DISCLAIMER: We, the authors of this particular work of fiction claim no profit or protégé, and mean no disregard to any reviewing or sovereign party. By extension and addition, we mean no disrespect to anyone associated with the development or portrayal of the fictional characters contained within this work or the universe in which they inhabit. This work of fiction’s primary purpose remains free, personal entertainment as well as the possible entertainment of others.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: We're simply opening the door... Also, please note that all Officer logs are recorded in each section’s indicated timeframe.
SPOILERS: The timeline begins shortly after Life Line in Season Six.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
BETA: Captain Java

Running Up That Hill

By ladydameon & Lain Stardust



Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01 – the current Astrometrics Officer for the Federation starship Voyager– would not fail. Her current mission: reach the alien communications relay tower inconveniently located on the apex of a steep, uneven hillside riddled with loose gravel and jagged rock.

To make matters worse, an incoming mass of low, dark grey clouds were rolling over the valley at alarming speed, bringing with it the distant rumble of thunder, possibly lightening, and most certainly rain. The rain alone would make a bad situation worse and decidedly more difficult.

She used her seemingly inefficiently designed footwear to her advantage as she rammed the 8 centimeter heels into the jagged rocks – propelling her onward and bypassing a majority of the unstable rubble. Her enhanced strength, as was afforded by the remaining cybernetic Borg implants, was put to the test as her body was already feeling drained from the past few days: hiking through kilometers of dense foliage and rough terrain in a warzone, being exposed to bio-chemical agents. Seven ignored the disrupter fire, the pot-shots taken at her that caused bits of rock and dust to scatter through the humid air.

To further complicate the situation, she was all too aware of her crewmates' struggle behind and below her. They were growing considerably weaker from their constant excursions and were fundamentally defenseless while dutifully attempting to provide her cover for the rigorous climb to the tower. They valiantly challenged the well-equipped rebel soldiers in black and grey garb and gas masks who had been hunting them for the last day. Their survival depended on how quickly Seven of Nine could reach the communication tower and contact Voyager.

Two struggling humans were no match for six healthy and rested soldiers.

Again, failure was not an option. There had been enough death on the Liratic home-world, and Seven wouldn't allow Ensign Kim or Captain Janeway to be added to the list of fatalities.

Slowing to better gauge the distance and appropriate approach to the tower, Seven saw another squad of soldiers wearing respirators – swarming from around her target – in the official colors of navy and crimson of the Liratic ground military force. A moment of confusion flooded Seven as they raised their weapons. The Liratic soldiers fired over and around Seven at the pursuing rebels at the base of the hill, which didn't necessarily guarantee these new arrivals would in fact help the Voyager crew – perhaps even thinking the Voyager crew part of the rebel offensive.

Four of the black and grey soldiers fell back to the forest edge, ducking behind massive tree trunks and other fallen natural debris and offering cover fire for their two comrades fighting with Kim and Janeway amongst large boulders and thinning scrub. At the sight of additional government troops, one of the rebels activated a communication device to call for reinforcements, an advantage to being line-of-sight of a communication relay tower.

The first descending group of Liratic soldiers moved into a protective position around Seven of Nine, forcing her to crouch with them in a defensible enclave of rocks as they laid cover fire for another Liratic squad now dashing down the jagged hillside towards the still struggling Kim and Janeway.

Although the sudden appearance of the Liratic soldiers forced the rebel forces to halt their advance and hold onto their more defensible position at the forest edge rather than press onward up the hillside, it was blatantly evident that additional rebel soldiers had been following the initial squad tracking the survivors of the crashed transport. At least two additional rebel scouts from another unit laid down heavy and continual weapons fire on the hillside, quickly taking out the initial Liratic squad moving down the hill.

With crossfire flying dangerously close overhead, Ensign Kim, covered with dust and dirt, fought with one of their rebel pursuers for control of a disrupter rifle while attempting to keep between two massive broken boulders that blocked any stray shots. They twisted each other around in some perverse dance, slamming the other against the boulders. A second black and grey geared soldier – believing he had rendered Janeway unconscious – moved behind Kim, ready to bring the butt of his rifle down between Kim's shoulder blades. However, the action was halted as a downed Janeway landed a solid kick on the back of the soldier's knee as he raised his weapon for the strike, forcing the rebel down and out from the protection of the boulders. As the downed rebel soldier scrambled to stand, he was shot by a third wave of advancing Liratic from the hillside, drawing Janeway's attention.

Kim was losing the fight for the disrupter as rain slowly started to fall.

Four more rebel soldiers emerged from the distant cover of the thick foliage, laying additional fire onto the hillside and stopping the advancement of the Voyager crew's would-be saviors. Two of the newcomer rebels ran into the crossfire to aid their comrade struggling with Ensign Kim, whom they quickly subdued, leaving him unconscious on the ground. The disgruntled rebel that had been wrestling with Kim raised his weapon and took aim at the downed ensign. Janeway had managed to struggle to her feet while the rebels attacked Harry. Seeing him down, she reacted immediately, throwing herself into the aiming rebel and sending them both crashing to the hard ground in a tangle several feet from the others.

Now, the storm was directly overhead, and the rain fell steadily. The other two rebels were quickly deposited face down in the dampening dirt by weapons fire from the Liratic squads on the hill.

As Janeway twisted to her feet, her mind blurred, unable to focus as her body was quickly succumbing to the bio-chemical agents absorbed earlier in the creeping walk toward the hillside – toward the communication relay tower. The captain was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain an upright position, continually dropping to her knees in her almost frantic attempts to stand – mud clinging to her torn uniform and clumping onto her boots; but this didn't stop Janeway from trying to stand again – trying to reach Kim.

Crossfire continued to fill the air and burned the thinning plant life between the forest edge and the bottom of the hill. Bits of dirt and pebbles flew up into the air from the barrage of weapons fire, releasing the bio agent from its confines in the soil and creating a sort of toxic soup, an eerie, yellow steam rising despite the downpour.

Seven of Nine watched helplessly as her crewmates fought for their lives in the crossfire between the rebels and the Liratic soldiers. Seeing Kim go down, she lurched forward, prepared to leap into the fray to aid him, but was halted by a rough hand on the shoulder from one of the Liratic soldiers defending her, forcing her back into the protective enclave of rocks and men. It was surprising as well as annoying that he was so easily able to manhandle her. Returning her gaze to her crewmates, Seven saw a rebel soldier take aim at Kim and held her breath as the captain intervened. Again, she was powerless to offer any aid as Janeway struggled to stand, falling and slipping in the sludge of toxic mud. An unfamiliar feeling overtook Seven – one which she would later realize was terror – as she saw another rebel on the forest edge take aim at her exposed captain.

"Captain!" Seven shouted in warning over the roar of thunder and disrupter fire, once again attempting to burst forward, her eyes widening as she was again forced down by a Liratic soldier. There wouldn't be time for her to reach Janeway, even if she wasn't stopped.

Finally, Janeway, now completely soaked and her wet hair mashed against her skull, succeeded in getting to her feet once more, albeit shakily. Unknown to the captain, another rebel soldier stepped partially out of the protective cover of the foliage, and lined up his shot. Janeway was in his sights. At Seven's cry, he hesitated and noticed the mad charge of a comrade towards his current target.

Instinctively, the captain turned towards Seven as the younger woman's cry distracted her. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments, but the charging rebel soldier caught Janeway's attention as he made a beeline for her position. The rushing soldier pointed his weapon up the hill, vaguely aiming for Seven of Nine while taking pot-shots at the Liratic squads. Not wasting another moment, the captain scooped up a discarded rifle and quickly took him down – ending the rebel's suicide run.

Movement behind Janeway once again caught Seven's eye. The partially concealed rebel who had hesitated earlier returned crosshairs to target the captain. In a rush of adrenalin, Seven actually succeeded in pushing past her protectors, calling out to Janeway as she started down the hill, desperately trying not to slip on the wet gravel. "Captain, behind you!"

Janeway crouched low as she turned, barely managing to avoid the blast sent in her direction as she ducked into the protective hole between the two broken boulders. Fighting against the dizziness, she fired back at the rebel at the forest edge, causing him to find cover behind the tree trunks. Unfortunately, the now-hiding rebel saw Seven of Nine advancing down the hill and started to alternate his fire between her and Janeway. Seven's squad of protectors scrambled after their charge who had slipped away from them, out of the protective enclave, and who was now in harm's way.

Seven ducked behind an outcropping of rocks for cover halfway down the hill as disrupter blasts began singeing her with their proximity.

The rebel reinforcements started to emerge from the forest edge. Several had maneuvered themselves to come up along Seven's flank, converging on the very exposed woman and the squad that was trying to help her.

Sweating profusely, Janeway staggered to her feet again and moved to join her crewmember, firing at the rebels as she advanced on Seven's position, taking cover when possible. Harry Kim, for the most part, was safe between the broken boulders under the yellow shroud that now blanketed the ground. Janeway was in no shape to move his unconscious form. She'd just reached the base of the hill when her disruptor stopped firing, and she flung it away in disgust. The captain, quickly losing steam, trudged up the hill toward Seven as best she could, stumbling from exhaustion and the advancing effects of the bio-chemical agent in her system. She was still several meters from her target when instinct kicked in, causing her to turn and search the hillside. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the rebels kneel and aim at a point past her. From the angle, it was clear he had decided to take Seven down. Janeway pushed herself onward, unable to shout a warning, but able to get in the way. Voyager needed Seven of Nine.

The Liratic squad converged on Seven's location at that moment, surrounding her once again while optimizing their protection with the rock outcropping. One of the soldiers at Seven's side readjusted to offer cover fire for Janeway, but he was unable to stop her from going down. Captain Janeway's eyes widened at the initial contact of the disrupter blast aimed for Seven of Nine before she ungracefully collapsed face down in the mud and loose gravel on the hillside.

Once again, Seven moved to rush to her crewmates, but was promptly and quite roughly shoved down, this time by two of her protectors. With the Voyager crew down, the Liratic soldiers were unrestricted in their fire fight as the battle for the hill continued. Additional government troops arrived over the hill's crest laying down devastating damage on the meager rebel force, enabling the Liratic soldiers to secure the relay tower and retrieve the two downed aliens in the ensuing twenty minutes.

In all this chaos, Seven of Nine could only stare at the unmoving form of her drenched and muddy captain; and although her face was one of detachment, the Borg ex-drone felt numb and sickened. Despite her physical superiority, she had failed to reach the communication relay tower and thus save her crewmates.

[Approximately 48 hours previously…]

"Are you sure you don't want to take a security team?" Chakotay inquired as he escorted Janeway to Transporter Room 2. He caught the quick pursing of her lips as she obviously quelled her initial retort, shifting the small duffle strap on her shoulder in an attempt to hide a sigh.

It had been a hard transition in the last six years going from an outlaw Maquis to a Starfleet first officer. It was a role he never really wanted, but that had become painfully apparent as he rose in the ranks of Starfleet so many years ago. And not for the first time, Chakotay felt his father had been right; he didn't belong in either world. Such thinking had brought him to his current conundrum.

Wasn't it his job as XO to ensure the captain's safety? Of course, Chakotay was well aware that his attitude of late could use some improvement. That fact was effectively driven home when Tuvok approached him, repeatedly, regarding the captain's scheduled two night visit on the Liratic home-world.

"We're at the diplomatic stage now with the trade negotiations finalized, Commander. I'm sure Harry and Seven will be more than adequate protection on this token sojourn." Janeway stopped a few steps from the transporter room doors, wanting to finish the conversation far away from the curious ears of subordinates.

Three days of being led around by an alien ambassador wasn't the ideal break from captaincy Janeway had in mind. It did, however, offer certain opportunities. Seven of Nine was sorely in need of a break from the Borg children and they from her, whilst this was a distinct hands-on learning opportunity for Ensign Kim. After all, the young man had mentioned numerous times his desire to gain command experience, and diplomacy was a critical part of that experience. Both were in need of gaining an appreciative perspective of their given situations.

Knowing exactly how to defuse this situation, a smile slowly crept onto the captain's face. Her eyes twinkled as she said, "Don't tell me you'd rather go on the tour with Ambassador Kutok?" Janeway smirked at the slightly panicked look that flashed in Chakotay's eyes. Her first officer and the Liratic Ambassador had mixed like oil and water since their first encounter.

With a sigh, Chakotay recanted, "Alright." He stood with arms akimbo while casting his eyes down, searching the deck. Today wasn't going to mark a winning battle for his self-proclaimed war of becoming a better officer – nor a better friend to the person he swore to help.

Janeway chuckled lightly as she stepped into the transporter room, taking her place on the pad with her waiting crewmen and ordering the technician on duty to energize.

[Approximately 24 hours previously…]

First Officers' Log, Stardate: 53953.5: After leaving the captain, Ensign Kim and Seven of Nine planet-side, Voyager headed towards the Liratic supply depot in a neighboring system. The plan was to complete the exchange and return to the planet for some much needed shore leave. However, things didn't go quite as intended as we were a day out – almost to the depot – when we received a communiqué informing us that the transport shuttle taking our crew on an aerial tour of the planet had been shot down over the northern continent. Naturally, the Liratic government had assured us that they were doing everything possible to locate our people.

Night on this alien world had an almost magical quality for an off-worlder. The sky danced brilliantly overhead with stars and a distant nebula smearing across the horizon like an artist's palette. A gentle shift of a sweet, summer breeze rustled the rich plant life under a pair of full moons.

However, this was not the much preferred tranquil night the away team of the starship Voyager had hoped for. It was a night torn by war on the northern-most continent. The earth was scarred with the evidence of destruction as hot green-yellow trails ripped through the smooth, deep purple sky only to land in a loud and bright burst of orange fire.

Shifting slightly, Captain Janeway kept her vigilant watch, occasionally looking over her shoulder to observe a tired Harry Kim attempting to get sleep in the limited confines of the tree's gnarled branches.

Turning once again, she watched the angry fireworks display with detachment. First contact with this warp-capable society had gone by the book, and ended with the best possible outcome for the Voyager crew. After meeting with the Liratic World Congress' Off-World Affairs delegation, the away team was scheduled to take part in a guided aerial tour of all the state capitals, four total, as well as other sights deemed of importance for such an event. It was a formality of course but was designed to occupy the away team until Voyager arrived in orbit from picking up the previously arranged supplies, and official shore leave rotations could be scheduled. However, the away team never made it to the third scheduled capital.

The transport shuttle was shot down. By whom or why, it was unknown to the team. All they knew was that the shuttle was bombarded with weapons fire. Events went downhill from there as the pilot, ambassador and two of the four assigned Liratic security guards were killed instantly on impact. This left only two security personnel responsible for bringing the Voyager crew to safety and they took this duty very seriously.

Unfortunately, the battered and bruised group did not have long to get their bearings. The earth beneath them started to shake. One of the security guards, named Tukelt, shouted as the earth beneath his feet crumbled. The survivors were astonished and helpless as long, thin worm-like creatures – completely resistant to weapon's fire due to an exoskeleton – slithered out of the earth in a spiral and encircled the security officer. Other worms were attempting to break through the surface. The last living alien of the assigned delegation, Pu'Tuk, shouted the order to climb the closest thing that could provide some semblance of safety – a massive black tree isolated in a small clearing of mud, sickly scrub and gravel, its array of twisted branches giving it a sinister appearance.

They watched helplessly as the slender worms converged on Tukelt, wrapping themselves around his body, constricting and electrocuting him as they pulled his carcass below ground. Other worms slid around and through the downed transport, now a couple of meters away. The consoles sparked and flickered from damage sustained from the crash and the conductive properties of the massive worms that drained the power, rendering the transport and all of its contents useless.

Later, Pu'Tuk explained the nature of the deadly, thick-skinned worms, called Roe'Ki, and the macabre processes of those unfortunate enough to be snared by said creatures – slowly crushed and suffocated by the earth as jolts of electricity surged through the body. He carefully explained how the creatures resided underground and were drawn by vibrations. Pu'tuk, despite not being a native to the northern continent, shared what he knew of the infamous Roe'Ki. Legends existed of how they were believed to have supernatural powers, granting strength and untold powers to those that killed and feasted upon the flesh of the creatures as well as stories of how the Roe'Ki were allegedly used in battles – decimating the invading enemies of the southern nations.

Needless to say, the Roe'Ki were not to be taken lightly.

With no scanning equipment or survival gear, and armed with only a single hand disruptor attached to Pu'Tuk's waist, the black tree was the away team's new home until Voyager came into communication range of their combadges, or a Liratic rescue team contacted Pu'Tuk.

Softly, the earth started to shake, causing the waxy, charcoal leaves of the tree to tremble violently.

Immediately, Janeway flopped onto her stomach in order to loop her limbs around the thick branch upon which she sat. She searched the ground for signs of the creatures. As the shaking became more defined and a low rumble filled the air, Janeway gave a short, loud whistle to warn the rest of the team in the tree – just in case they missed the commotion due their exhaustion. She heard with satisfaction the others looping their legs and arms around branches.

"Where are they?" called Harry Kim, one branch level up and to the left of his captain.

"I don't know." Janeway narrowed her gaze in hopes that would help her to pierce the teal fog that had developed along the ground during the night. "But it feels like they're coming in from the north." She wondered, Driven off by the commotion from the battle field?

Suddenly, the tree seemed to jerk violently under them, and gradually, the tremors tapered.

Kim grunted as he found himself on the underside his branch. He sighed in exasperation. "You know, I used to feel sorry for the worms that I used as bait when I went fishing as a kid." Carefully, he reclaimed his position on the top portion of the branch.

"How do you feel now, Ensign?" inquired Seven who occupied the branch next to Harry Kim. She had somehow managed to remain topside on her own perch.

"I wish somebody would have used these guys as bait." Kim smiled over at his ex-drone friend despite himself.

A few moments passed as the rumble continued to slowly fade.

"I think they're gone." Janeway spoke after everything had stilled, eyes still searching the darkness.

Not really wanting to say the words, but understanding they needed to be heard, Pu'Tuk proclaimed, "There will be more."

[Approximately 12 hours previously…]

First Officers' Log, Stardate: 53954.6: Voyager's been in orbit for a few hours now, and despite our best efforts, we've haven't located the away team or the Liratic diplomatic delegation assigned to them. No bio signs or debris from the transport have been found, and all attempts to hail them via their combadges have failed. The official assigned to be our contact has assured us that they are doing everything possible to locate our people. They're even providing regular status reports.

The sunlight had not yet ascended the mountain peaks to kiss the valley floor.

Janeway slipped down the black trunk onto the large rock pile that Kim reclined upon at the base of the tree. "Any sign of our friends?" She wiped her hands on her trousers, studying what was left of the transport wreckage as it seemed to slowly sink into the ground. Currently, it was devoid of any Roe'Ki, but the controls were obviously useless – burned and melted beyond repair. Absently, Janeway offered a hand to Seven of Nine, allowing the young woman to gain purchase on the slick rocks.

"No sign of the worms, but the battle seems to be getting closer." Kim stood up and pointed to the north. The rising smoke was indeed closer to the away team's location as compared to yesterday. "Why don't the worms go after them?"

"Good question," replied Janeway.

At that moment, Pu'Tuk tentatively dropped down onto a large boulder only five feet from his charges. "The yellow gas," he quietly offered, tossing some fruit to the three. "It seeps into the ground and causes the earth to absorb a great deal of the vibrations – giving the Roe'Ki the impression the earth is stone." Peeling open his fruit, Pu'Tuk squatted and continued, "We would be wise to avoid it." He had read reports, seen footage of people overexposed to the Roe'Ki gas.

The natural form of the yellow gas was relatively harmless to humanoids. To the worm creatures, the gas simply distorted and numbed their senses, but in recent decades, the Roe'Ki had grown immune to the natural form – leading to a deadly, manufactured gas. This was the yellow gas currently in use by the rebel faction of the northern continent and absolutely lethal to all life as it first impaired the respiratory system, and slowly numbed the nervous system. Even the briefest of exposure could eventually lead to death as the yellow gas permeated every cell, grinding all biological functions to a halt.

Absently, Janeway bit into the apple-like fruit, relieved that its juices quenched her dry throat. She studied the ground and surrounding area – blindly wiping at her mouth. The black tree that currently offered limited refuge was in a small, grassless clearing with few rocks that could offer relative safety; beyond the clearing lie thick ground foliage and a dense tree canopy. Her eyes caught the branches where Pu'Tuk had obviously harvested the apples. It was the only tree close enough….

"We can't walk out of here," she bit into the apple again, eyeing the branches leading towards the alien apple tree.

Pu'Tuk's eyes went wide as he followed Captain Janeway's gaze. "Captain, those branches would never hold our weight."

Janeway considered the various concerns, but all that was forgotten at the high pitch whining coming from the north. Her gut told her that they didn't want to be found by these rebels.

Seven of Nine peered around the edge of the black, gnarled tree trunk. "We may have no choice but to vacate." She pointed as another whining – closer this time – revealed a small canister crashing through the tree canopy to the north. A loud clank was heard as the canister apparently landed on something hard, releasing an audible hiss.

Pu'Tuk gasped, "The rebels must be searching for the transport. They're extending the gas perimeter." He pulled nervously at his collar. He wasn't a soldier. He didn't know the first thing about surviving in the Northern Wilderness.

"Alright, we're going to have to make a jump for it." The captain climbed back into the waiting arms of the tree.

"Captain?" interjected Kim, watching Janeway scurry upwards.

"But we need a direction to head in." Janeway looked down pointedly at Pu'Tuk, asking, "Which way do we go, Pu'Tuk?" She saw his nervousness, but he seemed to respond to the command in her voice.

Snapping to, the young security officer noted the stern look in the alien captain's eyes. She was not one to go without a fight. If he remembered his geography of this particular region, the best direction to go would be… "East, there should be a communication tower on the east side of the valley wall, and that'll take us away from the fighting, as well."

"East it is," nodded Janeway as she tossed the fruit's core out into the dirt. It was quickly consumed by worms.

The other three did the same before climbing back into the arms of the black tree. All eyes peered into the horizon, looking for the distant communication tower.

"There," pointed Seven of Nine. "I see a tower-like structure roughly four kilometers from our current location."

Looking around rather intently, Janeway studied the sprawling branches of the black tree, and carefully gauged the distance of open air. The apple tree was conveniently on the east side which was helpful because there was no guarantee they'd be able to see the relay tower from under the tree canopy. But like Pu'Tuk said, the slim branches that happened to span into stretching distance of the black tree would never hold their weight, though the distance was certainly jumpable. The captain climbed higher and seemed to casually walk out onto one of the older, sturdier branches as the others quickly followed suit.

Kim studied the situation, and not for the first time, he entertained the notion that his captain was indeed a little crazy. He swallowed as he looked down the long, thick branch that stretched towards the apple tree. The ultimate problem with this maneuver was that they would have to clear about two meters of open air. However, the advantage was that they were currently three meters over their target. If they made the jump, they would land hard, and the apple tree's branches didn't look very cushy.

Without much thought, Kim looked down at Seven's footwear. He raised an eyebrow, but before he could voice his concerns….

"Just do what I do."

Kim's jaw fell open as he watched Janeway bolt down the branch, propel herself off the end and disappear into the waiting arms of the apple tree. He exchanged astonished looks with Pu'Tuk as a 'next' was called out. And to Kim's amazement, Seven of Nine – in her high heels – darted down the branch. Her landing wasn't nearly as graceful as the captain's, but she made it.

With a shrug, Kim said, "Here goes."

He was scared to death, feeling as if he was running off a cliff. Kim pumped his legs hard, figuring that he needed all the momentum he could muster. His breath caught as he fought against the instinct to stop at the end of the branch. His heart hammered in his chest as he sailed through the air – not very gracefully with legs and arms flailing. There was no time to react as Kim's face was smacked with nimble little branches. It felt like being whipped, but it all stopped as his chest connected with the solid, biting surface of the tree's trunk. Dazed, Kim felt himself falling backwards, but was halted by something grabbing the front of his uniform.

"Seven, give me a hand," grunted Janeway, slowing the ensign's fall. "Are you alright, Harry?"

"Yeah," he muttered still dazed, but it quickly cleared at the sound of rustling leaves from above.

Pu'Tuk was incoming; his stomach connected hard with a branch, which he had the good sense to hold onto for dear life.

Confident everyone was stable – at least for the most part, Janeway reached out for another apple-type fruit, content to give everyone a few moments to collect their bearings. The plan was simple: reach the communications tower to the east while staying ahead of any hostiles, which happened to include wildlife, soldiers and biological weapons. She frowned, biting into the apple. The odds were not in their favor.

[Approximately 8 hours previously…]

Chakotay and Tuvok waited patiently for Neelix to materialize on the transporter pad. A few hours ago, Voyager's ambassador had transported down in hopes of finding out any additional information, anything to explain why Voyager's sensors weren't picking up the away team. Neelix's expression did not improve either man's individual outlook on the situation.

The first officer dismissed the transporter tech as Neelix stepped down from the platform. "Well?" prompted Chakotay, allowing a hint of his anxiety to show.

"I did manage to get a few details cleared up." Neelix smiled weakly, forcing an upbeat tone as he held up a PADD containing his latest findings. "Apparently, a group of isolationists that inhabit the valley on the northern continent decided to stir things up. From what I understand, these rebels – as they refer to themselves – are usually all talk with the occasional grandiose display of malcontent, but this current skirmish came out of the nowhere, taking everyone completely by surprise." Naturally, he was assured the away team would have never been taken near any possible hostile locations, but that wouldn't soothe the commander. It certainly did nothing to calm Neelix.

Crew morale had been shifty as of late what with the mysterious dealings with Kes, the two week struggle to locate a marooned B'Elanna Torres and Harry Kim, the dubious resurrection of Ensign Lyndsay Ballard, and Seven of Nine being forced to fight in the Tsunkatse tournaments. The list of unfortunate events went on and on for the Voyager crew. Neelix almost missed the simple adventures of strange spatial anomalies of days long past. All those misadventures could be taken in stride; however, when the captain was missing or injured, the crew didn't mess around. Chakotay and Tuvok wouldn't settle for anything less than focused professionalism and perfection.

"So I take it the Liratic feel the transport went down in this valley?" Chakotay clenched his jaw. The state of affairs did not bode well. Voyager was essentially blind, and the crew was starting to become restless at the inaction. However, it was the not knowing the away team's status that amplified the situation.

Neelix gestured absently with the PADD. "According to their findings, it's the only logical and realistic conclusion." He tried not to shudder as he remembered viewing the footage of the Roe'Ki.

"Were you able to obtain any information explaining the ineffectiveness of our sensors?" Tuvok asked.

Nodding, Neelix handed the PADD to Tuvok, who immediately accessed the device. "Yes, actually, between natural elements indigenous to that particular mountain range and a bio-chemical agent used against some unique wildlife called Roe'Ki, the valley is virtually a sensor dead zone. The only means of communicating with the inhabitants are through a series of relay towers on the valley perimeter."

Waiting for Tuvok to pass the PADD, Chakotay continued to question Neelix. "Did they give us permission to send in a rescue team?" He couldn't accept that there was nothing they could do other than wait.

"Not really." Neelix furrowed his brows, knowing this next part wasn't going to be received well. "However, they did stress – quite adamantly – that their extraction teams were more than capable of retrieving any survivors." After a brief pause, he continued, "They seem genuinely concerned over our crew's welfare, Commander, and don't want to see anyone else get hurt." The words sounded hollow.

"Perhaps we can boost our scanner resolution via the communication relay towers." Tuvok continued his quick appraisal of the PADD.

"That was suggested since Voyager has more advanced sensors, but right before I was about to contact the ship, the relay system was reduced to emergency power status."

"By whom?" inquired Tuvok, glancing up from the PADD.

"The rebel forces disengaged the relay's power source in the valley. Liratic intelligence has suggested that the rebels have located the wreckage and are currently tracking the survivors."

Of course, the rebels still had access to the relay system thanks to emergency short-range communication equipment undoubtedly in use and adapted by their soldiers. These devices were designed specifically for the valley as they also scrambled the communication signals, making it virtually impossible to intercept and decrypt the transmissions within a reasonable amount of time. All of this was documented in the PADD, and Neelix knew it was only a matter of time before the issue was addressed.

Chakotay rested his hands on his hips as he took a step away from Neelix and Tuvok. Staring at the deck, he thought for a few moments. "So, the Liratic expect us to sit on our hands."

"There's a great deal of information here regarding the variables unique to the valley. We may be able to recalibrate our sensors to compensate for the various disturbances." Tuvok passed the PADD to Chakotay. The modifications would take hours, if not days, which could mean life or death for the away team.

As the pair turned from him, Neelix added hastily, "The Liratic are utilizing every means possible to locate our people, Commanders. They're even attempting a visual search via surveillance satellites, but with the thick tree canopies covering a majority of territory…." It was a long shot for sure, but these people were trying their best to help. Neelix honestly believed they wanted to do right by the Voyager crew.

Chakotay gave a brisk nod and continued out into the corridor with Tuvok and Neelix in tow. "Let's assemble the senior staff. I want options and the ability to take action when the moment arrives."

[Approximately 2 hours previously…]

"Perhaps Starfleet should upgrade their uniforms to formfitting dermaplastic garments."

Ensign Kim caught the rather dirty look his captain gave Seven of Nine. If he wasn't so damned tired, achy and thirsty, he would have made some humorous remark, but that part of his brain had shut off a while ago. Sweat ran down the sides of his face, soaked the front and back of his tunic, and his toes felt wrinkled from the moisture trapped in his boots. He desperately wanted to shed his jacket, but alas, they couldn't take the chance of alerting the pursuing rebel squad; and it did help protect them from the trees' rough bark.

Pu'Tuk had assured the Voyager crewmembers that whoever was attempting to locate them would take a suitable amount of time to study the transport wreckage before it was completely sucked underground. Also, he insisted that the Voyager away team keep moving to the communication tower as he secured a hidden watch post just within visual range of the transport. Of course, the navy and crimson Liratic uniforms would be easily recognizable from such a distance, whereas the bland, black and grey garb of the rebels would blend. There was only a slim chance they would be friendly, and Pu'Tuk's continued absence confirmed the soldiers' identity.

His plan was to take up station on the west side of the black tree and observe. If they were friendly, he would immediately apprise them of the situation. If they were hostiles, Pu'Tuk would attempt to draw them away from his charges. Naturally, this didn't go over too well with Captain Janeway, but she couldn't talk the man out of performing his duty; and Pu'Tuk took his assignments very seriously. He also stressed that there might not be a better opportunity to offer protection or resistance. As such, they had better make good time to reach the relay tower.

The trio managed to cover roughly three kilometers through the canopy before Seven mentioned that she heard possible small-arm weapons fire. It was a difficult and time consuming trek, but the close proximity of the trees allowed for efficient travel time and adequate coverage. Occasionally, one of them would drop something onto the ground to confirm if the Roe'Ki were still lingering, which they were.

Now, as they dangled in the branches of a tree on the forest's edge, the away team considered the current obstacle – a thirty meter expanse of dirt and gravel covered with sparse scrub and a few broken boulders here and there. The worms seemed to play in the loose, unrestricted soil as they slithered up and down, in and out of the earth much like dolphins in an ocean. The away team couldn't leap frog to the rocky hillside, and they certainly couldn't make a run for it.

Again, Kim craned his neck to look down the length of the gaping, treeless expanse. It traveled forever, at least as far as his eyes were concerned, but here they were sitting at the base of their potential escape. However, even if they traveled south to a spot where they could cross the expanse, they couldn't make it back along the hillside to the relay tower. The hillside turned into a sheer cliff about twenty meters from their current position, and it was unclear whether or not they could circle back to the relay tower from the other side – even if the other side could be traversed. As far as heading north, there was nothing to indicate that would be any more fruitful.

Sighing, Kim didn't have anything useful to suggest to his captain, and he wasn't in any hurry to come up with a solution. Sitting still had never felt so good to his sore body.

The situation was indeed dire, as they had also passed the last fruit-bearing tree an hour ago.

Janeway was about to make a judgment call to head south when a familiar high-pitch whine sailed overhead. She tracked the sound and watched as a canister cleared the canopy. The black canister slammed into one of the broken boulders with a resounding clang as yellow gas hissed free. Instantly, the worms reacted, making it seem as if the earth was rolling away from the gas.

All three watched as the gas shifted lightly in the almost nonexistent breeze. Once the canister was depleted, the yellow gas seemed to settle relatively close to the ground. Another canister landed a few dozen meters to the north then another to the south.

"We're going to go through the gas," Janeway said sliding down the tree trunk. By this time, the gas had rolled back into the forest. Was that gas mingling with the dense foliage further back? In her exhaustion, Janeway really wasn't sure and she didn't want to waste time debating it.

"Captain, would that be wise?" Seven of Nine quickly followed. She hadn't let Janeway out of her sight since beaming down almost two days ago. If Seven was feeling the effects of their journey now, she knew Janeway and Kim had to be near collapse. They might not make it up the steep incline to their objective.

"If we move slowly, we may not stir the gas up too badly, thereby limiting our exposure," the captain rationalized out loud. It was a long shot, but these canisters were a good sign that a group of rebel soldiers were not far behind them. They also needed time to access the communications equipment in the tower.

Taking a tentative step forward, Janeway watched the yellow gas shift around her calves, seeming to cling to her trousers. A putrid scent wafted up as she took yet another step. The scent seeped into her nostrils as she continued onward, creating a slight burning sensation. Resisting the urge to dry heave, Janeway pressed carefully to a small group of broken boulders. Once in range, she scrambled on top of one in hopes of gaining access to fresh air.

"Oh, that was nasty," Kim muttered as he climbed another boulder.

Seven was about to retort when she saw movement in the forest. Instantly, she clamored for her captain, dragging her down into the protective arms of the broken stones. This action unfortunately caused the gas to stir, rising higher into the air.

"Seven?" Janeway croaked out, but was overtaken by a coughing fit. Her throat continued to burn as her eyes started to water from the stinging irritation.

Suddenly, a disrupter blast hit the boulder next to Kim. The ensign dived down into the boulder enclave, triggering even more gas to swirl about them. He was hit with a bout of nausea when another blast was fired.

Peering through the gas, Janeway spotted three rebel soldiers wearing black and grey uniforms and gas masks moving out of the foliage towards the boulders. They couldn't stay hidden there much longer. With silent gestures, the captain indicated her plan. She and Kim would occupy the soldiers while Seven ran for the relay tower.

The sound of a rock hitting a boulder to the north diverted the rebels' attention just as they came to the away team's location. As they rotated in search of the disturbance, Seven and Kim successfully smacked rocks alongside two of the soldiers' heads resulting in them falling onto the ground – losing their disrupters in the gas. Janeway launched another rock at the third soldier causing him to drop his weapon.

At that moment, Seven turned and bolted towards the hill, obscured from view by the broken boulders.

The third fumbled to retrieve his rifle from the cover of the yellow gas. Eventually, he located it and angrily dashed into the boulder enclave when he didn't see his assailants. As he turned into the protected cache, Kim grabbed the soldier from behind, but was slammed into a boulder, losing his grip. Janeway landed a solid punch in the rebel's stomach, forcing him to stumble away a few feet in a daze. It was then that a fourth rebel rushed into the mix, driving his fist hard between Janeway's shoulder blades. The sudden force of the blow knocked the wind out of the captain, making her tumble down into the gradually dissipating gas.


"Seven of Nine to Voyager."

"Voyager here," responded Chakotay, stiffly standing up from his command chair. "What's your status, Seven?" Unable to contain his nervousness, he was driven to pace around the command deck but managed to remain relatively immobile, only twisting to briefly catch the eyes of the crew manning the various stations. They, in turn, watched him and reflected the First Officer's mixture of apprehension and relief.

"The away team requires immediate transport to Sickbay."

"Standby." With the channel closed, Chakotay turned towards Tuvok, waiting for the transport to be completed.

"Transport complete, Commander." Tuvok glanced up from his console as Chakotay make a beeline for the turbolift.

"You have the Bridge, Tuvok." With that said, Chakotay whisked himself down to Sickbay. He could have – or more accurately – should have given the bridge to one of the junior officers, allowing Tuvok to join him. Stepping into Sickbay, Chakotay silently reaffirmed his vow to control his tendencies of habit and make good on his resolution on becoming a better XO.

Of course, old habits always died hard.

Chakotay was forcing himself to be content in watching the flurry of action unfold before him, attempting to self-assess the away team's status until the Doctor could brief him.

The holographic Doctor briskly ordered Paris to scan Ensign Kim, who had been placed on biobed 1 and Seven of Nine, who stood rigid by the medical console. All the while, he attended to the captain in the surgical bay – scanning, cleaning, preparing. With an intense vigilance, the Doctor listened as Paris took and relayed the readings of Ensign Kim, taking careful note of the differences in the nervous system degradation.

"Interesting," he muttered, glancing at Paris long enough to see him move to scan Seven of Nine. Theories were beginning to form as the Doctor assessed the information provided to him from the scans, cross-referencing it with the data from the Liratic government obtained by Neelix as well as Seven's firsthand knowledge which she had provided to the Doctor and Lt. Paris upon her arrival in Sickbay. Immediately, the EMH returned his attention to Janeway's readings and silently re-evaluated the sample of neutralizing compound supplied by the Liratic field medic, who in his infinite wisdom didn't delay in administering it to the away team.

If only I had more time to study the Roe'Ki in further detail, he mused adjusting the surgical bed's instrument panel, temporarily placing Janeway on cardiopulmonary support. He heaved a sigh of relief as the captain seemed to stabilize, safely removing her from any immediate danger. Operating contrary to standard medical procedure, the doctor decided that the wisest course of action was to first treat Harry Kim and Seven of Nine as his initial triage revealed that they had incurred less cellular damage from their exposure to the neurotoxin. The successful treatment of her crewmembers could provide the answers necessary to treat the captain who remained unresponsive due to her more severe condition. The EMH was flying by the seat of his holographic pants, but everyone was stable.

Barking out for Paris to fetch an anti-inflammatory, the Doctor stopped his preparations for Janeway's surgery long enough to slap a small vile into a hypo-spray. Passing it on to the lieutenant, the EMH instructed the helmsman to inject 20ccs of the counter-agent into Kim followed by 10ccs of the anti-inflammatory. Quickly doing so, Paris repeated his scans, indicating no change in the ensign. The hologram ordered an increase of dosage by 10ccs of the developed counter-agent. Again, Paris scanned Kim, quite pleased with conveying the positive results. Giving a nod in affirmation, the Doctor instructed Paris to administer 20ccs along with the anti-inflammatory to Seven of Nine.

Currently, the compound had only managed to stop any further metabolizing of the yellow gas, and in fact, had not shown any evidence of countering the side effects, as it did amongst the Liratic. This concerned the Doctor greatly. Both Ensign Kim and Captain Janeway's bodies were under great duress, and although stable – at the moment – were not out of the woods yet. However, the EMH was extremely optimistic that the synthesized neural stimulant he had begun developing several hours ago was indeed on the right track to reversing the effects of the yellow gas which had turned out to be a rather potent neurotoxin.

"Harry and Seven both appear to be stable and responding well to treatment, Doctor." Tom Paris stepped up between the surgical bed and instrument tray, ready to assist. Realizing Janeway was still in her boots, he snapped into motion to remove them, tossing them into a bin to be recycled later.

"Seven, report," barked Chakotay, pulling her attention to him now that the Doctor seemed finished with treating her. "What the hell happened?"

Seven of Nine briefly glanced at the first officer before allowing her gaze to sweep over Kim, Paris, the Doctor and to finally rest again on the unconscious captain. Almost absently, she gave an exposition of the events leading them to this moment. Her voice was a calm quiet. Her tone and inflections, although precise and cold, conveyed an unfamiliar rawness, both to herself and to Chakotay.

Meanwhile, the EMH returned his full attention to the captain. Paris had already confirmed that the anti-inflammatory wasn't adversely interacting with the synthesized counter-agent, or the Liratic stop-gap measure provided by the field medic. Calculating the proper dosage for Janeway's weight and degree of exposure (as deduced from the readings of Kim and Seven), the Doctor dutifully trudged forward on healing the captain.

After injecting the counter-agent, he checked the readings. Janeway was responding to the treatment, and the Doctor removed her from support as he repaired cellular and tissue damage. As in Kim and Seven, the yellow gas had negated the ion channel conductance, inhibiting the synapses from firing, thus forcing the body to slowly shut down. This of course wasn't the outcome the gas had on the Roe'Ki, but that was beside the point and ultimately unimportant as it was the effects on humanoids that concerned the Doctor.

"Can you give me a status report now, Doctor?" Chakotay moved away from Seven, closer to the surgical bay, but careful to remain out of the way.

While passing and accepting equipment from Paris, the Doctor said, "As we discussed this possibility during the briefing, the away team has been exposed to a respiratory neurotoxin in the form of a gas, and from the data provided by the Liratic, it seems to have a two prong attack for humanoids. The first is through the point of entry – affecting the mouth, nasal cavity, throat and lungs. Second, as the gas is metabolized into the system, motor and sensory functions become impaired."

Swallowing, Chakotay nodded as the severity of the situation settled onto his broad shoulders. Of course, it would be too easy if everything worked out just because the away team was back aboard. He glanced over at Kim and swiveled back to see Seven of Nine standing a silent vigil at the medical console. Chakotay's nervous perusal of sickbay's occupants was interrupted by the incessant beeping coming from the occupied surgical bed.

Paris hopped back, managing to avoid the EMH as he barreled around to view the readings.

"Cortical stimulator!" barked the Doctor. "Apply a twenty millijoule pulse on my mark – now." Seeing no improvement in synapse function but understanding what was happening, the hologram reached for a neural stimulator. There was no way they could jumpstart a fused nervous system as the reduced ion channel conductance kept the nerve synapses from even firing, but they may be able to regenerate some of the damage. The holographic Doctor paused for a moment, looking up at Chakotay. His voice softened as he continued, "You need to leave now, Commander."

With meticulous skill, the Doctor sliced up the left leg through Janeway's trousers and undergarments. That action was quickly followed by an equally skilled slice up the front center of the uniform jacket and any additional layers. "Seven, we could use your help." The EMH gestured for Paris and Seven to prepare to roll Janeway over in order to give him total access to the captain's central nervous system.

Immediately, Seven of Nine was maneuvering into position to offer optimal assistance.

Uncertain of what to do or what was really going on, Chakotay asked, "Doctor?" His eyes were drawn to the burnt fabric covering Janeway's lumbar region.

"Commander, you need to leave – now!" snapped the Doctor, not having time to hold anyone's hand. Once Janeway was flipped and secure, he sliced apart the uniform from the back. The uniform was quickly and efficiently removed by his assistants.

Hesitantly, Chakotay took a step back towards the Sickbay pneumatic door. He caught the hurried flash of a Starfleet uniform being tossed into a bin on the far side of the surgical bay, and the reflective gleam of a dermaplastic blanket being drawn over the surgical bed.

In all these years with all these close calls, Chakotay never remembered being this scared. Without another thought, the XO returned to the Bridge. Next visit to Sickbay, he would be sure to bring Tuvok with him.

With inhuman steadiness, the Doctor selectively stimulated areas related to autonomic functions. He had to get the captain breathing on her own and quickly. During his earlier research, the EMH had surmised that this particular complication was certainly a fatal possibility, given the technical specifications of the disrupter weapons used by the rebels. If she was entering respiratory distress now, it was only a matter of time before other systems followed, leading to a cascade failure, and life support wouldn't matter if she was brain dead.

If holograms could sweat, the Doctor knew he would be right then. He stood up straight, put down the neural stimulator and ran a diagnostic wand from a medical tricorder over the captain.

Clearing his throat, the EMH proudly exclaimed, "She's stable . . . again."

Putting down his equipment, he aided Paris in repositioning the blanket over Janeway. There was still some nerve regeneration to stimulate in addition to treating her other injuries, but her body needed time to rest before another bout of surgery.

A few moments of silence passed before the Doctor turned to Seven. "You need to regenerate for at least eight hours, Seven. No exceptions. Report to Sickbay for a follow-up exam after your cycle is complete." Without another word, he disappeared into his office as he was already preparing for the next surgery which would have to be as soon as possible.

Tom Paris had started the expected cleanup. Words could not articulate the relief he felt. Not only was one of his best friends laid up, but so was his captain. After returning the various pieces of equipment to their proper storage compartments, he lifted the bin containing Janeway's discarded uniform. Riffling through the shreds of fabric, Paris found the tunic with the four pips and plucked them off, along with the captain's combadge. Only when they were safely cradled in his hand did he notice Seven of Nine still standing next to the surgical bed.

"Go get some rest, Seven," Paris instructed lightly. "She's going to be alright."

Before Paris could walk off, all Seven could manage to say was, "The Captain…."

Stopping and turning, Paris set the bin on the instrument cart. He didn't know Seven well, but he did know her better than most, except for possibly Janeway and the Doctor. In this moment, Paris was starting to see what the captain might have seen all along. He swallowed, unsure of what to say but knowing something had to be said. "If her status changes, I'll come get you personally."

Seven simply nodded and left Sickbay.

First Officer's Log: Stardate 53957.2: Voyager's currently on route back to the Liratic supply depot. It's an uncontested system, and I've put in a formal request to maintain an extended orbital stay at the depot – to see to repairs and general R&R on ship before continuing our journey. The Liratic have been a most generous people as my request was approved before we even left orbit of their home-world. Hopefully, this will be enough time for the Doctor to get Ensign Kim and Captain Janeway back on their feet – it would also help calm the crew's frazzled nerves.

"Can you revive the captain or Harry?" asked Chakotay as he stepped into the surgical bay, getting a close-up look at his captain, who now lay on her back under a dermaplastic blanket. He could count the number of times she'd been injured beyond a quick patch job – twice. Three years ago during the alliance with the Borg, and six months before that after their shuttle crashed on an uninhabited moon.


The absolute answer forced the First Officer to look up at the holographic Doctor as he attended to Seven of Nine where she sat on biobed 3. Chakotay nodded in acknowledgement. He and Tuvok exchanged glances briefly as he walked towards Kim.

The Vulcan had planted himself beside the medical console, out of Chakotay's pacing path from the surgical bay to the Sickbay pneumatic doors. Chakotay had completed two full circuits before stopping in the surgical bay prior to speaking. Observing the Doctor as he continued his adjustments to Seven's optical implant, Tuvok asked, "Has Seven retained any adverse effects from her experience?" It didn't go unnoticed by Tuvok that Seven's gaze repeatedly returned to the captain. Her depth of concern may need to be addressed.

In his typical clipped yet chipper voice, the EMH smiled as he answered Tuvok's question by speaking directly to Seven. "No, you have a clean bill of health and can return to duty – once I finish these minor adjustments." The Doctor paused while swapping tools.

Chakotay stood over Harry Kim and sighed. He wasn't doing very well keeping his emotions in check or keeping his objectivity. This entire situation had rattled and irritated him. He was a former Maquis who was supposed to be tough as nails, take no prisoners. And here he was shaking in his boots because two people he cared deeply for had taken a walk to Death's Door. Mentally, Chakotay snapped himself out of it. No amount of lamenting was going to correct the situation.

"Are you prepared to give us an update on their conditions, Doctor?" inquired Tuvok. After all, the sooner they were briefed, the sooner the Doctor could resume treatment and ship's function could return to relative normalcy.

"Yes, Commander," he nodded. With a bit of a flourish, the Doctor finished the adjustments to Seven's optical implant and started to secure his instruments while giving the commanders his report.

As he was just indicating, Seven of Nine was clear for duty. Her nanoprobes – in tandem with the Liratic stop-gap measure and the EMH's counter-agent had effectively repaired all damage sustained from the neurotoxin. It was the Doctor's hopes that her nanoprobes could also help expedite the others' recovery as well.

Naturally, Seven offered her complete cooperation while Chakotay approved it.

Going on, the Doctor described the successful treatment of Ensign Kim but stressed that his body would undoubtedly need time to recover from the shock to his system – explaining the necessity for sedation and the blatant refusal to revive him. The EMH continued, advising them that Kim would require several days of light physical therapy to help his body work through the expected mild numbness as well as any lingering motor or sensory deficiencies.

Tuvok inquired about a time table for Kim's recovery. The Doctor believed Kim could return to full, active duty inside a week. This news gave Chakotay a bit of optimism for Janeway's plight, but that soon melted away as a dark look seemed to drift across the hologram's features.

"The Captain's situation is a bit more . . . precarious."

"Explain," demanded Seven. She had been standing in her usual ramrod straight pose, slightly out of the tight circle of men.

Seeing Seven's intense look, the Doctor walked around the medical console, putting some distance between himself and the others. "Frankly, it's amazing she's even alive." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them, but quickly pressed forward. "From my research, the captain's elevated exposure; the degree of which her body metabolized the neurotoxin coupled with the disrupter blast to her spinal cord – directly connecting with her CNS – should have instantly killed her. We're lucky the Liratic field medic applied their stop-gap measure when he did…."

"Why didn't the blast kill her?" asked Chakotay, leaning heavily on the console.

"Luck." Clearing his throat, the Doctor turned to look at Janeway, the various looks from his audience becoming a bit overwhelming. "As far as I can tell, the neurotoxin had impaired her system to such an extent that when she was hit, the energy blast simply couldn't travel through her system, resulting in severe tissue damage at the point of impact. In short, the captain would've required the same regimen as Mr. Kim, just perhaps a few additional days; but with this extensive physical devastation to her nervous system, I'm unable to give an accurate estimate. However, with the nanoprobes and further surgery, I'm confident that she'll make at least an eighty-percent recovery."

His eyes widened slightly as Chakotay rasped out, "Eighty-percent recovery of what, exactly?"

The EMH took a slow fortifying breath. It was funny the things one learned from organic creatures. "The degree of mobility she'll regain in her legs."

Chief Medical Officer's Log, Supplemental: It's been a long and difficult road, but Ensign Kim and Captain Janeway have responded well to the nanoprobe therapy. Mr. Kim has been happily recovering in his own quarters for the last two days, and I'm certain after his follow-up exam this afternoon, he'll be clear for full active duty. Thankfully, Voyager remained in orbit of the Liratic supply depot long enough for me to perform the Captain's second surgery, which happens to be a resounding success. I expect the Captain to wake up naturally in another day or so.


That's how Captain Janeway felt as she fought the fog of sleep. Lying still for a moment as she got her bearings, she listened to the familiar, calming hum of Voyager. Following several slow blinks – each time wincing at the brightness, Janeway opened her eyes. She rolled her head to the right and left, scanning the empty Sickbay catching sight of the Doctor humming cheerfully in his office. She grimaced at the sour taste in her mouth as she swallowed. Her limbs felt like lead pipes, heavy and bulky.

She attempted to call for the Doctor, but the only sound that emerged was a strangled squeak. Janeway waited, but the Doctor obviously did not hear her as he erupted into song. Sighing, she pushed herself onto her elbows. She felt better now, felt as if maybe she could fetch the Doctor herself. Rolling on to her left side, Janeway tried to slide her legs off the side, but just as she realized something wasn't right, her entire body pitched over the edge of the biobed and crumpled onto the deck.

Confused, Janeway glanced down at her legs, and willed them to move. Nothing happened. She willed her feet then her toes to move, again nothing happened – at first – but a strange tingle traveled from the base of her spine down her thighs, through her calves and into the bottom of her feet. It was like a thousand ants marching in her muscles. The drive to shake her legs became maddening. The more she tried to move her legs, the more intense the marching ant feeling became in her unresponsive limbs. She gripped onto the biobed with one hand then the other. Once both hands had a firm hold, Janeway proceeded to attempt pulling herself up.

She managed to pull herself up partly, her hands now firmly gripping the other side of the biobed mattress. "Doctor!" Janeway barked, her voice finally working but sounding . . . off.

"Captain!" The Doctor hooked his arms under Janeway, and maneuvered her back onto the bed. "Why didn't you call me when you woke up?" Once Janeway was secure, he opened a tricorder and scanned the captain with the diagnostic wand.

"I did," she glared. Her voice was rough and thick. "My legs aren't responding, and they feel like ants are parading through them."

"Interesting…. Mr. Kim mentioned a mild discomfort when he woke up, but his scans didn't indicate this much neural activity." This was indeed a good sign, but his pleasure was short lived as the Doctor was taken by surprise when Janeway grabbed the front of his uniform.

"Doctor," she growled, "it's driving me crazy!"

"Of course, Captain, but I can't administer a neural suppressant, not until I determine the cause of the activity." He slid a hand around the bottom of Janeway's bare foot while cupping his other hand under her upper thigh. Already, the EMH was working on formulating reasons for the neural surge, but he needed to calm the patient down before running more scans. "This may do the trick. Try to help me perform the motion." Carefully, the Doctor lifted the leg, forced the knee to bend to a ninety degree angle, and returned to the previous position. This was repeated several times until the captain's breathing slowed. Switching to the other leg, he asked, "Does that seem to be helping?"

"Yes," she admitted, her tone laced with relief.

Completing the impromptu physical therapy, the Doctor rescanned Janeway. "Good, my theory was correct then. If we continue with physical therapy, you'll have limited motor function back in a week or so, depending on how quickly your body regenerates its neural pathways." He was quite pleased with himself as he set down the tricorder; however, his smile faded when he looked at his captain.

That's when the questions started.

At first, the Doctor sought to answer his captain's questions about Voyager – even offered to contact Chakotay after a few tests – but Janeway became increasingly more agitated at her inability to move her legs. Or more accurately, she didn't appreciate the Doctor's assistance while she tried to settle herself. This of course, was to be expected since she was a fiercely independent individual.

The captain's rabid litany of questions abruptly shifted to her own medical status (since it was clear ship and crew were safe), which naturally flowed into the topic of prognosis and rehabilitation. Calmly, the EMH covered all avenues of treatment, adding quick side comments dismissing why certain procedures were simply not available or practical in regards to Voyager's situation and resources. He had just about hit his limit when he noticed her universe-be-damned expression. In a matter of fifteen minutes, Captain Janeway had resigned herself to her fate, sort of, or at least as far as the EMH was concerned.

"So I'm stuck here," Janeway grumbled, a scowl firmly entrenched on her features.

The Doctor smiled broadly, foolishly believing that he had successfully cornered the captain into submission. "Only for the time being, Captain. After we complete a few physical therapy sessions and additional testing, I'll be able to develop a neural stimulant to help enhance your body's natural recovery."

[Approximately 48 hours later…]

With the business of normal ship's operations finished, Chakotay rose and stood at the head of the briefing table. He was privately pleased with the lack of excitement given the latest twist in Voyager's state of affairs. It provided ample opportunity for the captain to get back on her feet – literally. "We have something else to discuss. Tuvok?"

Nodding at the XO, Tuvok casually swiveled his chair to face the other senior officers, Neelix and Seven of Nine. "Yesterday, we received a secure communiqué from Liratic Intelligence indicating possible acts of piracy in the current and surrounding sectors of space. Until recently, these raiders have maintained substantial distance from heavily populated areas with a strong government presence or from ships of considerable firepower."

"Pirates?" asked Torres, cutting a dubious glance at Paris.

"As whimsical as it may seem, Lieutenant, the Liratic feel that these pirates may provide significant resistance to Voyager as we traverse this sector of space."

Mildly intrigued by the prospect of real space pirates, Paris leaned forward, resting his elbows on the briefing table. "Why are the Liratic just now telling us about these guys, and don't these types normally go for the easy targets?" In the helmsman's opinion, the USS Voyager was not an easy target – alone or not.

"Unless the bounty is deemed worth the risk," added Neelix.

"Indeed," Tuvok agreed. "According to the provided intelligence, Voyager has been marked as a target."

Still not quite believing the scenario as it all seemed too surreal coming from Tuvok, Torres said, "I have a feeling there's a connection you haven't explained to us yet." It was like one of Tom's cheesy Holodeck programs: Captain Proton and the Pirates from Space!

"You're correct." Tuvok replied. "According to the report, the rebel forces responsible for shooting down the away team's transport have been aligned with and feeding information to the raiders of this sector for an undetermined amount of time. Evidence supports that information regarding Voyager was provided to this group by the Northern continent's World Congress representatives."

"That's pretty much all we got," interjected Chakotay. "The Liratic offered to provide more information as it's available. Hopefully, we'll just get through this sector and out of harm's way as quickly as possible." He and Tuvok both had reservations over the entire situation and had discussed it in length before approaching the captain late last night, much to the Doctor's dismay.

"Have the claims of piracy been validated?" asked Seven of Nine.

Tuvok answered, "No, but it would be prudent to err on the side of caution given that we are uncertain of the variables." The situation seemed a little too neat of a package for the Vulcan security chief. Even though the circumstances weren't anything new to Voyager – out in the Delta Quadrant as someone usually wanted a piece of them for one reason or another, the crew simply assumed it was for the usual reasons as well.

"If the pirates do operate in this sector, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we cross them or someone they raided," Neelix shrugged. It was an ugly truth for certain, but he hoped that any surviving ships wouldn't open fire first and ask questions later, given this crew's propensity to offer aid and thus find trouble.

"Did Liratic Intelligence offer any specifications about the ships used by the pirates?" Seven asked, searching for an edge. With Captain Janeway unavailable to lead, the ship's chances for survival were significantly reduced.

"Nothing conclusive," Tuvok said.

"Wonderful, the Liratic tell us to look over our shoulder, but can't tell us who we're looking out for?" Paris leaned back in his seat.

"At least they warned us. They could've let us find out the hard way," countered Kim.

"True." Paris thought for a moment. "But why did they wait to tell us after we left their system? I'm sure they knew where we were heading, and by default that we would be going through pirate land."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow to Chakotay. He had vocalized similar concerns last night as did the captain.

"That's the interesting part of this development. Until recently, Liratic Intelligence had absolutely no reason to believe that the rebels on their home-world and the pirates were connected." The XO rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand as his mind drifted back to the intelligence report. "Either way, let's not allow them to catch us unawares and if that's all…." Chakotay nodded his dismissal.

"Commander, if I may," the Doctor interjected before anyone could stand. "Perhaps the Captain could have work sent to Sickbay. Some reports to review or inventories to peruse while she's recuperating? Preferably something that will take several hours to complete."

Of course, Janeway was officially on off-duty medical leave, and technically, the first officer should be assuming all of said captain's duties. However, that bit of protocol had never stopped Voyager's stalwart leader before, so why would it now?

Chakotay raised an eyebrow, but it was Tom Paris who responded, albeit a bit gleefully. "Is this your way of saying the Captain is a difficult patient?" Much to his amusement, Paris had been privy to some of the heated bantering between the Doctor and the Captain during his routine duty shift in sickbay.

Rolling his eyes, the Doctor frowned. "Let's just say she's only made one unsuccessful escape attempt today." He understood Sickbay wasn't the most exciting place to be, most patients were released to quarters before restlessness could become an issue, but he couldn't shake the impression that the captain was purposefully pressing his buttons – even if Janeway's options were extremely limited.

Nodding, Chakotay dismissed the senior staff. "I'll drop by after I gather up some 'busy' work for the Captain."

"Thank you, Commander."

Paris smirked as he trotted out to the helm. His next shift in Sickbay would undoubtedly be interesting.

"This is supposed to keep me quiet." Janeway narrowed her eyes at her First Officer. "The Doctor complained about me in the briefing, didn't he?" She absently shuffled through the PADDs. She had been moved from the surgical bay and was now resting on a regular biobed, propped up by four large pillows. The somewhat heated argument over the amount of pillows currently supporting the captain's back would have been an entertaining squabble, if anyone had born witness to it.

"Well," Chakotay shrugged, "he did drop a few colorful hints." He paused then, taking on a soft expression. "I know you're not happy, Kathryn, but please don't try to irritate the Doctor. There's nothing on sensors, anomaly or otherwise, so we shouldn't have any problems for the next few weeks. Engineering has just about completed their repairs, and the crew has started to settle in for a quiet ride to the next system." Chakotay offered Janeway a bright smile as he added, "Let them relax."

Dropping the PADDs on an equipment cart, placed next to the biobed curtsey of Lt. Paris, Janeway gave a dramatic sigh. "I'll try, Commander."

It was then that Seven stepped through the pneumatic doors making her way towards the Doctor's office announcing in her clipped tones, "I am here for my weekly maintenance, Doctor." She turned, and noticed Janeway reclining on the biobed with Chakotay standing beside her. "Captain, Commander," she acknowledged with a slight nod, walking past.

Dutifully, the EMH followed Seven of Nine to the surgical bed with a medical tricorder in hand. He passed the diagnostic wand over Seven and smiled pleasantly. "Everything seems to be in working order, Seven. There don't seem to be any lasting effects from your planet-side adventure."

"Thank you, Doctor." Seven slid off the biobed and wandered over to the captain. "It is good to see you are . . . feeling better, Captain."

She was a bit apprehensive over how to handle this particular situation, knowing the captain's usual outlook on Sickbay. Since her own recovery, Seven had been all too aware of the idle chatter about Ensign Kim and Captain Janeway – the mutual encouragement expressed over their speedy recovery, and the worry concerning the captain's continued injury.

The captain gave Seven a rueful look, replying, "That's a matter of opinion." At Seven's raised eyebrow, she added, "But thank you, Seven. Apparently, I'm going to be confined to Sickbay for the foreseeable future, unless the Doctor in his infinite wisdom would release me to quarters." She leaned around Seven of Nine to glare at the Doctor.

Unfortunately, Janeway's physical condition was still a bit up-in-the-air. Through a battery of additional tests followed by a good, old-fashioned tactile examination with patient feedback, the EMH had been able to refine the nanoprobe therapy and the neural stimulants, both of which were beginning to take effect but were slow-acting. In a matter of two days, the captain had gone from total numbness to registering near bruising pressure in various tests.

With a giant sigh, the Doctor rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "We've been through this already, Captain. I will not release you to quarters unless you have someone who can help you, and I'm not available 24/7. Frankly, I don't know of anyone who you would allow to assist with daily tasks, so it's a moot point."

"I'm sure something could be arranged."

"Like what? Would you be willing to allow a crewmember help you dress? Whoever would be assisting you would have to be strong enough to lift and maneuver you as needed, Captain." He raised an eyebrow at Janeway while crossing his arms over his chest.

The optimal physical therapy regimen would have been to immediately release Janeway directly to Starfleet Medical on Earth. As it was, certain pieces of medical equipment weren't cleared for use on Intrepid-class starships, such as the anti-gravity chairs. The one class of anti-gravity chair that was cleared would have taken a considerable amount of time as well as resources to construct. Even then, the power requirement for such a piece of equipment would have been an unacceptable expenditure to the captain herself but not another crewman. Although the EMH also discussed the possible use of a traditional wheelchair, he strongly discouraged it because of the unpredictable nature of space travel, and with Janeway's current weakened physical state, it could pose an even greater danger to further injury. In the end, it was the Doctor's impassioned plea that eventually ruled out use of any chairs.

Privately, the Doctor was counting on Captain Janeway's stubbornness and determination to propel herself into becoming mobile again with the assistance of a standard tritanium cane. Considering how her body continued to respond to the nanoprobe and physical therapy, the EMH predicted in his logs that Janeway could regain limited mobility in roughly a week. Once the captain did regain that degree of independent mobility, she would be less likely to sustain any further injury from any loss of balance. However, what he wasn't counting on was how quickly his captain could become volatile.

At Janeway's stymied expression, Chakotay said, "He does have a point, Captain." A slow smirk spread across his face. "I'm honestly not sure who would be willing to volunteer for the job." That wasn't necessarily true. A majority of the crew had already offered to aid their captain, but the First Officer assured them everything was well in hand – for Janeway's own comfort naturally.

After a brief pout, a teasing look brightened Janeway's countenance. "I could always make it an order."

"Go ahead, and you'll be right back in here with food poisoning from your oh-so-willing help," the Doctor snorted.

Seven of Nine finally spoke. "I would be willing to assist you, Captain."

Chakotay turned to Seven with wide eyes. "Seven? Are you sure you understand what you'd be getting into?"

"Yes," the EMH added worriedly. "The Captain will need constant monitoring and assistance throughout the day and night. In addition to daily grooming, there are the physical therapy sessions…."

"Yes, Doctor, I understand," Seven spoke confidently, cutting off the Doctor.

Seeing an escape from Sickbay, Janeway wholeheartedly backed the new plan. "Let's do it!"

"Captain," Chakotay shifted closer, lowering his voice. "Do you think Seven would be the best person? You two do tend to butt heads on occasion."

"I realize the Captain will be a difficult patient, Commander, but I have had practice in dealing with the Borg children the last few months." The corner of Seven's lips turned up ever so slightly in a small smile.

"Thanks, Seven," Janeway said mockingly, catching the smirk.

Thoughtfully, the Doctor considered Seven's proposal. "All joking aside, Seven would be an ideal candidate. She has the necessary physical strength and wouldn't be likely to give into any irrational demands." At Janeway's glare, he cleared his throat and continued, "I'm quite sure she would follow whatever medical orders I prescribed."

"When do I get out of here?" Janeway asked unperturbed by their less than flattering opinions.

"I'll need to review the physical therapy regimen with Seven, as well several dos and don'ts. I imagine you could return to quarters once Seven is free." The EMH nodded with satisfaction that he would soon have Sickbay to himself again. "Commander?"

Shaking his head, Chakotay replied, "I don't see any reason why not. I'll just need an updated personnel roster for Astrometrics, Seven. Bring the report up to the Bridge after your duty shift." He did have some reservations, but the sooner he got off this train the better. "I'll be by to check on you later, Captain." With that, Chakotay strode out of Sickbay confident he had averted the pending explosion between the captain and Doctor.

"I will review the material with you now, Doctor; however, I will need to regenerate before taking the Captain to her quarters and make arrangements for the children." Tilting her head to regard Janeway, she asked, "Is that acceptable to you, Captain?"

"I suppose I can last a few more hours," Janeway sighed as she crossed her arms over her chest, silently pleased with herself.

"Good! With that settled, let's try to make our last hours together pleasant ones, hmm?" The Doctor motioned Seven to follow him into his office. Once there, he subjected her to a barrage of instructions, the plans for rehabilitation and the detailed deposition of treatment options begun. He continued well over an hour before Seven of Nine left to finish her shift in Astrometrics and prepare her department (and the Borg children) for her continued absence.

Hours later when Seven returned to Sickbay, the EMH asked again, "Are you sure you still want to do this, Seven? No one would fault you if you changed your mind." He saw a subtle shift in his friend, only noticeable because he knew her so well.

"I am sure, Doctor." Seven was certain she could complete the outlined tasks with little to no difficulty. She really wasn't sure why everyone was so apprehensive about her role in this task or over the captain's uncharacteristic envisioned behavior, but this was something the ex-drone felt compelled to do, to give to her captain – her friend.

Arturis's Brig seemed like a lifetime ago, when in reality it was only two years ago – eight months after she was disconnected from the hive. At that time, Seven didn't understand the full implications of humanity. Even now, she still had difficulty grasping the seemingly infinite complexities that encompassed the human psyche and established social structures. She and Janeway had clashed repeatedly and often at the beginning. However, as time passed, new experiences gave Seven a sharper insight into her shipmates and herself.

The prospect of becoming more human was still unsettling, but the fact she was still part Borg isolated her from a vast majority of the crew. Save a few crewmates who helped and simply encouraged Seven to be herself, she felt that the vast majority wanted her to conform to their standards and ideals, even chiding her when she didn't understand the way things worked. Of course, a great number of Voyager's crew would only mouth the words, not really meaning them.

Seven desperately avoided such thoughts for they usually made her bitter and spiteful. Once again, she considered Janeway's words from the Brig. You belong with us. Seven knew the captain believed this as truth, and for now, it was enough.

Stepping over to the biobed, Seven gingerly placed a hand on Janeway's shoulder. "Captain, I shall pick you up now."

Vaguely, Janeway registered the words and was startled awake as Seven slid her arms under her shoulders and legs. "Seven?" She shivered slightly as the Doctor removed the blanket.

"Amazingly, the Captain had a full night's rest. So, she'll be well rested for today's activities." The Doctor was almost too gleeful as he proceeded to fold the blanket. "Contact me if you have any questions, Seven. I'll notify you if there will be any changes in my visits."

Nodding, Seven moved to the center of Sickbay. Janeway, now more alert, looked around, relieved no one else was present to witness the event. "Computer, initiate a site-to-site transport to the Captain's quarters."

Upon re-materialization, Seven moved decisively towards the captain's bedroom only to be stopped at the doorway.

"Could I sit on the sofa instead?"

"As you wish." Gracefully, Seven turned around and proceeded to gently deposit Janeway on her sofa. She attempted to discretely settle the captain's malfunctioning limbs, taking note of their cool tactile temperature. "Is there anything else you require at this time?"

"The blanket over on that chair would be nice." Janeway pointed to the tan colored blanket thrown over the back of an armchair lounger. As Seven retrieved said blanket, she added, "Oh, a cup of coffee would be heavenly!"

"The Doctor suggested a limited amount of caffeine." Seven draped the blanket over Janeway's legs.

"Seven," the captain gave her a firm stare. "We have to get along, and that's going to be much easier if I have my coffee."

Raising the implant above her left eye, Seven capitulated, "Very well."

Several reports and cups of coffee later, Captain Janeway was hit with a not too surprising discovery. She had to use the bathroom.

Deciding she didn't really need to go that badly, Janeway tried to refocus on the PADD in her hand, squirming as the urge built, or rather, she tried to squirm. She couldn't even jiggle her foot to keep her mind off the growing need. Finally unable to wait any longer, the captain gave in and turned to look at her helper. "Seven?" she queried timidly.

Seven raised her head from Janeway's workstation at the desk, directly across from the sofa. "Yes, Captain?"

Flushing ever so lightly, Janeway asked, "Could you please help me to the en suite? I, um, need to use the facilities."

"Of course," Seven replied matter-of-factly. The Borg stood and came around to the captain, removing her blanket and lifting her into her arms without warning or effort. Once she got Janeway into the bathroom, she stopped, at a loss for further actions. "I am unsure how to proceed."

"That makes two of us," Janeway muttered under her breath. Several ideas flitted through her head as Seven stood patiently holding her, until she finally suggested, "Why don't I wrap my arms around your neck while you're standing, and I'll just sort of – dangle there. While I hang on, you can, uh, get my pants down past my hips then maneuver me onto the toilet."

The implant over Seven's left eye raised slightly as she assessed the captain's strategy. "Sufficient," she replied, shifting her grip on Janeway so that they were face to face. Once Janeway had her arms around Seven's neck, they proceeded to implement the plan.

The captain placed her hands primly in her lap and glared up at the ex-drone. "Could you please step out into the bedroom until I'm done?"

She released a sigh as Seven left, and she could finally pee. When she was done and the waste unit had cycled through its sonic setting, she called Seven back in and went through the equally embarrassing and awkward process of getting dressed again before being placed back and settled on the sofa.

Several beats of silence passed before Janeway could manage to say, "Thank you, Seven."

"It was not difficult, Captain; however, may I suggest you switch to wearing long tunics and forgo the pants from now on," Seven intoned in a matter-of-fact voice. "It would make such trips more efficient."

"I'll take it under advisement," came Janeway's dry response. She sat in quiet contemplation before picking up a discarded PADD.

There were bound to be other 'roadblocks' associated with her rather hasty escape from Sickbay, but damn it, it wasn't like she was getting any recovering done with the Doctor milling about, humming whilst poking and probing her whenever he felt like it or with the crew dropping in for something or another. It wasn't that she didn't appreciate her crew checking on her, showing her they did indeed care about her welfare and were honestly concerned for her well-being. However, Janeway drew the line at the two hour conversation with Chell about Keslekki designs.

Then again, she did get caught up on the ship's gossip.

Right before activating the PADD, Janeway paused and looked over the device at Seven who had taken residence at her desk, using the terminal. She pursed her lips at her own indecision. Well, it wasn't really indecision as much as preparing an approach. After all, there were technically only two people onboard who used it, and Janeway thought now would be as good a time as any. Besides, she didn't want to be addressed as 'Captain' next time Seven deposited her on the head or while they worked out the logistics for a sonic shower.

Oh, a bath would be heavenly, but currently impractical.

Opening her mouth, Janeway quickly snapped it shut, still unsure how to bring it up. Chakotay had been easy. They were trapped on a planet – alone. As such, the use of her first name was the natural progression of things. Tuvok had been equally simple, if not more so. They had become surprisingly good friends, rather quickly in fact. Janeway chuckled at the memory. It had been surprising for several people (such as several admirals, Mark, and especially Phoebe), to say the least. However, this situation with Seven of Nine was different, and sharing her first name seemed strangely intimate. The reasons as to why were unexamined and effectively crammed into a tidy little compartment, never to be opened.

Janeway activated her PADD, content to wait till the next time Seven addressed her by rank before she said anything. No muss, no fuss, right?

About two hours later, the captain dropped her last PADD onto a hap-hazard stack next to her on the sofa. It wasn't the most thrilling reading, but it was something to do and as always, kept her in touch with the happenings on her ship – more so than Chakotay or Tuvok could ever surmise. Her eyes shifted as she surveyed her domain, gaze settling on Seven of Nine who had remained absolutely silent while diligently working.

Curiosity peaked, Janeway unconsciously tilted her head, asking, "Seven, what are you doing?"

"I am refining a long-range astrometric sensor algorithm designed to neutralize neutrino radiation interference associated with subspace disturbances."

Janeway asked, "Wouldn't that be easier to modify from Astrometrics?"

"Yes, but this terminal is more than sufficient, Captain." Seven really didn't mind working from the standard interface despite the lack of custom controls that would expedite her work. Astrometrics was her place, her domain, as was Cargo Bay 2. However, everyone knew she would usually be in either location which led to more interruptions and less productivity, especially with the four Borg children popping in and out.

Janeway's brows furrowed as she observed Seven in silence. The young woman had obviously obtained a rhythm working as her hands moved continually across the input pads. "If you need to return to Astrometrics, Seven, I can be left alone for awhile," the captain offered lightly, although she had a pretty good idea that the Doctor had told Seven otherwise.

Immediately, Seven stopped working, an instant of sheer panic came and went before she asked, "Would you rather be alone, Captain? Or, have another crewmember assist you?" A litany of questions rattled through her subconscious. For the first time, she wondered if her offer to aid the captain was the correct course of action given the Doctor's apprehension and Chakotay's uncertainty in Sickbay.

Quickly, Janeway back-peddled as a soft, warm expression settled over her features and demeanor. "No, no, that's not it, Seven. I just didn't want to keep you from any of your projects, normal activities or free time." She paused. Her voice lowered becoming huskier when she continued, hoping to convey more than her words. "I really do appreciate your assistance." More than you may ever know.

Studying Janeway as she spoke, Seven was both relieved and slightly entranced by the lower timbre of voice. She really did want to help this person who had given her so much.

Oh, Seven of Nine was very aware of the allowances, the leverage and most certainly, the open boundaries afforded her by the captain of Voyager. In the beginning, her uncertainty held her in check to the status quo, but as Seven grew into herself, her arrogance made her bolder. She pushed at everything and everyone, judging all with her keen eye and intellect. Few challenged her as she sought to be challenged, but only one could stalemate her, cause her pause. For some time now, she'd been looking for more ways to interact and spend time with Janeway.

Unsure of how to articulate an appropriate response, Seven simply nodded and offered what she hoped was a pleasant smile.

Sensing her opportunity, the captain decided to jump in head first. Clearing her throat, she sat up a little straighter, pressing the heels of her hands firmly into the sofa cushions. "And it would please me if you would call me Kathryn."

If Janeway thought Seven eyes lit up with the previous barely-registering smile, then she was practically blown away by the open delight exhibited in them now – with only a slight upturn of the lips. The captain couldn't stop herself from offering a broad grin in return.

"I am uncertain as to the protocol…." Seven frowned as Janeway laughed.

"There's no protocol, Seven, but here's a general rule. If we're on duty or I'm in uniform, then it's Captain, but if not, Kathryn is fair game." Janeway watched the Borg wheels turning at warp speed.

"You're technically always on duty and usually found in uniform."

With a snort and a roll of the eyes, Janeway amended, "Point taken, how about in my quarters?"



Maybe being in such close confines with Seven of Nine wouldn't be so bad after all.

Before Seven could return to her work, the door chimed. She heard Janeway sigh before acknowledging the visitor with a resigned, "Come in."

"Good evening, Captain, Seven." The Doctor strode merrily in with a med kit in hand, resolutely ignoring the captain's narrowed glare.

"Doctor," Janeway offered a clipped greeting. She had hoped to have at least twelve hours without seeing the hologram. In fact, the captain was certain she'd seen more of the EMH in a medical capacity in the last few days than she had in the last six years – or so it felt.

Kneeling next to Janeway, the hologram set his med kit on the sofa, snapped it open, and removed a medical tricorder. "I've had a bit of inspiration and devised a new nanoprobe treatment." He took a new set of readings, pleased with his latest findings.

Without a second thought, the Doctor pressed a hypo-spray containing the newly programmed nanoprobes against her neck. He spoke as the device hissed, releasing the nanoprobes into the captain's system. "We should see considerable improvement by tomorrow morning's physical therapy session." Swapping out the hypo for the tricorder, the EMH was pleased with the nanoprobes' progression, and he proceeded to provide a more detailed account of the revised programming and subsequent physical therapy regimen.

The words coming out of the Doctor's mouth were quickly forgotten as Janeway focused on the intense feeling of movement traveling from her jugular down her spine to her lower back and legs. In short, it was utterly bizarre, very similar to the marching ants sensation experienced about a week ago; however, unlike then, this was quite bearable. The captain must have blanked out for a substantial amount of time because when she halted her self-analysis, both Seven of Nine and the Doctor were standing directly in front of her with very concerned expressions.

"Captain?" Seven inquired.

Offering a reassuring smile, Janeway said, "I'm alright. It was just intense."

Nodding, the Doctor collected his equipment, having expected this specific reaction to the modified treatment. He relayed some more instructions to Seven of Nine, and took his leave.

After that initial house call, this was how the greater part of a week passed for the trio. The Doctor would arrive around 0800 hrs (by which time Seven already had the captain prepared) and examined the captain – gauging sensitivity levels, tactile responses, etc. The process usually consisted of several series of scans, injections and various types of flexibility/strengthening exercises. At first, Seven excused herself. Although she didn't necessarily want to leave the captain to the Doctor's mercy, she took advantage of the time – checking on Astrometrics, other projects, checking in with the children and once visiting with Naomi. Yet, something changed one day.

Seven of Nine stepped just inside the threshold of the captain's bedroom while the EMH began his set task. He was about to chase the young woman off when Janeway belayed him, simply saying, "She can stay if she wants."

And from that point on, Seven stayed within visual range of Janeway until the physical therapy sessions on the Holodeck started.

[Several Days Later...]

Chief Medical Officer's Log: Supplemental: The Captain's treatment has been progressing as well as expected as she's managed to regain roughly sixty percent sensation with limited motor control of her lower limbs in a matter of days – thanks to the nanoprobe therapy I devised. Although we've just started the more rigorous physical therapy on the Holodeck, I have high hopes that Captain Janeway will make at least an eighty-five percent recovery, but until then, the Captain will have to rely on aids.

Janeway blinked lazily as she fought against sleep at the familiar pressure of her bed and blankets being drawn over her tired, aching body. Seven had 'relocated' her to bed. The drowsy captain vaguely remembered falling asleep in her chair watching the stars streak past while idly tinkering with her puzzle shortly after the Doctor's routine evening visit.

It was during these evening visits that the hologram would administer the blessed analgesic cocktail. Unfortunately as the captain recuperated, she also regained the capacity to register pain from the reactivating, regenerating and misfiring nerves where she was shot by the disruptor. The situation as it was, Janeway simply had to grin and bear it.

Valiantly, Janeway attempted to slur out a 'thank you' before once again succumbing to unconsciousness.

Seven of Nine watched over Janeway for a few moments. Satisfied that all was well, she retreated to the main living area and resumed her tasks at the terminal on the captain's desk. Her work usually settled her thoughts, allowed her mind to relax and focus as she lost herself in the rhythm of the work. Yet, after aiding Janeway for almost two weeks, Seven found it difficult to focus on her astrometric sensor data.

She was greatly concerned for Captain Janeway and unsure how to verbalize this concern without adding undue stress onto the captain. For all of Janeway's usual bravado, Seven considered her to be in good spirits upon returning from the first truly intensive physical therapy sessions, and confident that Janeway (and the Doctor) held realistic expectations of herself.

It was the crew that Seven of Nine now had reservations about.

Not ten minutes after Seven settled Janeway into her chair (with feet propped on the ottoman) did the senior staff begin their parade. Each chatted charmingly with their captain, expressing encouragement and a speedy recovery. However, as the visits continued, the exchange gradually shifted towards ship's business. Janeway, of course did nothing to divert the conversation nor refer them to the first officer. In retrospect, it would have all been for naught because the XO was the worse offender, having sat with Janeway for nearly two hours.

Giving up on her work, Seven moved to sit in Janeway's chair, recalling the many times Janeway sat here talking with her, recently and in the past. How often did Seven catch her reading in this chair? She lightly fingered the slight fraying on the chair arms, and wondered why Janeway didn't simply replace it. Seven briefly wondered if she would ever have or use anything enough to warrant such damage. The puzzle that had entertained the captain earlier sat casually on the side table. Curiosity finally won out as Seven picked up the object and studied it.

A cube with each side composed of nine smaller squares – each designated by a different color. Janeway had called it a Rubik's Cube, and mentioned that her sister had given it to her one year for Christmas. Any further questions Seven might have had were cut short by the Doctor's usual evening visit. Shortly after which Janeway drifted back to sleep, absolutely exhausted and spent.

Seven fumbled the puzzle about, noting that there were only six different colors. After a moment deducing the puzzle's rudimentary mechanics, she resumed Janeway's attempt to 'solve' the puzzle cube by maneuvering each side to a single color. When the captain offered Seven the puzzle, she had politely declined while mentally dismissing it, but now….

An indeterminate amount of time had passed when Voyager suddenly and violently banked to port as a loud explosion vibrated through hull. The red alert klaxons immediately sounded as Seven of Nine jumped to her feet.

"Seven of Nine, report to the Bridge" sounded through her combadge.

Depositing the puzzle cube on the desk, Seven of Nine paused briefly before triggering the pneumatic doors. Her eyes focused on the archway leading to Janeway's bedroom. Her ears listening for any sounds that the captain may have been wakened or hurt. Seven bolted forward into the room, relieved and surprised that Janeway was still asleep, secure in her bed. She questioned the wisdom of leaving the captain unattended, but she had been called to the Bridge.

Another jolt rocked the ship.

Making her choice, Seven hurried out.

[Approximately 12 Hours Later]

First Officer's Log: Stardate 53996.15: Voyager has taken significant damage from the group of raiders that blight this sector. All attempts to establish a dialogue with them have failed. However, one thing is for certain, they hit hard and fast. I believe they only operate a specific distance from their home base. So the faster we get out of range, the better…. I hope we reach it soon because Maquis tricks haven't always worked.

"Attacked?" Janeway repeated as she pulled a pale green t-shirt over her head from her seat on the bed. If she learned anything the last few days in physical therapy on the Holodeck, it was that she liked it cold and she preferred loose fitting clothes, thus her choice of the well worn t-shirt and the comfortable light grey lounge pants.

Seven knelt before her captain, sliding socks over seemingly long feet. Knowing full well the oncoming sequence of questions, she quickly added, "The Commander indicated he would be by to brief you after your physical therapy session."

She glanced up, catching the semi-intense searching eyes as she adjusted the sock seam to not run over the fifth toe as she had noticed was the captain's preference. The Captain's intense scrutiny did not dissipate causing the often defiant former Borg to break eye contact when an unfamiliar sensation flitted about in her stomach and chest.

"I can't believe I slept through a Red Alert," Janeway said in a somewhat awed, if not slightly abashed, tone. "Let alone through an entire attack.…"

"You were substantially drugged," Seven offered as she slipped training boots onto the captain's feet. Slowly rising, she aided Janeway to her feet, not missing the wince. "Are you in discomfort, Kathryn?" Honest concern laced the young woman's words and expression.

Offering a half grin, Janeway said, "I'll be alright." She ripped her gaze from the intensity of Seven of Nine's anxious face as she focused on her attempt towards the lounger at the other end of the bedroom – not a meter and a half away. That was usually as far as the good captain could make it without leaning against someone. Suddenly the captain's legs gave way, but she was immediately stabilized by Seven who said nothing as they continued their slow shuffle towards the lounger.

And not for the first time as Seven – with extraordinary gentleness – assisted Janeway down onto the lounger, did the captain wonder why the young woman seemed so intent on helping, but her musings were cut short as the door chimed, signaling the Doctor's timely arrival.

The hologram entered the captain's quarters in his usual good spirits, chattering incessantly about the latest gossip, news and any random thoughts that crossed his mind all the while running his customary scans. "You almost got a day off, Captain, as both the transporters and Holodecks were only recently brought back online."

Janeway narrowed her eyes at the EMH.

Holodecks weren't critical systems. Transporters were designated as sub-critical systems, their priority depending on the CO's discretion. However from the telling vibration of the deck, the warp drive was obviously off-line and Voyager was running at impulse – in hostile territory. No engineering personnel should be assigned to other systems until the warp drive was operational, that is unless the warp drive was damaged beyond repair.

Having taken a few steps back, Seven of Nine watched the rather routine scene. Perhaps she had made an error by informing Janeway of the attack? Should she have left such business to the first officer? Yet, Seven knew the captain, knew that she would want to be apprised of the status of the ship and crew.

However, the deepening scowl implied a different perspective.

Heads were about to roll.

[Several Days Later…]

Purposefully strutting into the EMH's office, Seven fixed the hologram with a hard stare, bestowing upon him her unique interpretation of seething. The situation was intolerable, especially given her general research into the matter.

"Seven?" he had the good grace to ask while keeping the desk between himself and his obviously agitated guest.

Allowing her nostrils to flare ever-so-slightly before regaining control, Seven replied in a clipped tone, "This is unacceptable."

The Doctor furrowed his brows briefly before connecting the proverbial dots. "Seven—"

"I shall be present at all further physical therapy sessions," she snapped, preparing to leave in the same manner she arrived.

"Not without the patient's consent," the EMH countered matter-of-factly. Noting what could be interpreted as a furious expression on his visitor's countenance, he backpedaled and softened his tone. "I realize that it's frustrating to watch her struggle, but it's for the Captain's own good – you and she both understand that. We discussed this—"

He was all too aware how difficult and painful the entire process had been on Janeway. After all, he did take regular readings and was well aware of the captain's pain threshold. Unfortunately, the nature and extent of her injury required some tough discipline. There was only so much relief an analgesic could offer in regards to misfiring synapses and chemical buildups as her body relearned how to operate its limbs.

"I shall get permission," Seven declared. She inclined her chin before continuing, "The Captain has become increasingly irritable in direct correlation with your parallel bar sessions."

Everything had been progressing fine as the captain's CNS continued to regenerate well within acceptable parameters. In a matter of days, Janeway had regained moderate sensation in her lower extremities, indicating enough neural activity and physical control to start the next phase of the therapy – training with the parallel bars on the Holodeck. Meanwhile, throughout the day, Seven of Nine assisted Janeway with various types of flexibility and strengthening exercises: heel slide, knee press, quad, hamstring, abductor, etc. The Doctor was profoundly impressed with Janeway's determination despite her frequent snappy retorts.

"I admit our last session in the Holodeck might have been a bit strenuous, but I'm not pushing her anymore than her body will allow. Pain can be a very healthy thing." He could tell Seven wasn't convinced. Rising from his chair, the Doctor started to move from around the desk. "Seven, it's understandable and commendable that you're worried about the Captain. Everyone is worried about the Captain, but coddling her isn't going to help her regain her mobility."

The EMH was about to rest a hand on her bicep when Seven retorted, "Neither is pushing her too hard."

Flabbergasted, the Doctor tossed his hands up into the air while turning in a circle, pacing to the other side of his office. "I'm only pushing her as far as she wants to be pushed. I have to trust her input, Seven. I have to trust her when she says enough is enough."

Seven realized she wasn't going to make any headway here. With a slow inhale, she offered a curt nod, a sort of self-acknowledgement indicating the necessity to change tactics, and the gesture served to silence the Doctor. She would have to speak with Captain Janeway directly about her behavior as of late. It was a task Seven of Nine did not relish since Janeway had become increasingly short with everyone since her release from Sickbay, or more accurately since the first pirate attack. However, the continued close personal contact with her captain offered Seven a unique opportunity to observe Janeway, perhaps even understand her better. The pros definitely outweighed the cons in this matter.

Suddenly, the Red Alert klaxons sounded as Chakotay's voice flooded the comm. "All hands, report to battle stations," was immediately followed by, "Seven of Nine, report to Astrometrics."

The Doctor trotted out into the main Sickbay area preparing for any possible incoming casualties as Seven hurried to Astrometrics. He paused in his preparations, ready to ask Seven what seemed a very important question that had just come to mind, but the young woman was already gone and he had just been informed of the first wounded.

Who was with the captain?

Undoubtedly, these continued attacks were partially the cause for the captain's increasing aggression as she believed her place to be on the Bridge.

The ship rocked from another bombardment of weapons fire.

Seven of Nine stumbled against a bulkhead as she traveled down the corridor to the Astrometrics Lab. No sooner did she reach the main lab console when the Intruder Alert alarm sounded and the main sensor array went offline. Her hands quickly danced over the board, activating the backups for Astrometrics. Main power flickered but eventually stabilized.

This was the third attack in two days.

The captain would not be pleased.

A shuddering breath escaped Janeway as Seven of Nine left her quarters, leaving her trapped on the sofa, unless of course, the captain decided to try a low crawl, but an absent lift of her arms negated that idea. After the daily impact of the parallel bars, she barely had the stamina to utilize the forearm crutches – the items that had indirectly led to Seven's recent exit.

The captain continued to mentally chastise herself as she drug a hand down her face. She really shouldn't have let her anger flare out at Seven. Of course, Janeway hadn't been the most pleasant person the last couple of days.

Still, her mind raced over her more than usual feisty behavior and more notably to Seven of Nine's reaction. The initial flare of shock and anger was apparent in those slightly narrowed, clear blue eyes. However, it was the consequent reaction that caused Janeway pause. Seven had seemed to set her jaw (to the point of grinding her teeth) as her neck muscles twitched; chin lifted and shoulders squared – usual precursors. These were common and obvious signs of the young woman's dissatisfaction as Captain Janeway had witnessed, even instigated those very reactions on numerous occasions.

Yet, Seven had just walked out.

Seven never walked out, no matter how emotionally heated or physically dangerous the situation. She confronted everything head on, straight and true until convinced (or proven) otherwise. This trait was an established fact fundamental to her character. Despite the headache it caused, the captain had learned to value Seven of Nine's challenging nature as it acted to remind Janeway that her captaincy wasn't simply a privilege.

All this lead to a singular conclusion, the captain had hurt the ex-drone's feelings.

This notion, in and of itself, wasn't necessarily an issue as Janeway had stepped on quite a few toes throughout her life and career. The career aspect just came with the territory of command, but the life part.… This wasn't a simple disagreement concerned with an action or a decision: the Omega molecule, the rescued member of Species 8472, or even negotiating with members of Species 8472 at one of their undercover training facilities.

No, Kathryn Janeway had senselessly lashed out at her friend.

"Damn," she muttered, slumping slightly.

Any further self-analysis was halted by the door chime.

Bidding the visitor to enter, Janeway couldn't contain her surprise at seeing Voyager's youngest crewman. "Miss Wildman," she greeted as the girl took a tentative step into the captain's quarters.

"Captain," Naomi returned, registering the open delight in her captain's expression. "I don't mean to bother you.…"

Her automatic apology was stalled by the shake of the head and a crooked smirk. She'd visited the captain before – without her mother – quite often, but never while Janeway was hurt. Her eyes quickly assessed her surroundings while her hands fumbled with her small gift as nervousness overtook her.

Realizing the girl's apprehension, Janeway offered the standard pleasantries and formalities. This relaxed and expected behavior served to set Naomi at ease and allowed the girl's natural charms free reign. As usual, Janeway allowed Naomi to set the pace of their conversation, all the while following the standard procedures of a subordinate conversing with a superior officer. (It was a bit of an oddity how the young girl inhaled Starfleet protocol procedures.) If time allowed, as well as barring any interruptions, the pair would soon enter in more casual and sometimes personal dialogue.

Finally obtaining her normal comfort level, Naomi offered her gift to the captain.

Janeway graciously took the ten centimeter, polished multi-colored sphere. "You've been experimenting in the geology department again," she said, examining the various materials comprising the object. Listening as Naomi described the entire process from how this particular sphere started out as an accident. "I think this may be your best one so far. Wouldn't you rather keep it for your collection?"

The captain didn't miss the slight frown.

"No, I have too many already."

Janeway arched an eyebrow.

"Mom tripped on one last week."

Fighting to keep the light chortle at bay, Janeway held the sphere up high, enabling the streaking starlight to reflect directly off the various materials. Bits of green and silver sparkled amidst the deeper hues of maroon and blue. "I'm sure I can imagine how that conversation went.…"

Naomi only offered a sheepish smirk, a mischievous twinkle in her bright eyes.

However, the moment was broken when the Red Alert klaxons sounded, and Commander Chakotay's voice sounded for battle stations.

Instinctively, Naomi jumped from her seat next to Captain Janeway and bolted for the door, knowing she had to get back to her quarters as quickly as possible. As soon as she squeezed through the barely opening pneumatic doors, she skidded to a halt in the corridor – the Intruder Alert sounded.

Knowing it wasn't safe to travel unescorted, Naomi twisted around towards an unfamiliar sound. Three aliens had materialized in the corridor junction not five meters from her. Before they could turn, the girl hopped back into the captain's quarters, relieved when the doors closed.


Snapped out of her reverie, Naomi turned and rushed back to the captain. "There are three aliens in the corridor by the turbolift."

"Did they see you?"

"I don't think so."

The ship rocked hard to starboard as the lights flickered. Janeway grabbed Naomi, pulling the girl to her, shielding her from the mass of raining sparks. Again, the lights flickered but this time remained out. The eerie glow of phaser fire and the flickering shields illuminated the cabin.

"Computer, seal doors," ordered Janeway. Her eyes searched about the darkness when no indication of acceptance or completion of command was given by the verbal interface. Her ears strained to hear for movement in the corridor. Quickly, the captain slapped her combadge. "Janeway to Bridge." Pause. "Janeway to Tuvok."

Distinctive alien voices were heard in the corridor.

The list of possible damaged systems rattled through the captain's mind.

"Naomi, the crutch," Janeway ordered, pointing at the forearm crutch lying behind the desk on the floor.

Naomi darted without hesitation to the requested object, bringing it back to Janeway.

Slipping her right arm into the cuff, the captain continued, "In my port nightstand, there's a hand phaser."

As the girl started towards the bedroom, a loud bang sounded against the pneumatic doors. Startled, Naomi stopped, staring at the source of the noise.

"Go," Janeway hissed, hoisting herself upright.

Ignoring the pain, the captain somehow struggled to the far lounger which she haphazardly fell onto. Her lower back agonizingly throbbed as the marching ants started their parade up and down her legs. Another loud bang forced her back to the task at hand. Arms shook from strain and overuse as the captain freed herself from the metal cuff. Twisting around, Janeway hit the manual release for the bottom drawer of the storage cabinet under the viewport to reveal a type-3b advanced pulse phaser rifle.

Another loud bang on the pneumatic doors sounded as Naomi once again rejoined her captain.

Janeway motioned for the girl to stand directly next to her. She quickly took and molded the small hands around the hand phaser, explaining the buttons as she went. The girl seemed to understand the instructions given her as she nestled down behind the lounger and bulkhead.

The shrieks of creaking metal filled the cabin as the doors were being forced open.

Janeway activated the rifle, quickly switching off the forward-mounted light.

A gloved hand followed by an arm snaked its way between the doors, forcing them open.

She disengaged the safety with a notable click.

Another set of hands appeared, assisting in opening the door.

Janeway raised the rifle, waiting for visual confirmation, not wanting to tip-off her vulnerable position until absolutely necessary.

Just as the pneumatic doors were wide enough to admit the intruders, phaser fire was exchanged in the corridor. Two of the three intruders engaged a Voyager security team while the first intruder bolted inside the captain's quarters, believing it to be relatively safe.

Immediately, the captain took down the intruder.

The commotion of their comrade dropping to the deck distracted one of the remaining two as he turned and took a shot in Janeway's general direction. A simple diversionary tactic as he must have called for a beam out as all three quickly dematerialized.

At the fast approaching sounds of footsteps, Janeway raised the rifle to the open door from her awkward position on the deck. She had rolled off the lounger to avoid the second intruder's shot while ordering Naomi to drop down.

"Are you alright, Captain?"

Relieved, Janeway answered, "We're fine, Lieutenant Rollins." Waving for Naomi to come out of hiding, the captain half listened as Rollins ordered another team to secure the section and posted a team outside the captain's quarters. She took the hand phaser from the young girl and asked if she was alright.

Naturally, Naomi attested that she was indeed fine while inquiring about the captain's welfare.

Accepting assistance from Lt. Rollins and Naomi, Janeway easily returned to the sofa, all the while inquiring about the state of the ship. Hearing what she expected to hear, the captain thanked the security officer and instructed him to return Miss Wildman to her quarters.

Exhausted and alone, Janeway dropped her head to rest on the back of the sofa.

Seven was slightly surprised when the door to the captain's quarters opened without requesting entrance. Stepping in, she was a little curious about what she would find, especially since she did not leave the captain in the best of moods before the attack.

Her original intentions had been to leave Janeway 'hanging' for thirty minutes or so. She wasn't sure if it was her sense of duty that led Seven to 'take it,' but the captain's insolent behavior would be curbed one way or another. Perhaps she would threaten to have Janeway returned to Sickbay, and once again be at the Doctor's tender mercies as the captain herself aptly put it. However, things didn't go quite as planned as Seven was ordered to report to Engineering to expedite repairs after Voyager finally managed to outrun their pursuers – again.

"I'm sorry, Seven," said Janeway from the very same spot on the sofa where Seven had left her several hours ago. She sat with her head bowed, hands folded on her lap "I know it's no excuse, but I'm just so frustrated."

"Understandable." Seven stepped over to the desk, holding a few PADDs. She was unfamiliar with the feeling of almost overwhelming concern, specifically for Janeway, but reigned it all in tight. There was no telling how the captain would react. Part of her thought she was being foolish, that the sentiment would be welcomed, while the other steadfastly proclaimed attachments to be irrelevant.

Instead, the ex-drone focused on the basic task of putting down the PADDs which contained various departmental and damage reports from the last two attacks as well as the current state of repairs. Chakotay would be meeting with Janeway in an hour or so, depending on how quickly repair crews managed to wrap up their work. Right now, the XO was meeting with Tuvok, working on a strategy to repel any further attacks before approaching Janeway. Captain and First Officer didn't part on the best of terms after their powwow following the first attack.

Taking a long breath, Janeway offered Seven a chagrined look. "And I'm sorry I tossed that boot at you."

Satisfied, Seven took a few steps towards her captain, a bit of her trepidation relieved. "Apology accepted; however, I will warn you that if there are any other behavioral digressions similar to what happened before, I shall inform the Doctor that you will be returning to Sickbay for the duration of your rehabilitation."

Janeway nodded as Seven's message was received loud and clear.

The last couple of days had been very difficult and trying on the captain's patience. Ultimately, it was the total loss of control over her body, her ship and now her emotions that was getting to her. She needed to get it together and fast. Of course, Janeway had surprised herself with how quickly she became comfortable with Seven of Nine as her aid.

"Have you eaten?"


Without asking whether or not she wanted dinner (or what she may want for that matter), Janeway watched Seven stride towards the replicator and bring her a bowl of beef stew. Normally, she would just nibble on a fruit 'n veggie tray while reading, but Seven quickly stopped that routine as she demanded Janeway follow the Doctor's nutritional guidelines – especially if she wanted coffee.

Obediently, Janeway took the stew and quietly thanked her houseguest – still playing the role of the submissive, scolded puppy. She should have never allowed her temper to flare at Seven, especially since the young woman was only trying to help, and Janeway couldn't ask for better support.

However, this currently exhibited abnormal behavior from her had elicited an unexpected response from the Borg. Janeway hid her curious scrutiny by eating. As she continued to eat, Janeway disregarded the moment. It was probably nothing or just a nervous Seven. It wasn't every day the captain gave a crewmember big puppy-dog eyes up through her eyelashes.

Fetching the PADDs from the desk, Seven joined Janeway on the sofa. Once the flitter in her chest stopped, she said, "Kathryn, I need to regenerate for four hours tonight. Would you be averse to settling in early?" Even after two weeks, it still felt odd to use the captain's first name.

"Not at all," Janeway answered as she hunted for the stewed carrots, eating them first.

A few minutes passed before Seven asked, "Were you alone all this time?"

Shaking her head, the captain finished her bite. "No, Naomi had gotten the courage to finally press my door chime." Janeway flashed a crooked smile while taking another bite.

"Her mother had firmly instructed her not to bother you."

"She doesn't bother me," Janeway corrected softly. She and the young girl had a similar conversation a year or so earlier, about how Naomi should heed and respect her mother's wishes. This was quickly countered by a series of questions of how-abouts, what-ifs and other insanity-inducing Delta Quadrant perils. Despite the serious undertones of the conversation, Janeway honestly enjoyed herself. The captain smiled as she took another bite of the stew, but that flipped to a frown. "Naomi used to visit more often."

"I believe that has to do with the Borg children."

Nodding, Janeway said, "It must be nice to have other children onboard."

Voyager's sole child was always a paramount concern for the captain, but unfortunately, the young girl usually got lost in the shuffle – socially – and the crew usually kept the girl from under the captain's feet, believing she might be a bother. Janeway was quick to tell Naomi otherwise.

"Mezoti, Azan and Rebi are afraid of you," Seven continued, ignoring Janeway's comment.

"Afraid?" Janeway was aghast for just a moment before she chuckled. "What did you tell them?" She raised an eyebrow at Seven, stabbing a piece of beef.

"Not to bother you," Seven stated matter-of-factly. Indirectly, she was part of the reason why Naomi Wildman didn't visit the captain as often. The young woman had impressed upon all the children that the captain's time was very limited.

Realizing that she wasn't going to get anymore out of Seven, the captain continued with her meal, enjoying the quiet company. It was nice, very nice actually.

Seven was quite pleased with the complete change in the captain's attitude as she had anticipated an even more volatile disposition upon her return. Listening to the soft sounds of Janeway eating and the gentle cycling of the environmental system, the ex-drone swept her eyes over the state of the cabin; noticing that one of the forearm crutches lay against the sofa next to the captain, a hand phaser and rifle on top of the far lounger. This naturally led Seven's eyes to the scorch mark on the bulkhead, just above the lounger.

"Are you damaged?"

Janeway was startled out of her own thoughts. "No more than usual," was her impish reply as she flashed a saucy smile, but quickly amended her statement at Seven of Nine's deepening frown. "I'm fine, Seven. I hurt, but I'm fine."

This failed to subdue the young blonde's questions or concerns.

"Has the Doctor not been by for his evening visit?"

"I'm sure he has his reasons for running late," Janeway offered, returning to her meal. In fact, she had already been apprised, thanks to Lt. Rollins (as communications were still inoperative), that the Doctor would be late. It was also the same young security officer that kept Janeway continually informed of the ship's status.

Before Seven could offer any further comments, the door chime sounded and Janeway bid them enter.

Automatically, Seven stood as the pneumatic doors opened to reveal Lt. Rollins.

"Captain," he greeted. Turning to Seven, Rollins nodded, "Seven."

Unfazed by the expected visit, the captain continued to eat. "What can I do for you, Lieutenant?"

"Just checking in, Ma'am," said Rollins, walking forward to offer a PADD to Janeway. "Commander Tuvok asked me to deliver this report."

"Thank you, Scott." Janeway smiled, taking the PADD.

Clearing his throat, Rollins nodded, stepping backwards. "If there is anything else, Captain, please don't hesitate to contact myself or anyone from security."

Curious, Seven watched as Rollins scurried out of the quarters after Janeway's nodding dismissal. Raising an eyebrow, she turned back in time to see the captain placing an empty bowl on the coffee table, and the wince when she moved back. "You are in pain."

"I can wait till the Doctor gets here," Janeway waved away young woman's concerns.

Trying her combadge in an attempt to contact the EMH, Seven turned purposely. "I will fetch him."

The strange tone in the 'Seven' that followed halted the young woman. Seven turned to see Janeway shifting herself on the sofa, finding no comfortable position.

"I'm sure the Doctor hasn't forgotten about me."

"It is 2000 hours," Seven of Nine informed her, watching the captain intently.

Janeway glanced at the clock and sighed.

"I will fetch the Doctor," was all Seven said as she left Janeway once again sitting on the sofa.

Seven of Nine returned to the captain's quarters from Cargo Bay 2 after four hours of regeneration and a brief visit to Main Engineering to inquiry if she could be any assistance in repairs. However, Lt. Torres simply told her to see to the captain. By this point, the mini adventure of Captain Janeway and her Captain's Assistant, Naomi Wildman, had made its rounds through the ship. The crew's pride was almost palpable.

Attempting to be quiet in her assessment of the older woman's status, Seven poked her head into the captain's sleeping area, expecting to see Janeway flailed diagonally across the bed as was her tendency. But instead, she found her captain sitting up, forcibly rubbing her thighs.

"Kathryn?" Seven boldly stepped forward. "I will assist you." She gestured for Janeway to lie back down as she silently helped her work through a series of exercises for both legs.

"Thank you, Seven."

"Can I be of any further assistance, Kathryn?"

"I don't think so."

The Borg was at a loss as it was obvious Janeway wouldn't be returning to sleep. Excusing herself, Seven exited to the living area of the quarters and contacted the Doctor. He had anticipated this predicament, but given the state of things really couldn't offer any further assistance or relief other then what Seven just did.

"The Captain is just going to have to tough it out, Seven," the EMH had said with clear regret.

This begged the question of how much 'toughening' a person could take, or specifically how much Captain Janeway could take as she was often the last to reward herself and the first to restrict herself when resources where limited.

Hearing a soft whimper, Seven focused her attention as she listened at the quiet shifting of the captain. She thought back to when she was first confined to the Cargo Bay and the loneness she experienced. After the isolation was over and she had developed a deeper friendship with the captain, Naomi and the Doctor, Seven found time passed more quickly in the company of favorable companions. Yet for some reason, she did not move to offer Janeway any companionship or distraction.

"I can hear you thinking, Seven." Janeway smiled as the young woman instantly appeared in the archway with a perplexed expression on her face. Chuckling, she gestured towards the lounger. "If you're not busy, would you mind offering me a bit of distraction?"

"Of course." Seven took a step towards the chair, carefully considering her conversational options. As she sat, she studied the large, greenish box with some sort of crudely carved fish adorning the lid. The object seemed strange amongst the other elegant items which decorated the captain's personal space. "What is the significance of the fish?"

"That was a gift from my Uncle Steve – Aunt Martha's husband." Janeway smiled fondly as she settled against her pillows, leaning against the bulkhead.

"I assume there is a humorous anecdote associated with the gift?"

"Perhaps," Janeway offered dryly.

Seven inclined her head expectantly.

"I assume you would like to hear it."

"You are seeking a distraction from your discomfort," Seven clarified.

With a shake of her head, the captain started her narrative.…

"Tell me again how we got talked into this?" Phoebe Janeway asked, attempting and failing to slip her arms into the super-tight elastic straps of her borrowed waders.

Smirking as her little sister twisted in vain, Kathryn stepped forward to help as she said, "You, dear sister. You told Uncle Steve that you could out fish him any day of the week." She absently checked the adjustable straps, ensuring the garment fit properly.

"Why did you ever let me say something so stupid?"

Kathryn laughed. "So this is somehow my fault?"

"Yes!" Phoebe exclaimed finally free from the tugging and pulling. She took a few tentative steps to get used the feeling of the waders. "You're supposed to make me keep my mouth shut, and save me from embarrassment and foot-in-mouth disease."

"I'm not a miracle worker," Kathryn scoffed.

However, the enjoyment over Phoebe's self-inflicted dilemma was short-lived as Uncle Steve (a very tall man of south Louisiana descent) knocked on the door. The sisters bid their uncle enter as he was bringing another set of waders for Kathryn. After some mild teasing and boosting, Uncle Steve told them to be ready in fifteen minutes to head out into the river.

"Are you really going to wear those?" Phoebe asked as she looked at the very old, much worn waders.

"It's all they have left," Kathryn stepped into the waders.

"I wouldn't be caught dead in those."

Rolling her eyes as she adjusted her shoulder straps, Kathryn said, "Remember, I do this for you." She slipped into one of the chest packs Uncle Steve was kind enough to drop off with the waders.

Phoebe frowned as she held up the other chest pack. "What do we need all this equipment for anyway?"

Snapping the fastening clip, Kathryn looked wide-eyed at her sister. "We're going fly fishing." At the blank look on her sister's face, she continued, "What you did last summer with Joe Daniels? You talked about all the hiking and outdoors stuff you did at Thanksgiving which included fly fishing."

Realization dawned on Phoebe. "Oh, we didn't actually do any of that."

With furrowed brows, Kathryn asked, "What did you do for two weeks?"


"Never mind," Kathryn sighed, snatching up her broad-brimmed hat and setting it on her head. "Next time you get pissed off at me, I want you to remember this."

Phoebe smiled. She really did love her big sister. "You look so cute," she cooed, reaching out to adjust the hat.

"Come on," Kathryn grabbed Phoebe's hand and pulled her out the door.

The day progressed without much incident, aside from the usual good-natured bickering between the various family members. It was the last time Kathryn spent any significant amount of time (other than holidays) with her sister and uncle before taking command of Voyager.

"It didn't take long for Phoebe to get a handle on the technique. Eventually, I tuned out their banter and just went through the motions." Janeway could almost hear the gentle trickle of the river, the soft song of distant birds. It was a beautiful spring day in the New York Catskills. "However, I wasn't left to my own devices for very long.…"

An hour later, Victor (Steve's oldest son) and his wife, Irene, arrived with their two youngest in tow. The usual pleasantries were exchanged which gradually led to teasing banter, mostly at Phoebe's expense. None of this served to break into Kathryn's almost trance like state until the 14 year-old Mary screamed as her 7 year-old brother, Amos, splashed her with the crisp river water.

The shrill shriek pierced the quiet like a bolt of lightning, completely shattering the serenity.

Kathryn jerked to discover the source of the disturbance, but by doing so, she lost her balance on the slick rocks in the river. She twisted about in a vain attempt to regain her balance, but ultimately was unable to so. By this time, Uncle Steve was watching her, laughing as Kathryn fell backwards into the deeper shallows.

Cold water rushed into the waders, completely soaking Kathryn head to toe. She sat up in time to see her hat start floating down stream. Scrambling to her feet, Kathryn lunged for it and thankfully caught it. Securing the hat on top of her head, she slowly stood up and picked up her discarded pole.

"Are you alright, Ryn?" called Phoebe with amusement in her voice.

Kathryn scowled at her sister, but couldn't stop the grin. Just as she was about to laugh, Kathryn stopped and looked down into the gaping, wide top of the waders.

Phoebe turned towards Uncle Steve, who was now watching with concern, but before either could ask.…

"I had felt something whacking against my thigh through my jeans, and I'll admit it's a tad unsettling when you can't see down your own pants," Janeway chuckled, stifling a yawn as she remembered the shocked faces of her uncle and sister. "So, I reached down and pulled out the only trout we managed to catch that entire trip. Uncle Steve crafted that box as a memento."

Seven reached out and picked up the small photograph leaning against the outside of the box. "Is this your sister with you?" Glancing up for confirmation, she returned her gaze to the two Janeway sisters hugging each other while in their fly fishing gear.

Despite the dissimilar waders, Phoebe Janeway appeared to be about twelve centimeters taller than her sister. Dark, curly brown hair floated about in that spring day's breeze as Phoebe appeared to lovingly squeeze the waterlogged Kathryn Janeway.

About to ask another question, Seven returned the photograph and turned towards Janeway, who had by this time drifted off to sleep. A sense of relief calmed the young woman as she rose from her seat. Settling a discarded blanket over her captain, Seven quietly slipped out to the living area and prepared for the senior staff briefing which had been moved to mid-morning.

Earlier, at approximately 2100 hours, Commander Chakotay had arrived at the captain's quarters, prepared to discuss that latest attack. Seven of Nine informed him that the captain was in a non-commutative state and had requested a senior officer briefing tomorrow morning here in her quarters. Chakotay was visibly relieved, and had ordered Seven to assist in repairs if given the opportunity.

Noticing the time on the antiquated time piece, Seven picked up the series of PADDs she had deposited on the desk earlier in the evening. The captain would want to be briefed before the meeting.

Neelix bristled slightly. He couldn't quite believe what Captain Janeway just suggested. "With all due respect, Captain, do you think that's really appropriate?"

Janeway took a sip of her coffee. The scalding liquid was the only thing keeping her focused at the moment. "Given the circumstances, I believe it certainly garners further consideration if not immediate implementation." She could see Neelix about to continue his objection, but something shifted in the Talaxian's demeanor as his gaze drifted across the room.

"I'll speak with Ensign Wildman," Chakotay said.

Nodding, Janeway said, "Upon proper guardian's approval, I want this implemented as quickly as possible, Chakotay." She fixed him with a pointed look. At his nod, she knew her message was received loud and clear. "Tuvok, will you oversee the training?"

"Aye, Captain."

Janeway didn't have to embellish the seriousness of the task, and she trusted the Vulcan security chief to ensure the children's safety – in their understanding for the training and to the people assigned to administer it. Shifting in her chair as she tried desperately not to wince, Janeway demanded an update on the still non-functional warp drive.

"It's the magnetic restrictors, Captain. The outer casing was cracked beyond repair." Torres paused for a second, glancing at Chakotay. "I have a temporary solution I can try.…" She trailed off in her explanation at the XO's increasingly hard look. They had discussed this prior to the briefing, and Chakotay felt Torres's solution was too much of a risk. "The matter/anti-matter reaction would require constant monitoring and manual adjustment, but it'll give us warp for about a week before we absolutely had to replace the entire magnetic restrictor assembly." The chief engineer also knew it would take that long to build a new assembly from scratch, since it wasn't likely Voyager could just pull up to an outpost and procure one.

Lt. Paris jumped in. "I've conferred with Seven, Captain, and there's a nebula about ten light years from here. It'll take us a few days to reach it at impulse, but if we wait to engage warp on the other side, we'll be able to mask our warp trail – at least long enough to put some distance between us and these pesky pirates."

Janeway nodded.

"I've been looking over the power consumption projections, Captain," said Ensign Kim. "And I think if we drop to only bare critical systems, we could possibly maintain a warp factor six for two weeks with the rigged assembly." He tried not to blush at Janeway's smirk.

"Do it," the captain ordered, quite pleased with her crew's seemingly never ending ingenuity.

Taking the dismissal and eager to get to work, the senior staff filtered out of the captain's quarters. Seven, having maintained a sentry post beside the desk during the meeting, listened as the EMH asked if Janeway felt able to attend a therapy session today. Although not surprised, she was apprehensive when the captain said no. To his credit, the Doctor didn't press the matter and left without another word. She also observed their exchange was overhead by Tom Paris. Upon his exit, the helmsman made eye contact with Seven, offering her a weak smile.

Just as she was about to address Janeway, Seven was distracted by heated words in the corridor. It was clearly Lt. Torres and Cmdr. Chakotay discussing the quick fix to the warp drive. Her attention returned to Janeway as the argument moved away from the pneumatic doors towards the turbolift.

"What do you think, Seven?"

"About what specifically, Kathryn?" the Borg asked, walking to stand next to the captain.

They gazed out the viewport together.

Taking another sip of her coffee, finishing it, Janeway clarified, "Teaching the kids how to use a phaser."

"I was . . . surprised but understand the necessity of including such tasks into their education." Seven paused. "They will handle the task and responsibility appropriately."

"Of that I have no doubt." Janeway set her now empty mug on the side table. Her crew wouldn't allow it otherwise. The captain just wished Voyager's precious cargo didn't have to grow up quite as fast.

Chief Medical Officer's Log - Supplemental, Stardate 53010.12: Despite a minor setback, Captain Janeway's progression in her rehabilitation has been quite satisfactory. In addition, her attitude about the entire process has been outstanding given the captain's usual tendencies regarding her medical care, or so I believed until I informed her that she needed to use the forearm crutches for at least another week.

"Another week?" Janeway scowled at the holographic doctor.

"I'm sorry, Captain, but I'm standing by my medical recommendation." The Doctor crossed his arms over his chest as he returned Janeway's scowl. He wasn't really surprised by the emergence of this typical obstinate behavior. It had been a long time coming, especially as she had been such a good sport – for the most part.

Basically, it all boiled down to safety. Captain Janeway simply couldn't maneuver herself reliably without risking further injury. There were still too many variables.

Lifting his chin in response to Janeway's narrowing eyes, the EMH refused to back down.

"Seven has supervised me long enough," she growled.

"Well, she's simply going to continue acting as your aid for a little while longer," he replied with a light voice, shifting out of his defensive stance. Naturally, the Doctor had already conversed with Seven about the situation. It was ultimately her insights and observations of the captain that helped him with this very decision.

"She has more important things—"

"I'm not going to have this argument with you, Captain. You'll need to use the forearm crutches for another week before I even consider releasing you to light duty." He tried not to smirk as Janeway seemed to perk up at the mention of being released to duty. "I understand that this hasn't been a picnic for you, but you've made remarkable progress and have surpassed my original timeline."

"Another week?" Janeway asked again, more quietly this time.

"Maybe less," the EMH offered a reassuring smile. "It just depends on how well you recover after your little exploit from the other day."

"How is Naomi?"

Sitting down on the sofa, the Doctor decided a little socializing with his captain certainly couldn't hurt. After all, he knew exactly what it was like to be trapped. "She's perfectly healthy, absolutely no adverse effects from your joint adventure." If he felt more inclined about predicting Janeway's mood and reactions, he might have mentioned how excited the girl was but such things were hard to gauge.

"That's good," the captain offered, pursing her lips. "I half expected Samantha to burst in here and give me a piece of her mind."

Clearing his throat, the Doctor was quite serious as he said, "You saved her little girl." He waited for Janeway to respond, but when she remained quiet, worry over the captain's mental state flinted across his thoughts. Continuing, he asked, "Has Samantha ever challenged your decisions? Has she ever claimed your actions as captain put her daughter into danger?"

"No." Janeway brows furrowed. "When she told me she was pregnant, I couldn't shake the impression she expected me to order the pregnancy terminated."

The EMH was startled by how the captain seemed to have opened up. Frankly, he expected a quick and definitive dismissal after his last comment. Quickly, the Doctor regained his composure. "How did you know she was pregnant?"

"Temporal Prime Directive, Doctor."

"Of course," he sighed, but added, "Why didn't you order the pregnancy terminated? You were well within your rights as captain given the status of the ship."

As if facing down an enemy, Janeway lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. She wasn't certain how to answer, wasn't certain if she should even answer. "It was something Chakotay said about intimate relations might cause problems given our situation."

Patiently, the EMH waited for his captain to continue, but nothing further ever came. He really couldn't feel slighted since this was the most she'd ever opened up to him. It left him thinking that she'd maybe be more willing to discuss decisions regarding him. For now, the hologram would take this small token and attempt to unravel the enigma that was Captain Kathryn Janeway.

Chief Medical Officers' Log - Supplemental, Stardate 53020.02: Thanks to my continued exceptional care, I have released Captain Janeway to light, active duty as she has achieved reliable mobility with a cane. In addition, I've devised a wider series of rehabilitation exercises to help strengthen and stretch the necessary muscles.

"Now you can do better than that, Captain," chided the Doctor. He stood in the loose, white tank top and red shorts of a pool lifeguard.

Resting for the moment, Janeway floated at the side of the pool, arms resting on the smooth tiled ledge. She glared up and once again couldn't fathom how much body hair the hologram had on his legs and arms. Couldn't put some of that on his head?

"I know you are a most adept swimmer." The Doctor lifted his stopwatch to reset it. He glanced down to see the glare, the single tapping finger. "This really is in your best interest," he added softly. When he noticed Janeway's soften features, the EMH suggested, "Let's get a frame of reference, shall we? How about 100 meter freestyle? We can compare your academy times to these times."

Lazily swimming back to the starting platform, Janeway slowly moved to pull herself out of the water, mindful of her footing and hand grips. "Doctor, I was twenty," she interjected.

"We'll make adjustments to allow for your age, current physical condition and whatever other variables." The Doctor smiled, knowing he was appealing to his captain's competitive nature. He moved toward the center of the pool's length. Seeing Janeway take position, the Doctor brought his whistle to his mouth, waited a moment and blew. He was really quite pleased and frankly impressed with how the captain took to the water exercises.

"Doctor," greeted Seven of Nine.

Slightly startled, the Doctor nodded his greeting, keeping his eyes on the captain. "Come for a little swim lesson?"


"Maybe you should try it sometime. It looks like it would be a fascinating experience," he commented, watching the captain underwater.

She had reached the other side, completed her underwater touch and turn before she proceeded to propel herself back to the start.

He stopped the stopwatch as Janeway finally touched the other side. "Very good, Captain." The time was well within a range he had expected. Briefly, he thought about having her run the course again, but realized the tiredness in her shoulders. "Well, that should be enough for today." He continued in an annoyingly chipper tone, "We'll schedule this activity again later this week." After a receiving a mock salute from the captain, the Doctor nodded his goodbye to Seven.

Thinking she was at last alone, Janeway pulled off her goggles, leaned her head back into the water. The movement always felt like someone running their fingers through her hair, massaging the scalp. Having enough of the water, Janeway once again pulled herself out of the pool, but stayed perched on the side. After being in the water for so long, she felt heavy and dense. It was then she noticed Seven of Nine inspecting the pool.

"Hello, Seven," she offered with genuine delight. "Come for a swim?"

Seven's eyes darted to the captain and back to the mass volume of water before her. She couldn't remember ever submerging her body in liquid, and neither did she desire to do so. "No." Her response was perhaps too curt, and she thought to expound upon it, but stopped at Janeway's low chuckle.

Forgetting about the pool, Seven moved to join Janeway at the end. She observed the variant Starfleet swimwear the captain donned – a charcoal grey, solid, one-piece suit. It was sleeveless with a slight collar similar to the standard tunic, and covered the body until mid-thigh.

Stopping beside Janeway, Seven offered, "I have no practical experience with swimming." It wasn't offered freely to anyone. There had been many times the crew engaged in outdoor, water-type activities, but Seven never felt compelled to wear the revealing clothing.

By this time, Janeway had grabbed a towel, and was rubbing it vigorously through her hair. She stopped at Seven's confession, and regarded the young woman, her instinct telling her there was more to it. "No?" Janeway asked with her hair completely disheveled and wanton. "Maybe we can change that someday." Holding up a hand, Janeway continued, "Help me up, please. After being in the water for so long, I feel waterlogged."

Without hesitation, Seven did as she was asked and continued to offer the necessary support as they walked towards the locker room.

"Shift over already?" Janeway asked, as she slowly lowered herself onto a bench, pulled open her locker and started removing the swimsuit.

"No, I was curious as to what was entailed with the Doctor's new rehabilitation regimen." Seven honestly answered. This was the first time she hadn't attended a physical therapy session. In fact, since the EMH released the captain to light duty and the use of a tritanium cane, the young woman was no longer required to offer continual aid to Janeway. After a few days, she realized she missed the older woman's company.

"You should try it sometime," the captain offered casually, wiggling totally out of the wet garment.


"Naomi loves to swim." Janeway offered offhandedly pulling a grey tank over her head, taking the opportunity to assess Seven. "She doesn't get to do it often."

The Borg stood in her usual position she'd adopted for these situations – standing close but with hands behind her back, turned away from Janeway. Now, the captain had no qualms about her body or her naked body, for that matter. Such notions and novelties are quickly driven out when working in Starfleet, living in space, but it was usually perceived as a sign of respect for rank or perhaps the individual.

When Seven made no attempt to respond, Janeway said, still dressing, "It's not like you to take a break in the middle of a shift." She knew for a fact Seven only took a lunch break when invited by someone.

"I wished to inquire if you would still feel inclined for our scheduled activity after your duty shift."

Smiling, Janeway hooked her cane over a shelf in her locker and used it as a means to pull herself to a standing position. "I don't see why not, Seven," she answered releasing her grip on the cane, pulling her uniform trousers and other garments to her waist. "I'm sure after four hours of sitting in my Ready Room that I'll be ready for a little walk."

What the captain really wanted was to take a strolling cruise through her ship, but that wasn't possible at the moment. Although the Doctor had approved the cane, Janeway realized her limits.

Seven turned to face Janeway as she was pulling the grey tunic over her head. "Very well, Captain." She reached into the locker, removing the uniform jacket. Opening the jacket, Seven was pleased she was still able to offer assistance.

Captain's Log - Supplemental, Stardate 53031.45: It's been almost a week since our last pirate attack, since they successfully boarded Voyager, but I can't shake this feeling that they're still watching us. Why haven't they attempted another strike? I've ordered the crew to investigate that very question.

"Nothing?" Janeway raised an eyebrow, looking at her senior officers. She sighed as she pinched the bridge of her nose. "They breeched our defenses. I find it a little hard to believe that they would just back off."

"Maybe we have finally slipped past their strike radius," offered Chakotay. It was the best theory at the moment.

"With a prize as spectacular as this ship, I doubt it." Neelix shared his captain's doubts. "They either know where we're going or are setting a trap."

"During their visit, did they steal anything or successfully access the computer?" Janeway asked, absently tapping her fingertips on the briefing table.

Shifting in his chair, Kim replied, "Evidence is inconclusive regarding accessing the main computer. They were either really good at their infiltration or never got into position."

"Nothing was taken off the ship, Captain," Tuvok said.

Disgusted with the lack of results, Janeway moved on. "Warp status."

"Our make-shift assembly is holding." Torres gestured towards Seven. "With a few Borg tweaks, I'll be able to squeeze a few more lightyears out of it. However, our homemade assembly is about half way finished due to a small snag when synthesizing the casing alloy." Seeing the information received well by her captain, the Chief Engineer added, "I would recommend dropping to Warp 5."

That got a raised eyebrow, but Torres was relieved when Janeway nodded.

Lt. Paris piped in, "Seven and I believe we've found a nebula that'll be a suitable home for our passenger on Deck 12, Captain. It's only a few days off course."

Nodding, Janeway ordered for them to carry on and gave her senior staff a quick dismissal. They are a good crew, she told herself. Sitting in alone in the briefing room, the captain allowed her thoughts to drift as she prioritized the ever growing to-do list. First, they needed to drop their electromagnetic friend off at his new home. Then, they needed to find a new magnetic restrictor assembly or at the very least, the proper materials to construct one. Without knowing the status of the pirates, any stop – inhabited planet or not – would be an even greater risk.

Reaching for her cane from under the table, Janeway slowly stood and made her way to her quarters.

Janeway sighed.

Obviously, she wasn't going to be able to ignore it any longer. Her stomach rumbled once more, and she sighed again. Her stomach wanted lunch and a cup of coffee wasn't going to cut it.

Tapping the PADD on her desk, she mulled over a decision: waste the hour it would take to eat lunch, or suck it up and starve. Janeway leaned her head back against her chair's head rest and stared at the ceiling.

If she contacted Neelix, she wouldn't get a choice. He would toss together something extremely healthy and extremely tasteless, thanks to Seven, naturally. Even if she went to the Messhall, there would be no guarantee that she'd get the crew's lunch special anyway. There was the replicator, but the last time she replicated a bowl of ice cream it tasted like handmade soy-based dairy product. (Her sister, Phoebe, had dated a young man who prided himself on making homemade alternative foods, claiming that the Federation put mind control agents in replicated food.) Again, the replicator changes were courtesy of Seven.

Finally making a decision, Janeway was going to tell the Doctor enough was enough and that Seven's guardianship over her was going to end!

After all, if she was mobile, she was capable, right?

Just as Janeway was about to tap her combadge, the computer chirped as someone requested entrance into the Ready Room. Sighing, she bid them enter. Her eyes narrowed upon recognizing Seven, but her stomach sang a different tune at the sight of the large, covered silver tray.

Despite the cramp in her gut, Janeway barked, "If that's a salad, you can take it back."

Smirking in her unique way and immune to the captain's feisty nature, Seven strode to the desk and gently set down the tray. "It is not a salad." Placing her hand on the cover's knob, she continued before revealing the lunch, "The Doctor believes you have been a good sport by sustaining his physical therapy program with little resistance, and as a result, he has lifted your nutritional regimen."

Janeway closed her eyes as she inhaled the delicious smell. Could it be what she thought it was?

"I asked Mr. Neelix to prepare you something he was certain you would enjoy, but not prone to indulge in." Seven lifted the cover to reveal a thick, juicy ribeye steak with a side of Neelix's seasonal veggies. "If this is agreeable, I shall remove the nutritional restrictions on your replicator access."

She really should have been upset, but Janeway just couldn't bring herself to spoil the moment's elation. Instead, she could only smile.

"Not hungry?" Chakotay asked taking a healthy bite of his salad. He watched as Janeway pushed the lettuce around with her fork. When she didn't reply, he continued, "I heard about that steak dinner. Apparently, Tom drooled all over his station."

"E 'stato delizioso." Janeway flashed her trademark smile. She started to hunt for the vegetables covered in the balsamic vinaigrette.

Nodding, Chakotay displayed his charming smile as his eyes twinkled. "The crew thinks you've finally house broken the resident Borg."

Snorting, Janeway replied before popping a captured tomato into her mouth, "They obviously don't know the whole story. I was outnumbered and outgunned. I didn't stand a chance."

"Still," he added, adopting a serious tone, "You've been a real trooper. The Doctor is genuinely impressed with how you took to the entire situation. I did take the liberty of assuring him that this may never happen again – you being a model patient and all."

With a wicked glint in her eye, Janeway glanced at Chakotay. "It was the lesser of two evils. Desert?" At his grin, she sleeked out of her seat, careful to keep a hand on the table for balance.

"Cheesecake?" he asked as a rather large slice of New York-style cheesecake slid in front of him.

Slowly making her way back to her chair with her own desert, Janeway chuckled, "A bad habit I picked up."

Chakotay eyed her suspiciously for a moment. "What other bad habits have you picked up during this lapse of character?"

The rest of evening went rather well.

Thankfully, Chakotay didn't attempt to linger as he normally did during their weekly dining dates. He always tried chatting her up, trying to catch her unawares to some new tidbit of ship's gossip. Every once in awhile, her XO managed to sideswipe her with some particularly interesting love triangle or squabble taking place on the lower decks, and as per her rule, the captain didn't get involved with crew fraternizations until it impacted ship function or morale. That's when she'd order Chakotay to get involved and to straighten the mess out as discretely as possible. He used to show some initiative by resolving the personal problems himself prior to informing his captain, at least that was the case until several months ago. To this day, Chakotay still didn't like discussing the matter.

In the wee hours, Janeway lay in her bed, trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep. She flipped and flopped. It wasn't the nerves twitching in her legs or back. It wasn't the worry she usually felt for her ship and crew. Looking at the lounger on the other side of the room, she sighed. The captain had gotten used to Seven being with her, near her. This was a very abnormal feeling and not one Janeway was accustomed to experiencing – Delta Quadrant or not.

Needless to say, she was pleasantly surprised when Seven entered her quarters at 0630 as she stood at her desk, taking a sip of coffee as she watched Seven.

Upon entry, Seven nodded once at Janeway and proceeded to retrieve the captain's cane and uniform jacket off the back of a chair. She set the cane against the desk as she stood behind Janeway, jacket opened.

Obediently, the captain set down the coffee mug and slipped her arms in the jacket's sleeves. Seven ran her hand down the captain's back, smoothing out any wrinkles. Janeway concealed a shiver as she adjusted the garment on her shoulders. Of course, Seven of Nine running her hands over the shoulders in attempt to help the yoke to settle didn't help much either. The ex-drone stepped around to check Janeway's appearance.

Under the scrutiny, Janeway got a bemused look on her face, and mischievously stated, "I feel like I'm being sent off for the first day of school."

The mildly irritated look Seven gave her before disappearing into the en suite was not lost on Janeway. Seven was obviously not in the mood for their casual teasing. She pondered what could possibly be wrong. This had been their morning routine for the last week or so as Seven decided once again to attended Janeway's physical therapy sessions. Her face softened as the feelings of the previous night's musings returned.

Seven returned, showed the four pips in her hand and proceeded to place them on Janeway's tunic collar. Normally, Janeway would attach them to a clean tunic the night before, but the still lingering effects of the neurotoxin made such delicate hand-eye coordination tasks difficult. And there were some things she wouldn't ask Seven to do.

Seven sighed ever so lightly, audible to Janeway only by proximity. She stepped back to check her work, and said, "We have your final evaluation with the Doctor. He will decide if you should continue with the physical therapy regimen. We are to meet him in Holodeck Two at 0700."

Nodding, the captain retrieved the cane from its position leaning on the desk and moved towards the door. She knew Seven well enough to know when she was uncomfortable or unsure with a situation, but Janeway still couldn't really deduce why.

"I can tell you what he's going to say," She allowed as they stepped onto the turbolift. "He's going to say I've done a remarkable job – thanks to you." Janeway flashed Seven a happy grin, and was pleased to see an appreciative twinkle in the ex-drone's eyes. "And he's going to say that I need to keep up the activity, which undoubtedly, I won't do without the proper motivation."

Seven pondered the captain's statement as they walked slowly to the Holodeck. Every time the captain tried to pick up the pace, she would stagger, causing Seven to instinctively reach out to assist. Without much thought, she offered, "I could offer the necessary motivation for you to continue your physical activity." A moment of uncertainty rushed through Seven, but she was exhilarated and relieved when Janeway continued to smile.

"That would be a . . ," the captain paused searching for the right word, "lovely idea, Seven. Despite the circumstances, I have to admit that I've rather enjoyed our time together."

"As have I, Captain." Seven took a slow breath as she followed Janeway into the Holodeck.

Chapter 2: The Haunting of Deck Twelve Vignette

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