gleefully.

The corner of Seven's mouth raised in a small grin. "There is a stasis plate Kathryn," the Borg stated. As the Captain found her plate, the younger woman prepared her a glass of wine then reseated herself in the living area. Harry moved over to the table with the Captain and struck up a conversation with her, leaving B'Elanna and Annika alone on the couch. Neither Janeway nor the blonde seemed to care about the oddity of the situation, so B'Elanna tried to relax into it, even if she herself thought it felt unusual.

"I look forward to finishing the yacht jonwI. I believe your plans, with our additions tonight, will be efficient," the former drone stated serenely.

"Yeah, I think so too," B'Elanna said smiling. She was happy to have once again had improvements pointed out by the blonde. She had long ago become accustomed to the irony of her enjoying Seven's suggestions versus how tumultuous their initial interactions had been. A year ago, when she realized the Borg actually thought of her as a brilliant engineer, she began to appreciate the improvements Seven brought to projects. Now she was almost addicted. As she pondered that, she noticed that Seven actually looked tired. "Hey, you look beat. When was your last regeneration?"

"I regenerated forty-two hours ago. I am merely tired from the strenuous exercises that we ran through in training today. I am afraid that Borg strength is more brute than endurance. After more than an hour of constant exercise I feel fatigue set in," Seven answered.

"Well, I'm kind of beat myself," B'Elanna said. "How about I collect Harry and get out of here?" Seven's unique grin and ocular implant raise appeared, and she nodded minutely. "Oh, and if I didn't say it enough times, dinner was great. I'm afraid I'm going to have to follow Harry here every week now that I know."

"I would like that B'Elanna," Seven answered shyly.

Not knowing what to do as the scene got too emotional, B'Elanna swiftly rose from the couch and loudly announced, "Come on Starfleet. Time to let our chef rest if we want more food one day."

Harry started, and then turned to B'Elanna as he stood up. "Our chef? Our chef? She used to be my chef," he joked. "Well you bring the wine next time then. And let me tell you it better match the food or you get a wine lecture from a Borg who can only drink one glass." Janeway laughed behind him and he smiled broadly. Walking over he pulled the blonde out of her seat and hugged her. "As always, thanks Sev. See you later."

"Good night Harry," she replied. After she released him, she walked over to the door where B'Elanna was standing and surprised the hybrid by hugging her also. "Good night B'Elanna. Thanks for coming."

B'Elanna felt her hearts skip a beat at the familiar embrace, the warm sweet smell that took her back, but she swiftly found voice. "My pleasure." Then she was out the door behind Harry. As she heard the door close behind her, she felt a bittersweet ache, and knew that her life would never be easy, not while loving Seven this way but she felt like she could follow Neelix's advice, and savor what she did have.

Late in the day, the light of the planet's star shone brightly upon the crew as they finished their second day after landfall. Voyager stood majestically, gleaming brightly in the sunlight, in the middle of a perfectly flat horizon of a seemingly endless field. Dark green grasses sprinkled with wildflowers, as well as one of planet's three moons which had already risen in the light blue sky, served as a perfect backdrop to the ship, making its appearance seem like a work of art.

The shuttle bays had remained open for the whole day as different crews used the light shuttles available for one of the three major projects going on. Everyone not involved in either the yacht's upgrades, food finding or mineral and chemical mining, either covered the basic stations aboard, or volunteered for a deep cleaning of the ship. It had surprised Janeway when Chakotay told her that everyone volunteered for duties during the two days. No Captain could be more proud of her crew, knowing that they all took pride in not only the running, but also appearance of their ship.

This had altered Janeway's original plans, in that now her entire crew would start their leave on the third full day after landfall, leaving a small volunteer crew to stay aboard. It added two extra days planet-side, but she found that was a very small price to pay for such obvious benefits in crew morale. She had also decided to base the leave on the planet's version of a day, which had a 32.4-hour cycle of rotation. That would mean they would actually be on the planet for over 12 standard days, but she would not begrudge her crew after all their hard work.

Neelix led a crew to different areas for food gathering. They were having more success on this planet than the intrepid crew was accustomed to, finding fruits and vegetables in abundance not more than a kilometer away from the landing area. According to Neelix, they were wonderful specimens that would fulfill the crew's health needs. A quick question to an ensign who had accompanied the bubbly Talaxian satisfied Janeway that they would also suffice in the taste department. The young man happily assured the Captain that a few of the fruits even resembled some terran fruits in taste.

Four kilometers in the other direction found a geological and engineering team working on the recovery of extra raw materials and chemicals. B'Elanna knew they were not particularly low, but she had requested the team for two reasons. Her first reason was that you never knew when you might need more of a resource, and it was always difficult to go out and find an appropriate planet. However, what she was chiefly trying to accomplish was to give her lower ranking officers experience of manning the operation alone. She would never forget the excitement that Nicoletti showed when B'Elanna told her that she was leading the mission. The young woman was taking it very seriously, and if yesterday's results were any measure, B'Elanna knew she would be able to let Nicoletti lead missions like this more often.

Nevertheless, B'Elanna had let that crew's activities completely recede from her mind as she concentrated on the crew and operation around her now. Including herself, she had a crew of ten working on the Yacht. She had grabbed a few more engineers than she had originally planned in the staff meeting, but after discussing it with Harry and Seven, it was logical. Harry had wanted to help and she could not deny him, so she let him do external work near her. She left Carey to lead the three other engineers inside the shuttle as they finished EPS additions and rechecked how the new power system worked.

Her crew of six had replaced the main deflector grid yesterday with what she and Seven considered a vast improvement. It was ironic that she wanted this grid since it was mostly of Borg design, with some of the Starfleet technology still left, something she used to rebel against. Yet, it had been proven on a larger scale aboard the ship. True, Voyager's deflector did not have quite as much Borg influence but the science of it was sound and B'Elanna trusted it.

Today they had already upgraded the weapons, and the final job was to replace all the shield generators with the dual generator upgrades. On a small scale, such as a shuttlecraft's size, they had learned from the Nguener that shield generators could be adapted to include the cloak generator too. This allowed the same EPS conduits to run both, keeping them from having to add too many new conduits. They had added a few new conduits, taking another cue from the Nguener on redundancies, placing new, or what would be back-up generators in key locations, near where the shuttle was commonly hit in a firefight.

The crew was over half done with their last assignment and still had over 4 hours of daylight left. B'Elanna could not help but feel a little excitement at the prospect of having this project completed. She could tell that the rest of her crew was becoming excited too. They still had twelve more generators to place and test but divided up among the six people roaming the outside of the shuttle, she figured that they would be complete in another hour.

Seven had spent the entire afternoon with her ocular implant in thermal mode, and was beginning to tire of the odd sense it gave her when both eyes were open. The main reason she had kept thermal mode running however was that it allowed her to look over generators after installation and make sure they were running within temperature norms. It was a simple test to make sure they were working properly and not receiving too much power. She could assess a problem quicker than a tricorder in that way.

Another thing her implant allowed was she could actually register the oscillations of the field structure when a shield grid was turned on if she closed her human eye and studied the field. It was a unique perspective to see the incomplete parabola over a grid of the shuttle, the atomic forces flickering. The atoms present in the planet's atmosphere collided in a fire-works type display that only she could see. This would not be present to such a degree in the vacuum of space, and as a former Borg whose main experiences for eighteen years had been with working in a vacuum, the small beauty was very pleasing.

"Hey B'Elanna," Harry called out from his position behind Seven. She was working on the last two starboard generators, while he slowly installed the starboard fore generator. "I can't seem to get this one to work. It won't even turn on."

Seven was curious, and partially wanted to go over to see the problem herself, but realized that B'Elanna could handle it. Harry had probably simply misaligned a relay. She knew he was competent enough with a spanner, but he often had to redo some of his own installations when he would forget a crucial link. However, he always double-checked himself, so it never became a critical issue. Nevertheless, she was curious, and had not had a break in a while so she sat down quietly and watched from her place just above the wing of the yacht.

"Let's see that Harry," B'Elanna said as she lowered to one knee to examine his installation. She and Harry knelt in front of the generator, with their backs facing the drop-off of the fore windows. Her tricorder showed nothing, so she quickly pulled the generator and checked his connections. Nothing appeared amiss so she reseated it.

"Well, you installed it correctly. I hate to think we have a bad EPS here. Hand me that power pack Harry," she said pointing to the satchel that she had dropped along the way to him. "We'll just test it out on its own power to make sure it's functioning, and if it is I'll tell Joe to check the relay," she said with a frown.

Seven's eyebrows crinkled in consternation. She would not have thought of that method of testing the generator, as there was always a very small risk that it could be a bad oscillatory chip. B'Elanna's methods did not always seem logical, but Seven knew that she was a well-versed engineer who had made due without the proper resources first in the Maquis and now on Voyager. Seven filed the method away for further consideration. In one of her ever growing list of exercises of trying to understand other crewmate's intuition, and illogical methods, she would consider what she had seen that had surprised her at regular intervals during her downtime, to see if she could emulate these leaps of intuition that were so human.

However seconds after B'Elanna powered up the tiny field generator, Seven realized that logic was indeed supreme in this situation. She only had a couple of nanoseconds to berate herself for not pointing out the safety consideration to her friend then she was in motion trying to avert a situation that could relieve her of her two best friends. Her thermal implant had caught the power building up quickly in the generator, and she watched in horror as each step closer to her friends the oscillations of the field were decreasing exponentially. When the oscillations stopped, she knew there would be disaster.

She was trying to call out to them, to tell them to move, but there would not be enough time to alert them, explain and disconnect the device. However, fear had robbed her of her voice. She could not remember being this afraid for a loved one since the Borg had arrived on the Raven and she watched the drones assimilate her parents. All she managed to get out of her throat was something akin to a high pitch wail. Both Harry and B'Elanna looked up at her at that point and each one's face showed shock at seeing her diving towards them.

Her Borg mind knew she would fail. Faster than any human could calculate, her cortical node had extrapolated the decay rate of the oscillations and knew she would not be able to fully remove both them and herself from the area. All she could do is propel them down the view-screen of the craft and hope the slope would protect them from the worst of the blast. However, she would not let herself recognize where that would place her.

Barreling at top speed, she dove towards them like a bullet, her arms extended fully in front of her aiming at each of their chests. Harry would be unfortunate to meet her Borg mesh implanted hand, but she thought bruising on his chest would be easier than shrapnel in his chest. Time slowed to a crawl for her, her cortical node counting and calculating the nanoseconds to the explosion, her human brain simply overstimulated. She felt her hands connect with their bodies and had a half a second to watch B'Elanna's amazed expression as she fell backwards off the shuttle, beginning to slide down the window. A nanosecond after that, a small part of Seven believed she might have been successful, but then she felt more than heard the field's destruction.

Without the oscillations of the field, without the powering shifting the field off and on, it had failed explosively. She knew that if a force field failed to flicker on and off, the interatomic cohesion that make up a starship's shield will buckle space, and large amounts of energy would concentrate in a tiny area of space. As the space buckled, the field would collapse and create a shockwave of energy. This would all take place in mere nanoseconds; this is what she had feared. She knew that there was not enough energy involved in a single generator to actually buckle space, however the failed interatomic reactions would still concentrate too much energy in too little space; there would still be a tremendous shockwave.

This shockwave caught Seven in the lower abdomen only 31 centimeters above the generator. The energy reflected both down into the dual generator and up at her. Even as shrapnel from the area surrounding the generator flew up, the unattached generator itself become a missile, and beyond that, the excess energy kicked on the cloak portion of the device for a brief but fateful five nanoseconds. Everything surrounding the little device became either propelled away from or trapped in the warped space of the cloaking bubble. Everything that had become trapped inside the very small and temporary warp bubble had gained tremendous energy as matter and agitated atoms reflected off the internal surface of the bubble. The release when the bubble suddenly disappeared sent matter in all directions at supersonic speeds, but most tragically also into Seven, whose momentum had yet to clear her from the area, even with the force of the initial blast 40 nanoseconds ago.

Seven was thrown at a tremendous speed directly over the heads of her friends. She arced in a long parabola away from the shuttle. As she felt the searing pain cut through her abdomen, she wondered if she had been cut in half. She wondered if these were to be her last sights and feelings. It was then that the former drone realized she never had truly known physical pain before now. If she was going to die, she thought, at least she did not have to know this pain long. That thought was not even entirely complete as her world went black.

Chapter 11

A sharp noise pierced the quiet and B'Elanna hardly had a moment to look up. Her head had scarcely risen to a level where she could see Seven barreling towards them before she felt the explosive impact of Seven's hand upon her chest. Tremendous pain radiated out from that spot even as her breath left her lungs. She felt herself sailing backwards and down towards the window behind her. In her peripheral vision, she could see Harry taking the same unexpected ride.

It all happened so fast. The air itself slammed her against the viewport as the deafening crack of an explosion reverberated through the air and left her ears ringing. Her skull hit the aluminum of the viewport. Yet, somehow, shock left her eyes open and she saw a blur pass overhead.

She slid down the angled window meeting the unfriendly ground. She tried to breathe and ended up coughing instead. The taste of copper and the sharp pain in her mouth told her she had bitten her tongue. She spat repeatedly as she slowly gathered her senses. B'Elanna spared a moment to look at Harry and was alarmed to see blood dribbling out his ear. He was obviously coughing too, but she still could not hear anything but that annoying high-pitched ringing.

She felt as if an Anterian bull had kicked her. Trying to breath more deeply, she felt her ribs ache and remembered Seven. The Borg had pushed them clear of an explosion, somehow managing to get them below the event horizon. She wondered where Seven was, certain she should have followed their path down the windows. Wobbling to her feet, she remembered the blue blur and her mind made an awful connection. No, B'Elanna thought, that could not have been Annika. She began to panic, looking around where she and Harry landed, hoping to see the young woman, but her hopes quickly vanished.

Her hearts raced as she scanned the area ahead of the shuttle looking for what she prayed would only be debris from the shuttle thrown clear by the explosion. Then an image hit her almost as harshly as the explosion. Several meters ahead lay the limp body of the woman who unknowingly ruled her hearts. B'Elanna ran to the spot crying "No" repeatedly as she fell to her knees next to the ex-drone.

Seven lay on her side; her limbs were at unnatural angles, like a rag doll thrown to the ground. The woman's biosuit was in shreds; the deep blue of the suit, normally a compliment to the wearer's eyes, alarmingly interrupted by bright red. In the middle of the Borg's stomach, a piece of jagged metal protruded. Blood flowed from every limb and every orifice that B'Elanna could see. Her blonde hair was half out of its austere bun, one side coated in blood that flowed freely down her head and covered her face.

"Kahless no," B'Elanna shrieked. She slapped her comm. badge and cried out. "Voyager, emergency beam out engineering team now!"

"Oh god no Annika, no, hold on bangwI," she uttered as she waited what seemed like several lifetimes for the transporter beams. When nothing happened she decided someone must have been questioning her order. "Voyager, I cannot hear, I don't know who else is hurt, but Seven is critically wounded. Just beam the whole team up now!"

The transporter beams finally sparkled in front of her eyes. She found herself in the transporter room still next to the battered woman. She spotted the EMH; his face became expressive, then he turned his head slightly, obviously talking to the transporter operator. Suddenly, the Doctor and Seven disappeared in a shower of bright blue sparkles.

At that moment she bounded up off the floor thinking to run to sickbay, her hearts telling her to follow the ex-drone, despite the fact she could do nothing. Yet, as she rose, she noticed her crew standing around behind her and she froze, disturbed by the varying injuries. Only the people that were in the shuttle appeared to be talking. The exterior crew all seemed to have the same hearing problem as her, although she noticed that the two from the port wing did not have bloodied ears like the other three who were closer to the explosion. However, the entire crew sported some injury. Nevertheless, she counted them all lucky; nobody else looked nearly as bad as Seven did.

The doors to the transporter room parted with the Captain, Tom Paris, and a couple of crewmembers that she knew rotated as emergency medics entering in rapid succession. The medics and Tom immediately whipped out medical tricorders, doing a standard triage. Meanwhile Janeway walked straight to B'Elanna, and although she could not hear a word that the Captain said, she knew Janeway well enough to know she wanted a report.

B'Elanna did not know what to do, or what to say to convey what happened. For the first time in a very long time, the small Human-Klingon hybrid felt utterly helpless. Despite all they had been through and every thought she had harbored for the Captain over the last year, she only felt an aching need to connect with the redhead. The tense moment as Janeway waited for B'Elanna to say something disappeared as the hybrid abruptly wrapped her arms tightly around the older woman's waist and buried her face in the crook of her neck.

Janeway was at a loss in this unfamiliar situation. Never before had B'Elanna collapsed onto her while on duty, and only once while off duty. In addition, she still felt the strain in their relationship, even though it had been improving. Therefore, this collapse of her Chief engineer alarmed her. All she knew was that Chakotay had called her to inform her that one of the teams had beamed up in emergency circumstances. She had collected herself from her ready room and made her way to the transporter room to investigate and show a supportive presence. Confounded, she put her arms around the normally tough woman, feeling as if she was holding someone very fragile. Then the hybrid started mumbling loudly against her chest.

"Why did she do it? Oh Kahless help her it should've been me." The hybrid was almost incoherent against her chest but by the end, she had pulled back and looked the Captain in the eyes. "It should be me."

"What happened?" Kathryn asked B'Elanna again.

B'Elanna's face fashioned itself into a picture of pure, unadulterated frustration and she looked as if she wanted to punch something. Instead, she pointed at her ears and shook her head. "I can't hear you," B'Elanna stated and Janeway finally saw the blood trails. The Captain turned, calling out for a medic to examine the Chief Engineer.

Before the medic could arrive, the Klingon grabbed Janeway's wrist, effectively regaining her attention. The hybrid's face contorted to sheer despair as she stared into the Captain's eyes. "It's Annika," she said in a pleading tone. "It's very bad Kathryn."

Janeway found herself in sickbay standing just outside a medical force field surrounding the surgical bay. She did not remember how she got here. In the surgical bay the Doctor and his new Bajoran nurse, Ensign Ryson, worked frantically on the severely battered form of her lover. Alarms were blaring and it was all that she could do to resist shouting for a report from the Doctor. The woman in front of her looked nothing like the woman who had held her that morning, enthusiastically speaking about the upcoming upgrades. This woman was pale, battered and bloodied, resembling only a shell of human being. Seven had tubes and wires dangling from her, gel packs covering many areas, and a large tube emerging from her throat that attached to the bed itself.

"Her BP still falling, now 80/50 and tachycardic at 120," Ryson said to the Doctor.

"She's in hypolvolemic shock; administer 1mg of epinephrine," he ordered.

Janeway felt weak. She had always thought of Seven as something close to invincible. The young woman was always so strong and so determined throughout every ordeal thrown at her since Janeway ordered her severed from the Collective. Seven always held herself to a higher standard; she always overcame. Perhaps it was her naïve need to please or perhaps it was going from child to adult without experiencing so many of the things that jaded people. At one time, Seven had returned to the Borg, convinced by the Queen that it was her only option to protect Voyager from assimilation. Another time, she and Tuvok were kidnapped, and Seven forced to fight for the life of her crewmate. There were so many more examples and instances of loyalty and strength.

"More fluids?" Ryson asked after setting the hypospray and giving the blonde the drug.

"No, she needs blood now. Replicate blood pattern Seven of Nine theta, and begin pushing a liter," the EMH stated decisively as he sealed off another deep cut. They worked amazingly well together already, the young woman quickly adding the blood to the regulator on the bed.

The Doctor reached up to check under a gel-pack he had put over a particularly deep scalp laceration that had cut through an artery. When he pulled it away from the skin, the blood that had pooled below the pack poured down Seven's face like a wave and it was all Kathryn could do to control her stomach, let alone her emotions.

The Doctor grimaced then he slapped his comm. badge. While he summoned Ensign Paris over the comm. system, Kathryn noticed how Annika's blood now garishly decorated the hologram's uniform and comm. badge. The hologram was solid enough to become dirty, but he was normally pristine; apparently, he did not have time to think about that right now. Then her focus returned to Seven's face. In the places not burned or covered in blood, she was ghostly pale; her lips were beginning to turn blue. Dismayed by the amount of blood, the redhead watched the EMH remove the hair around the wound. Neatly and efficiently he examined, cleansed, and treated the wound with a myovascular regenerator, leaving the final cosmetic procedure for later. She listened to the EMH's commands, the awful terminology thrown out with each new discovery as he probed deeper into her injuries.

Tom had arrived at some point. The three were working on the ex-drone, each seeming to have a major wound under their hands, the EMH orchestrating them through each procedure. Tom and Jalat were primarily preparing Seven for surgery while the Doctor was mostly trying to stabilize her. The Doctor ordered Ryson to use a laser scalpel to cut off the biosuit and it lay crumpled at the floor.

Then the Doctor pulled a large piece of metal out of her stomach and threw it on the tray beside the bed. As he called out for suction, more alarms pierced the room. Yet, even over the alarms Janeway heard a gasp to her right. Turning her head, she found B'Elanna beside her. Then she noticed almost all of the team behind her silently watching at a respectful distance. Only Harry and B'Elanna had dared to stand along side the Captain.

"The generator," B'Elanna groaned.

Command training finally overcame her grief propelling Janeway to take charge in the area beyond the sickbay. She ordered all those already treated out of the sickbay, which left Harry and B'Elanna standing in silence at the force field. Sam Wildman was attempting to get Harry to come with her to a biobed, but he simply shook off her hand at her every attempt, not even looking at the frustrated woman. The Ensign caught Janeway's eye and she read the implicit plea for help.

The older woman took charge of Harry by stepping in front of him and making eye contact. His obvious heartache nearly caused her to lose her newfound emotional control. However, she directed him with hand signals to follow Sam to the biobed. After he finally turned to follow the Ensign, she walked up to B'Elanna prepared to give her the same treatment. B'Elanna did not react like Harry though.

"She's there because of me," B'Elanna said plainly then turned to leave. This was so abrupt that it caught Kathryn off guard. She had to jog to catch the hybrid before the young woman was out the door. She took her by the wrist then pulled her to a biobed.

Kathryn wanted to know what B'Elanna meant, suspecting that the engineer was merely taking the blame because she led the upgrades, but needing to know exactly what happened. The Captain treated the young woman's ears herself, and then followed the tricorder's advice to check her lungs. The only thing she could find wrong with B'Elanna's chest was a very large bruise. She administered a recommended medicine that prevented alveolar-capillary damage and healed pulmonary contusions. Running the tricorder over her, she found lacerations and contusions scattered about that she healed, but overall the hybrid was okay.

Before she could begin to question B'Elanna about the accident, Ensign Ryson approached the women. "Captain, Lieutenant," the young woman addressed them. "The Doctor needs to speak with you."

Six hours later, an emotionally exhausted Kathryn Janeway sat in a chair in the Doctor's office. She stared out his window at the surgical bay. He had changed the transparency of the glass so that she could see out, but others could not see in. There had been two very tense moments so far in the surgery. Both times the Doctor had resuscitated Seven, but the last time it had seemed to take a lifetime to the older woman.

She sat there for all those hours alone, feeling every millimeter of distance from Annika. Miserably she realized how empty she really would be if Seven did not pull through. She had convinced herself she could be happy alone in the Delta Quadrant. Yet, since her relationship with the former drone had begun, she had come to realize how incomplete her life had been. Beyond that, she loved Annika with a deeper love than she could ever remember feeling for any of her other lovers. She wondered what would become of her if the Doctor could not save Annika.

"Kathryn?" The voice of her first officer broke through her maudlin musings. The Captain straightened up, then stood from the chair. Before turning to face the former Maquis, she surreptitiously wiped her face, hoping she was not flush from the tears she had shed earlier.

"Chakotay," she replied, irritated by the catch in her voice. He regarded her with his most concerned expression on her and she felt irrationally agitated by his compassion. She wondered how he could not know she was barely holding it together.

"How is she?" he asked. He wanted to comfort his friend, but felt her walls were up and did not intend to push her.

"I haven't had an update in a while. They are doing everything they can," she replied then turned and looked out the windows again. She could not face his compassion one more second; not without breaking down.

"Everything they can?" he asked with alarm in his voice. His face showed his surprise over her words. "Is she-- I mean she will survive, won't she?" he questioned. No reports had come in to the bridge, only notification that Janeway was not returning. The initial injury reports Ensign Wildman posted had let him know that things were bad, yet he had no idea it was this serious.

He stared at the redhead's back, watching her steel her shoulders only to seem to deflate again. "The prognosis is not good. The Doctor needed B'Elanna to help him remove her abdominal implant. It was irreparable." She paused for a moment. "Her human organs underneath took quite a beating. If they can successfully remove and reroute the implant before her cortical node decides she is beyond repair… and if the small amount of power the portable regenerator the engineering crew just built can keep her nanoprobes functioning… then he says he may know more. Yet, even two hours ago he did not give her better than a twenty percent chance of survival." Her voice was very small and hitching by the end.

"She's already died twice on the table," Kathryn finally added. That was the most terrible fact to her. Kathryn wondered whom she was to will that gentle soul to survive. She choked as she said to him, "The Doctor said there are some concussive injuries to the brain but has not had the opportunity to do a deep scan to determine the extent of damage. He does not know if her brain has had enough oxygen throughout all of this. Even if she survives, she may be in a coma for a long time… she may not even be the same."

As he watched her reflection in the glass, he saw tears trailing down Janeway's face. He stepped closer to her and put his hand softly onto her shoulder. "She's a fighter Kathryn, she will come back to you," he told her, mustering as much confidence into his voice as he could. He stood behind her providing the only comfort he could by just being there. She did not turn back to him and it was a long time before she spoke again.

"Chakotay… will you make sure everything is handled for the crew's leave? I-- I do not think I will be able. Make sure everyone takes his or her time as scheduled. Especially those engineers who were on this team. They took this hard. Another crew can tractor the yacht in before we lift off." Her voice had no inflection and his heart just broke.

"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of everything," he assured her. He waited for a few more minutes then left her to a lonely vigil.

Beta Shift was well underway before the Doctor felt he had done all he could do. Despite telling B'Elanna her part was over, the hybrid stayed relatively close, observing for the last hour. Ensigns Paris and Ryson assisted up until the last few moments. He was immeasurably thankful for the fortuitous existence of a second trained nurse. Ryson Jalat had proven her worth this day, the young woman yet to show the fatigue he knew she should be feeling. He knew she had missed her calling; she was a natural at medicine and if they were in the Alpha Quadrant, he would be alerting Starfleet Medical about her potential.

He set a medical field around Seven's biobed, increasing the oxygen levels and then adjusting the regulation of fluids. He raised the sensitivity of the cortical monitor and programmed an algorithm to monitor the level of her Borg systems in case they became too active or, unthinkably, began to go offline. The bed's systems would alert him to any changes in his patient immediately. Taking a final reading with a tricorder, he forced himself to be satisfied with what they had done.

"Lieutenant, Ensigns," he addressed the three still beside him. "You all performed remarkably. I could not have done this without you." The EMH was not oblivious to the irony of his statement. He knew that he had some overly egotistical subroutines, and at ordinary times, he was hard pressed to control them. However, he was not above giving credit where it was due. "Please eat a hearty meal, and do try to get a full night's rest."

Jalat and Tom immediately left, but B'Elanna lingered behind, staring at the comatose woman. The Doctor was patient, giving her a few minutes before gently approaching her. Injecting as much compassion into his voice as he could, he addressed her. "Lieutenant… B'Elanna, I know how much you care for Seven, but I really need to update Captain Janeway, and I'm sure she will want to be close when I do. Go and rest; you need it. You can come back and see Seven tomorrow."

She was taking this hard, and he desperately wished he had successfully incorporated psychiatric subroutines. She failed to meet his eyes, simply leaving the sickbay dejectedly, the image of abject misery. He wondered if he should alert Chakotay to keep an eye on her.

Finally, he was alone in the sickbay except for the company of two women: his patient and the remarkable woman who he held responsible for his sentient existence. Kathryn Janeway was more than an exemplary leader; she was also an extraordinary person. Determined to overcome every obstacle as she led her crew back home, she had even outsmarted and defeated the Borg. That included severing the drone that served as a liaison between her and the Borg during their initial encounter with the cybernetic race in the Delta Quadrant.

Nobody could have predicted the immense effect the former drone would have on Voyager, and most especially on its Captain. Several years after Seven's inclusion into the crew, the two women had grown through animosity, then friendship and into love. Their relationship was still in its fledgling stages, yet you could readily see the changes in Janeway. She had achieved an obvious happiness with the former Borg that had been missing the entire time the EMH had been active. The Doctor believed it had also certainly rescued the older woman from her ever-increasing self-destructive tendencies. He did not want to think of how Janeway would react if they lost Seven.

His musings led him into his office to where Janeway waited. He had to find a way to tell her the most difficult thing he could ever remember saying to her. Her face pleaded with him. He knew that even though she wanted the truth, a part of her only wanted to hear that it would be all right. He had run out of time. He did not want to tell her what he himself did not want to face. Despite all their efforts, despite every technique available in the ship's database and his personal knowledge of Seven, despite every wish he had cast to the ether in the last several hours, he could not give his patient, the Captain's lover, a very good chance of recovery or even survival. Now, only fickle fate knew the outcome.

"Captain," he began with his softest face and led her out to the biobed. Then he proceeded to tell her all he knew.

Tom Paris knew that his ex-girlfriend still considered him a world-class loser. He also knew he had earned that title all on his own. He had thought about it for a long time now. After all it was now only a couple of months shy of a year from the day he had not only thrown away the best lover he had ever had in a fit of ego, but also let his mouth run away from him one night in a drunken stupor. At that time, he had dug in to B'Elanna's sensitive spots, insulting her heritage and attractiveness all at once, belittling her in front of Seven and Harry with all his venom.

Not only did Harry walk away from him that night, putting their friendship on the backburner until he grew up, he learned a little about Seven at the same time. She approached him right after Harry left, then logically, but with surprising emotionality, informed him what a fool he had been. Then she told him clearly to leave B'Elanna alone or she would make him pay. Finally, she displayed a level of strength he didn't realize she had by tearing a piece of duranium down from the corridor ceiling, shaping it and effortlessly lifting him to hang from it by his tunic.

In the days that followed, he moped about going through the motions sullenly while on duty, drinking half the bar when not. He feared reporting Seven's actions; the ex-drone would have just told the Captain what he said verbatim, and Janeway would give them both a lecture-- not that it would affect the Borg.

Weeks passed and he grew lonely, despondent. He finally began looking inside himself, recognizing that he had been responsible for pushing three people out of his life, two of whom he considered his best friends. Harry was the most open-minded, fair person he had ever known and someone who gave him a chance despite his past; he would not have distanced himself from Tom unless the helmsman had earned it. Yet, losing B'Elanna through his own stupidity was even more painful. Instinctively, he knew that he would never have another chance to be her partner; he would be lucky if she let him be her friend.

He had taken the time then to spend long periods alone, reflecting on who he was and who he wanted to be. Over the long months, people around him began to notice the change. Harry finally allowed him another chance a few months back and Tom was elated. Since then, they had regained a lot of the closeness, the sense of brotherhood that he had damaged.

He still missed B'Elanna, but he would not force his friendship upon her. Of course, that didn't mean he did not love her still. His love for her was what kept him away. However tonight he was determined to do something to help the woman. He knew she was in pain over Seven's condition. After all, Seven and B'Elanna had been close, the ex-drone proving to be a better friend than he had been. He had even heard that the two women dated for a while, though nobody knew what ended it. He suspected that even though it had not worked the ex-drone was probably even a better lover than him. Seven was without artifice, giving one hundred percent dedication to whatever she focused on.

Before the Klingon joined the surgical team, he had seen her standing right outside the bay transfixed. During her part of the surgery she barely spoke, her concentration on her tasks obviously paramount to her. After she was done she refused to leave, quietly watching the Doctor's every move. Even now, she was still in sickbay, even though the EMH had subtly invited them to leave.

He knew the EMH would have to kick her out, and once that happened, he was sure the hybrid would head straight to Sandrine's to have a liquid dinner. He had spent a great deal of time with her; he knew her habits. One thing he knew about B'Elanna for sure, when she could not handle an emotion she either lashed out violently or tried to drink herself to sleep.

He also knew her crew would be in the bar as well. They would pounce upon her wanting details of the former drone's health. It would kill her to have to relive the descriptions of what Seven had been through, especially the fact that her survival was not a sure thing. Therefore, he decided to circumvent that occurrence by being there first. Recognizing that she would probably see his actions as gossiping or some other selfish endeavor, he knew that she would probably detest him even more after tonight. Nevertheless, he would not let that stop him from trying to protect her somewhat; he cared too much to not try.

A half hour later, he found all of his predictions had come true. Lieutenant Carey approached Tom right after his entry, followed closely by a whole crowd of engineers. They were very protective of those they considered their own. He used that to his advantage by asking Joe to let the others know to leave B'Elanna alone.

After giving them the details he found appropriate for distribution, he searched the bar for the hybrid. Sure enough, she was sitting in a dark corner alone with several empty beer bottles already adorning her table. He called Harry and explained his concerns, knowing that B'Elanna would be more likely to accept comfort from Harry than him. The young Ops officer promised to be there in less than ten minutes.

He tried not to stare at her, knowing she had a keen sense about those things sometimes. He waited a few minutes then used some of his spare rations to replicate two hamburgers with the works. Ordering two more beers from the bar, he carried his laden tray over to her table and sat without invitation. She did not acknowledge his presence at first, but when he set one of the full plates in front of her, she looked up at him.

"I'm not hungry Tom and I don't need company," she said then swallowed the rest of the bottle she had been working on. He pushed a fresh bottle over to her.

"Consider me nothing more than a weight holding this chair down then, but you need to eat," he answered. Then he pulled out the only ace he had. "The Doc might need your help again at any time, so you have to be somewhat sober and not ready to fall to the floor from hunger."

She shot a glare at him, then begrudgingly started to eat. In the meantime, Harry arrived and joined them with his own meal. He did not ask anything about Seven; Tom had promised to fill him in later if B'Elanna did not talk.

"Hey Maquis," the young Asian man said simply, and then began to eat.

The two men offered silent comfort to the engineer for over an hour, replacing her beers a couple of times, then switching her to soft drinks a bit later without even asking her. They were each lost to their own thoughts, so the silence was not forced. Yet, finally she stood away from the table and knocked on the table top gently in a nervous gesture.

"Thanks," she said softly, looking into Harry's eyes. Then to Tom's disbelief, she focused her beautiful brown eyes right into his. "You too Tom. For everything you did today." Then she turned and left without another word.

Kathryn sat next to Seven's bedside holding her mesh-covered hand. She knew the Doctor desperately wanted her to return to her quarters and rest but she was not leaving. She knew it was late into the night, possibly very early in the morning by now, yet she could not make herself care about that. She found herself amazed by the fact that, at this moment, she could not even muster up concern for her ship. Nothing else mattered to her right now but the woman in front of her.

For what was probably the hundredth time, the older woman bent down and kissed the Borg enhanced hand. It had somehow escaped the burns the other hand had received, maybe simply because it was mostly Borg; only the biosuit had protected the rest of her from burns, except on her right hand and face.

The enmeshed hand had come to represent the duality of Seven's very nature to Kathryn. A woman who was at once Seven of Nine and Annika Hansen, growing more comfortable with the second nature every year, but refusing to relinquish or renounce her Borg past. In all honesty, Kathryn had come to realize she loved her for each side. The Captain had realized how foolish she was in the past by demanding Seven learn to be 'more human.'

No ordinary human could combat her overbearing personality as easily as Seven of Nine did. Nobody else had ever stood toe-to-toe with her in an argument and not backed down to the force of the Janeway personality. That self-assured trait had not disappeared in their relationship. Whenever they had a fight, Seven was just as likely as ever to throw words like "illogical" and "irrelevant" at the redhead, even though the young woman knew they set the captain on edge, especially in her private life. It was not a concern to the stubborn blonde since she would argue her point whenever she believed she was right.

Perhaps no ordinary woman could love the captain for all her faults either. She really thought of that aspect of her as the Annika side. The side of the woman who could tell Janeway was troubled by the strains of command and then would cast aside those emotions with a soft touch or a loving kiss followed by carefully chosen words. This side of the young woman was so very gentle that it often brought tears to Kathryn's eyes.

Seven possessed a level of concentration that Kathryn knew had to be an after effect of her Borg life. The older woman mused on the fact that this concentration added a double-edged sword to her life. On one hand, this absorption could keep the young woman from responding to a romantic overture if she was involved in a project she felt must be completed. Conversely, when that focus was directed at Janeway, it could shake the very foundation of the Captain's soul.

The former Borg was Kathryn's polar opposite, yet her equal. The Borg insisted on an immaculate environment, not tolerating a mess for more than a few moments. Janeway was often careless about her clothes or PADDs, in short often a mess, especially when tired. The young woman still could not tolerate much alcohol, although she was beginning to enjoy a small glass of wine. She absolutely detested coffee, an obvious Janeway staple. When they argued Janeway fumed around the room fervently, and Seven became rigid, ice cold in her dispassionate responses. They were equally stubborn, competitive and compassionate. They were both quick to forgive the other any error.

Yet, now, Seven lay here not even looking like herself. Kathryn could not remember seeing her this pale since she was fully Borg. The long blonde hair was shorn away; on one side of her head, it was gone completely since the doctor needed access to a large wound. A hard collar still held the former drone's head stable and an intubation tube remained to regulate the blonde's breathing. If she were to lift the blanket that covered her bare body, she would find a stomach pitted and scarred. Her abdominal implants were simply gone.

The EMH explained to Janeway that he could not afford to spend time on the cosmetics of the removal since her body needed all of its energy to concentrate on just staying alive. He did not even speak of surgeries she knew he could do later to remove some of the scarring, and that absence of self-aggrandizing dialogue frightened her. He was always a braggart about his skills, so for him to not mention them made her think about the unimaginable possibility of losing Annika.

He had spent a long time with the Captain after the surgery explaining every detail in his best bedside manner. Every new piece of information he divulged she believed to be the worst, then he would prove her wrong by telling her something more awful. Then he told her the very thing she had never expected to hear, his words hitting her like a phaser.

"If she makes it through the next twenty four hours," he stated, "I might be able to predict more about the outcome. However, be aware she may have brain damage captain. I will continue to inject her with freshly replicated nanoprobes to assist, but I don't know if they will be enough." He had paused and looked at her with sorrow. "Nevertheless, if her cortical node decides she is irreparable, it will shut down and there will be nothing I can do to save her."

Right now, she wanted to damn him for the fears he had created in her, even as she held him in the highest regard for everything he had done. She knew his efforts and knowledge in this case truly surpassed any human Doctor alive. No other physician could have given Annika the chance that she now had.

So she sat there waiting, hoping and occasionally praying, an act she had not really found herself doing in years. She had no plans to leave until she saw those beautiful blue eyes open and focus on her once more.

Something nudged at Kathryn's weary mind. She blinked and realized she had fallen asleep at Seven's bedside. She wondered what had woke her and then it became clear. A harsh alarm erupted from the bed and she screamed for the doctor in a shrill voice she was sure could not be her own. Even as she wondered what was taking him so long, she watched black-gray metal erupt from the pale skin of her love, as new implants took form in odd shapes and in odd places. The young woman bled anew with each new wound, something Kathryn had never seen before in assimilations; she thought assimilation had always been a bloodless process.

The Doctor finally appeared and nudged her out of the way. Kathryn looked at him desperately. "What's happening," she asked pleadingly.

"Her cortical node is failing. She's in cardiac arrest," he replied tersely even as he had the bed's system apply surges of energy through the beleaguered body, attempting to restart the inactive heart. He tried multiple times, although he recognized the futility. There was just too much damage; some things could not be undone. Yet, he attempted to resuscitate her for long minutes, simply for the peace of mind of the woman behind him. When he finally stopped and turned to face her, she blanched and he thought for a moment she would pass out.

Instead, she began saying, "No," repeatedly. Two large steps brought her to the bed and she fell onto the now dead woman. "No, Annika, you can't leave me." Her normal regal reserve disappeared as if it had never existed, leaving just a broken woman. "I love you damnit, you have to fight, you have to come back to me," she began sobbing, becoming slightly insensible. "Annika please, I can't live without you, you have my heart, I need you," the redhead plead and begged.

"Oh God, Annika, come back" the redhead wailed like a child and held the limp and bloody body close to her.

Chapter 12

B'Elanna awoke early and decided enough time had passed; the Doctor could not keep her from visiting Seven any longer. She dressed in casual clothes as Chakotay had left orders that she was to take her leave and she was to stay out of Engineering except in the case of a red alert. It did not take her long to reach sickbay. There was a visitation policy stating that personnel were to stay out of the facility except for a listed few and those who became injured. The Doctor had kept his promise and her name was on the approved visitor list, so she strode into the nearly empty infirmary.

The first thing she saw was the Captain lying across Seven mumbling incomprehensibly. B'Elanna crossed the room quickly. "Captain, what's wrong?" she asked alarmed by her leader's sobs.

"Oh God, Annika, come back," the redhead whimpered into Seven's stomach.

B'Elanna realized Janeway was having a nightmare. She quickly picked the older woman off Seven's stomach by her biceps and shook her slightly. "Wake up Captain," she ordered sternly.

Kathryn jarred alert with a gasp. "Annika," she wailed. She looked up at the woman that was holding her briefly then quickly to the table holding the injured woman.

B'Elanna immediately crouched to the Captain's level where she sat in a chair and began making shushing noises to the older woman. "It's okay Kathryn; it was only a dream… you were having a nightmare," she said rubbing the older woman's biceps comfortingly. "Seven is still here."

That simple phrase released a flood of emotion from Janeway, and the Klingon-Human hybrid found herself holding the sobbing form of her Captain. Surprised by this turn of events, she nevertheless comforted the redhead without reserve. She spoke nonsense phrases meant to soothe; stroked the auburn mane slowly with one hand and her back with the other. Long minutes passed before Janeway finished crying and the short half sobs abated. Then the Starfleet Captain pulled away as if embarrassed by her humanity.

"I'm sorry B'Elanna," Kathryn said raggedly. "I guess I couldn't hold that in any more. Thank you for waking me and… well, letting me use your shoulder." The older woman stared at her lap and sniffled.

B'Elanna would have rolled her eyes at the woman's inability to share her grief, except she recognized the trait as one of her own. Quietly she stood, amazed that her knees still worked after crouching so long, and strode over to the replicator. She returned with a box of tissues, setting them on the older woman's lap. She gave Janeway her space and dignity by standing beside her instead of in front of her again. She did settle her hand on Kathryn's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"I know I couldn't have held it in for this long," B'Elanna stated gently. She paused then nonchalantly ventured, "You know you don't have to be alone through this. I know you aren't the only one who loves her deeply, and she isn't the only one who loves you."

The Captain was too weary to distance herself from B'Elanna and her statements. She knew she should, yet could not quite remember the 'why' of it at that moment. Therefore, she just sat silently for a while, allowing B'Elanna's silent support. Finally, she cleared her throat.

"There's another chair over there if you want to join me," Kathryn suggested, allowing herself to be just this vulnerable, if only with this woman who understood what it was to love, and be loved by, Annika.

At 0900 hours, the EMH materialized in his office. He took a moment to observe the two women who sat near his patient. He was unsurprised by the presence of the Chief Engineer, especially since he practically had to order her to leave after the surgery on the previous day. He speculated that her company was probably a good thing for the stoic captain. Grabbing a specialized tricorder, he made his way to his patient's bedside, situating himself on the opposite side of her visitors.

"Good morning Captain, Lieutenant," he greeted as he immediately began his hourly examinations. Downloading the latest data from the cortical monitor, he studied the information carefully, yet, unhappily. There was still no marked improvement in the woman's brain activity nor was the hematoma receding; her intercranial pressure was still too high. He realized it was still early, only around 20 hours after the event, but he had hoped her nanoprobes would have begun neural repairs already.

Running the probe of the tricorder slowly over her abdomen, he found that her liver and spleen were returning to their normal size. In fact, he thought that overall, her abdominal cavity was improving. As he continued up to her heart, the amount of improvement shown by the cardiac muscle even since the last hour surprised him. He had theorized earlier that the nanoprobes were concentrating their efforts there first; at this rate, her heart would be perfectly normal in another two hours. He wondered briefly whether it was an encoded imperative by the Borg, or simply random. If it was due to Borg programming, he could not help but question why they would find it more beneficial to repair the heart before the brain. His only viable speculation was that a drone would go into regeneration for repairs and any drone that could not, would be terminated.

He took a sample of her blood, setting it aside for analysis and comparison. He then used a hypospray to deliver another round of drugs designed to help speed her recovery. Then he gave her a fresh batch of nanoprobes with a separate hypospray; they were difficult to replicate in large numbers, consequently he had a medical replicator continually producing more.

As he stored the probe within the tricorder, both women rose and looked at him pleadingly. He collected his sample and gestured for them to follow him to his diagnostics area. Once he had distributed the sample among his various devices and ran his tests, he finally addressed them.

"I am beginning to have hope that she will survive," he stated. Before he could continue, B'Elanna broke in agitatedly.

"You still can't say she will live?" the hybrid asked with disbelief.

"Lieutenant," he interrupted her before she got too excited. "Please realize she is lucky. If that had been you, or any other crewmember, I doubt they would have survived the transport, let alone the operation. Her abdominal implant bore the brunt of the abdominal trauma, her reinforced spinal chord prevented major injury there, and her nanoprobes gave her hope that nobody else here has," he said passionately. He paused to let that information sink in.

"However, she lost a tremendous amount of blood… more than I thought a human could survive. With that blood loss, she lost nanoprobes. Her functioning nanoprobe saturation is at 25% of her normal levels. They have been focusing primarily on her heart interestingly enough." He looked away and sighed. "At this point I wish they would move on to her brain."

Both women began to ask him about different things but then B'Elanna looked abashed and became quiet. Kathryn just squeezed her hand, aware that the hybrid's need to understand the situation was very strong. The young woman had not been there last night to hear the more bleak projections the EMH had given then.

"You were worried about her brain last night. Have you been able to determine anything more?" the redhead questioned.

"As you know, the brain is still the most difficult organ for us to understand. All I can say for sure is that she still has a lot of pressure on her frontal lobe. The hematoma is not receding yet." He sighed, an interesting mannerism he had unknowingly incorporated fully into his behavioral algorithms. "If she had only had the head trauma, I would have already operated to reduce the swelling," he said with a desperate tone, "or at least I would have used a medicinal treatment. But the fact that she is still hypotensive and recovering from hypovolemia prevents me from trying either of those options." The Doctor was truly upset about this. "If neither I or the nanoprobes can effect the swelling in the next few days, I'm afraid it might lead to permanent damage and… then she may never wake up."

Both women became decidedly pale upon hearing this. B'Elanna could hear her heart hammering in her chest, even as she tried desperately to stay in control of her emotions. There was no honor in losing her temper or unlocking her rage in here, right now; she could crawl away to the holodeck later and vent her feelings alone, without the chance of hurting Janeway.

"There is still time," the Doctor added sympathetically, suddenly realizing how bleak a picture he had presented. "Truly, I have more hope today than I did last night. I recommend patience."

That afternoon, Harry Kim was taking his first day of leave in the solitude of his own quarters. He was still a bit sore from yesterday, but mostly he was concerned about Seven. Therefore, he did not feel very much like spending the day outside with others. Instead he played his clarinet most of the afternoon, feeling a bit closer to his friend by indulging in an activity they had enjoyed together occasionally. Yet, he was finding it was also making him somewhat melancholy. The sound of his door chiming interrupted his playing and musings.

He walked to the door and opened it, unconcerned over who may be visiting. Yet, the identity of his visitor surprised him. "Tuvok?"

"Ensign Kim," the Vulcan responded. "I apologize if I am disturbing you. May I come in?"

"Uh, yes sir," Harry responded and stepped aside so that the Vulcan could enter. The ops officer set his clarinet down on a table near his music stand and then walked over to where Tuvok stood. Years of Starfleet training prevented him from sitting or becoming comfortable in the presence of a superior officer despite the fact that he was in his own quarters.

"I have begun the investigation of yesterday's explosion. If this is a convenient time, I would like to ask you a few questions." Tuvok did not dissemble about his presence; as always he came directly to the point.

"Certainly sir." Harry could not seem to stop the formality. As much as he respected Tuvok, he could never relax around him. Tuvok seemed to notice this.

"Perhaps we could sit?" the tall dark man recommended, holding one hand out to indicate the dinette. It was not the Vulcan's preference to relax, but he knew that most humans spoke more freely if they were comfortable. In fact, the Ensign's body language changed almost immediately after the simple suggestion.

The Vulcan's questions were straightforward. Primarily, he encouraged the Ensign to detail every little thing he could remember, beginning a few minutes before the explosion and ending with his treatment in sickbay for his injuries. It had taken the two officers only twenty minutes to review everything Harry could recall and the Chief of Security was rising, preparing to leave, and thanking Harry for his time when a call came through on his comm. badge.

"Lieutenant Ayala to Commander Tuvok."

"Go ahead," Tuvok responded already standing rigidly preparing to deal with a new situation.

"Sir, there was an altercation in Sandrine's. The two combatants need medical attention before we can take them to the brig and file a report," the security officer replied. "But I hesitate to enter the sickbay with them and I need your advice."

"The sickbay has only been closed so that people would not enter unnecessarily Lieutenant. Acquiring medical treatment is an acceptable reason for entry. I suggest you have the parties involved treated then contact me. I will then meet you at the brig for your report," Tuvok responded, wondering why one of his most trusted officers was asking such an elementary question. Tuvok held Lt. Ayala in high esteem and this was atypical behavior for the human indeed.

"Sir, I only hesitate because the reason for the conflict could be upsetting to the people inside the sickbay," Ayala continued.

"Elaborate Lieutenant," Tuvok ordered.

"An engineer, Ensign Molina, took offense to some comments he heard being made by Ensign Gerron. Molina asked Gerron to repeat his comments and when he did, Molina proceeded to pummel him. Then they both engaged in fighting until people in the bar split them up and security arrived. Ensign Gerron's alleged remarks were along the lines of 'It was too bad the Borg didn't die' and that the ship would have been better off without her. Many people who were initially around the fight want to testify as to what happened and verify his remarks. I took their names and told them we would contact them later if necessary. Sir, Gerron is still agitated and intoxicated as well as throwing inflammatory remarks at Molina about Seven. When I checked to see who was in sickbay it listed not only the Captain, but also Lieutenant Torres. This is why I am hesitant sir." Ayala tried to be concise understanding his superior's preference for precision, but even so, he felt like he had babbled like a scared child.

"I see," was Tuvok's response. He gathered his thoughts momentarily then replied. "Lieutenant, wait until I arrive and I will take command of the situation. Call for two more members of security to stand by in case they are needed. Tuvok out." He closed the comm. channel then faced Harry. "Thank you for your time Ensign Kim. If you will excuse me."

"Yes sir," he replied, but before Tuvok could turn away, he interjected a thought. "If I may sir, I think I could handle B'Elanna and keep her out of the way. She'll hear about it eventually, but I think if I told her in a way that kept her from interfering, it would be best."

The Vulcan raised an eyebrow as he considered the suggestion. His knowledge of the sometimes-volatile Klingon-Human hybrid was his reasoning for the extra security. Yet, if an emotional outburst could be avoided by having a friend intervene he considered that a better solution. "Very well, you may come. However, please note that if you fail to keep Lieutenant Torres in control my officers will be forced to step in," he replied and turned to leave so quickly that Harry had to jog a few steps to catch up.

The doors to sickbay opened and the two women saw Tuvok and Harry enter. Janeway read the look on Tuvok's face, and from years of experience with this particular Vulcan, she knew that he was here for official business so she stood as they approached. B'Elanna stood also, but more for reasons of curiosity and her ongoing need to comfort Janeway.

"Report," the Captain said, much to the surprise of Harry and B'Elanna. Harry wondered how she could have known there was a problem. B'Elanna just had not expected the sudden shift from loving, desperate woman to the in-charge, Starfleet Captain. She privately wondered if life with Janeway was always this way for Seven.

"Captain, this is a security matter. I believe it would be best if Lieutenant Torres and Ensign Kim either left or continued their observation of Seven behind a privacy barrier." Tuvok was rigidly serious, and it spooked B'Elanna. Janeway looked at her, seeming to make it her choice.

"I would prefer to stay, Captain," B'Elanna replied to the unspoken question. Janeway nodded, and Harry stepped up beside B'Elanna with a small smile.

"Come on Maquis you can update me," Harry said, his smile vanishing as he finally let his eyes fall upon the bed holding Seven.

Then B'Elanna heard the captain call out "Computer, erect a level 5 opaque force-field with full privacy protocols around the surgical bay."

"Computer, amend last order. Allow privacy field to be lowered only by EMH, Captain or myself, authorization Tuvok pi pi alpha nine zero," Tuvok said shortly after the field was raised. He saw the startled look of his Captain and knew the time had come for him to explain this distasteful situation to her.

"Is that really necessary Tuvok? B'Elanna respected your wishes easily enough," asked Janeway.

Her posture had changed he noticed. She now looked at him with her head tilted at an angle, and her arms crossed. She often took this stance when she was trying not to react to something that was irritating her. Knowing his Captain as well as he did, he knew she took offense to what she saw as a slight to B'Elanna. It probably did not help that the Lieutenant had obviously been a source of comfort through this ordeal.

"I assure you Captain, it is a logical precaution," he answered.

"Very well. Perhaps you can explain to me what is going on?" she said with an edge to her voice.

"Indeed Captain. There was an altercation earlier on the holodeck in the Sandrine's program involving two ensigns, an engineer and a biometrics officer. They are presently waiting with escort outside the sickbay for my entry order. The conflict arose after the engineer took offense to some commentary by the other officer. Unfortunately, the content of his commentary is disturbing and very likely to garner the same type of reaction from Lieutenant Torres if she were present." The Vulcan paused. "You will very likely be upset by his comments also Captain."

"Go ahead," she said after bracing herself. Tuvok did not make predictions like that lightly; in fact, he hardly ever openly predicted a person's behavior unless asked even if he used behavioral predictions all the time in his assessments.

"Ensign Gerron was overheard, and freely admits, saying that he believed it was 'Too bad the Doctor had been so good' and that he 'wished that Borg had died so we'd be rid of her,' as well as many other disparaging comments. Ensign Molina took offense and struck him. Then a brief fight ensued," Tuvok reported while watching Janeway.

He saw the anger flare in her eyes, which shaded to a stormy gray, and in her stance which stiffened perceptibly. She inhaled deeply while pacing back and forth in a small space and flexing her hands into fists repeatedly. Just as suddenly, she stopped, straightened, and obviously reigned in her temper.

"Why is Ensign Kim present?" she asked. Tuvok had nothing but respect for the woman and her amazing ability to put her emotions aside for the good of the ship and protocol.

"I was in Ensign Kim's quarters when Lieutenant Ayala called asking for advice on how to handle the situation. He volunteered to find a way to tell Lieutenant Torres himself so that she would not hear it later and possibly take rash action," he replied.

"I see… I will have to thank him myself later," Janeway commented. "Well Tuvok, let's take care of this mess, shall we?"

"Aye Captain," the Vulcan replied. He contacted Ayala and the security team plus the two offenders entered the sickbay.

Janeway walked over to the small party and all those present stood at attention, even if Gerron listed to port from intoxication. She raked each of the offenders with a measuring glance and then spoke in a chilling voice. "I am going to activate the Doctor now. Not one word is to be spoken by either of you unless it is an answer to a medical question from the Doctor. When he has treated your wounds, we will discuss what has happened today."

Nobody present relaxed for one moment throughout the next half hour or so that it took the EMH to perform his repairs. He was somewhat miffed by being excluded from the details of the fight. However, he had been online long enough over the years to recognize when Janeway was extraordinarily angry and he could tell this was one of those moments. He wisely decided to find the details later through the grapevine. After he was done, he excused himself and went to his office.

"He what?" B'Elanna exclaimed and started to propel herself at the force field, only to find it kept her in instead of just keeping prying eyes out. "ghuy'cha' I will tear him in half!"

"B'Elanna, calm down. The Captain is handling it right now," Harry told her, still standing a few feet away. He knew his friend well enough to know she needed to vent some of her anger. It was best if she was hitting the force field and not him.

"She shouldn't have to deal with this right now Harry," B'Elanna lamented, then turned back to the force field. "Computer allow exit through privacy field."

*"Unable to comply,"* the computer intoned placidly, which only made her angrier.

"B'Elanna please stop. If you go out there, it will only make it worse," he said, much too reasonably in B'Elanna's opinion. "Do you really want to cause more stress? If you don't, you'll just support her decisions and calm down. She's a great Captain. She will handle it."

B'Elanna glared at him briefly then crossed her arms over her chest. She was having trouble calming down, but she knew Harry was right. Sometimes her Klingon temper just got the better of her; usually it was not a good thing.

"Okay," she told him after a long time had passed. "You're right. But I don't have to like it."

He was glad he had succeeded; he had thought it would be harder. Finally, he decided to change the subject to something just as difficult, but that he really wanted to know. "So how is she?" he asked after he approached and stood at Seven's bedside.

Every security officer present on the opposite side of the privacy field felt their level of respect rise for their Captain. Most knew that their Captain and Seven had been seeing each other. It was not exactly a secret, but it seemed that everyone who heard the news somehow respected Janeway's privacy enough to not gossip about it.

Before the accident, Seven had been spending time in security learning what they did and teaching them what she knew about tactics of not only the Borg, but also many of their assimilated species. If they spent every day from now until they got home, they would never hear about every species she had knowledge of, yet many of them had enjoyed learning new things. After all these years, they were even beginning to be able to anticipate Tuvok's programming sometimes. Therefore, her new programs were a welcome change of pace.

In the time she spent with them, quite a few of them had changed their views of her, seeing her vulnerability as she learned how to fight like a Starfleet officer or learned new rules, often confounded like a rebellious adolescent. Many of them had seen the change in her; how she now tried to understand things that she previously would have deemed illogical, irrelevant, and therefore would have ignored.

As she paced back and forth, they could feel the energy radiating from the Captain. She had listened to the evidence that Ayala had presented. She had given each man a chance to deny the charges, which neither did. Then she paced. She was not just angry with Gerron, she was also angry with Molina. She gave them both a class 10 lecture on Starfleet behavior and how the two ensigns had failed to uphold Voyager's standards.

"Ensign Molina, you will be confined to your quarters for the next two days under class 3 restrictions. Your leave is revoked and your replicator rations will be halved for two weeks. Finally, a reprimand will be placed in your file. I suggest that the next time you are concerned over someone's words, you approach a superior officer for advice. Is that clear?" She stood a bare foot in front of him and her voice was at a frighteningly low level.

"Yes Captain," he replied smartly, obviously flustered.

She walked calmly over to the biometrics officer. Once again, she entered her officer's personal space but this time instead of speaking immediately, she simply stared into his eyes.

"Ensign Gerron, I find your words not only repugnant and offensive, I also believe you have a problem. In all the years I have served in Starfleet, I have never once heard any crewmember wish a fellow crewmate dead," she said her voice deceptively calm. "If we were near headquarters I would request your immediate transfer off my ship and recommend counseling."

She stopped speaking, only continuing to stare into his eyes. At first, the man had no obvious reaction to her, yet after a few minutes sweat began running down his forehead.

"Yet, you did not join through Starfleet, you were Maquis. And this is obviously not the Alpha Quadrant," she said the last bit with sarcasm dripping thickly. "If you prefer to leave this ship because you find some of its crew offensive to your delicate sensibilities-- we can arrange for your departure any time you find a society that suits your desires. In the meantime, if I hear you have made any more commentary of this nature in such an inflammatory way, you will ride in the brig until we can find you that perfect home, or we can return you to Bajor."

She paced away from him and seemed to grow taller. "Ensign Gerron, you are hereby restricted to quarters, under level 5 restrictions until you have received counseling from both Chakotay and Tuvok. They will schedule it at their leisure, and you will not be released until they are both satisfied that you can return to duty, willing to respect and protect each and every one of your fellow crewmates. If they do not feel you have overcome your obvious problem, you may consider yourself permanently restricted."

She turned away from the entire group and barked out, "Everyone but Tuvok and Gerron is dismissed."

She stood facing the force field reciting every Vulcan mantra Tuvok ever taught her. After she heard the sickbay doors open and close, she slapped her comm. badge. "Janeway to Torres."

*"Torres here Captain."*

"I need you and Harry to stand along the rear wall-- now. Janeway out." she commanded, not the slightest hint of option in her voice. "Computer lower privacy field."

She walked to the foot of Seven's biobed. "Ensign Gerron! Front and center."

The tall Bajoran man jumped at her command. He had never been in the Captain's presence for more than a few minutes at a time while on duty and usually she was more reserved, more personable.

"Do you see those two people, Ensign?" she asked him in a chilling voice. "They are alive today because of 'the Borg'. I want you to think about that while you are waiting for Chakotay and Tuvok. Seven threw herself at them to save their lives, unconcerned for herself." She grabbed him by the elbow and literally hauled him over to the bedside. Everyone was surprised by her actions. No one in the room had expected it. "Look at this woman… This is your 'Borg monster'."

His eyes fell upon the young woman in front of him. He had never expected to see this: black eyes, a broken nose, and burns along her face and a tube controlling her breathing. He had only known Seven as the incredible beautiful, but incredibly cold, woman that would not act like the human she had been before assimilation. Now he looked down upon a disfigured woman living only because of a biobed's assistance. Gone was the long blonde hair, cuts and scars in its place. More wounds were healing above, and diving below, the blanket that covered her from chest down. As he glanced at her hand, he noticed that it too was covered in burn scars. He looked away ashamed.

"You have no idea how bad it is Ensign. You might still get your wish," she sneered at him. Janeway could feel herself losing control. She knew she had to stop before she too struck the man. "Tuvok, remove him. Now."

"Yes Captain" Tuvok immediately responded. Gerron had started moving towards the Security Chief as soon as the Captain had spoken her last word. B'Elanna and Harry simply stared at Janeway profoundly shocked. The two men left the room and Janeway moved closer to Seven. She leaned down and gently kissed the ocular implant over the young woman's left eye.

"I love you Annika. Fight for me, please," she said softly. Then she rose, speaking to her silent audience without raising her eyes, unable to face anyone just yet. "I need to take a walk. Will you stay with her?"

"Of course Captain," Harry replied almost simultaneously with B'Elanna's assent. Then the Captain left them. They were amazed at all that they had seen, not to mention profoundly worried for their leader.

Chapter 13

In the very early morning hours, B'Elanna tossed and turned restlessly in her sleep. Sweat covered her body and she had long since kicked the sheets off her bed. The noises emanating from the compact beauty indicated that fitful dreams disturbed her sleep. Suddenly, the half-Klingon bolted upright in her bed, gasping for breath. Disoriented at first, she finally recognized she had been dreaming and that she was in her own quarters.

"Computer, lights, half," she croaked out. She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and resting her forehead on top of them. As she worked on bringing her breathing back to normal, she thought about her dream. It was so realistic that it was hurting her. It did not help that half the dream was an actual memory. She supposed that she should talk to someone about how guilty she felt over the accident, but it was not in her nature to do that.

Yet, having to dream about it night after night might drive her mad. In this dream, after the explosion, after beaming an injured Seven back to Voyager, and finally after the surgery was over, the blonde simply died. The rest of the dream involved a funeral and a mourning Kathryn Janeway who ultimately, and very publicly, blamed B'Elanna for Seven's death.

"Computer, locate Seven of Nine," B'Elanna commanded. She knew it was silly but she had to hear it; she had to be one hundred percent sure it was a dream.

*"Seven of nine is in Sickbay"* the feminine tones of the computer recited flatly.

B'Elanna's relief was short-lived, as the harsh reality of Seven's condition reasserted itself in her mind very quickly. She sighed and studied the chronometer on the bedside table. It was 0453; too early to eat breakfast or visit sickbay. Yet, she doubted she could fall asleep again. Her orders were to not to do any engineering, something she would normally ignore, but she was respecting out of a deep-seated need to not upset Janeway. The holodeck did not appeal to her right now, and she had no desire to leave the ship, so she was at a loss as to what to do to release this energy.

Finally, she rose from bed and dressed in her traditional workout clothes. Since she could not think of anything better to do, she would just go to the gym. Maybe she could release some of this anger into a punching bag.

Hours later the Klingon-Human hybrid sat alone in the messhall. She had run for kilometers, punched the practice bag relentlessly, and punished her muscles in every way she could think of in the gym. Now she nursed a cold cup of coffee. Even though it was around the time of the beginning of Alpha shift, the ship was running on a skeleton crew, and most people on leave were replicating things to take with them wherever they were going. Consequently, she had the room to herself. She was just passing the time until she felt it was late enough to go see Seven.

"Lieutenant Torres." The deep voice of Tuvok broke into her musings abruptly. She must have really been out of it she decided, because she did not notice him approach. Yet, there he stood, directly in front of her. "May I speak with you?"

"Of course Tuvok," she answered then indicated the chair in front of him. "Have a seat."

He politely thanked her while sitting, and then set a padd on the table between them. "I am here to finish my investigation into the explosion on the aeroshuttle. I only lack your testimony," he explained. "Would now be a convenient time to ask you some questions?"

"Sure," she answered. "But shouldn't you wait until Seven's awake? Only she can tell us how she knew what was happening."

"Indeed, that is correct. However, how she knew what would happen is not the focus of this investigation. Primarily I am gathering the facts to determine the cause of the explosion. Secondarily I will make recommendations on how to avoid another incident like this." He gentled his voice before speaking again. "If she can recall any relevant information to contribute at a future date, I will amend the report. Nonetheless, after your testimony I believe I will have enough evidence for my analysis."

He chilled her with his straightforward dialogue. She knew that he and Seven were close, so it was especially disheartening to her that he did not seem to believe she would have important details to add. She sighed then met his eyes. "Okay, what do you want to know?"

He turned on the recording function of his padd and began asking her the same questions he had asked Ensign Kim. She recounted the accident from her point of view, step by step. She tried not to let him see how very difficult it was for her to remember the events, but if she succeeded, she would never know.

"I have one final question. On Stardate 48599.65, you submitted a report in response to Captain Janeway's order for all department heads to find ways to save energy and resources. You suggested that several protocols were out of date and that they be overridden. One protocol in particular was Starfleet Engineering Regulation 5079.54, which states, 'Any shield generator found to be non-functional upon installation should be disposed of immediately.' You stated, and the Captain agreed, that it was an out of date regulation that wasted a tremendous amount of replication energy. The Captain approved your recommendations and also included a commendation in your personnel file for 'Initiative and intelligent efficiency'." He paused and met her eyes. "Would you agree that, knowing what we know now, it would be logical to reinstate these regulations in cases of new or modified technologies?"

B'Elanna barely heard his final words as her world spun out of control. Her engineering mind was dissecting what he said; she was also remembering the day she made those suggestions. She remembered how happy she had felt to have the Captain tell her that her ideas were 'brilliant.' It was a time long before Seven had come on board, a time when she was learning to believe in herself. Now, she had to face the fact that her 'brilliant' idea most likely caused this tragedy. She did not hear him trying to regain her attention. She was too busy castigating herself, feeling her hearts sink into some living version of Gre'thor.

"Kahless, it's my fault," she said, completely unaware she was speaking aloud. "It really is my fault."

"Lieutenant Torres," he snapped loudly, finally garnering her attention. "This is not about who is to blame," he stated firmly, "I merely needed your expert opinion as to whether the old regulations should be reinstated for new technologies." He could tell that this would not be enough to reassure the young woman. "Lieutenant, I had to review much data to understand the reasoning for SER 5079.54. After my review, I found your suggestions very logical. Accidents only occurred in 0.2% of generator installations by the time of the instatement of the regulation one hundred fourteen years ago. Since that time, there have been many improvements and additional fail-safes to the components. It was a truly outdated regulation for the existing Starfleet technology. Yours was a superior idea that probably saved Voyager countless resources."

His speech did not provide much solace to B'Elanna, but she gave him the respectful nod she knew he would desire. "Yes sir," she answered, trying to keep the misery out of her voice. She did not succeed.

"Very well," he replied. "Thank you for your time, Lieutenant." He stopped his recording, then stood to leave, but paused before he turned away completely. "Lieutenant Torres, you are a very talented engineer. You would be committing a disservice to yourself to believe otherwise." Then he turned and left her alone again.

The Captain sat alone with her comatose lover in sickbay. The Doctor had already come and gone four times since she had awoken early that morning, but he had yet to give her any good news. Nothing significant had changed since yesterday, only some marginal improvements. The former drone's nanoprobes continued to focus on organs other than her brain and they continued to reduce in number. The young woman only had twenty-three percent of her normal volume of nanoprobes and that was beginning to concern to the Doctor.

He left the women alone after each examination. In his office, he researched, trying to find a way to either increase the blonde's energy input or increase the ship's replication rate of nanoprobes. An underlying difficulty thwarted each approach. He did not believe Seven's body could handle a higher energy input without assistance from an alcove's computer. Her cortical node just was not capable of directing the energy to the proper places beyond the level he was currently applying. As for increasing the number of replicated nanoprobes, their very design made mass replication difficult. No ordinary replicator could handle nanoprobe reproduction. It had taken him and Seven years to refine this one just for minimal use. She usually donated whatever nanoprobes he needed. He could not even use Icheb in the same fashion because of the virus he carried.

Through it all, the Captain stayed beside Seven. He had tried to convince her to return to her quarters to sleep but she refused to leave. She set up a cot beside the woman's biobed. He argued that she needed to eat something healthy; she called Neelix, asking him to bring her meals regularly and he obliged, happy to be able to do something. She had not left since she returned from her walk yesterday afternoon. The EMH finally stopped trying and accepted her need to stay. He simply tried to make it as easy as she would allow.

The doors to sickbay parted, revealing the reserved form of the head of security. The Doctor watched Tuvok approach the Captain and from his office, the EMH hoped that the Vulcan would be able to comfort the woman. He had seen Tuvok's effect on Janeway in times past, and knew that the pair had a strong friendship, even though that was unusual since Tuvok was Vulcan. Then his heart sank as he watched Tuvok present a PADD to Janeway. He supposed it was something Janeway had known might occur when she finally unbent enough to allow herself to get involved with a crewmember. However, the Doctor did not think that anybody could have imagined just how difficult it could get, just how far her strength as a Captain, and as a lover, would be tested.

The Doctor refocused on his examination of a nonfunctional nanoprobe. There had to be a reason to why they continued to shut down and he was determined to find it. He made more notes in the computer beside him and resolved to ask B'Elanna Torres, or possibly Harry Kim, to help him as soon as he had collected enough data. He knew he was running into a wall that his primarily medically based intelligence simply could not conquer.

Something in his peripheral vision caught his eye and he looked up in time to see Janeway leaving Sickbay determinedly, leaving a seemingly surprised Tuvok behind. He sighed, thinking sadly that the Captain did not seem to be having a very good week. He thought about Ensign Paris' old earth phrase, she 'couldn't win for losing.' It still did not make sense to him, but it seemed to fit. He shook his head and then resumed his micro-dissection.

Kathryn had raced to holodeck two after reading Tuvok's report. She had asked him if B'Elanna had seen the recommendations and he told her how the engineer had been during his last interview that morning. He had also related the engineer's response, which had propelled her on this journey. She knew how B'Elanna reacted to things she considered failures; the engineer punished herself, often physically and quite brutally. She also knew that B'Elanna had already thought she was the one who deserved the injuries. The young woman had said as much right after the accident, but Kathryn had not given it much thought since then.

Kathryn checked what program was running and was unsurprised to find it to be a Klingon battle simulation, what Klingons typically called 'games.' Then she noted with horror that the safeties were off. The Captain walked up to the door and used her command overrides to enter the program. What she saw when she entered chilled her to the bone.

"Computer, freeze program," the redhead bellowed. Instantaneously, several Klingon figures paused mid-motion. It seemed that a horde of Klingons bent on B'Elanna's destruction surrounded her. "Remove characters," Janeway growled. The fierce warriors disappeared leaving only the battered form of her engineer. Yet, instead of the glare she should be getting from the young woman, B'Elanna looked away from her leader.

"Just what do you think you are doing Lieutenant," Janeway asked angrily while approaching B'Elanna. The doors disappeared as she cleared the space in front of them, so the two now appeared to stand on uneven ground in some remote location at dusk. B'Elanna looked down at the bat'leth in her hand, but did not answer. "I asked you a question."

"Nothing," the engineer responded quietly.

"Bull!" Kathryn exclaimed vehemently. She stripped off her tunic, threw it to the ground and commanded, "Computer, provide me with a bat'leth."

The younger woman's eyes shot up in surprise as the weapon appeared in the Captain's hand. It was an instinctual reaction to parry as Janeway's weapon suddenly sailed through the air at her head.

"Who do you think you are Klingon?" Janeway spat angrily. "You think you can lie to your Captain?" An offensive thrust accompanied each phrase and B'Elanna just barely had time to defend herself.

However, B'Elanna refused to take the offensive; she knew the safeties were off and she wondered if she should tell the Captain that fact. As she deflected another blow aimed at her neck with the curved inner section of Janeway's weapon, she stumbled over a patch of uneven ground behind her and fell impressively backwards. The redhead just stood over her, pausing in her blows.

"Get up nuch," the older woman growled with furious intent.

B'Elanna thought she had never seen anyone more frightening than Janeway was at this moment. There was a positively furious expression on her face, her blue-gray eyes seemed to spark. Even as she stood there calmly, she radiated an aura of danger. B'Elanna wanted to speak, to find another option but the Captain grew impatient and, for the first time ever, screamed at B'Elanna.

"I said get up Klingon!"

Whatever B'Elanna thought she had been doing here in the holodeck disappeared for the engineer. Now she was engaged in an unexpected battle with a woman she suddenly could not fathom. She scrambled to her feet and mentally tried to prepare herself but for what she was not sure.

"Do you want to die?" Janeway's eyes took on a dangerous glow as she calmly asked her question.

"No," she said sedately, wondering where this was going. She ducked and rolled away as the redhead's weapon sailed through the air at her neck level. She wondered what the Captain was doing, alarmed by the menace present in Janeway's tones. B'Elanna suddenly thought the captain must have found out that Seven lay in the sickbay because of her. The accident was her fault.

"Then why are the safeties off puq?" the Captain roared even as she aimed a blow towards B'Elanna again. "I think you are trying to kill yourself."

"No," B'Elanna exclaimed. "I just…"

"You just what Lieutenant?" the older woman sneered. "You want to dishonor Seven's sacrifice?" Kathryn suggested to the by now highly confused hybrid.

It had made sense when she came here. She deserved the pain. Yet, now, faced with the enraged lover of her friend, who was also her Captain, she did not know what to think. "Of course not," she raged back. "She shouldn't have done it. It should have been me."

"So you were trying to kill yourself on my shuttle," Janeway prodded mercilessly and swung again. Whether B'Elanna realized it or not, the older woman had begun pulling her strikes; she had felt the younger woman weakening.

"No," B'Elanna howled and pushed off as hard as she could with her bat'leth.

"Then you set up the explosion... you wanted to kill Seven and Harry," Kathryn spoke with crystal-clear precision while pulling a bat'leth maneuver she had learned at the academy, surprising herself that she even remembered it. The tip of her bat'leth's right-hand rung looped under the B'Elanna's second left-hand loop and she twisted a full one hundred eight degrees mightily, then jerked, managing to disarm the Klingon entirely.

"No! I didn't know…" cried B'Elanna and began to fall to her knees, "Oh god, I didn't know…"

Kathryn was there in a heartbeat to catch her before she hit the ground. The Captain had thrown aside her bat'leth before B'Elanna had even gotten her third word out. She eased the denser woman down to the ground and into her lap, holding her like a fragile child.

"Of course you didn't know B'Elanna," Janeway told the sobbing woman and held her through the storms of her emotions. "It wasn't your fault."

The EMH looked up from his findings when he heard the hiss of the doors. The Captain entered with B'Elanna walking alongside. He noted the time; a little over an hour had passed since Janeway had left. She looked much better than she had when she had left, but that only lasted a few brief moments. When she was in range of her lover's biobed, her face once again took on the haunted expression that bothered him so much. She sat down in the chair she had occupied almost constantly for the last few days. The chief engineer started to retrieve another chair to sit beside her Captain, but before she could finish, he had left his office.

"Lieutenant. I am glad to see you. Maybe you will be able to help me with a problem I am having," he announced loudly. Both women turned to him expectantly. He noticed Janeway looked brighter at the prospect of having something productive to contribute. Perhaps it had been shortsighted of him not to include her in this investigation; she was a formidable scientist after all. He had simply assumed that it would be better not to further burden her.

"Sure. What is it Doctor?" the hybrid answered approaching him. Janeway rose from her seat and followed close behind.

"Good lord, Lieutenant," the EMH exclaimed. "What happened to you?"

"I needed to learn a little lesson Doc," she answered evasively. He rolled his eyes and ran a tricorder over her. He ran a dermal regenerator over her wounds and bit off the lecture he really wanted to dispense, settling for huffs and disapproving looks.

After he was done, he led them over to his diagnostics center and downloaded all of his research into the main viewer. He explained the energy input problem and then outlined how the amount of nanoprobes were reducing daily. He looked at her seriously as he told her everything he had done and how the problem stymied him.

"If this pattern continues, it will take less than twelve days for her nanoprobe saturation to reach zero," he stated trying not to let his apprehension show in his voice for fear of upsetting Janeway.

"Wouldn't that be okay? I mean, you are always trying to remove another Borg component from her system." the hybrid said, truly curious.

"I had already reached a point where I could not remove any more components without compromising her health. However, that is entirely beside the point. Without her nanoprobes she will die," he answered a bit exasperated with her lack of understanding, completely forgetting his tact. He lectured her as he would lecture Tom and as he spoke his voice became louder, more excited. "Her cortical node will decide she is irreparable or already dead, then it will power itself down. No fully assimilated Borg drone can live without a functioning cortical node and even though Seven is no longer part of the collective, she is no exception to the rule. The cortical node controls too many autonomic functions and is so entwined with her brain that it would only take two seconds before it shut down."

He finished his tirade and then looked at the women. He could have kicked himself for his lack of tact right then. Janeway was ghostly pale. He realized that he should have been more delicate; nobody deserved to hear all the different ways their loved one could die as she had since the accident. B'Elanna was not much better with her mouth opening and closing somewhat like a fish.

"I apologize. I should have said that more diplomatically," he remarked sorrowfully then sighed. "I think I have become frustrated. The programming in the nanoprobes is baffling me. I just do not understand why they are focusing where they are."

Shortly after he said this, B'Elanna decided to focus on a solution. She had yet to let Borg technology beat her and she was determined not to let it win now. The three of them spent the next couple of hours focused on the nanoprobe problem. B'Elanna had conducted many of the same tests, just getting used to the programming. The Captain asked a question or two occasionally only to find the Doctor had already explored that avenue. B'Elanna tried reprogramming a freshly sampled probe only to have it go offline and become inert. The women were soon as frustrated as the Doctor was, if not more so because of the organic nature of their emotions.

B'Elanna sat in a chair, staring blankly at the sickbay walls, trying to let her mind flow randomly; a method that helped her many times when nothing else was working. Janeway had returned to Seven's side, and the vulnerability displayed by the older woman caught the engineer's attention. She wanted to find a way to help Seven, at this point because not only did she love and need the blonde, but also because she had come to realize how deeply Janeway loved Seven. The engineer could not bear to think of failure and what it would cost them all.

Janeway kissed the metal covered hand, as she had probably a hundred times in the last day. B'Elanna felt her hearts ache at the tender expression on the redhead's face. Then the Captain reached up and stroked the ocular implant with the tips of two of her fingers lovingly and that simple act of love was just what the hybrid's idle mind needed.

"Doctor," she exclaimed loudly, startling everyone. "You were able to hack in to Seven's Borg systems by going through her ocular implant when you were on the Equinox weren't you?"

"Well, yes," he replied somewhat bashfully. He was still ashamed of his actions during his short tenure on the Equinox. Even Seven had reassured him that she did not blame him since his ethical protocols were completely removed. She said that without them, he really was not himself but since he could remember every moment that did not provide enough relief. "But I had no control over what piece of data I accessed. It was amazing that I didn't damage her."

"That's not the point," she said excitedly. "The point is that her cortical node can be accessed."

"So?" the EMH asked, still not understanding. Janeway looked equally baffled.

"So, she usually controls what her nanoprobes do. You said she could reprogram them herself. But think about it. Her human brain doesn't communicate with them; her cortical node does. Sure, her human brain talks to the cortical node, but the node itself sends the signals to the nanoprobes. We can't figure out what is wrong with the programming until we communicate with her cortical node." She finished her speech with a smile, excited to have a direction to follow.

"I still fail to see where you are going Lieutenant," the Doctor grumped. "I told you I had no accuracy in downloading information that way."

"That's because you didn't have access to the right tools," B'Elanna answered. She was pacing about the room to facilitate her own thinking. "Seven has them every time she steps into an alcove. I just need to figure out how to get the computer portion of an alcove to talk to her node through her ocular implant. Then we can get more information." She stepped away and hit her comm. badge. "Torres to Kim."

Meanwhile, Janeway approach the Doctor. "What do you think Doctor?"

"I think if she can actually build the right interface, this might be just what we need," he replied. "It is certainly better than what I have now."

Gamma shift had already begun when B'Elanna and Harry had completed construction of a very odd-looking computer interface that was an amalgam of Borg and Starfleet technology. The Doctor was in charge of designing the section of the interface that would actually cross through the ocular implant. After he had completed it hours earlier, he had shown B'Elanna which optical fibers accessed what terminal and she took it from there.

When the engineer and ops officer stepped away from their completed work, Kathryn thought it was the ugliest machine she had ever seen. It had no casings, therefore chipboards and wires dangled about freely in the meter tall frame. Thousands of little blinking lights pulsed and throbbed as it retrieved data and power from the starship through a long cable that joined the base of one of sickbay's workstations. Another, much smaller, cable wound out from the other side of the contraption to the head of the biobed. B'Elanna had not wanted gravity to exert any pressure on the optical relays in the cable, so she had taped it securely to the side of the bed. Finally the optical relays emerged from the sheath, seeming to snake over the blonde's damaged forehead then dive into her eyepiece.

B'Elanna stood from where she was taking a last minute reading. She had more than triple checked her work by now. "Okay Starfleet," she announced, "it's your turn now."

Harry retrieved a PADD containing the program he had written in the Borg language earlier. That was most of his assignment here. Since he knew the Borg language better than anyone, other than Seven and Icheb, it was down to him to write the programming. Icheb was off the ship and he was not as experienced in programming as Harry was. The young Asian man uploaded his program into the interface.

"Okay," he said. He pushed a series of buttons on the Borg interface removed from Mizoti's old alcove. "Here we go."

The Captain waited as patiently as possible, but the EMH did not. "Well?" he asked.

"This might take a while," B'Elanna said a little irritably. "Remember, we only have a dozen or so optical relays heading in there. When she steps up to her alcove, her receptacles may as well have billions with that Borg alloy."

Yet, it did not take as long as B'Elanna thought it might. Ten minutes after beginning the diagnostics a flashing light alerted Harry that the program was complete and the data available. He uploaded the data into his PADD and began translating the information.

"Whoa," he said with his eyes open wide. Then he noticed everyone glaring at him impatiently. "Well, according to this ninety two percent of the energy she receives has to go directly to the remaining implants. That leaves only eight percent for powering the nanoprobes."

Everyone looked thoughtful for a few moments before the Doctor questioned the Ensign. "Is there any information on why the nanoprobes continue to improve her abdominal cavity's conditions instead of reproducing or healing her brain?" he asked.

"Let me see," Harry said then began sifting through all the data again. A couple of minutes later he mumbled then spoke up. "I think this is why. The cortical node reports that there are 'sub-optimal conditions for communication with vinculum'. Then a couple of lines later it reports that there is 'an error in energy reception or transmission rates' and that it is continuing to attempt to solve the problem."

"Oh my," the EMH replied. Everyone else was too stunned to say anything.

"So let me see if I understand this," B'Elanna said after a few moments. "Her node thinks she is damaged and that's the reason she's not getting enough energy… so it just keeps trying to fix her, despite the fact that it depletes what little energy her nanoprobes can get."

"I believe that sums it up nicely Lieutenant," the Doctor responded with a sour look on his face.

"Alright, now that we know the problem, let's find a solution people," Janeway finally interjected with a bit of her standard command tones shining through. "Doctor, what do you think?"

"Well," he answered, "If we can't get her body to accept more energy, which I don't think we can… then I would really like to find a way to keep more nanoprobes from dying, even if it means they are completely inactive."

"Wouldn't that leave her with excess energy that they were no longer using?" Harry asked the Doctor reasonably.

"You are right Ensign, it would--," the Doctor replied thoughtfully, "not a good thing since this isn't her alcove." He noticed the curious stares after a moment and explained his thoughts. "The alcove bleeds off any excess energy, otherwise she would eventually develop systemic electrical imbalances then probably have a seizure."

"How much energy do static nanoprobes use?" B'Elanna asked.

"Only a minimal amount of energy," he responded and then added, "In fact, normally her bioelectrical energy maintains her nanoprobes safely for up to 96 hours after her implants and nanoprobes are charged… as long as they remain mostly dormant."

"So we have several questions to answer here." B'Elanna stated. "Harry, do you think you would be able to write the code necessary for the cortical node to understand Seven is not the problem?" the hybrid asked.

"Yeah," he answered, "that would be an easy set of commands. The node expects a certain amount of problems on a cube and is adjustable that way." He paused then added somberly, "Apparently that only applies when it's told there's a problem though."

"Okay, could you tell the node where to direct the 'probes?" she questioned more eagerly.

"I think so," he said with less confidence. She frowned and stood up to pace.

"B'Elanna, do you want to tell us what you are thinking?" Janeway asked.

"Well," she answered slowly, "I am not sure I know all the details… Here is what I'm thinking. We cannot tell all of her nanoprobes to hibernate, or else she will have too much energy. Therefore, we have to figure out how to use at least eight percent of the energy she is currently receiving, if not a little bit more just so there is not any excess." She paused and canted her head thoughtfully. "The first problem is we have to make sure Harry can tell the node that she is receiving less energy before we can do anything else."

"I'm on it," the young man informed them eagerly.

"Doc, while he's working on that, can you estimate how much energy a nanoprobe takes to replicate itself?" B'Elanna regarded the EMH.

"Well, yes, I can give you a rough estimation," he responded carefully, "but, why?"

"Because, if Harry can succeed at directing the nanoprobes through our make-shift alcove here, we are going to need to know those numbers," she answered. The Doctor and Captain were still looking at her curiously. "We have to get a certain amount of probes to perform a function that we know will consume that extra energy. What I'm thinking is that the best thing right now is for her to get more nanoprobes." She looked at the EMH to see if he understood yet. "As each new batch is produced they can be sent into a dormant state as well. Therefore her saturation would constantly be increasing, maybe only marginally, but it's a start."

"That would be excellent," the Doctor exclaimed with a smile. "Plus it should keep her energy levels stable."

"Well, for 96 hours at least, sometime before then we should alternate a program in that recharges all the probes… right?" B'Elanna looked at the EMH questioningly.

"Yes, but it would only take a few minutes to recharge them if they are just going dormant again," he answered quickly.

Harry cleared his throat. "Okay, I've written a simple string of code that should inform her node of the energy reduction and I've uploaded it. I'm ready to initiate," he said

"Be prepared to start another system diagnostic right after that Harry. That will keep the extra energy in play with the nanoprobes," B'Elanna added as an afterthought. The Ensign nodded. "You might want to be thinking about how to tell the node to send multiple orders to different groups of probes."

"Oh boy," he mumbled fretfully and then bent over his trusted PADD.

"Doctor, you and I need to get on our calculations," she suggested respectfully. "If you can figure out how much energy a nanoprobe takes to replicate, I will calculate how much energy she is receiving per cycle so we know how much eight percent actually is," she paused and smiled. "Then we can see how many nanoprobes we need to program to make little nano-babies."

"Indeed Lieutenant," the EMH responded cheerfully, feeling better than he had in days.

In the end, Harry's programming was a success. After the new commands had run for fifteen minutes, the Doctor took another sample of Seven's blood to calculate the load of nanoprobes and was happy to see a few nanoprobes reproducing under his microscope. The chief engineer was calculating something else entirely on another workstation.

The Captain did not have anything to do, so she decided to see what B'Elanna was doing. "May I ask what you are working on?" the redhead asked softly after approaching the young woman.

"A failsafe program," B'Elanna answered. "If the energy gets too high we may not be able to react quickly enough. I am betting Harry can write a program that will tell the node to watch for it and alert the temporary interface we built if it happens. Since we tied it into our computer, I can have a notification trigger a shut down to the mini-regenerator's power supply."

Kathryn shook her head and smiled. "Good idea," she commended.

B'Elanna started at the compliment. Looking into the Captain's eyes, she saw how sincere the woman was. She quietly said "thanks," then looked back down at her work before any emotions could distract her train of thought. A few minutes later, she approached Harry explaining the final program that she wanted him to write for the night. It turned out to be less difficult than the others were and they were finished setting up the fail-safe within ten minutes.

After that, they were done. It was anticlimactic. Nearly fourteen hours of work left them with nothing tangible, only the knowledge that they staved off another possible way for Seven to die. On the other hand they had also taken away one of Seven's greatest allies, her nanoprobes, by essentially putting them in a static state. Now the blonde would have to fight through the coma and battle her injuries like any other human.

The four of them stood there for a while, silently entrenched in their own thoughts. Every one of them stared at the biobed wondering what would come next.

To Be Continued

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