Queen of Hearts
B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer of the USS Voyager, chased what looked to be a flat pasta noodle around her plate, feeling conspicuously alone for the first time in months.
When Tom Paris, her on again/off again lover, had come to her six months ago and said that he didn't think their relationship was working out, her reaction had been one of surprise and relief. Surprise that Tom would have the presence of mind to realize that there was something fundamentally lacking in their relationship and relief that he had broken it off with her before she had the chance to break it off with him. They were still friends, which she supposed was a surprise to everyone on board, but that fact had made for an almost benign transition from couple to single status. Well, benign except for the loneliness that was creeping back into her life.
The young woman shook that particular thought from her head. Loneliness was not a Klingon's emotion and it frustrated her. She tried, instead, to focus on her dinnerwhich was a battle in and of itself.
All in all, the break-up hadn't been that bad. In fact, she realized her only real regret was that she had used so many replicator rations on that stupid TV she had constructed for the ensign. If she had known Tom was going to break up with her a week after she'd given it to him, she would have saved the ration strips for something more useful.
Like edible food, she thought, scowling down at her plate.
"Seven of Nine to Lieutenant Torres."
B'Elanna sighed heavily and put her fork down. It was bad enough that most of the crew had gone off to Fair Haven for the evening, leaving her to manage Neelix's version of lasagna by herself. Now the drone wanted to talk to her. She tapped her communicator.
"Lieutenant B'Elanna. I require your assistance. Are you available to come to Cargo Bay 2?"
B'Elanna's immediate response was to say "Thanks, but no thanks!" but there was something in Seven's voice that caught her attention. Not to mention she couldn't ever remember Seven referring to her by her first name. Or, for that matter, asking instead of ordering.
"Um sure, Seven. I'll be there in five minutes, okay?"
"Thank you, B'Elanna."
The comm channel closed.
'Thank you, B'Elanna'?! B'Elanna Torres sat stunned at her table in the mess hall. The drone said 'thank you'. What is the Universe coming to?
All the way down to the cargo bay, B'Elanna wondered what sort of assistance Seven could possibly need. The Borg, after all, was the most intelligent, most capable being on the entire ship. She didn't need assistance very often unless
Oh god, no.
B'Elanna closed her eyes and hoped against all hope that this 'assistance' didn't involve the new Borglings that had been on board for about two months now. The last thing she wanted to do was Borg-sit.
She stepped off the turbolift with a faint smirk, thinking about the stories she'd heard about Seven's lack of maternal skills. She nearly laughed out loud when she recalled Chakotay's tale of a comprehensive, minute-by-minute schedule for the childrenSeven's first attempt in managing this new role. According to Neelix, it hadn't worked very well.
But you can't keep a good Borg down, she thought wryly, wondering what other techniques Seven had researched and experimented with. All accounts now held the children as well adjusted, pleasant, and eager to learn. And although her own interactions with them were few in number, she did remember polite questions and advanced technical knowledge, both of which had impressed her. Klingon children, as a rule, weren't known for either.
B'Elanna turned a corner in the corridor and nearly ran into iCheb, the eldest of the young Borg.
"Pardon me, Lieutenant," he said politely, the corners of his mouth curling with the warmth of a smile. "I was not minding my way."
"Uh...no problem, iCheb. That's right, isn't it?"
"Yes. My name is iCheb. It was my father's second name."
There was something about these Borg children that both unnerved B'Elanna and tugged at her hearts, though she would never admit it. But they did seem to remind her of herself...half-bred and finding it difficult to fit in. However, the children did seem to be having an easier time reclaiming their pre-assimilation lives than Seven had. Maybe that old wives' tale about the resiliency of youth really was true. Or maybe it was just because the children had not completed the maturation chamber cycle. Whatever the reason for it, B'Elanna was strangely comforted by their ability to express emotion.
"It's a nice name," she replied cautiously, not quite knowing where the conversation was headed but hesitant to be rude.
"I like it," said the teen matter-of-factly. "Seven says it suits me." He cocked his head in a manner reminiscent of Seven and added, "I am on my way to the mess hall to have my evening meal. I missed the appointed time because I preferred to continue studying. Can I get you anything from the mess hall, Lieutenant?"
"Uh...no thanks," said B'Elanna, trying hard not to seem like she had just learned how to speak. "I just finished dinner."
"Very well. I believe Seven requested your assistance. I should not detain you any further. Have a pleasant evening, Lieutenant." The teen nodded and turned the corner, heading towards the turbolift.
"You too," mumbled the engineer, shaking her head slightly. The whole conversation was weird. Weird and yet familiar. She shook her head again and finished her trek to the cargo bay doors, triggering them to open and stepping into what she expected to be the cavernous chill of a storage facility/Borg alcove. Instead, she found something very, very different.
Half of the cargo bay had been cordoned off with what appeared to be the type of wall plates usually reserved for creating temporary quarters in large bays when a ship's crew compliment exceeded maximum. Cargo storage continued to be the main focus outside the temporary wall plates, but inside them, the world was not strictly Borg.
The cargo bay deck plating within the walls was now carpeted in a muted bluish-green pattern that complimented the green glow coming from the power modulation monitors over each of the alcoves. A set of smaller, child-sized workstations took up one corner of the room, surrounding a portable viewscreen that was mounted on the far wall. A play area, complete with storage shelves, toys, and brightly-colored pillows took up another area while a set of five storage compartments, four of them sporting colorful signs noting the name of the child to which it belonged, took up the section of wall between the two areas.
This is surreal, thought B'Elanna. But Voyager is the only place in the entire Universe where a Borg daycare center would seem normal.
Her concept of normal, however, spun wildly in the next second when her eyes completed the survey of the new room. In the furthest corner, closest to the alcoves, sat the most amazing thing of all.
An antique rocking chair.
The chair, in and of itself, might not have startled B'Elanna so profoundly if Seven hadn't been in it the first time she laid eyes on it. But there she sat, hair unpinned from its usual severe style to fall around her shoulders in gentle, golden waves. She cradled the female Borg infant in her arms, singing softly as she rocked. The other children, including a visiting Naomi Wildman, were playing kadis-kot quietly in the play area, careful not to disturb Seven or the baby.
Mizati, the young Norkadian, looked up and saw B'Elanna standing in the doorway. Since she was only a spectator for the current match of kadis-kotIxan was busy trying to outwit Naomi as his twin, Rebi, and she looked onshe rose and strode quickly to their visitor.
"Lieutenant Torres?" she asked. When B'Elanna didn't immediately respond, Mizati followed the older woman's gaze...and smiled.
"Do you look at Seven that way because you believe she is beautiful?" she asked innocently.
B'Elanna felt herself flush mauve, startled that the child had been able to see that particular thought as it had crossed her features. She looked down, prepared to say somethinganythingbut found herself further discomfited by something the child carried. It seemed to be a single playing card from a deck used in the playing of poker. The little girl clutched it with the same unconscious affection another child would a beloved doll or a security blanket. B'Elanna could only just make out the suit of hearts in the corner.
"Forgive me, Lieutenant. I have forgotten lesson 2A, Proper Greetings and Welcomes. Please come in."
"Thanks." B'Elanna tried not to roll her eyes at herself. She wondered if she would ever use multi-syllabic words again.
"Seven? Lieutenant Torres is here."
B'Elanna noticed that the little girl said "Seven" in a way that made the name seem like it wasn't strictly a designation. Somehow she had managed to touch the name with warmth and trust. Seven stopped singing and looked up.
"Thank you, Mizati," she said to the girl. "Return to your recreational activities now. It will be time to regenerate soon."
Mizati reached out and touched Seven's hand where it rested on the baby's belly. "Yes, Seven," she said softly, then turned and rejoined her playmates.
"Thank you for agreeing to assist me, B'Elanna," said Seven, turning her eyes to the engineer. "I appreciate your...kindness."
"No problem, Seven," said B'Elanna carefully. "What exactly can I help you with?"
The baby stirred slightly and made a small sound of frustration. B'Elanna's eyes darted to the child. Growing up on Qo'noS as the only child of a mixed marriage had given the young woman little exposure to children. Even if she had desired a playmate or sibling, she knew better than to hope for one. Later, when she was old enough to begin planning for the possibility of marriage and family, B'Elanna had openly rebelled, despising the traditional Way of the Klingon and vowing she would never put a child through that. Now, though looking at the helpless being that had been through more in her short life than anyone deserved, B'Elanna felt the unexpected ache of wanting to hold the child in her arms. Apparently Mizati wasn't the only one with a keen eye where her emotions were concerned.
"Would you like to hold the infant?" asked Seven.
B'Elanna simply blinked and the ex-Borg accepted her hesitance as a willingness
to comply. She stood and gently placed the baby in the stunned engineer's arms. The child whimpered and the Klingon froze, looking as if she couldn't decide whether to comfort her or push her away.
"You have never held an infant before," said Seven in a vaguely disapproving tone. She carefully adjusted the cradle of B'Elanna's arms so that maximum support, comfort, and safety could be achieved.
"Oh and I guess it's something you do often?" retorted the Klingon, regretting her sarcastic tone as soon as it came out of her mouth. Although typical of her interaction with the drone, she suddenly felt that it was completely inappropriate. She consciously chose to avoid wondering why she suddenly felt that way.
"Actually, Lieutenant," said Seven, her voice going very cold, "the frequency with which I hold this infant is precisely why I have requested your assistance. However," she continued, reaching for the baby, "if you feel you cannot"
"Hold on just a minute!" said B'Elanna, curling her body away from Seven and clutching the baby closer. "I didn't say I wouldn't help you!" The baby squirmed in her arms and she looked down, taking a deep breath. The anger in her eyes melted cleanly away, leaving her with a contrite expression. "I didn't mean that to sound so sarcastic, Seven. I'm just not used to seeing a Borg holding a baby." She glanced back at Seven, a wry grin tugging at her lips. "I'm not used to seeing me holding a baby."
There was a slight pause and then Seven's ice melted too. "Apology accepted. It is...possible that the unusual levels of fatigue I am feeling are contributing to the alterations in my mood."
A look of concern planted itself firmly into B'Elanna's features. "'Unusual levels of fatigue'? What does that mean?"
"I am afraid I have discovered that the most efficient solution to a problem is not always the correct solution. Because the infant still requires regeneration due to implants that remain, I have been cradling her in my arms during my own regeneration period. I reformulated my assimilation tubules into transfer conduits in order to provide her with the correct amount of energy. However, I did not take into consideration the weight variations of this infant or the drain on my own energy reserves. While the infant thrives, I do not. My personal efficiency has been compromised by 21.37%."
B'Elanna could hardly believe what she was hearing. "You HOLD her for the entire 6-hour regeneration cycle?"
"In actuality, I hold the infant for the entire 7.75-hour regeneration cycle. I found that extending the cycle by 105 minutes created the most efficient replenishment of energy for the infant."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." B'Elanna shook her head. "Before we go any further with this discussionand we will go further with itI want to know something. Why do you keep calling her 'this infant' or 'the child'? Doesn't she have a name?"
Seven colored slightly and averted her eyes. "I have been...unable to provide a proper designation for the child. I did not think a Borg numerical designation was appropriate and yet I cannot seem to find a name that suits her." She glanced over at the other children who were still playing happily on the floor. "Unlike the others, the infant's assimilation file did not include a name. She was only three weeks old when she was...taken by the Borg."
"Did it include the names of her parents, maybe? Or her species?"
"She was taken from a medical facility aboard a small ship. The names of her parents are not known. Her genetic origin is listed as species 34115, Raadamani. It is a species the Borg apparently encountered after I was severed from the Collective, as I know very little about them. Voyager has yet to encounter them."
"Never say never." B'Elanna smirked and shifted the baby girl to one arm, tapping her commbadge. "Torres to Neelix."
"Neelix here, Lieutenant. What can I do for you this evening?" Neelix's perpetual smile was one of the few emotions that came clearly through the ship's communications system.
"Have you ever encountered a species known as the Raadamani?"
"The Wanderers? Of course, Lieutenant. They were one of the most renowned species of trade merchants in the Delta Quadrant. It was once rumored that their population exceeded 5 billion. Quite a number for a people without a planet, don't you think?"
"Where can we find these Wanderers now, Neelix?"
"Oh, Lieutenant, I think finding the Raadamani would be very difficult. About 25 years ago many of the Raadamani disappeared, never to be heard from again. Very mysterious. The last time I even came into contact with a Raadamani ship was about 14 years ago. Only five mated pairs in their pod. And no children. It was very sad. But their reputation as the most honorable of merchant traders was still intact. Cheating a customer is punishable by death in the Raadamani culture."
"The Ferengi would choke on their latinum if they heard that," said the engineer wryly. "Thanks for your help anyway, Neelix."
Neelix's smile of pride was palpably brighter though the women could not see it.
"Any time, Lieutenant. Pardon my curiosity, but where have you heard of the Raadamani?"
"You know the baby we have on board? According to her assimilation file she is Raadamani. But there is no record of her name or her parents' names. We were hoping to find out a little about her culture since the data nodes aboard the cube were destroyed."
"A Raadamani child? How wonderful! I am sure Naomi would share her book of Raadamani galactic legends with you if you asked. I acquired the book some time ago and thought it would make a nice gift for Voyager's first baby."
B'Elanna smiled. She had a great deal of respect and affection for the Talaxian despite his diminutive size and complete lack of aggressive tendencies. She often wondered if it was exactly those reasons why she liked him so. He was as far away from the Klingon ideal as was possible and yet he had a strength about him that she did not always feel inside herself. She sometimes envied him that.
"Thanks, Neelix. Torres out."
Seven had already called Naomi over and was speaking softly to her. In the next instant, Naomi beamed a bright smile, nodded, and practically skipped out of the cargo bay.
"I'll be right back!" she called as the doors shut behind her.
"She will comply," announced Seven, nodding with approval. B'Elanna almost rolled her eyes.
"Seven," she said gently. "Naomi would jump out an airlock if you asked her to. Everyone knows that."
Seven frowned. "I do not understand. Why would I want her to 'jump out an airlock'? That would be most unhealthy for her."
"What I meant was," said the Klingon patiently as she jostled the baby girl currently wiggling for all she was worth, "that Naomi and Mizati and the others all look up to you. They adore you. Anyone can see that."
Something bright in Seven's eyes seemed to retreat. Quickly. "You are
mistaken," she said evenly.
B'Elanna knew better than to argue. Her Klingon blood scented the thin trickle of fear suddenly pouring off the ex-Borg and she knew Seven might completely shut down if she pressed the point. She didn't want that.
Making use of rusty diplomatic skills, she instead opted to change the subject.
"So," she said, shattering the awkward silence. "While we're waiting for Naomi, why don't you tell me what you wanted my help with? Something about this be'Hom's regeneration cycle?"
Seven graciously took the offered out, thankful that the engineer had had the presence of mind to alter the topic of their conversation. She turned and retrieved a PADD from her own workstation.
"There are cases aboard Borg ships when an infant drone needs more specialized medical treatment than can be achieved in his or her maturation chamber," she began, handing the PADD to B'Elanna. The engineer deftly juggled her hold on the baby and accessed the data contained in the device something Seven noted with some surprise. "In those instances," she continued, "the child is transported to an incubation chamber while he or she receives treatment. The specifications of that type of chamber inspired a solution to our dilemma. However, I will need your assistance."
Seven waited patiently as B'Elanna paged through her proposal. She watched as the Klingon unconsciously bounced the infant when she became restless, absently gurgled to her when she became vocally expressive, and quickly moved the PADD out of the range of grasping fingers, all while maintaining the air of someone completely oblivious to the smaller creature. Her eyes never once left the streams of data on the small screen and yet Seven was sure the majority of her instinctual awareness rested with the child. It was fascinating to watch...particularly since B'Elanna had seemed so hesitant and timid with the baby initially.
"This is brilliant, Seven," said B'Elanna as she scanned the final pages of the report. "And completely feasible." She looked up then and handed the PADD back. "But honestly, it's a low-priority project. I don't know how many of my
"In truth, Lieutenant," said Seven, interrupting the engineer, "I anticipated the project's low-priority status. I am not requesting the Engineering department's assistance with the chamber. I require only your assistance...if you are willing."
"Oh." B'Elanna tried to hide her surprise but failed. It was no secret on board Voyager that she and the ex-Borg shared a fairly contentious working relationship. She had no expectations of Seven specifically preferring her assistance. In fact, she'd expected exactly the opposite. "Uh...sure. I have some extra time after my duty shift most nights. Would that be okay? I mean, it's gonna take longer to finish that way but you've done most of the hard work already." She indicated the specifications. "All that's really left is construction and testing."
"If it is not an imposition, that would be...acceptable."
The awkward silence that descended again around the two women had a short life, dismissed by the sudden and breathless return of Naomi Wildman. She waved the tome of legends in her hands and bounded over to her friend and mentor, eager to please.
"I found it, Seven! It was under my workstation in the corner of my room." She handed the metal-plated book to the ex-Borg who opened it with interest.
From an anthropological standpoint, the book told her much about the Raadamani, even if she could not translate the language in which it was written. For instance, a species with no home planet had to find and maintain alternate resources for raw materials used in the construction of the various staples of their existence. Raadamani books, therefore, had pages made from thin sheets of metal with images seared into small translucent plaques and imbedded into the pages themselves. The written language seemed to stem from mathematical and physics foundations and Seven was sure she would have no problem translating the book if given enough time to 'crack the code'. However, she had a more efficient solution.
"Children!" Her infinitely calm voice rang out suddenly in the cargo bay. Mizati and the twins looked up from their latest game and quickly abandoned it in favor of Seven's summons.
"Yes, Seven?" asked Mizati.
A strange hierarchy had developed between the four Borg children where iCheb was universally recognized as the First and Mizatithough younger than the twinswas recognized as the Second. Seven assumed that had been decided on the basis of Mizati's natural social ease. The twins, Ixan and Rebi, were much quieter and much more content to follow rather than to lead. They did not seem to resent their function in the group.
"Do you recognize this language?" Seven held the book up for them.
"It is the language of species 34115," said Ixan.
"The Raadamani," chimed in Rebi.
"A nomadic, space-faring species of limited numbers," added Mizati.
The complete lack of intonation in the children's voices chilled B'Elanna to the bone. Naomi, unaccustomed to her playmates' Borg personalities, stepped closer to Seven in an unconscious gesture of discomfort. Even Seven of Nine frowned, clearly displeased.
"The Borg analysis of this species is irrelevant," she told them. "I require your assistance in translating this collection of Raadamani legends. Will you assist me?"
Ixan and Rebi looked at each other and smiled with anticipation of the projectbut said nothing. Mizati, on the other hand, was not at all shy about her willingness to comply.
"Of course, Seven! That sounds like..." The little girl tilted her head as she searched for the proper word.
Seven nodded and handed the book to Naomi. "You may begin tonight before your regeneration cycles. Naomi will assist you since the collection belongs to her. She is also a skilled artist and can be of assistance with illustrations."
Naomi beamed at the unexpected compliment and the group of children hurried over to their workstations, eager to get as much done on the project as they could before Naomi had to go home and Seven made them regenerate. B'Elanna watched them for a moment, stunned by the sudden shift in their personalities. Except for the occasional glint of silver on their skin, it was now completely impossible to tell that they had been Borg at all.
B'Elanna turned and found Seven watching her intently.
"Oh. Sorry about that." She carefully handed the infant back to Seven. "I should go now. Before the kids go to um regenerate. You wanna get started on this Borg bassinet tomorrow? I could come down after dinner. Say 1900 hours?"
"Acceptable," said Seven with a nod.
On the fifth evening of helping to construct the bassinet, B'Elanna Torres glanced up from calibrating the energy transfer manifold and found herself stunned motionless by the sight before her. The children had apparently completed another translation from the Raadamani legends book and this time, instead of simply illustrating it on paper or with holograms, Naomi had decided to include all of the children in a performance of the story. They had been rehearsing in stage whispers for some time and now apparently they were ready for the final performance. Their audience? Seven and the baby.
Seven sat cross-legged on the floor in her plum biosuit. Her back was impossibly straight and her hair was pinned up in its usual severe style. The infantstill namelesssat cradled in her lap, wearing a yellow jumper and squealing happily as Mizati leaned over her, dangling locks of long, chestnut hair just within her reach. Tiny hands made a game of trying to grab it, missing every time. After a moment, the baby squeaked with outrage and frustration.
"Mizati. Do not tease the infant." Seven's reproach was gentle and colored with the sound of a smile.
The little girl grinned wickedly. "Yes, Seven," she said, turning to rejoin her playmates.
The scene was the most domestic B'Elanna had witnessed since she'd been coming to the cargo bay and she wondered if Seven's apparent emotions were real or simply studied responses. Some part of her, a barely acknowledged part, quietly hoped they were not studied.
As Mizati turned, she caught B'Elanna's gaze, a tiny frown skating over her features.
"How will you be able to see the performance from there, Lieutenant?"
"I...uh..." The isometric torch B'Elanna was holding suddenly felt heavy in her hand. The invitation was unexpected. Naomi, the skit's director, looked from the engineer to the performance space and back, clearly working out how to include her in the proceedings.
"I suppose I could use a break," said the Klingon, flipping the torch off and setting it down. "Besides," she added as she walked over to sit near Seven, "this sort of thing doesn't happen every day."
"What 'sort of thing'?" Seven looked slightly baffled.
B'Elanna grinned. "Live entertainment that doesn't involve the Doctor singing."
"If the Doctor's vocal emanations could be considered 'live'," said Seven with a hint of a sneer. "Or 'entertainment'."
B'Elanna snorted. "You have a point," she said dryly.
"Ahem," said Naomi politely, eyes slightly admonishing. "We are ready when
Seven nodded while B'Elanna shook her head slightly at Naomi's formal tone. She supposed she should be used to it by now, but somehow, she wasn't.
"Proceed," said the ex-Borg, unconsciously re-positioning the baby in her lap so that she could see the performance clearly. A small part of her acknowledged that the action was irrelevant because the child did not possess sufficient cognitive ability to comprehend the performance. She was interested to find, however, that the majority of her consciousness simply did not care whether the child could comprehend or not. It was sufficient to know that she was present and watching.
"Places!" whispered Naomi and the four children took their places around the little redhead, iCheb directly behind her, Ixan and Rebi to her left and right, and Mizati in front. As a unit, the Borg children folded themselves into small packages on the floor, heads down, and waited for their cues. Naomi stood slightly to the left of the viewscreen on the wall and she held a PADD primly in her hands.
"Welcome to the first performance of Voyager's Children's Theatre."
Music, obviously cued by the computer, began.
"Tonight we bring you a retelling of the Raadamani tale, Sokar, Child of All Pods, starring iCheb as the First Pair of Sine 34, Ixan as Pod Kol-Karani and the doomed Mitar, Rebi as Pod Id-Sumut and the doomed Tivala, and Mizati of Norkadia as Sokar, Child of All Pods."
The little Ktarian cleared her throat and activated the viewscreen, a depiction of an unfamiliar segment of space beginning to play. Seven was pleased to see that Naomi's instruction in Astrometrics was obviously useful to her. "Wow."
"A long time ago," she began, "many standard years after the Supernova of Tangent 111 and just before the Raadamani had achieved the greatness of Cosine 67, they faced a dilemma that threatened to divide them forever..."
Seven nodded in agreement with B'Elanna's succinct comment.
Even the infant in her lap squealed in delight, though Seven thought it was not necessarily a reaction to the performance.
The children had, in slightly more than an hour, acted out with skill and feeling the story of a doomed pair of lovers from adjoining Raadamani pods and the child they had created. Because the lovers were already bonded to others, the contract between the adjoining pods was nullified and they were told they would never see each other again. Rather than face that eventuality, Mitar of Pod Kol-Karani and Tivala of Pod Id-Sumut committed ritual suicide. Which left two very worthy and equally matched pods vying for the custody of their child, Sokar. With children so valued, the two pods and their allies fought bitterly but could not agree to which of them the child belonged. They had even attempted an Ulii-Marisin Decisionapparently a contest of physical prowess that was usually used as a last resort in deciding such claims. However, each of their champions had died practically at the same moment, leaving the two pods back at square one with civil war barreling ever closer. They had no choice but to seek the judgment of the First Pair, the final word at that time in all Raadamani endeavors and conflicts.
The First Pair listened patiently as each pod told their side of the conflict. After some deliberation, the First Pair admitted that both pods were equally worthy of the child and that they could notin good consciencechoose between the two. Instead, the childless First Pair claimed custody of Sokar for themselves. They would raise her as a child of ALL the pods, with no podial loyalty, no prejudice or preference.
Raised in this way, Sokar became the first Prime, the first of her people to refrain from bonding with another, who instead turned her eyes to the future of all her people, regardless of their podial affiliations and their contracts, regardless of their wealth or their progeny. Through Sokar and those Primes that followed after her, the Raadamani found a unity and solidarity that they had previously lacked which, in turn, opened the door for the Raadamani era of greatness, universally recognized in Cosine 67. The snack period lasted much longer than the time Seven had allocated for it. However, since the children were intent on interrogating B'Elanna about various facets of her life and history, she determined that the experience was appropriately educational.
"I had not expected the Raadamani legends to be so...didactic in nature," said Seven, regarding the expectant faces of Naomi and the other children. "Nor had I expected the performance to be so precise. Perhaps we could present the piece as a suitable alternative to the Doctor's singing at a future 'Talent Night' in the mess hall."
B'Elanna wanted to roll her eyes, wondering how anyone could appreciate such a dry and emotionless accolade, but the children simply beamed. It occurred to her suddenly that Seven didn't necessarily understand or react to emotional content in interaction and that the praise, while less than gushing, was certainly high praiseparticularly from an ex-Borg. The young Klingon wondered briefly what an emotional display from Seven would consist of and decided, after a moment or two of blank contemplation, that she simply did not have what the Borg would call 'sufficient powers of imagination for the task'. She decided to think about it another day.
"You guys did a great job with that," she said, addressing the children as she stood. "Way more entertaining than any old Klingon opera!" She ruffled Naomi's hair and smiled. "Thanks for letting me watch but I guess I should get back to"
"Lieutenant," interrupted Seven, rising from the floor. She absently repositioned her charge in her arms. "It is time for the children to consume their evening 'snack' before continuing with their studies. Would you care to join us in the mess hall? The schedule for the construction of the regeneration chamber does allow for a certain...flexibility."
The unexpected anticipatory clutch of her stomach told B'Elanna that accepting this invitation was not necessarily a good idea. But there was something in Seven's stance, in the imperious way in which she held her head high that made the Klingon think that Seven was expecting her to say 'no'. B'Elanna didn't like being predictable.
"Sure," she said carefully after considering the offer. "Unless the snack includes raisins." She wrinkled her nose and forehead in disgust. "I hate raisins."
Naomi laughed and Mizati nodded approvingly. "I do not like raisins either, Lieutenant," she confided. "Their taste is disturbing and they are too...." She looked at Naomi questioningly. "What was that word again?"
Naomi wrinkled up her face. "Squishy."
"Yes," agreed Mizati. "They are too squishy. And they are visually similar to the boku fly on Norkadia...without the wings, of course." She brightened, though, when she considered her imminent snack. "I usually request chocolate pudding at this time."
"Chocolate, eh?" B'Elanna grinned. "Any Pakled can replicate chocolate pudding. On the other hand, it takes a master to replicate banana pudding." She held out one hand to Mizati and another to Naomi. "Lucky for you, I am the only certified master banana pudding replicator on Voyager."
"Indeed," said Seven with a smirk. "And this certification is included in your personnel record?"
"Yep," said the Klingon as she led the way out of the cargo bay and towards the turbolift. "Right under Engineer of the Year, 2475 and right before my Targ-wrestling license." She flashed a smile at Seven. "You probably overlooked that section of the file because of its 'irrelevance'."
Seven did not quite know how to respond to the jibe though she was certain it was not appropriate for her to offer the opinion that she doubted there was anything irrelevant about B'Elanna Torres. The thought made her uncomfortable enough without having it voiced.
iCheb was very interested in B'Elanna's function aboard Voyager, particularly her vast knowledge of engineering. He surprised her by asking a rapidly paced series of very intelligent questions regarding energy distribution, the EPS manifold, and the possibility of adding Borg-enhanced plasma injectors to the array. The twins were extremely interested in B'Elanna's genetic heritage, asking all sorts of scientific questions the young woman just wasn't sure she had the answers for. Mizati, on the other hand, was primarily interested in B'Elanna's time in the Maquis, desperate to hear of covert operations, close calls, and narrow escapes. None of their interests were surprising in the slightest to Seven.
iCheb was intent upon learning anything that might facilitate a commission to Starfleet as an Astrometrics officer. Ixan and Rebi appreciated duality and its application to various shipboard functions. Seven thought that they would make excellent geneticists, especially when one considered their own unique Borg duality. They were almost a collective unto themselves, the two of them able to communicate privately via their cortical implants. Mizati, the youngest, was more difficult to 'pin down'. She loved disorder, chaos, creativity and bugs. Seven supposed she would either make an excellent artist or inventor, if Leonardo DaVinci's similar interests were any indication, or possibly a brilliant xeno-entymologist, if one took into account her apparent interest in insects.
"Tell us another anecdote of your time in the Maquis, Lieutenant," said Mizati as the groupminus Naomi Wildman, who had been called home for bedwalked toward the cargo bay. She was holding hands with the engineer and gazing at her with round eyes filled with admiration. Part of B'Elanna was distinctly uncomfortable by the attention and part of her kinda liked being looked up to for once. She opened her mouth to respond but Seven beat her to it.
"No more stories tonight, Mizati. You have imposed upon Lieutenant Torres enough for one evening. In any case, it is time for you to regenerate."
The snack period lasted much longer than the time Seven had allocated for it. However, since the children were intent on interrogating B'Elanna about various facets of her life and history, she determined that the experience was appropriately educational.
For a moment it was iffy whether or not Mizati would comply, but she finally conceded.
"Yes, Seven," she muttered resignedly. She did not, however, release B'Elanna's hand and they continued to walk down the corridor together. Rebi, the quieter of the twins, glanced at the pair's linked hands once or twice, thenwith a minor adjustment in his coursehe sidled closer to Seven. She walked slightly ahead of him, her hands linked behind her back in their customary resting-place since iCheb had offered to carry the baby.
Rebi eyed her left hand for a moment as they walked and then silently reached out and took it in his own.
Seven stopped and turned, looking down at the child curiously. Then she nodded and the two of them resumed their journey hand in hand. The rest of the group did not seem to notice.
By the time they finally reached the cargo bay, even talkative Mizati was ready to regenerate...though she didn't relish the idea of being separated from her newfound friend. She stood at the edge of her alcove and held tightly to B'Elanna's hand.
"If Ensign Kim and I go to the holodeck again soon, Lieutenant, will you come with us? We've been adding Ferengi and Talaxian monks to Commander Tuvok's meditation programs."
B'Elanna smirked. "Yeah, so I heard." She didn't add that she thought it was a brilliant prank. Obviously Harry was enough of a bad influence on this kid.
"Well, will you? I believe you would have...fun."
"Uh...sure. If I have the time, I'll go to the holodeck with you and Harry someday."
Mizati nodded. "Acceptable." She hesitated before entering her alcove. "You will be here tomorrow evening, won't you? If you would like, I could assist with the construction of the regeneration chamber. I possess the necessary skills."
B'Elanna ruffled the little girl's hair and smiled. "We'll see. You'll have to finish your homework first and then it's up to Seven, okay? Now, it's time for you to go to...uh, regenerate."
The little girl stepped back into the alcove without further protest but did not release her hold on B'Elanna's hand. She made connection with the access plate and the alcove began its start-up routine with a hum.
"Goodnight, Lieutenant," she said quietly just before the alcove claimed her consciousness. Only when her eyes closed did her grip on B'Elanna's hand finally relax.
"'Night, kiddo," said the engineer softly, gently extracting herself from the little girl's hold. She watched her for a moment, then turned to see Seven overseeing the twins and iCheb. When the four older children were safely regenerating, B'Elanna approached Seven. Without a word, she retrieved the temporary sling Seven had created to help support the weight of the baby and began fastening it to the ex-Borg.
"Thanks for inviting me to snack time," she said finally, fingers adjusting the closures along Seven's shoulders. "It was nice of you."
Seven raised the optical implant over her left eye. "In the past, you have characterized me as rude. It is not a trait I wish the children to learn." She paused for a moment and looked down. "Also, the children...and I...enjoy your company."
B'Elanna froze. "Oh," she said, her hearts pounding inside her chest. "Thanks."
As she finished with the last closure, her fingers brushed against the soft, pale skin of Seven's neck right above her collar line and she gasped. She couldn't help it. Her physical response to that simple, innocent touch swept through her entire body with the ferocity of a matter/antimatter explosion. Even her fingers trembled, a sensation she didn't think she had ever experienced before. She snatched her hand away guiltily, took a deep breath, and gave the ex-drone a hesitant pat on the shoulder.
"There you go," she said, her mouth as dry as a Vulcan desert. "All fixed up." She smiled weakly, hoping Seven wouldn't notice that she had lost her composure.
"Thank you," said Seven quietly. It was all she could manage amid certain strong and almost frightening physiological responses to the inconsequential touch of B'Elanna's skin on her own. Her heart raced and she seemed almost unable to breathe, as if her involuntary neural processors had somehow gone offline. Her abdomen felt strange, as if experiencing a fall from a great height, and her skin seemed to be hypersensitive and tingly. She shook her head slightly and tried to regain her composure, covering her unease with the task of settling the infant inside the sling.
She finally stepped back into her alcove, stopping abruptly just before she made contact with the access plate.
"Will you be staying to continue your work?"
B'Elanna shook her head. "No. I don't want to wake the kids." She looked down for a second then returned her chestnut gaze to the Borg's. She felt absurdly exposed under Seven's intense scrutiny. "I'll just make sure you and the little one there get settled. Okay?"
Seven only nodded, finally breaking eye contact to step fully into her alcove. The hum of the cycle's start-up routine began and two assimilation tubules erupted from the back of her left hand, slithering over the infant's belly until they made contact with a small, starburst implant located where the navel would usually be. That task complete, Seven looked up, her eyes impossibly blue.
"Goodnight, B'Elanna," she said with the smallest of smiles. Then her eyes closed.
Two weeks later, Ixan and Rebi were gone.
It had all happened so quicklythe arrival of the Vacunai ship, the twins' reunion with practically their entire extended family group, including more than fifteen cousins, Janeway's mandatory transitional interviews and determination of fitnessthat B'Elanna still didn't know what to think.
She knew what she knewthat Ixan and Rebi's parents had been crewmembers aboard a deep space exploration vessel that had accidentally come upon a Borg cube attempting to assimilate a band of science colonies located in a remote system. All hands on the Czexi had been lost in the ensuing battle.
What she didn't know, what she hadn't been a part of were the four days the Vacunai had remained off their port bow. Only Seven would truly know what had happened those four days and B'Elanna was more than surprised that Seven had chosen to share the knowledge with her.
When their remaining family on Vacuna heard that the twins had been rescued, they lost no time in procuring a vessel that would take them directly to Voyager.
They were a loud, boisterous family, excited to see their lost sheep, even more excited to see that they had remained together through their ordeal. Apparently all Vacunai births were multiples, either twins, triplets, or more. Singly born children were rare and were specially cared for, their emotional and physical health somehow suspect without a womb-partner.
The Family Cugai was very concerned that the transition of the children happen at their instigation alone. They saw no need to push the boys to accept them immediately, well aware that such a request would no doubt damage them psychologically. They eagerly worked with Seven of Nine, learning the boys' needs and interests. They accepted all of her recommendations as law and deferred to her authority in such matters as the twins' physical requirements, regeneration technology, and implant maintenance.
In the end, neither Janeway nor Seven saw any reason to refuse when the boys finally came forward and said they were ready to rejoin their family unit. And though the thought of the boys leaving stung Seven deeply, she did not fear for their safety as she had for iCheb's during his reunion with his people.
The Vacunai insisted that Seven be present to say goodbye to the boys when they took their leave of Voyager and she was, despite her wish to be elsewhere. She apparently was not adept in hiding the very real pain she was feeling because the eldest male of the Family Cugai put his hand on her shoulder.
"You will always be a part of their lives, Seven of Nine," he said lowly to her, so only she could hear. "Rebi has already told me that when he marries and has his first set of girls, they will be named Seven and Nine, after you." He smiled ruefully. "I don't actually envy them the names, but I do support the feeling that inspired them. Our family will always be grateful for the love and care you gave to our lost ones." He squeezed her shoulder gently. "Let that comfort you when you miss them."
Unable to trust her voice at that moment, Seven could only nod.
The elder man took his place on the transport platform and just as transport began, he and the twins all raised their left hands and waved to Seven one last time. Seven stood for a long time in the transporter room, staring at the empty platform.
B'Elanna sat across from Seven now, making half-hearted attempts to lay power transfer conduits in the Bassinet. iCheb and Mizati were off with Naomi and her mother for snack time in the mess hall so it was just the three of them here in the cargo baySeven, the baby, and herself. Seven sat in the rocking chair with the infant, but she didn't rock or sing as she usually did. She just held the little girl stiffly, almost not seeing her at all.
B'Elanna didn't wonder why. Seven had been through so much emotional upheaval in the last week that she expected sitting quietly was a great relief. Still, the young Klingon wondered if maybe Seven's willingness to share details of what had happened wasn't some sort of cry for helpthough she would have thought Seven would have gone to the captain if she needed to talk.
Unless, thought B'Elanna, that fight she had with the captain over iCheb was more than just ship's gossip.
Just then, the baby squirmed and made a sound of discomfort. Seven looked down at her with sad eyes but made no move to comfort her. B'Elanna pursed her lips, dropped her calibration wrench, and walked over to Seven.
"Here," she said, reaching for the baby, "let me take her."
"No!" Seven clutched the baby to her chest and glared at B'Elanna, her eyes flashing.
B'Elanna's first response was anger and it flared along her skin like wildfire. But it was over in an instant as she realized that Seven's silence was not relief but barely controlled pain. She knelt next to the rocking chair and put her hand tentatively on Seven's.
"Hey, it's okay, Seven," she said softly. "I won't take her if you don't want me to. I just thought you could use a break."
Seven blinked, the fiery blue of her eyes bleeding out again to a pale gray.
"I am sorry, B'Elanna." She presented the infant to her. "Please take her."
The Klingon took the baby and cradled her close, still wondering how she could have grown so attached to something so small, so helpless, and so fundamentally other than what she had always promised herself. She almost snorted at the list of rules she had made for herself at the tender age of eleven. Rules that she suspected had been ruling her ever since.
No friendsbecause friends will betray you.
You fought that one as long as you could, didn't you, Half-breed? Until you got your butt stuck on this Starfleet ship 70,000 lightyears from nowhere.
No familybecause family always lets you down.
Except Mom didn't let me down. She came through when I least expected it. And I came through for her. I never thought that would happen, never thought my honor would count for anything with her.
No lovebecause love hurts.
I I thought I loved Tom, but did I? We were never what each of us wanted in a mate. We were both so wrapped up in ourselves. Which is why the last two rulesNo marriagebecause marriage never lasts and No childrenbecause children ruin everythinghaven't happened. And probably never will.
Seven's soft voice startled the Klingon out of her reverie.
"Explain the significance of your name."
B'Elanna turned and frowned. "What?"
"My designation is just thata means of identifying one drone from another. Recently I have learned that names can have additional significance. I wish to know if your name has any significance."
"Oh." The young Klingon took a seat at one of the children's desks, cuddling the baby in an absent-minded way. "Well, my father apparently wanted to name me after his younger sister, Annabel, who died when she was very young. My mother, of course, wanted a Klingon name for me. So they compromised and I got stuck with B'Elanna."
"You do not like your name." Though said as a statement, B'Elanna heard the underlying question.
"Well...growing up, no, I didn't like it. I used to think that if my name were one or the other, either Human or Klingon, that I would fit in better. I used to wish my name was Annabel Torres and that a Starfleet officer would come rescue me from my province on Qo'noS and take me to live with him on a big Federation ship. Maybe it was that fantasy that made me join Starfleet when I was fifteen."
"But you are not Annabel Torres. You are B'Elanna Torres. Why would you desire a name that was not your own?"
"I don't now, Seven," clarified B'Elanna. "I am learning to like the Klingon things about myself, including my name. I'm just starting to realize what my name means, what it represents."
"Elaborate." Seven's eyes were clear and blue for the first time in days.
B'Elanna wanted more than anything to change the subject. She'd never been one to be all warm and fuzzy and introspective, always preferring to keep herself and others in the dark regarding her inner demons. However, her experience with the Barge of the Dead had put a crack in that wall, had let in some light. And if shining more light on her inner demons would distract Seven from her pain for just a little longer, well, B'Elanna just couldn't see a down side to that.
"I...I don't remember much about my father, Lieutenant Enrique Torres. He left my mother and me when I was five. I remember his red uniform, how proud he was to wear it. I remember his dark hair. I remember him tickling my belly and teasing me in Spanish. He called me Mi Chica Loca...My Crazy Girl. I remember him at my fourth birthday party, shaking his head and telling me how much I looked like his sister, Annabel..."
She shook her head, dislodging the fog of her fading memories.
"I always thought my father hated me but now I realize that he must have loved me once. He loved me enough to want to name me after a sister he adored." She paused and let the baby tug on her finger for a moment. "And Mom loved me enough to want me to understand my Klingon heritage. It would have been so much easier for her to pack me off somewhere and get on with her life. It wasn't her fault I blamed the Klingons for everything bad that ever happened to me." She turned her gaze toward Seven. "So I guess my name represents the love of my parents and the history of my people. And the blending of the two." She snorted self-consciously. "That little gem of an insight would have saved me some heartache when I was a kid."
"You derive all of that from your name?" Seven didn't seem to believe that so much knowledge could come from what seemed to be an arbitrary choice of designation for a child who had yet to exhibit any personality.
"Well, from my name and the people who gave it to me."
"And Rebi's future daughters? What will they derive from their names?"
B'Elanna felt like a charging Targ had hit her full on. She had assumed Seven's interest in names stemmed from the still-nameless infant now sitting in her lap, gurgling happily. It hadn't even occurred to her that Seven might be confused about a 10-year-old boy's promise of loyalty and regard.
"If Rebi is a good father," she said, struggling against the tightness in her chest, "he will tell his daughters that someone once cared enough about him to think of his happiness and his future above anything else. And that he cared enough about her to want to remember her for it."
Seven looked away. Silence stretched wire-thin between the two women.
"I am...glad your name is B'Elanna," she said softly after an eternity. She looked up, her eyes more blue than B'Elanna had ever seen them.
"It suits you."
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