DISCLAIMER: All things Start Trek, people, places, aliens, that have been used in the shows and movies are copyright to Star Trek, its creators and Paramount. Some of the characters and information was taken from the show and some from book Mosaic by Jeri Taylor. I have mentioned parts from different episodes, some minor some major (Year of Hell), and have taken several lines from the show and incorporated them into the story. A special thank you to Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan for bringing Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine to life.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have differed from parts of the seventh season…Neelix's return to Earth with Voyager is just one of the differences. Also please note that Chakotay is somewhat of a dubious character towards the end of Voyager's journey, I'm not a fan of Chuckles so if you are, don't say I didn't warn you. I forgot to thank my beta readers, shame on me, Sarah and rt. The awards used are ones that have been mentioned in the Star Trek universe except for the Purple Heart.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Odyssey
By Joan


Part Nine

Chapter Thirty Four

"Captain's Personal Log Stardate 55884.3. The Borg cube is gone, along with Seven. I'm very troubled about her leaving. She says she wants to protect me, as I do her, but we've always been able to accomplish that together. I have a bad feeling about the whole thing; I can't help but think there are other variables at work here. The information that Axum left is, at best, a wild guess as to the 'Queen' being in the Gamma Quadrant; at worst, an out an out lie. Seven is too intelligent to believe those theories, so I'm left with wondering if she has a theory of her own or maybe she's going to convince them to head for Borg Space. The only other reason I can think of as to why she left, is because she wanted to.

"End log."

It had been a week since Seven left. Gretchen could understand why the young woman thought she was doing the right thing, but the mother in her watched as her daughter slowly faded away, leaving behind only the captain. In much the same way she had only been the captain when Voyager had returned.

Gretchen was on her way to talk to her daughter once again; her other attempts falling on deaf ears. She was just entering the smaller mess hall that Kathryn had been using as a 'hide out' since it was normally only used to entertain VIP's, when Phoebe and Mark caught up with her. She really didn't want to bring them into trying to reach her daughter, but maybe they could just keep her company for a while.

Janeway had leaned forward, forearms resting on her thighs and her head bowed. She had gone over once again, the information Axum left and still could only conclude that it made no sense. 'Seven couldn't think he was correct, could she? Could she really have gotten so caught up in protecting me that she was willing to accept his theory?' As much as she tried to believe it, she knew Seven wouldn't have accepted them, which only left her once again wondering why Seven left.

The swishing of the door opening made Janeway cringe, 'Damn, I should've sealed those.' She raised her head and saw the three reflections in the viewport and sighed. Her mother looked apologetic and concerned, which the captain knew she was. Phoebe looked apprehensive, probably about what was to come. Mark looked determined, but at the same time a little leery. "Something I can do for the three of you?"

The trio walked over and sat down around the low table that had a computer interface and several PADD's spread across its surface. "What are you working on?" Phoebe asked, more to break the silence that had descended than out of curiosity.

"Axum's theory that the Queen or whatever she is, moved her complex 60,000 light years in order to hide just in case someone came looking for her."

"When you put it that way, it doesn't make a lot of sense." Gretchen stated.

Janeway smiled but it held little emotion. "No, it doesn't," she agreed. "So, I've been going back over each encounter with the Borg and the Queen." She picked up a PADD. "B'Elanna, Harry and I have mathematized the spec's for the drive to put us within two weeks of the location of the old complex. I'd like you to go over the formulas if you would, Mom."

"Certainly," Gretchen reached for the PADD that was held out.

"So," Mark cleared his throat, "going back to the Delta Quadrant is a done deal?"

Janeway picked up her mug and leaned back. "Yes, anybody want to change their mind about staying aboard?" All three had refused to get off at Station 147 when she had made the ship-wide announced. They would be docking there the next day before heading to the point where they would engage the drive for the jump. "Last chance."

"I might be a civilian contractor, but I signed on to do a job and I intend to stick to it." Gretchen informed her.

"You, Mom and Richard are going to be on this ship and so am I." Phoebe added.

Three sets of eyes turned to Mark. "Hey, if all of you are staying, then I'm staying too." He announced a bit more cavalier than he was really feeling. He was determined to get to know who Kathryn was now so she couldn't hold that against him any longer.

"So, sis, you make a habit of pissing off Borg Queens?"

Janeway paused in refilling her mug. "What are you talking about, Phoebe?" 'God, there was no telling what stories the crew had been relating to her.'

"Your conversation with the Queen or whatever she was… crossing off your 'to do' list, asking her if you should be impressed, didn't like the hair style." Phoebe rattled off the things she had heard her sister say on the cube.

She finished pouring coffee and sat back. "Ah, well, we've been pissing on each other's parade for a few years now, so I guess the answer would be yes," the captain stated. "I'm surprised the crew hasn't filled you in on all the stories by now."

"I would've thought so too, but you'd be amazed at how closed mouthed they are about you." Phoebe supplied.

"But what did you mean, been there, done that?" Mark questioned.

Janeway's eyebrow shot up. "Don't ask questions you might not want the answers for, Mark," she replied, but her eyes never left her mother's.

"You were; weren't you?" Gretchen whispered.

"Were what? Assimilated you mean?" Phoebe noticed the look passing between her mother and sister. "Oh, Katie, come on, you're scaring Mom."

The captain sighed; she really didn't want to get into this tonight. "Yes."

"Oh, god," Gretchen groaned.

"You mean you were like the drones we saw on the cube?" Mark looked a little alarmed.

"Three of us were assimilated, yes, but that was the plan going in. We had a neural blocker that was to keep us from being connected to the hive mind; therefore we would be able to retain our individuality. Or so that was the plan. Tuvok's wore off before we finished and so the Queen became aware of the deception and captured B'Elanna and me, though we were able to complete our mission and help the drones like Axum."

"The ones that were able to retain their memories while regenerating." Gretchen stated, remembering the explanation from one of the staff meetings.

"Yes, they asked for help by contacting Seven as she regenerated." She stopped and drank a swallow of coffee. "I decided to help them and Tuvok and B'Elanna volunteered. The Doctor was able to develop a way for them to retain their memories after regeneration and we were going to deploy it through the central plexus of a Borg vessel, which in turn would be distributed to the rest of the collective. Voyager was able to keep the vessel busy while the three of us were able to get a shuttle close enough to beam aboard before it was destroyed. The Queen knew I was planning on helping them because she tried to warn me off. So the plan was to be assimilated, letting the Queen think she had won." She stopped and absently rubbed her neck. "It was… damned painful. I've never felt anything like it before and never want to again. In the end everything worked out and the Doctor was able to remove the implants since they hadn't completely devastated our human functions, but that wasn't very pleasant either."

Gretchen had moved closer and sat down next to her daughter, placing her hand over Kathryn's. It took a few minutes before she felt steady enough to say anything. "I had no idea you had been through something like that."

"And to go through it on purpose… good lord, Kath." Mark was starting to realize he had a lot to learn about the person sitting there, calmly talking about being completely transformed.

"There were a few other times I went looking for the Borg." She shrugged at their expressions. "They happened to have something I needed… wanted, so…" she trailed off.

"Like what?" Phoebe blurted. "What could be so important to go looking for the Borg?"

"A transwarp coil, a cortical implant and my Astrometrics Officer." Janeway thought back to Seven's cortical node failing. 'I should've known just by that one incident that Chakotay wasn't to be trusted. He was ready to let Seven die instead of possibly facing the Borg and there was no way he would've, could've fallen in love with Seven in just a few months time. Damn, I should've remembered that at the time.'

"I hear these pieces and parts of things that happened," Gretchen took a deep breath, then exhaled, "and I wonder how any of you made it back."

"Mostly because of a certain stubborn Captain that refused to let us give up," B'Elanna had overheard the last comment as she was about to turn around and leave them to their private conversation. However, she knew Janeway would downplay her role and she wasn't about to let her.

An eyebrow went up as the captain turned her head. "I seem to remember a few of the crew kicking my butt when it was needed. In fact I could've had the entire senior staff hung for mutiny on one occasion."

The lieutenant smiled, "Only because you were willing to sacrifice yourself for the rest of us, and we wouldn't allow it." She perched on the arm of a vacant chair. "You never seemed to understand how much we needed you. You weren't just our Captain, you were the force that kept us together; that kept us believing that we would make it home. I followed Chakotay in the Maquis, but if he had ended up as captain; we never would've made it. We'd either, still be trying, settled on a planet somewhere or blown to bits." She could tell she had surprised Janeway.

The lieutenant continued, "I don't know what happened between the two of you that last couple of months, but there was actually a few of us that decided we would make sure that you were never left alone with him for more than a few minutes at a time." She laughed, "Then the story of you kicking his ass around the ring in the gym got out. I wish I'd been there, but I did get to see the holovid of the event."

"I'm almost ashamed to say how much I enjoyed that," Janeway admitted. "Though it's something that should never have happened, being the two highest ranking officers on the ship, we should've been able to talk out our… differences."

"Almost huh?" Torres grinned; thinking it did need to happen. The first officer had been acting like a spoiled little brat that had his favorite toy taken away. "Well, I'm going to drop off this heating coil for Neelix and call it a night."

"That's probably a good idea for all of us. It's getting late and the next few days are going to be somewhat hectic," the captain stated. 'Though I really don't want to go back to my empty quarters,' she thought. And that thought made her think of Seven.

Mark stood up with the others, but paused as the captain did. "Do you want some help with this… stuff?" He pointed to the PADD's and computer terminal on the table.

"Hmm? No, thanks, Mark, I can get it." She took her time stacking the PADD's, waiting for them to file out the door. Once she was alone again, she walked to the viewports and leaned her shoulder on the bulkhead. Her mind kept telling her Seven had left just because she was trying to protect her, but her heart couldn't help but feel like she had been abandoned again. And when she started feeling that way, she got angry, so very angry… at Seven for leaving, at herself for letting her go and at the Borg Queen for causing the situation in the first place. She sighed, 'At least I've got a mission to keep my mind occupied, except for times like this.'

Turning around, she saw her mother waiting by the door. "Come on, honey, I'll walk with you." As her daughter joined her, Gretchen stated, "She'll be back. She loves you."

Janeway smiled, a little sadly. "I know she does… but maybe she shouldn't," she stated as they left the turbolift on deck two.

"What do you mean?" Gretchen pulled her to a stop before she entered her quarters.

"She left this ship when it needed her the most, to go chasing after a threat that may or may not be real," she paused and looked down. "She left me again, when I need her with me."

"Did you tell her you needed her or that just the ship did?"

"I was angry and scared…" she thought back to that morning a few days ago. "I guess I didn't explain it every well. Maybe neither one of us is ready to be in a relationship. God knows mine have never turned out very good."

"Kathryn Janeway, quit feeling sorry for yourself. Have you ever considered that they didn't 'turn out' because they weren't meant to? I was very grateful to Justin for rescuing you, but I didn't think he was right for you, not like your father did. And Mark… I always thought you settled for him, because it was the easy way out. He gave you someone to be involved with… almost like a security blanket so you didn't have to worry about dealing with anyone that might be interested."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"Honey, it wasn't my place, especially if you did love him." She smiled at her daughter. "Now, go get some rest, please. Like you said, it is going to get busy or busier around here." She hugged her daughter and watched her disappear into her quarters before heading for her own.

"Computer, lights one quarter." The captain commanded and as the lights dimmed, she pulled off her tunic, long sleeved shirt and her boots. Lying down on the couch, the bed was one place she couldn't face alone. She pulled the blanket over her and called lights out, hoping she could get more than a couple of hours sleep tonight.

"Axum," Seven was exasperated and it was showing, "these sensors have not been modified. It will take us decades to search these sections of the quadrant." It had only been four days since she had left Odyssey and Kathryn and she was questioning her decision.

"Annika…" he started.

"Do not call me that."

She glared at him with an expression that made him feel like a bug under a microscope. "Okay, I'm sorry, I forgot."

She raised her eyebrow. "Borg do not 'forget'." She challenged him.

"We're not Borg anymore," he countered.

She turned to fully face him, clasping her hands behind her back. "Incorrect, we are not drones anymore. We will however, always be part Borg. I will modify the sensors to perform more detailed long range scans." She turned away to start her task, but paused. "With the number of individuals that are on this cube and with the knowledge of the Collective at your disposal, I find it… curious that this has not been done before now." She stared intently at him. "Maybe you are not as intent on locating the Queen as you stated. Should I return to Odyssey to continue my mission?"

"No, Ann… Seven. Go ahead and do whatever you feel necessary to the sensors. I'm sure we'll find her before you know it." He smiled, but it seemed rather forced.

Surprisingly only a handful of family members and a few of the contractors disembarked at the Federation's Station 147, one of them being Rinaldo Casale, along with a couple of his staff. Janeway wasn't about to tell him he had to stay aboard. They were quickly on their way, two days at warp eight and they would reach the point where they would engage the drive.

"Captain's Personal Log Stardate 55893.2. I'm not happy about engaging the drive without Seven on board. B'Elanna is an exceptional engineer and I'm no slouch, but we're not the experts and if anything major goes wrong while we're deep in the Delta Quadrant, we'll find ourselves in the same mess Voyager did. Granted a bit better equipped, but still in a predicament. The Borg enhancements that were made to the slipstream, which in my understanding is really a combination between Aturis' drive and a Borg transwarp coil, is completely Seven's design and therefore something completely new. It will take us less time to cover the number of light years than it would have if it was just the slipstream.

"My gut is still telling me that something isn't quite right. From Axum's incorrect assumptions, to Seven leaving with him. I can only hope nothing happens to her, because I will chase him to the ends of the universe and back if it does and I will make him pay."

She paused to rub her eyes. "Maybe I'm wrong… maybe I'm looking at this from the wrong angle. They should know better than any of us, how the Collective and the Queen operates. But my instincts have rarely failed me… and I find it odd that Axum just happened to be chasing that cube. I'm not one to put a lot of stock in coincidental happenings, especially when it involves more than a couple of occurrences having to come together.

"End recording."


Chapter Thirty Five

They were only a few hours away from the coordinates where the drive would be engaged. Janeway made her way to the all too familiar briefing room. The senior staff was having daily morning meeting before the alpha shift started. Viktor, Harry and Tuvok were already there, Dr. Janeway entered from the far end just as the captain entered from the bridge. A minute later Tom and B'Elanna entered along with Dr. Collins and Counselor Gazsi and took their seats.

"Anybody have anything new?" Janeway asked as she gulped her coffee. She had been up for several hours already after not being able to sleep the night before.

"The Doctor, Lt. Torres and I have continued to work on modifying the nanoprobes to reverse the assimilation process." Dr. Collins spoke up. "We have managed to slow down the little buggers, but not stop them or undo the damage already done."

It had been the EMH's idea to try and program the nanoprobes to 'unassimilate' their victim instead of the large number of surgical procedures it now took.

"It would help if we had an unlimited supply of nanoprobes to work with." Torres said gingerly. It was a well known fact that the captain wasn't at all happy about Seven taking off on her own search. Torres knew something was going on between the two women, but she hadn't had time to spend on contemplating exactly what that was.

"I know, but we don't, so do your best." Janeway replied. "Anyone else…"

"Red alert, Captain to the bridge." Lt. K'Vel's deep voice sounded a little anxious.

"Report," Janeway stated before the staff had time to clear the briefing room.

"Five Borg tactical cubes have dropped out of transwarp and taken position around us." Ensign Corrid reported as he gave way to Lt. Kim, as did the rest of the gamma shift. "They came out of nowhere, Captain."

"We are the Borg…" echoed threw the ship.

Janeway didn't wait to start barking out orders or stop to contemplate that there must have been more than one transwarp hub that led to the Alpha Quadrant. "Tuvok, deploy armor, fire at will, destroy them with transphasic torpedoes if necessary. Tom, evasive maneuver gamma four, try to keep them from getting a tractor beam lock on us. Harry, get ready to send a reverse pulse through the deflector to break us loose if they do. All hands, this is the Captain, prepare for intruders aboard."

The ship jarred as one of the cubes exploded in a fiery ball, scattering pieces of it in an impressive display. There was another minor jolt as the other cubes locked on to Odyssey. "Lt. Kim?" Viktor questioned.

"Their blocking the deflector, I can't break free of them," he reported while continuing to input commands into his console.

Tuvok spoke up without being asked. "One cube has been destroyed, they are however also blocking the armor, it has only partially deployed. The other cubes have closed the distance and while within this range if one of our torpedoes destroys another one, we risk major damage."

"Cease firing transphasic torpedoes, trying knocking out their tractor beam with phasers." Janeway ordered.

Viktor looked to the captain. "Why haven't they fired on us?"

"Because they don't want to take a chance of killing the Captain." B'Elanna stated what everyone was concerned about. They all instinctively knew the cubes were after Janeway.

"They've matched our shield frequencies." Harry needlessly stated as Borg drones began appearing.

Everyone on the bridge grabbed their phasers that were always kept at their stations for just such an emergency. Two drones went down from Janeway and Tuvok's quick reaction before; "They've adapted," was yelled by several of the crew.

The crew was easily restrained by shear numbers as four Borg for every Starfleet member appeared. The drones flanked the captain and the bridge was eerily quiet after fighting from just a few minutes ago.

"Captain Janeway," one of the drones faced her, "we have no intention of assimilating the crew of this vessel."

She looked to Tuvok who was being restrained at his tactical post. He checked the internal scans. "The only Borg present on the ship, are on the bridge, Captain."

She turned to the drone facing her. "Your Queen was killed, who is directing you now?" Silence was her answer. "What is giving the Collective their orders?"

The drone continued, "We are to take only you from this vessel." He extended his assimilation tubes and everyone held their breath.

Gretchen Janeway felt as though she was about to go crazy. She tried to get to her daughter, but Dr. Collins held her back.

Everyone expected him to inject the captain, but the drone only walked down the steps to the navigation console and inserted them. After a few minutes time, the tubes were removed and they began to transport back to their vessels, taking Janeway with them.

"Oh god… Kathryn." Gretchen's anguish was clearly visible in her voice and face, as it was on every person standing on the bridge.

Janeway had been transferred to another cube and was being led by two drones; her first thought was to struggle again, but she knew the 'futility' of that. All it had gotten her before was a sizable headache when she awoke from the last time she had tried that particular course of action. A few more minutes of being directed through increasingly complex 'hallways' and she was standing in front of the queen.

"Janeway, we meet again." She moved towards the captain. "I told you… you would be mine."

There was a slight indecisiveness to the speech and a periodic hesitation to the queen's movements. "You're not an organic being, you're completely cybernetic… run by a computer program," she guessed. The mannerisms of the original queen, the head tilt, the almost sensual way she moved towards her victim, were present, but a little off.

"A little more sophisticated, but in essence yes. My body was developed and designed to activate in case something happened to my original one and my mind is a program that controls us the same way. So your future self did not do as much damage as she thought." She nodded to two drones and they moved forward, holding up some kind of metal alloy collar that looked every thin but was about five centimeters wide.

Janeway looked at the apparatus with a substantial amount of trepidation. It had three small devices spaced around the inside of it which had pointed protrusions that would be against her neck. She started to back away, but was quickly grabbed and held.

"You will not become a drone, as I said. This will allow your mind to be connected to mine. We can still speak, but it will permit us to communicate telepathically and our thoughts will be one. I will also be able to control the nanoprobes it will release into you system, which will control certain functions of your body. You will no longer need to eat, the nutrients you need to survive will be provided for you. Also, you will no longer sleep; you will be required to regenerate one hour per day in a modified alcove." The queen's smile was anything but pleasant. "It will also allow me to… discipline you, if you displease us. It will be very unpleasant, I can assure you." She paused and the drones answered the unspoken order by closing the distance and affixed the collar around the captain's neck.

Janeway gasped as three tubules pierced her neck, one into the main artery, one into the vein and one into the brain stem at the base of her skull. She collapsed to her knees in pain as the nanoprobes entered her blood stream. The entire process took 90 seconds at most, but she was breathing hard, gasping for air by the time it was over. She fell forward catching herself; she was now on her hands and knees at the feet of the smiling queen.

"We expected you to pass out. It pleases us that you did not. You must have a high tolerance for pain," she smiled. "You will most likely wish that was one attribute you did not possess."

The captain ignored the comment, got her breathing under control and managed to stand up. "What is it that you plan on doing with me?"

"Right now, you are here to amuse us. Later, you will assist us in our continuing pursuit of perfection."

"Amuse you… I didn't think the Borg would bother with such an irrelevant emotion." She baited, trying to see if the machine in front of her could be pushed.

A small flair of anger flashed across the queen's features. "Do you recognize the term, electrophoresis?" She completely changed directions.

A wary look took up residence on the captain's face. "If I remember my analytical chemistry, it is the movement of an electrically charged substance under the influence of an electric field."

"Yes, and I am going to assume you know that the human body utilizes electrical impulses within your nervous system, so we could loosely say that the human body could, under the right circumstances, produce an 'electrical field'. So if the nanoprobes in your system were electrically charged… it would create a very unpleasant sensation throughout your body. Would it not?"

A brief demonstration had the captain prone on the deck, her body convulsing from the attack launched inside her.

"I strongly suggest you do your very best to please us, Captain Janeway. As you can see, we can make your continued existence extremely… unpleasant."

'That's putting it mildly,' Kathryn thought. The only way she could begin to describe the pain she was in, was to imagine a plasma fire was traveling through her veins.

'Yes,' the queen's thoughts entered Janeway's mind, 'a very apt description.'

"Damn," Viktor emphatically stated. "Lt. Paris, do not lose those cubes."

"No sir, Commander." He took his seat at the helm. "Commander, warp and impulse engines are not responding and navigation is offline."

B'Elanna quickly accessed her console. "Slipstream drive is down."

"Weapons and shields are back to 100%, all crew other than Captain Janeway are accounted for." Tuvok reported.

"Commander," Harry called urgently, "nanoprobes have infiltrated our engines, navigation and long range comm systems. We can only move the ship with thrusters and we can't contact Starfleet or any ship not within half a light year."

Viktor looked like he wanted to throttle someone. "Would anyone care to explain how they penetrated our shields, disrupted our deflector and so easily snatched the captain from a vessel that was designed to fight these very Borg?"

Tuvok was the only one that endeavored to answer. "I can only assume they had information about this ship. The shields, deflector and armor were all disabled too quickly and precisely to have been anything else," he stated logically.

"We can tackle that problem later. Right now I want those systems up and operational. Lt. Torres, use anyone you need to get the engines and drive back up. Lt. Kim, work on getting the communications in working order. Move people, our Captain is out there and needs our help."

They didn't need to be told twice, everyone jumped to their assigned tasks.

Eighteen hours later and the only thing that had been accomplished, was to learn that every time they made any headway the nanoprobes would reanimate to undo what they had fixed.

It was a tired and frustrated senior staff that sat around the table in the briefing room. "So we need to get rid of the nanoprobes before we can repair the systems." Viktor stated in a summary of everyone's report.

"Yes," B'Elanna agreed. "But so far we haven't figured out how." She slapped the PADD she had been holding onto the table in anger.

"What about your experiments in reversing assimilation?" Tuvok asked. "Could that be applied here?"

Both the Doctor and Dr. Collins looked at each other, eyes wide. "The problem we were having was in the body's organs reestablishing their functionality," the EMH stated.

And Torres took up the line of thought from an engineer's point of view. "But if we were only trying to stop the 'assimilation' and make them nonfunctional… it might work." Suddenly the people sitting at the table weren't quite so tired anymore.

"All right, we have something positive to work with, but I want everyone to get some rest." He held up his hands to stop them from protesting. "It was stated before that we don't have an unlimited number of nanoprobes to work with and I don't want to waste them if anyone makes a mistake because they're tired."

"Commander, need I remind you that I don't need rest," the EMH stated.

"I guess I do tend to forget you're a hologram, Doctor. You have permission to continue working."

If the situation hadn't been so serious, the Doctor probably would've smiled smugly.

Within two weeks time, the modified nanoprobes had done their job and the crew had restored all systems except the slipstream drive. Viktor had contacted Starfleet and was now sitting with the senior staff. He had refused to sit in the captain's chair at the head of the table just as he continued to use his office and not her ready room; and it had also seemed to be an unspoken agreement that whoever was in command of the bridge, never used Janeway's command chair either.

"I've spoken with Starfleet Command, we are to proceed at our fastest warp to Mars; hold on," he interrupted the angry statements, "we are to continue to work on the drive and if, if we get it repaired, we can proceed to the Delta Quadrant." That seemed to satisfy them and he continued. "They have a second Voyager Class ship that is near completion that has been equipped with the drive and will either be going with us or joining us in the in the Delta Quadrant in our rescue of Captain Janeway."

"Who is in command of the ship?" Tuvok questioned.

"A newly promoted Captain William Riker. It is my understanding that several of the past Enterprise crew that has had experience with the Borg, have requested to be temporarily reassigned to the USS Explorer; Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, Commander Worf, Commander LaForge, just to name a few," he sat back. "Believe me when I say that Starfleet and not just HQ, is adamant in their commitment to find the Queen and in getting Kathryn Janeway back."

"That's good to know," Counselor Gazsi stated. "Several people have been concerned the main objective would be finding and destroying the Queen."

"How are people, in general, holding up?" Viktor questioned and somehow managed not to look at Dr. Janeway.

As the counselor voiced her opinion of the crew's morale, Gretchen's thoughts backtracked to having to tell Phoebe and Richard of Kathryn's capture.

"Mom," Phoebe answered the door chime. She and Richard had stayed in their quarters when the red alert klaxons had sounded and woken them up. He hadn't even had time to finish dressing before they had stopped flashing. "Is it over?" she asked.

Gretchen mechanically moved past her daughter and headed for the couch before her legs gave out. She thought she must still be in shock, since she was able to walk and talk like everything was okay. Which it wasn't, and she wasn't sure it would ever be okay any time soon.

"Gretchen," Richard looked at his mother-in-law, "what's going on?" He knew she had been at the morning briefing when everything happened. "We heard the Borg announce themselves after the red alert, then the Captain's warning, then saw the one cube explode, then the intruder alert. Then a few minutes later, the cubes left."

Gretchen told the story by rote; it was the only way to get through if without breaking down. "We were in the meeting and Kathryn was called to the bridge as the alarm sounded. Five cubes were suddenly surrounding us. She gave a bunch of orders as the senior staff took over. One of the cubes, as you saw, was destroyed," she paused taking a deep breath.

"Yes," Richard gently tried to coax her into continuing.

She looked at her son-in-law, anything to keep her from meeting Phoebe's gaze. "The Borg started appearing on the bridge, the crew grabbed their phasers… did you know they kept them there just for these types of things? Oh, that was a dumb question, of course you did."

Richard and Phoebe looked at each other; both of them concerned about the unusual way Gretchen was acting. They were hoping she was just in shock after seeing the Borg in person, which was a lot more frightening than viewing them as they had in astrometrics that day.

"They were able to stop or kill, I don't know which, several of them, but then it had no effect on them, and they were overpowered."

Phoebe saw fear in her mother's eye. The only other time she had seen her afraid, was when Gretchen had to tell her Voyager and her sister were lost and presumed killed in action. "Mom, where's Katie?"

Gretchen focused on her youngest and saw the look of apprehension of what she was afraid she was about to hear, the hope that she was wrong and the anguish of the possibility of losing her sister.

Gretchen continued, "The drones had made no move to assimilate anybody, then one identified Kathryn… and they just disappeared. They took her, Phoebe… they were sent to get her… she's gone."

Phoebe reached for her mother, both breaking down. Richard gathered them both in his long arms, holding them while they cried. This was one of the few times he was grateful that he grew up with three younger sisters and had experience with comforting distressed women.

Gretchen's attention turned back to the meeting as it was breaking up. She, Viktor and Counselor Gazsi remained sitting.

"Dr. Janeway," the counselor started, "I realize that nothing is going to make this… situation any less painful, but if attending these meetings is making it harder on you…"

Gretchen interrupted, "I appreciate the thought, but I want… need to continue to be here." She paused, thinking of how to explain. "I know I don't have anything to contribute to repairing the ship or finding Kath… Kathryn, but I feel closer to her by being here."

"Okay," Viktor stated, "we just didn't want to make it harder on you by being here."

"And my door is always open if you want to talk," the counselor added.

"Thank you, both." Gretchen managed a small smile.

"It has been over a month of searching and we have not found a trace of the Queen's complex." Seven interrupted Axum and several others that were standing around a sector map. "It is time to look in other areas."

"We still have sectors 740 through 774 to search. I'm sure she's here," Axum countered. "What better place to regroup than the far reaches of the Gamma Quadrant? The Federation wouldn't want to go near the Dominion, so she would consider it safe out here."

"We have thoroughly searched, not only is she not here, there are no Borg vessels in these sectors. We should return to the Delta Quadrant and concentrate our efforts there," Seven replied, "and Axum, the Queen or whatever incarnate is now controlling the Collective… safety would not be a concern to her."

Axum heard the implied threat in her voice and turned to the others hoping they would back him. But shoulder shrugs and a few 'She's right' meant they were beginning to wonder about his motives for staying so far away from the Delta Quadrant. And there was no doubt in his mind that Seven was suspicious also. "All right, but we will continue to intercept Borg vessels and free the other drones along the way."

Axum had hoped that when he found Annika, she would want to stay with him and that she would still have feelings for him. That was one of the reasons he agreed so readily to the queen when she had been able to link to him through his transceiver, he still cared for her and this way he could keep her away from the drones going after Janeway. He hadn't bargained on the fact that she would have fallen in love with someone else. But at least enough time had passed that he had upheld his end of the agreement.

Seven nodded, at least now she felt like they were on the right track. Hopefully the cube would still beat Kathryn to the area where the Borg complex had been. It had taken her longer than she thought it would to convince Axum that they were in the wrong area. She was beginning to have a few doubts about his intelligence or maybe he was reluctant to face their former queen.

Seven missed Kathryn and wasn't happy about the way they had parted. The sooner she finished with her mission, the better. She wanted to be back on board Odyssey with her partner and Gretchen and even Phoebe. She missed her friends also. If someone had told her six months or even a year after she had been severed from the Collective that she would have friends and be in love, she would've laughed in their face; that is if she had been able to laugh at that point. She remembered the first time she had the desire to laugh; Lt Kim had been telling a joke, it wasn't the joke itself, which wasn't in the least funny by the way the others groaned at him, but the way he kept apologizing for the risqué innuendoes while telling it that she found amusing. That and the way his face kept getting redder and redder.

But the person that made her laugh out loud for the first time had been Kathryn. The crew was attending a birthday party for several members of Voyager. And one of the celebrating parties was Tom Paris, who had embarrassed Lt. Kim and Lt. Torres the month before. B'Elanna has set the whole thing up with the captain ahead of time, she and Harry desperately wanted to return the favor but both knew Tom would be waiting on an 'embarrassing' present and had devised an alternative method with the captain's help.

The party had progressed through cake and gift opening and Tom was beginning to think he had gotten away without even an attempt being made, when Harry cleared his throat, getting everyone's attention and asked, "So, Captain, you got any Tom stories to tell?" Tom had gotten instantly nervous since he was fully aware that his captain had served with his father and had tried desperately to deflect everyone's curiosity. Which of course didn't work and the captain had proceeded to tell the entire mess hall and Voyager since it was being broadcast shipwide, about the ten year old Tom who had been with his father at Starfleet Headquarters one day and being Tom, had tried to sneak out of the building and ended up filthy in the process. "So," Kathryn had continued the story, "knowing if he was found out he'd be in trouble; had the bright idea to recycle his clothes before his father found out. Unfortunately the room he ducked into to undress was a small meeting room with a one way viewport into a room where about two dozen people were holding a review of a captain's first mission. And our Mr. Paris ended up mooning the entire review board of a dozen admirals, including his father."

Seven had found that she enjoyed the fact that they had 'gotten their revenge', but had wondered why Tom had looked rather subdued until the captain had made it a point to go over and whisper something to him. After that he had perked up and looked sheepish. Later she had asked Kathryn about it and been informed that the captain had told him, 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen'. Seven had contemplated that for a minute and realized that it meant if the one pulling the jokes could not take a joke, he needed to quit. Seven believed it had been more that Tom couldn't believe the fact that the captain had been the one to 'get' him. He had taken advantage of the fact she had a soft spot for him to the extreme sometimes. Seven thought it had been good for him to realize that she could and would put him in his place if needed.

Seven filed her memories away and returned to the task at hand, getting the cube into the Delta Quadrant as soon as possible.


Chapter Thirty Six

Janeway stepped out of the modified alcove at the end of her hour cycle. She hated not being able to control her thoughts. The queen was connected to her mind at all times and she worked hard at having the ability to keep things hidden or at least directing her thoughts to something totally irrelevant, after having a few of her feelings discovered.

The queen had found out about her love for Seven during one of her regeneration periods and had tormented her for days afterwards. A philosophical 'discussion' about love with a computer program, no matter how sophisticated, had just about driven her insane.

On the other hand, the mind connection went both ways and she learned that with a lot of practice, she could learn things also. And the best part of that was the queen didn't realize what she was learning. It was knowledge the queen already possessed so it didn't register to her as information coming from the captain's mind.

She had also discovered a way to send the queen on 'wild goose chases', which while they would end in a painful manner for her, still gave her the utmost pleasure. She had a new one ready for when the queen acknowledged her today and it didn't take long.

"We have added 27,000 more drones while you regenerated." The queen walked over to where the captain stood.

Janeway ignored her, they had argued many times on individual verses drone, which would also end painfully for her. "I guess it would be too much to ask if one of those 27,000 had added coffee making to your perfection. This bucket of bolts would be a lot more hospitable if it had some."

"Coffee…" the queen processed through information, "a stimulant of caffeine made from the beans of the genus coffea; that are dried, roasted and ground. The plant is native to earth and several other planets." She tilted her head at the captain. "You do not need this stimulant, your regeneration cycle takes care of all you body's requirements."

"I beg to differ; I'd take my coffee over your nanoprobes in a second. Those little buggers couldn't keep up with a good shot of caffeine." Janeway sat down at the foot of her alcove; it was something else that got on the queen's nerves. The queen considered it inefficient to sit at any time and Janeway was all for pushing the Borg's buttons whenever she could. It was definitely worth several seconds of intense pain.

"I will research this… beverage further to see what benefits it might contain."

Something was 'off' about this queen. She had noticed it not long after she had been imprisoned. She was too easily manipulated into doing things that the original queen wouldn't have fallen for. Some of the virus must've gotten in the central computer core before the queen perished. The captain smiled, "You do that."

Janeway had taken to passing the time when the queen was otherwise occupied by reciting some of her favorite poems, which on occasion had started an intense conversation between the queen and herself over the meaning and relevance of them. She knew the coffee 'research' wouldn't take long.

"An inefficient waste of time. This beverage is unhealthy and had no value whatsoever."

"Oh, I don't know, it's probably saved my life a few times by keeping me alert and able to function efficiently," she countered. "I beat your Collective with it… several times." The queen was a little more 'off' today than usual.

Silence fell and the captain turned her attention to a new drone that had appeared that morning. She was certain it was Seven's father and she admitted he made her a bit nervous.

"You are curious about our plans," the queen stated as she picked up on the thoughts of the captain. "We shall explain. Our setback against Species 8472 is about to be rectified."

Janeway noticed one of the major differences in the cyber and organic queen had been the eyes, this one's eyes didn't sparkle with the maniacal glee that she had seen on more than one occasion.

"Once we add their biological and technological distinctiveness to our own, we will begin the next step to our perfection."

"Hmm, you're gonna piss them off again, not good," the captain stated. "Besides, I didn't think it was possible for them to be assimilated."

"We have adapted, using some of the theories that allowed the scientist that was Magnus Hansen to camouflage himself to us, we will conceal out nanoprobes to them until they have taken over 8472's biology."

"If it doesn't work, you'll be guaranteeing the total annihilation of the Borg." 'And if it does work, the same guarantee for the rest of the universe if the Borg gain the superiority of Species 8472,' she couldn't help but think. "Why are you telling me this? Just bragging?"

A frown on the cybernetic face, then, "You will help us assure that we are successful. In 3.2 of your week's time, we will be ready to test our weapon and you will be our assurance that Species 8472 will rendezvous with us. You will contact them with information regarding our 'demise', and since we know you have assured them humans will not invade their space, they will be most willing to meet you. And we will be waiting for them."

"I won't do it; I will not be a party to their destruction or even their probable destruction," Janeway stated. "I don't care what you do to me."

"You will help us; you know how painful your life can be and enduring that level of pain day in and day out, will break you. It does not matter how resilient and determined you are. Though it will amuse us to see how long you can hold out." She walked towards and circled around the captain. "How long do you think you could hold out? A week, two weeks? Come now, Captain Janeway… you must have a guess."

Silence was the queen's answer; which was countered with the promised pain that Janeway was sure was going to become a regular occurrence. And if she was being completely honest with herself, she wasn't sure how long she would be able to hold out. As the pain eased, she circled into the fetal position, gasping for air and shivering. Not long after being held captive in the queen's chamber, she had rid herself of her uniform tunic and long sleeve shirt, leaving only the tank top; it was more comfortable in the heavy atmosphere of the complex. But after the physical agony subsided, she was always chilled.

The mental torment was something that never quite went away. That is what had driven her to reciting poetry, but even that had taken a turn for the dismal and depressing…

While I was fearing it, it came,
But came with less of fear,
Because that fearing it so long
Had almost made it dear.
There is a fitting a dismay,
A fitting a despair.
'Tis harder knowing it is due,
Than knowing it is here.
The trying on the utmost,
The morning it is new,
Is terribler than wearing it
A whole existence through.

The captain quoted the poem in a whisper, more to herself than to the queen.

"That is an interesting sentiment." The hearing of the cybernetic woman had picked up the barely audible lines.

"The Inevitable by Emily Dickinson," the captain identified the poem.

"But this pain you are subjecting yourself to is not inevitable… unavoidable," she reminded her.

"I was thinking of inevitable being more along the lines of tiresomely familiar." Janeway sat up and rested her back against the foot of the alcove.

The repairs to Odyssey's slipstream drive had coincided with the Explorer being ready to launch. It had been just over six weeks since Captain Janeway had been taken and no one had lost hope of retrieving her, though in what shape they would find her, was a question that no one wanted to voice or speculate. Both ships were now at the coordinates where the drives would be engaged. They planned on keeping the plan the captain and engineers had decided on, with only one minor change. The two jumps into the slipstream would be for 38 hours each, not 36, so they would be within 10 days at warp six from the coordinates of the Borg complex not the original two week's time.

Within 84 hours of the initial engagement of the drive they had successfully arrived at the desired location with only minor damage. A blown console and EPS conduit were thankfully the worst of the problems.

Commander Viktor sat in his chair on the bridge and in command. It had surprised him, he had expected Starfleet to assign a captain if only temporarily, to take over. Another thing that had come as a surprise and not a pleasant one, was the appointment of Lt. Commander Chakotay as an advisor. At least he was stationed on Captain Riker's ship. Viktor knew of the animosity some of the crew felt towards the man, though he hadn't tried to find out why. He would only step in if it endangered the mission in any way. He also realized that Iched who had also been taken out of his Academy classes for the mission, was the flipside of the coin. He had been warmly received by the crew, though he was stationed on the Explorer also.

The plan was for both ships to travel at warp seven for six days, which would put them within reach for the higher resolution short range sensors to get an accurate analysis of what was in the area of the Borg complex.

The last few days seemed to be the hardest for the crew, especially the ones that had served on Voyager and Kathryn's family. The closer they were to possibly finding the captain, the longer time seemed to drag.

The large doors of the holodeck obediently opened and Gretchen walked through and into an ancient workshop. "Phoebe?"

"Here," the reply came.

Gretchen walked down the stairs in front of her and over to her daughter sitting under an open window that gazed out upon an ancient Italian street. "What are you doing? And what is this place?"

"It's one of Katie's programs, the da Vinci one from Voyager. She showed it to me a couple of weeks before… before she was taken." Phoebe cleared her throat. "It makes me feel closer to her somehow."

Gretchen sat down beside her youngest and wrapped her arm around her shoulder. "Oh, honey, we'll get her back, I know it."

"You really believe that?" she asked hopefully.

"Yes, your sister is a survivor, Phoebe; she made it through seven years out here…"

"I know that, Mom, though I don't know very much about those years because very few people are divulging what happened, at least to Katie." She leaned into her mother's side. "But this… bitch has had her for so long. I keep imagining these horrible things happening… and I know it's probably not as… bad as what she's really going through." Looking at Gretchen, she realized that her mother was having the same terrible thoughts. "I'm sorry, Mom, I know I shouldn't be dumping all this on you."

"It's okay, honey. That's what moms are for." She hugged her closer. "Being able to comfort you helps me deal with my own fears. And believe me; whatever you've imagined couldn't be any worse than what I've thought about." She tilted her head and leaned it against her daughters. "It won't be much longer before we get to this complex and we'll get Kathryn back. She's probably defeated the lot of them and is sitting there twiddling her thumbs wondering when the ship is going to show up. After all, how could even a Borg Queen stand up to our Kathryn whose been without coffee for two months."

Phoebe laughed, "I hadn't even thought of that. There is no one in the universe that could survive my sister without her coffee."

"Concentrate our torpedoes at their shield generator," Seven yelled out. A Borg sphere had come out of nowhere and attacked them not long after they had crossed into the Delta Quadrant.

"Not at their weapons?" Robi questioned.

"Yes, I have a 'trick up my sleeve' that we employed on Voyager. Ready a torpedo, we will beam it aboard when their shields are down," she explained.

"Oh, good one," Robi grinned. The young man had been a Borg for only a few years after being assimilated when the ship he was serving on ran into a Borg cube. He came from a species in the far reaches of the Beta Quadrant called the Rangi. He was humanoid in appearance with mocha colored smooth skin and long silky golden hair and had yellowish-orange eyes. The ex-drones on the cube still had their Borg bodies, but they had altered their nanoprobes to allow their skin to return to its normal look along with their hair, if the individual species had any to begin with.

"Their shields are down," Axum called out.

"Transporting the torpedo now," Seven relayed.

"Transport complete," Robi informed them. "It's aboard."

It only took 22.8 seconds before the sphere was blown apart in a spectacular fashion. "If the long range scans are any indication," Seven remarked, "we are now on the right track to locate the Queen." The amount of activity they showed ahead of them was quite dense. Many vessels lay between them and what had been the Unicomplex.

Robi was enthusiastically jumping up and down, pumping his fist. It was his victory dance. Seven smiled at his antics. She was going to miss him she realized, when her mission was completed and she returned to Odyssey and to Kathryn.

The captain was once again circled tightly into a ball. This episode had been a particularly bad one; she now had to endure them closer together with less time for her body to recover from each one and that in itself, made them seem all the harder to tolerate.

This was when she was particularly vulnerable to the queen picking up on her thoughts, she wasn't completely in control and susceptible to letting go of things she was trying to hide. The poetry had been a way to mask them and she once again used it as an obstacle to her mind.

Good-bye to the life I used to live,
And the world I used to know;
And kiss the hills for me, just once;
Now I am ready to go!

The last verse of the poem was quoted; it was the only part her mind could manage to grasp while dealing with the never increasing pain.

"Very appropriate, Captain, because you will never go back to the life you once had," the queen stated. "You could make this so much easier if you would just resign yourself to the inevitable."

Janeway groaned as she managed to sit up, taking a minute to get her thoughts in order. "Let's just say, for sake of argument, that your inevitable happens; you assimilate the entire galaxy… what then? What does the Borg do then? There's nothing left… no one to seek out, no other lifeforms to assimilate, what's left for you to do?"

"We will continue to seek perfection," the queen replied.

"The Omega molecule," the captain shook her head. "You will destroy yourself along with this galaxy. For a 'species' that has no emotions, you certainly are arrogant."

The queen jerked her head towards the human creature that could perplex her so. She didn't understand how such a small human that was encumbered with so many irrelevant emotions could challenge her to such a degree. "We think of it as superiority."

Janeway chuckled. It was a sound that conveyed her feeling of superiority, a guarantee of knowledge that she had and the queen could only guess at. "That same thinking has been the downfall of individuals and empires alike. The Borg in the end will be 'one of many'."

"We have the knowledge of thousands of species at our disposal; we know of the mistakes that these civilizations have made. We will not repeat them."

"You only have the knowledge you deemed significant. You don't have the motivation or the understanding that drove them. Emotions can drive someone to succeed beyond all odds. You yourself said you don't understand why I resist you and your goal, and without being able to comprehend emotions you will never be able to. And that will eventually be your downfall." She got to her feet and swayed a bit lightheaded. "You called me the Borg savior; me, an individual that came up with the idea to modify the nanoprobes. Something your entire Collective couldn't begin to figure out. Then there was our Doctor, a sentient hologram that took my idea to the next stage. We were two single individuals that did something your hive mind couldn't accomplish."

"Why?" the queen moved in front of Janeway. "Why could you do what the Collective could not?"

"Motivation… to get my crew safely past Borg space. Guilt… because I put them in the situation in the first place. Fear… of a species that could decimate the Borg the way 8472 could and knowing nothing could stop them if they decided to attack the rest of the galaxy. In short… emotions," she stated; then wondered if the cybernetic being had any more chance of understanding than the original queen had.

They stared at one another for several minutes before the queen stated her need to regenerate. Janeway waited for her to step into and connect to her alcove. This was the captain's only opportunity to freely try to telepathically contact Species 8472. Her mind had developed a few surprising abilities that she was sure were caused by the nanoprobes and the link with the queen.

She was also sure, even after she had convinced the beings that Starfleet was not planning an evasion of fluidic space, they would still be keeping an eye open for any encroachment be it by humans or Borg. She hoped their powerful telepathic abilities would be strong enough to pick up on her attempts to warn them of the Borg's plans. So far, after ten days, she had been unsuccessful.

But today, persistence paid off. She had been able to contact a bioship that had entered 'normal' space and received a promise to pass on her message. The captain recognized the queen was coming out of her cycle and as she had done for each of the past ten days, began another poem.

I stepped from plank to plank
So slow and cautiously;
The stars about my head I felt,
About my feet the sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch,
This gave me that precarious gait
Some call experience.

The queen regarded the human female that had certainly endured more than she had expected. "You have retained much useless information. Do all of your species waste so much of their brain in this frivolous enterprise?"

She shrugged. "Some do. Normally I remember some of my favorites." She was laying on the hard floor, ankles crossed and hands resting on her stomach. "Your 'rewiring' of my brain seems to have resulted in better recall. I'm able to remember more of what I've read. And the poetry passes the time."

"You are horizontal again," the queen almost sighed.

Janeway turned her head to the side and regarded her keeper. "I don't have Borg legs or feet, I do still occasionally get tired of standing."

"Your nanoprobes stimulate your muscle mass; you are stronger and more resilient now than you have ever been."

"Ah, but I'm still a lowly human individual. Besides, it gives me a different view of my prison. I get bored having to stare at the same four walls."

"Quote something else. We are learning much about you from your 'poems'." She requested as she moved around the chamber.

"All right..." she thought for a minute.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

The queen seemed to be processing the verse. "Is that what you think you did for our Seven of Nine?"

"Did I stop her 'heart from breaking' or 'cool her pain'? No, giving her back her humanity probably caused those things. What I did do was give her back her 'nest' or home." She had made her way to her feet and leaned back into her alcove, resting her arms over the 'arms' on its sides and once again crossing her ankles. She knew this casual pose would irritate the queen, just as her 'resting' had done.

"If it hurt her to be removed from us, why would you do it? You could say that when we assimilate individuals we are the ones to stop hearts from breaking and ease pain," she countered.

"Because feeling pain is better than not being allowed to feel anything… in every failure there is something to learn. If you don't know heartache, you can not know joy and happiness. It is every individual's right to choose their fate… not have it chosen for them." She felt like she might actually be making a little headway until…

"Irrelevant, emotions only hold you back, make you small."

Being frustrated at not being able to make any progress, she let her anger get the better of her. "I might be irrelevant and small, but I'll happily remind you that I kicked your predecessor's ass a time or two." The pain was instantaneous and excruciating; worse than anything she had yet to feel. When she regained her faculties, she was curled up on the floor of her alcove, breathing heavily, sweat covering her body, with blood trickling from her nose and mouth. The queen was nowhere to be seen and neither were most of the drones that normally occupied the chamber. The only one that remained was Magnus Hansen. She wasn't sure if the queen thought of it as a punishment or not… to be reminded of what she had lost.

"Well, that was productive, Katie, you fucking idiot," she whispered. Trying desperately to keep her thoughts neutral, she concentrated on the pain that was still flowing through her body. The 'punishment' was taking its toll on her human systems; she had been bleeding from her mouth and nose during them for a while, but now she was also bleeding from her ears and she didn't have to be a doctor to know that was not a particularly good thing.

Part 10

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