B'Elanna's continued resistance to the torture she endured had taken its toll on her. She knew it was important to discuss any possible escape plans but she was emotionally drained as well as physically fatigued. In her present state, the half-Klingon knew she could not concentrate or give proper attention to their current predicament so she made no attempt to sit up and confer with Janeway and Seven. Fortunately, neither of her companions felt the need to force her to join in and they retreated to another bunk, able to freely discuss their plans now that the surveillance equipment had been deactivated.
B'Elanna found that she could not relax. The fear of the Moderator's return played heavily on her. Eventually, she found that by concentrating on the voices of her co-prisoners, she became lulled into a more ready state for sleep. Hugging her knees in even more tightly, she vaguely became aware of how sensual Seven's voice sounded, wondering how she had failed to notice it until now. Eventually, the exhausted engineer fell into a fitful slumber. She remained tucked into a ball and emitted the occasional whimper as she slept. Both the Captain and Seven wondered at what terrible dreams she was suffering as they sat on an opposite bunk, discussing their options.
"Did you get a good look at the door?" Janeway asked, keeping her voice low so as not to disturb the dark-haired Klingon.
Seven nodded. "The door mechanism is simple to operate or overcome. It is the force-field that is the problem," the Astrometrics Officer told her.
"I agree. I hate to say this, but I think we stand a better chance of breaking out of here when they return B'Elanna, not when they come to take her," the Captain sighed, the words painful to express.
Seven tensed at the implication. "So you are prepared for B'Elanna to endure torture a second time?" she accused coldly.
Janeway flinched but replied steadily. "If our escape attempt fails, it will be a lot worse. If B'Elanna were awake, she would agree with me. What we have to do is be ready and stack the odds in our favour as much as we can. Anything less would be letting her down."
"To wait until she is returned is not 'stacking the odds in our favour'," objected Seven. "We have no way of predicting how incapacitated she will be. It is better to go now, while the damage to her is less severe." Seven swallowed as she spoke, having difficulty controlling her emotions.
Janeway sympathised but had thought about this intently. "They are more likely to suspect an attack when all three of us are together. We have no idea when they will come for B'Elanna but can anticipate B'Elanna's return, and they are less likely to expect us to break out when she is debilitated," the Captain listed her rationale steadily.
Seven sat and stared at the Captain for a long moment as she digested the comments. Coming to a decision, she nodded her head in agreement. "I apologise, Captain," she remarked softly. "I was speaking subjectively. We must maintain some sort of objectivity in this predicament."
The Captain pinched the bridge of her nose wearily. "It's difficult to be objective, Seven. I don't want B'Elanna to go through another round of torture either. I just can't think of an alternative option."
"I am finding it increasingly difficult to remain objective, Captain," Seven confided, transferring her gaze over to the opposite bunk. She watched B'Elanna for a long moment, studying her respiration rate and body temperature.
Janeway paused, waiting for Seven to continue. When nothing was forthcoming after a few moments, she prompted the ex-drone. "Seven?"
Convinced that the raven-haired woman was fully asleep, the ex-drone returned to look at the Captain steadily. "How do you know if you are in love with someone?" Seven asked simply.
Janeway rocked back, stunned by the question. "Do you think you're in love with B'Elanna?" the older woman replied with a question of her own.
"I do not know," answered Seven miserably. She sat back on the bunk and brought up her knees, hugging them tightly, an upright copy of B'Elanna's foetal ball. "I have never experienced such an intensity of emotions concerning her until very recently. My thoughts and behaviour have become irrational. I think of her obsessively. From what I have researched from the ship's database, I can only conclude that I may be in love." Seven sighed deeply after the revelation, resting her chin on her knees. She felt uncomfortable airing this topic with anyone and the present conditions were less than ideal for exposing her deepest thoughts. However, if Seven could confide in anyone, it would be Kathryn Janeway, her mentor and friend.
It was Seven's turn to wait for a response from the Captain. Janeway's mind spun as she tried to formulate a constructive sentence. She shifted her position to sit cross-legged on the bunk and face Seven directly. Janeway then started with her most pressing concern. "Seven, B'Elanna's married."
"Unfortunately, my feelings cannot be tempered by B'Elanna's marital status," returned Seven sadly.
"But it's something that you have to consider," the Captain continued.
"I have considered it a great deal. She is married to a fool who treats her badly," demurred Seven vehemently, her hushed words coming out as a venomous hiss.
"In your opinion," added Janeway pointedly. "B'Elanna may view him differently."
Seven snorted derisively. "They are a poorly suited couple. They have few shared interests. Her intelligence and strength are far superior to his." She turned to face the Captain once more. "I believe the expression is 'she is too good for him'," she finished.
Janeway paused to consider what she had heard. Seven's timing couldn't have been worse. The Moderator was intent on doing serious harm to B'Elanna for his own satisfaction as well as trying to coerce Janeway into giving up Voyager's technology. If he got wind of Seven's emotional attachment to the Chief Engineer, he would use that as another lever for his demands. She clasped her chin and tapped her lips pensively as she mulled the revelation over. "Seven, you have a number of options open to you," she began, trying to offer what she hoped would be appropriate guidance.
Seven quirked an eyebrow and waited for the Captain to continue.
"You can either ignore these feelings, and hope that they diminish with time, or harbour your feelings and keep them secret, in the hope that one day they may be reciprocated should B'Elanna no longer be romantically involved with Tom, or declare your feelings for her and see how she reacts," Janeway listed what options she could see available to the blonde Astrometrics Officer.
"None of those alternatives hold any appeal, Captain," Seven retorted. "I cannot ignore my feelings, they are too powerful for me to suppress but I am frightened to reveal my love for her." Seven's hands clenched reflexively, an external expression of the frustration she felt. "However, I cannot think of any other course of action than one of the options you have just listed."
"Love is one of the most difficult emotions to deal with Seven. I'll give you all the assistance and support I can, but ultimately, the way you deal with this will be your decision alone. It's never easy, but that's one of the reasons why love becomes so important to us."
"I am not sure that expanding my humanity was a good idea," Seven remarked. "When I thought like a Borg, interaction was simpler, more efficient and less painful," she qualified.
"Perhaps," agreed Janeway softly. "But was it as fulfilling?"
Seven looked at Janeway sharply. "The Borg used communication as a tool. There was no need for any in-depth interaction. Friendship and love were irrelevant," she told her.
"Are they irrelevant now?" Janeway quizzed.
Seven shifted slightly under the continued scrutiny of the Captain. She switched her gaze from Janeway to B'Elanna and paused slightly before whispering her answer. "No."
Feeling uncomfortable after unveiling her innermost thoughts, Seven sought refuge in switching topics. "I take it that the plan is to overpower the two guards returning B'Elanna and then force our way out," she stated, regaining her composure almost instantaneously.
"With an element of surprise, they should fall quickly. There is quite some distance from the cell door to the guard station though. It's not going to be easy," Janeway fell back easily into the prior discussion, recognising Seven's need to change the subject.
"For any of us, Captain," agreed the blonde ex-drone. "And what if B'Elanna is too incapacitated to assist?" she asked, trying to keep her voice flat.
"Don't worry Seven. We all leave together or we don't go at all," vowed Janeway grimly. "We may have to carry her out, in which case I'll leave that to you while I lead the way. She'll be with us though," the Captain reassured the younger woman a second time to underline her commitment to the plan.
The ex-drone was appeased by Janeway's words and relaxed slightly. "Thank you, Captain. I would not have been able to leave her," she confessed.
Janeway placed a reassuring hand on the blonde woman's arm. "Nor would I," she admitted.
Chakotay stared at Tuvok for a moment after he finished his version of events. "So you had no physical contact with B'Elanna or Seven once you split up to search the town?"
"No. Our only communication was via the communicators," verified the Security Chief.
There was a glimmer of hope forming in the recess of Chakotay's mind. "Where's your tricorder?" he asked.
Tuvok frowned, unable to follow the First Officer's thought process. "I can only assume that it is in the back-pack I carried, along with the dilithium and fluoroxitine alloy," he answered, a frown gracing his dark face.
Without explaining further, Chakotay slapped his communicator pin. "Chakotay to engineering."
"Engineering here," Vorik's slightly distorted voice carried over the link.
"Vorik, what have you done with the tricorders that were retrieved from the away mission?" the normally quiet, pensive man asked abruptly, almost rudely.
"They were about to be wiped clear of data and then reissued, Commander," the young Vulcan engineer replied. Chakotay could visualise the man frowning deeply.
"Don't do anything to them till I get to Engineering. Is that understood?" There was no need for the First Officer to qualify his command to Vorik, but the importance of the order compelled Chakotay to underline the instruction.
"Understood, Commander," the Vulcan confirmed.
The link closed, Chakotay turned to the Security Chief. "Tuvok, you've been a great help," he commended the dark-skinned man. Without waiting for a response, Chakotay headed for Engineering.
"Thank you," replied the Vulcan to Chakotay's retreating back. "However, I am uncertain as to how I have helped," he finished before looking at the EMH quizzically.
"Don't ask me," demurred the Doctor sardonically. "I just work here."
Janeway was stretched out on one of the bunks with her eyes shut. Seven had ended their earlier discussion abruptly, obviously too uncomfortable to continue revealing her private thoughts. She had told the Captain that she needed to rest, as she had no access to a regeneration alcove. It was a poor excuse considering the ex-drone had completed a cycle just prior to the mission, but Janeway understood that Seven needed some personal space, if such a thing were possible in such confined quarters. The blonde woman had lain on the bunk opposite B'Elanna and closed her eyes eventually. Janeway wasn't sure if the Astrometrics Officer was asleep or not, but her actions gave the Captain time to order her own thoughts.
It was times like this that Janeway disliked the most. Many Starfleet cadets dreamt of their own command. Few realised the connotations involved. The Moderator's attempted coercion would fail. She was simply too stubborn to give in to his demands. However, Janeway was deeply affected by B'Elanna's torture. She wondered if the tough Klingon could really understand her stance over this. The Captain was unsure if she would be able to understand had the positions been reversed and hoped that she would at least be given an opportunity to explain her actions to the lieutenant. Starfleet protocol had a lot to answer for.
Janeway had also found it curious that Seven decided to reveal her feelings toward B'Elanna now. There was more to the disclosure than Janeway had first surmised. The Captain believed that Seven thought B'Elanna was going to die. The tall blonde had told Janeway because she wanted to voice her feelings while B'Elanna was still alive. This was obviously important to the ex-drone. Perhaps it made the declaration more valid if the engineer was still alive. The older woman wasn't sure but knew that whatever the outcome, she would have to offer a lot of support to Seven and, indeed B'Elanna, for she was determined that her Chief of Engineering *would* survive. The two women were the closest things Kathryn had to daughters. The thought that she could lose either of them was almost unbearable.
The cell door opened with a loud crash and three armed guards stormed in, their compression rifles raised aggressively.
The women reacted instinctively to the commotion, rolling off the beds and crouching into defensive stances, facing the origin of the noise. The sudden effort took its toll on B'Elanna and her breath was ragged as she pushed her body to react.
There was a brief pause at the stand-off until the tall familiar shape of the Moderator stepped through the doorway, his long blond mane swaying gently as he walked. "Sit on your bunks," he instructed mildly, but there was no mistaking the menace burning in his eyes.
Janeway, Torres and Seven complied slowly, glancing at one another silently as they tried to project support for each other.
Once they were seated, the tall interrogator gestured slightly and watched impassively as one of the guards stepped forward to manacle each of the three captives once again.
When they were secure, the Moderator approached Janeway and sat next to her, his weight dipping the mattress slightly, having the effect of rolling them closer together. Janeway refused to alter her position, convinced it would show weakness.
The tall blonde interrogator smiled amiably. "When can I expect my goods then, Captain?" he asked brightly, his face uncomfortably close to her.
"I've told you. There will be no deal," Janeway reiterated.
"You know," remarked the tall man conversationally, "I'm actually glad you said that. I have *so* much unfinished business with my friend here," he told the red-haired woman, nodding towards B'Elanna as he spoke.
B'Elanna refused to be intimidated by the Moderator, but this time it was much harder.
The interrogator looked carefully at each of the prisoners before continuing. "I was surprised that you managed to deactivate the surveillance system. Such an inconvenience as I have had to arrange for a maintenance team to repair the damage. It does of course mean that you'll remain shackled for a lengthy period while they perform repairs." He paused briefly to stare pointedly at Janeway. "Although in your case, I think that you might find some perverse justice in being made to endure at least some discomfort while your colleague samples some of my finer work." His face displayed a malevolent smile.
Without waiting for a response, the tall man leapt from the bunk to inspect the wound on B'Elanna's face, grabbing her chin roughly, even as a guard dug the muzzle of his weapon into her temple. "Well, well. You *do* heal quickly, my beauty," he crooned as he wiped his thumb gently along the scabbed incision. As he drew the digit back he flexed it viciously, tearing open the wound and gouging his thumb deeply into her cheek.
Somehow, B'Elanna stopped herself from crying out. She could feel her fingernails imbedding deeply into the palms of her hands and concentrated on that pain instead.
Seven sprang from her bunk, seemingly unimpeded by the manacles locking her wrists together, appalled at the sheer malice of what she had just witnessed. The Moderator stood up and evaluated her stance clinically. "I believe that's the second time you've attempted to render aid," he told her coldly, as two guards forced her back down. "Am I to read something more into that action?" he probed professionally.
"She's just another crew member on our ship," B'Elanna told him. The raven-haired woman tried to keep her voice flat and disinterested as she continued. "She's only reacting the same way anyone else would."
"An interesting explanation but I'll reserve judgement," the Moderator retorted before reducing the space between him and the half-Klingon once again. "Gratifying though it is to hear your dulcet tones, I suggest you save your voice for the screams I am going to extract from you, my beauty."
Before the three prisoners could react further, he signalled to the guards. Both Janeway and Seven were secured to holding rings on the cell walls, their arms stretched taut painfully. B'Elanna was hoisted to her feet by the guard standing next to her. Keeping a rough hold on her arm he propelled her out the doorway. B'Elanna refused to turn to look at the Captain or Seven. She did not want them to see the fear she believed she displayed.
Seven continued to stare at the doorway long after it had been slammed shut. B'Elanna had described her as 'just another crew member'. The words hurt, despite Seven telling herself that the Klingon had said those words to protect her. Could she ever really tell the mercurial engineer her true feelings?
Janeway could read Seven's face easily. She was shocked as it was usually so difficult to do so. "Seven, she didn't want to draw attention to you. She wanted to shield you from him."
"I know, Captain," responded the ex-drone brokenly. "I am behaving irrationally."
"Then put your mind to use to stop thinking about her," ordered Janeway sharply. The older woman wanted nothing more than to hug and reassure the Astrometrics Officer but knew that she had to get Seven back on track if they were to come up with a solution to their present predicament.
"I need you to find a way out of these bindings. Is there any way you can get free?"
"I can try, Captain. But it will not be simple," replied Seven, her composure returning as she found a new focus.
"I just hope you can do it before the maintenance team arrives," remarked the Captain sincerely.
Janeway attempted to free herself from her manacles but to no effect. She hadn't really expected to be able to do so, but it was frustrating watching Seven struggle and make minute progress.
"How are you doing?" the auburn-haired woman asked. She had been watching the blonde ex-Borg struggle and writhe for almost an hour now. The effort was beginning to show on Seven's face. A fine sheen of perspiration shimmered on the young woman's skin that was now flushed by the effort she had put into trying to break the bonds. The areas around Seven's wrists were bloodied and chafed from the continual movement, but the ex-drone disregarded the discomfort.
"Only marginally better than last time you questioned me," responded Seven through gritted teeth, unable to mask her irritation at the monotonous query.
"I'm sorry. I'm just getting anxious. We have no idea how much time we have," explained the Captain.
"You have a plan then, if I succeed and break free before the arrival of the maintenance team?" Seven asked, slightly breathless from her exertions.
"Yes. While you've been trying to free yourself, I've been thinking. What we should do .." Janeway stopped as she heard the sound. Seven also desisted her movements and the two women listened together, stock still, waiting to hear the sound again. A few minutes later, another keening wail resonated throughout the area. It was a terrible sounding cry, animalistic and raw. An unimaginable pain must have drawn out the howl. The sound was unrecognisable but the Captain and Seven both knew without doubt that it had originated from B'Elanna. The Moderator had broken her at last.
The tall, iridescent blue cylinder of the Warp Core thrummed steadily in the heart of Main Engineering. For the last nine days it had lost its brilliance, crippled because of the power regulator failure. Engineering had been working frantically with the supplies retrieved by Commander Tuvok and Neelix. The Warp Core power was up by 35% and continued to rise steadily. Illuminated by its radiance, Chakotay gazed at the shimmering aquamarine cylinder as he entered, relieved that at least one thing was going right. After a few moments, he pulled his eyes away to stare at the two recovered tricorders lying on a nearby workstation and hoped his hunch was correct. Vorik waited at the console and watched the Commander expectantly, still wondering at the importance of the two recovered instruments.
When Harry Kim hurried into Main Engineering, Chakotay beckoned him over and then sprang into action. "Vorik, what did you do with the data extracted from the tricorders?"
"Normal procedure, sir. I downloaded the information into a workstation buffer where any relevant data could be transferred into the main computer," Vorik explained.
"So you can easily carry out a data comparison then?" Chakotay asked for confirmation.
The young Vulcan nodded.
"Right, let's hope B'Elanna hasn't forgotten her old ways. Run a data check on both sets. I want to know if there are any discrepancies in file size."
Vorik raised an eyebrow at the request before punching a few commands into his console. Seconds later, he looked up at the Commander in surprise. "The data stored on the tricorder is several quads bigger than the downloaded files," he reported.
The First Officer fleetingly thought he could hear the astonishment in Vorik's voice before remembering that he was Vulcan and therefore unable to express emotion. However, Chakotay could and did feel emotion, and right now his heart was hammering in his chest. B'Elanna hadn't let him down. He explained the hunch to his confused colleagues. "When we were in the Maquis, B'Elanna developed a system to increase the chances of important data getting back to Headquarters. If we were under fire and likely to be captured, we transferred all accumulated data to another person's data recorder. The information was encrypted and stored on piggyback so that if examined, the recorders would only reveal one set of data. All that had to be done was to decode the encryption to reveal the hidden files."
"And you believe that Lieutenant Torres transferred data from her tricorder to Commander Tuvok and Neelix's tricorders?" questioned Vorik.
"I'm certain of it. Once we decrypt B'Elanna's code, we should have a whole lot more information that could help us break that shielding." Chakotay's face was triumphant as he finished.
"There is no way of knowing whether any of the information B'Elanna transferred is relevant," Harry pointed out.
Chakotay was confident though. "She wouldn't have bothered to do it unless she believed it to be of value," the Commander returned.
"Sir, I must point out that the last exercise Lieutenant Torres ran involving her own Maquis encryption codes was halted after eighteen hours, when the team were unable to break them. The only person on Voyager who has successfully cracked her codes is Seven of Nine."
The triumph on Chakotay's face melted away abruptly. "Harry, enlist every Maquis who used codes. B'Elanna won't have made the code too difficult, I'm sure. Start with all the standard Maquis encryption techniques first," he issued the young Ensign his orders.
Harry nodded almost continually as Chakotay spoke, his mind already focused on the task ahead. He just hoped that the Commander was right and that B'Elanna had made accessing the information relatively simple. He also hoped that the information that she had carefully hidden away was relevant and useful to the current predicament. Otherwise, it would be even more time wasted, and Harry felt sure that time was not on the Captain's side.
The tortured wails of agony Janeway and Seven heard spurred them both on to free themselves. Seven worked her hands frantically, tugging erratically whenever another chilling cry pierced through the walls. At first, her only emotion was the abject fear of losing B'Elanna. When the screams stopped and silence prevailed, the fear turned to cold hatred for the perpetrator of the crimes committed against the half-Klingon. The silence continued, yet it focused Seven and from somewhere, she found even more strength to combat the restraints.
Janeway, knowing that she lacked the strength to break free, watched Seven desperately, her ears straining for any sound of B'Elanna. The silence drew on, becoming agonising for the auburn-haired woman as she wondered over the fate of her Chief Engineer.
The solid metal band that secured the manacles together produced a stressed groan before finally breaking. Seven rested her arms onto her lap for a moment, before flexing and extending them several times to ease her taut muscles. The ex-drone stood up and approached Janeway. "I will have a better purchase on your restraints," she told her as she gripped the Captain's manacles.
Before she could begin however, a slight sound gave her enough warning to leap back to her bunk, raising her hands high, to meet the restraining ring.
The cell door opened suddenly, the action stilling the occupants as the harsh yellow light from the corridor illuminated the small room. Two guards entered aggressively, compression rifles raised to their shoulders, and they visually inspected the prisoners. Satisfied that they were still secure in their manacles, the taller of the guards nodded at the doorway, prompting whoever was waiting outside to enter the cell.
A tall, thin blonde woman stepped through the door carrying what appeared to be a heavy tool kit. Barely sparing the captives a glance, the pale engineer walked up to the wall containing the surveillance equipment, heaving the kit onto the bunk closest to it. She wiped her hands on the grubby, tan coloured overalls she wore before flipping the lid of the container silently. The engineer studied the contents before selecting an implement and commencing her work.
The guards watched for a few moments, eyes flicking between the working woman and the detainees. Eventually, they started shifting position, an indication of the boredom that they were experiencing. After a shared glance, they nodded at each other slightly and exited the cell, leaving the engineer to continue, secure in the knowledge that the prisoners were unable to interfere.
Janeway couldn't believe her luck. Not only did the maintenance *team* comprise of a single woman who did not appear to be overly strong or armed, but the guards had left them unattended. The auburn haired woman looked carefully at Seven of Nine, who had remained stock-still since the door had been thrown open.
The ex-drone raised her eyebrow, the ocular implant rising high onto her forehead in an unspoken communication before turning and looking closely at the engineer, assessing her carefully. As the pale native bent down into her task, Seven stood up in one fluid movement, careful not to disturb any part of the broken restraints to prevent them making any noise and alert the engineer. Continuing her mission, the tall Astrometrics officer closed the distance between her and the maintenance engineer rapidly and placed a borg enhanced hand over the woman's mouth before executing a swift Vulcan neck pinch. It took mere seconds to render the engineer unconscious and Seven lowered her gently to the floor to keep the sounds emitted from the cell to a minimum.
The ex-drone got up carefully and searched the tool kit thoroughly. Finding what she believed to be a cutting implement, Seven got to work on Janeway's manacles, freeing her quickly and quietly. She silently handed Janeway the tool and the Captain removed the remainder of the wrist restraints from the Borg's hands, wincing as she saw the damage to Seven's bloody wrists.
Not breaking the silence, the two women approached the doorway to the cell and looked outside cautiously. The two guards had retreated back to the sentry station to converse with another guard. There didn't appear to be any other guards around, but Janeway expected that the Moderator would have some with him. She looked carefully at the door that led to where she believed B'Elanna had been taken. It was shut but the Captain did not suppose that it was locked. When she looked at her companion, she noticed that Seven too was staring intently at the door. She laid a hand gently on the ex-drone's arm and gave a reassuring nod before beckoning her back into the cell.
They stood at the far end of the room, away from the door. Janeway glanced quickly at the unconscious woman sprawled on the floor before whispering urgently at Seven. "We've got to move fast. The guards aren't going to leave us unattended for too long. We've got an opportunity to increase the level of surprise now though."
Seven's face clouded with confusion. "How?"
"Get into the engineer's overalls. If you free your hair, it should put up a partial disguise and your implants will be less obvious. Approach the guard station confidently and they probably won't even spare you a glance. I'll be right behind you. Once we've overpowered them, we can look for B'Elanna and then get the hell out of here." Janeway spoke assuredly, not allowing any doubt to creep into her voice or demeanour. As she hoped, Seven was boosted by her confidence and nodded determinedly at the plan of action.
Quickly stripping the felled engineer, Seven stepped into the overalls, wrinkling her nose in slight disdain at their shabby appearance. Had the situation not been so serious, Janeway might have laughed at the younger woman's actions. However, her mind was already focused on the task ahead. It was difficult enough not to let her mind race on to the next mission of finding and rescuing B'Elanna.
Seven secured the lid of the tool kit before hefting it into her borg enhanced hand. All the time she was preparing herself, her mind was racing. They now had an opportunity to escape and rescue B'Elanna, but she was frightened as to what she might find. Her cries had stopped some time ago. Was she dead? Seven tried not to even contemplate that awful question, yet it thundered through her mind continually. The young, blonde ex-drone was not sure that she could continue to function if B'Elanna was no longer alive. And what if she was alive? There was no telling what horrific injuries she had endured, physical *and* psychological. Seven had no idea how she would be able to help the raven-haired engineer, or even if the woman would be receptive to Seven's assistance. Seven had never experienced such inner turmoil before. It was a most unpleasant sensation, yet perversely, it intensified her feelings for B'Elanna.
She sighed heavily. Seven wanted so much for her love to be reciprocated and yet had no idea if that was possible. The Astrometrics officer was sure of one thing though. She wanted the opportunity to be honest with B'Elanna and tell her about her feelings. It would be the honourable thing to do. She just hoped that it wasn't too late.
With a final adjustment to the overalls and her hair, Seven looked at Janeway, seeking assurance once more. The older woman nodded back at her, resting a hand on her arm. Together, they approached the cell door quietly and surveyed the corridor once again.
Seven strode confidently from the door towards the guard station, mentally rehearsing how she was going to combat the guards. As she neared the men, she realised that Janeway had been right. The officers had not even looked at her, believing her to be the maintenance engineer returning after completing repairs. The two who had accompanied the unfortunate maintenance engineer had their backs to her, talking with on officer who propped his feet up on the station desk, rocking his chair lazily on two legs.
As soon as she was in range, Seven swung the tool kit at the nearest guard and struck the second before any of them had an opportunity to react. The third sprang to his feet only to be met with a mesh encased fist that sent him flying back over his chair to land heavily on the floor, unconscious.
Seven returned her attention rapidly to the first two assailants. The one struck by the tool kit was preparing to attack her again, the other was exchanging blows with the Captain. The blonde Astrometrics officer squared up to the dazed man and waited for him to strike. As he lunged forward, she used his momentum to pull him off balance toward her and wrenched his arm viciously. Even as he cried out, the ex-drone used her free hand to strike him behind the head with a forceful punch, rendering him unconscious. Seven span round to assist Janeway just in time to see her commanding officer despatch the tall man over her shoulder, crashing him into a nearby table. He did not get up.
Janeway rolled her shoulders, trying to release the tension that had built there, before wiping away the trickle of blood that ran from her split lip with the back of her hand. She looked at Seven and then down the corridor. Despite their initial efforts to be quiet, the fight had ended up a noisy affair and she was concerned that the commotion had alerted others. Fortunately, the corridor remained still. Grabbing the compression rifles from the felled men, the two women hurried down the hall, towards the door adjacent to their cell.
Seven stood in front of the door and kicked it, her boot landing centrally with devastating force, sending it crashing. The sentry standing just beyond stood no chance. He landed in a heap in the far corner of the room, the debris from the door falling around and on top of him. It took just a fraction of a second to assess the room, yet even as she did, Seven could feel her anger rising exponentially.
It was a square room, well lit and ventilated. Around the walls were benches cluttered with equipment ranging from technologically advanced electronic probes and sensors to crude metal hand tools, the purpose of which could only be guessed at. Above the heavy metal benches were wall racks displaying more gruesome implements, some of which were bloody from recent use.
She noted the Moderator standing in the centre of the room, eyes and mouth round in surprise for an instant before a visage of angry hatred replaced the look. Next to him was a large chair, obviously designed for him to perform his torture. Strapped in the chair, covered in blood and sweat was the pale, unconscious body of B'Elanna Torres. Her clothes were torn, displaying patches of slick red skin underneath where her flesh had been flailed from her body. The shirt covering her chest was dark with the staining of blood and sweat but it moved in uneven, shallow waves that were accompanied by dry rasping breaths, indicating that, for the moment, she was still alive. Seven's eyes widened at the sight of her and her pulse accelerated, relief surging through her as she realised that B'Elanna was still alive. Torn between her emotions for the engineer and her hatred of the Moderator, she stood frozen for a moment, unable to act.
No longer interested in maintaining the silence, Janeway charged in towards the Moderator. He braced himself for her onslaught, ready to defend himself with a long thin blade he grabbed from a nearby table. He never saw the blow. His head snapped back as his jaw took the full force of the fist, teeth mashing together and biting his tongue as his body followed the trajectory his head set and fell backwards over the still form of B'Elanna and then onto the floor.
Janeway stood over him, rubbing her fist, eyes burning with anger. The Moderator moved suddenly to retaliate, his sword arm whipping up but the Captain swerved deftly and then knelt quickly, placing her knee over his neck, allowing her body weight to crush his windpipe slightly. "You bastard. If I had time, I'd flay you alive for what you've done to her," she told him through gritted teeth. As he shifted to try and dislodge her, Janeway punched him again, grimly satisfied as she felt his nose crunch under her knuckles. "Don't even think of moving," she told him.
Unable even to swallow, the Moderator's eyes widened as he started to panic over the slow asphyxiation. He forced his body to become calm and still, allowing slightly more oxygen to enter his system.
"So, now it's my turn to make demands," Janeway hissed at him coldly. "How do we get out of here?"
The blond man made no attempt to answer the woman. He had tortured enough victims in his time to know how to play the game.
"I've already told you, we don't have time for this," Janeway reminded him as she increased the pressure slightly. "You can either tell me in the next five seconds, or I'll kill you. Unlike you, I don't derive pleasure from torturing people."
Her statement frightened the man. He had seen the look in Janeway's eyes. After years of practice, he knew how to read a face. She meant every word she said. However, he was a proud man and would not crumble before her. "You'll never get out of here alive," he told her assuredly, his voice rasping and weak through his occluded airway.
"Well you won't be alive to know," the auburn-haired woman retorted matter-of-factly as she upped the pressure on his throat again.
Seven of Nine had initially felt a stab of anger towards the Captain for pre-empting her and attacking the Moderator. It dissipated as soon as she focused on B'Elanna. Satisfied that Janeway had control of the situation, she dropped her weapon and quickly assessed the unconscious half-Klingon, wincing as she detected injury after injury. She was aware of how resilient B'Elanna was, but was astounded that the engineer could still be alive after such systematic abuse. Knowing that if she returned her attention to the Moderator, she would kill him, Seven decided to make sure that she would be unable to attack him. She retrieved the compression rifle and slung it over her shoulder in case it was needed later. Gently, the Astrometrics officer released the restraints holding B'Elanna's limbs and body, before gathering the woman into her arms carefully, pausing when the dark haired engineer moaned slightly as she was picked up. When she was satisfied that B'Elanna was settled comfortably, Seven turned back to Janeway and the Moderator. She raised an eyebrow as Janeway stood up.
"He won't be torturing anyone else," the Captain told Seven, a grimly satisfied expression etched on her face.
For a moment, Seven wondered at Janeway's actions. Had Seven killed the Moderator, she felt sure Janeway would have taken a moral stance and given her guidance on her judgement. Pushing the thought away for future investigation, she nodded towards the door. "I suggest we leave here. We may discover a way of contacting the ship outside the confines of this prison."
Janeway agreed, picking up the rifle she had dropped just prior to hitting the Moderator. She followed the taller woman to the door before spinning suddenly and leaping towards one of the benches that lined the walls.
Lying in the centre of the table were three gold communicator pins, one badly damaged, as though it had been dissected for examination. Next to the pins were their tricorders. There was no sign of their phasers. Snatching the equipment, and juggling it in her hands briefly, Janeway hurried after Seven.
Seven made her way back to the guard station. After a quick perusal of the computer, she lowered B'Elanna onto the floor, looking at her anxiously as the Klingon moaned gently at the movement.
"What are you doing, Seven? We've got to get out of here," Janeway reminded the younger woman, tense as she continually scanned the corridors for more guards.
The ex-drone glanced at the Captain. "Setting decoys," she replied cryptically. The blonde woman did not see Janeway frown at the remark as she returned her stare to the computer terminal. After a moment's hesitation, Seven hovered her borg enhanced hand over the workstation. Two assimilation tubules snaked out and pierced the terminal. The Astrometrics Officer remained motionless for a few moments and then retracted the tubules.
"I have accessed the schematics for the prison layout and the security logs. There is a less well patrolled exit that we should use," she explained as she bent down and scooped B'Elanna into her arms once more.
"And the decoys?"
"I have set a number of timed alarms to trigger. It should distract most of the guards on our route," Seven replied, settling B'Elanna into a more comfortable grip.
Janeway was impressed. It hadn't occurred to her to get a map from the prison computer so they could make their escape easier. Nodding her approval at Seven, she turned down the corridor. "Let's go."
The two women continually looked around them as they hurried down their escape route. Seven indicated the route but Janeway took the lead, her stolen compression rifle shouldered and ready as she searched each corner carefully before nodding at the blonde woman to continue. Seven moved carefully, trying to keep the journey as smooth as possible for her precious cargo. At every pause, she glanced down at the woman cradled in her arms, her blue eyes dark with concern. The half-Klingon made occasional whimpers or moans but showed no real signs of stirring. Seven's concerns were rising exponentially. B'Elanna needed urgent medical attention. They had to get back to Voyager, and quickly.
It did not take long for the women to meet another threat. As Janeway peeked round a corner to inspect the next corridor, she caught sight of four guards headed directly towards them. Whipping her head back round, she looked at Seven and mouthed the word "Trouble," at her.
Seven nodded in understanding before looking back down the passageway. They were some distance from the previous junction. There would be no way to avoid conflict. Quickly, she lowered B'Elanna to the floor, leaving her in the recess of a doorway that would provide at least some shelter. Janeway backed off and stood opposite the doorway, weapon raised towards the corridor intersection.
Seven stood protectively over B'Elanna as she took aim. As the guards rounded the corner, the Captain sprang the ambush and the leading guards were despatched effortlessly. The trailing guards managed to get a few phaser bolts back at their foe but were overcome quickly. Seven hurriedly picked up B'Elanna after shouldering her weapon once again and the group continued at an increased pace, concerned that the fire-fight had drawn attention to their location.
Janeway and Seven followed the corridor that led to the outside, stopping for skirmishes that increased in frequency the closer they got to the exit. The element of surprise worked in their favour and their combat proficiency was barely tested. At first, Janeway was concerned that their escape and progress would be reported to all the security officers, despite Seven's decoys. However, as they battled their way through, it became apparent that the guards they encountered were either too disorganised or undisciplined to use their communication system, if they even had one.
"Perhaps it is standard practice to leave inefficient guards in place when investigating alarms," suggested Seven wryly after despatching another patrol easily.
"Well I can't see Tuvok embracing that as a new security strategy," rejoined Janeway as she waited for Seven to point her in the right direction once more.
Rounding a bend brought them to the outer door: a large, imposing barrier. Janeway rushed to inspect the opening mechanism, eager to finally escape. Seven followed closely, prepared to tear the door down with her fingers, if necessary. In their haste to leave the prison, the running women failed to spot a pair of guards returning from their patrol. Seven took the first phaser bolt straight in her abdominal implant. She collapsed instantly, dropping B'Elanna as she crumpled to the floor. Janeway spun at the sound and fired a quick volley before diving for cover behind a corridor corner. The auburn-haired woman paused briefly before sticking her head round to assess the scene. She retracted quickly as phaser bolts exploded on the wall just above head height. Other than seeing her colleagues lying motionless and exposed, she had been unable to determine where the shots originated. She had to take another look.
The two guards kept their position, knowing that they had the final escapee trapped. Each time she attempted to look round the wall, they loosed more fire in her direction. Smiling grimly in satisfaction at each other, the two blond men were quite happy to play this little game until the woman made a mistake and they scored a hit. As they shot off another round at their target, one of the guards frowned at his companion, a look of surprised pain on his face. Realising that he'd been shot, the other guard darted his head round, trying to locate the origin of the phaser bolts. As his dark blue eyes made contact with a pair of blazing brown eyes, it was already too late. He clutched his chest belatedly as he keeled over, dying before his brain registered the pain of the phaser bolt.
The compression rifle clattered as it fell from the Klingon's hands. B'Elanna grunted as she got onto all fours. Crawling over to where Seven lay, the raven-haired engineer checked her vital signs, sighing with relief as she found a strong, regular pulse beating at the blonde woman's neck. She saw the lacerations that surrounded Seven's wrists and her eyes widened in horror. "Were you both tortured too?" she asked Janeway, her voice weak and hoarse.
"No," replied the Captain. "Seven got those wounds breaking free of the manacles," she explained as she inspected all the points of egress for any unwanted visitors.
The dark-eyed Klingon exhaled audibly, relieved that the others had not had to endure the horrors that had been inflicted on her. Hurriedly, B'Elanna ran her hands over Seven's abdominal implant as she inspected the area for damage. She hissed as she saw the charred edges of the wound to the ex-drone's implant. The engineer looked up, head spinning slightly, as she heard the Captain approach, returning Janeway's emotional smile with a brief smile of her own, words unnecessary. Her features clouded over again as she returned her gaze to the fallen woman.
Silently, Janeway offered the lieutenant a tricorder to investigate further. The Captain was relieved that B'Elanna had at last gained consciousness but was alarmed at how her hands shook whilst using the tricorder and how pale and waxy her skin looked.
As B'Elanna finished her scrutiny, Seven groaned and her eyes opened. Her heart leapt when she recognised the woman crouched over her. Focusing on the Chief Engineer's face, Seven managed a weak smile. "I was supposed to be looking after you," she told her, somehow managing to keep her tone indignant.
B'Elanna saw the glint of humour and relief in Seven's eyes and grinned back at her. "How about we look after each other?" she suggested softly.
Seven's pulse quickened at the possible connotations of B'Elanna's words but she quickly clamped down on her soaring hopes. The women were trying to escape a vicious prison and now, two of them were injured. B'Elanna was only referring to the current crisis. The blonde Astrometrics Officer couldn't help but wonder if she could construe any other meaning from the statement though. Perhaps, when they were no longer in immediate danger, Seven would finally be able to reveal her feelings.
Janeway immediately resumed her role as leader. "Can you walk?" she asked both Seven and B'Elanna, eyes shifting round continuously for any other unwanted surprises.
The Klingon engineer persuaded her body to make the attempt to stand upright, feeling a strong arm assist her to her feet. Swaying slightly, she looked at the older woman unsteadily and hacked a dry cough before speaking. "Now what?"
"Now, we get the hell out of this place and work out why Voyager hasn't already beamed us out," replied the Captain firmly. She turned quickly as she heard Seven yelp.
The blonde woman looked almost surprised at herself. As she tried to stand again, the abdominal implant protested, shooting an intense pain through her body. Seven sat back down awkwardly, annoyed that she could not overcome the pain and get herself upright as B'Elanna scanned the woman once again.
The dark-haired woman looked up from the tricorder, her eyes narrow with concern. "Have we got any tools?"
Janeway shook her head. "Only the tricorders and the communicator pins," she replied.
The engineer shook her head in frustration, but held her hand out to receive the gold communicator badges. B'Elanna lowered herself down by Seven's side, wincing as she aggravated her own injuries, but fully focused on trying to help Seven. After several attempts, the Klingon was eventually able to liberate the part of the communicator she was after, but her trembling hands were impeding her progress and she growled in disgust as she dropped the gold pin for the third time.
"Can I be of assistance?" Seven enquired, a frown etching her alabaster skin as she tried to understand what B'Elanna was trying to do.
"Thanks, but I think I've got it," was the absent reply, B'Elanna's thought processes far ahead of her dexterity. The darker woman used her forearm to wipe away the beads of sweat that trickled down her forehead and then blew her cheeks out in an exaggerated sigh, steeling herself for the next part of the process.
"Can we get a move on, we could be discovered at any minute," Janeway reminded her needlessly.
"Then keep guard," B'Elanna snapped back, forgetting who she was addressing. "If I don't do this, Seven won't be going anywhere."
Seven looked at B'Elanna sharply. "What do you mean?"
"The phaser bolt has fused some of the circuitry in your abdominal implant. I thought it would just cause you a bit of discomfort until we got out of here. Unfortunately, when you moved, the damage triggered some sort of cascade effect on all of your borg systems. Unless I can make a temporary fix, your implants will all start to fail."
Seven seemed to defocus her eyes momentarily as she performed as much of a self-diagnostic as she could. "I cannot detect a problem," she demurred.
"Check the tricorder," retorted B'Elanna irritably. All the questioning was making her head spin and her fingers quiver all the more and she shook her head in an effort to clarify her vision.
Seven followed the advice and studied the tricorder, noticing with her peripheral vision that Janeway was patrolling the area diligently. Realising the truth of B'Elanna's words, Seven was shocked that she was now so vulnerable.
"You should leave me here. I am hindering the escape," Seven suggested.
B'Elanna snorted derisively. "Very noble Seven," she retorted caustically.
"It is not noble," contradicted the younger woman. "Just logical."
Her remark earned another disgusted look from the half-Klingon. "If you've been logical about the whole escape attempt, then how do you explain carrying me out? Surely the logical option would have been to leave me there while you sought help?" B'Elanna was shocked to see Seven's face blush in reaction to her comments. Before she could pursue the issue, she was interrupted.
"What are you going to do?" Janeway interjected. As B'Elanna looked up to answer the auburn-haired woman, Seven shot the Captain a look of grateful relief.
"I'm going to put in a temporary make-good circuit. I have no idea how long it'll last, but it should get Seven back up and running for a while," B'Elanna told the older woman, her eyes returning to the circuitry and tricorder she was dismantling quickly as her attention was focused once again.
"I had no idea that you were so well informed about borg technology," Seven remarked softly, the rosy blush of her cheeks dissipating quickly as she won her battle to control her emotions.
"Well, I thought I might be able to figure out a way to re-program the circuitry to make you less irritating," replied the engineer, her head bent closely over Seven's abdominal implant.
"It is a shame then, that you do not possess borg implants," dead-panned Seven.
B'Elanna started to laugh but cut herself short as pain shot through her chest.
"You've been taking lessons in humour again," the shorter woman accused good-naturedly, shifting slightly to ease the discomfort she felt in her body.
"Yes, but not from the Doctor," replied Seven cryptically, earning a narrowed-eyed look from B'Elanna. "You still have not explained your expertise in borg technology however," the golden haired woman pursued.
"I make it my business to know about all technology on Voyager. I'd be a pretty lousy Chief Engineer if I didn't," she continued.
"It is flattering to know that you consider me to be your business," returned Seven impassively.
"Hey, I didn't say that," protested B'Elanna until she noticed the trace of humour in Seven's eyes. "You're getting too good," she complimented the ex-drone.
"You are an excellent teacher of sarcasm," returned Seven with a slight inclination of her head.
B'Elanna frowned once again, surprised that Seven had taken such an interest in her. What bothered her more was that she felt good about the attention. Tom had never tried to comprehend B'Elanna's particular brand of caustic humour. It was gratifying that someone saw past the acid remarks to understand her. Her relationship with Seven had definitely changed. There was a familiarity and easiness to their interaction that the mercurial engineer had at one time thought would be impossible to attain, even had she wanted to. Pushing the thoughts aside, she prepared herself for the procedure she was about to perform. "Seven, this is going to hurt, probably a lot, but I haven't got the means to make it any easier," she apologised.
Seven nodded in understanding before tensing in anticipation. B'Elanna placed the makeshift circuitry in the hole the phaser had made. She smiled reassuringly at Seven as her hand hovered over the point of insertion. Seven nodded once again and B'Elanna swiftly introduced the circuitry into the abdominal implant. Seven arched back, her face pulled into a rictus of agony. There was a loud crack as the circuitry was accepted and the pain stopped instantly, causing the Astrometrics officer to slump onto the floor in relief. A jolt of energy pulsed through B'Elanna's hand and her arm spasmed back, it's trajectory throwing her own body clear of Seven and she bumped back along the floor.
Janeway hurried over to the two women. The raven-haired woman wiped the perspiration from her face. The area was not hot, but her injured body was protesting at the amount of energy the Klingon was expending and every movement was painful for her. Her hand and forearm were now throbbing violently after the shock she had just received.
Seven sat up and looked accusingly at the hybrid engineer. "You did not tell me that you would injure yourself when you performed this procedure," she protested angrily, her irritation a barrier to mask her concern for B'Elanna.
The Chief Engineer smiled defensively. "I couldn't see another way of completing the repair," she explained as she rubbed her hand. "I knew you wouldn't let me do it if you realised that it could be dangerous for me."
Seven kept her anger in check, knowing that B'Elanna had acted in her best interest. She stood up carefully, waiting for another burst of pain but raised her eyebrows when she realised that it was not coming. "Your make-good circuit was successful, B'Elanna," she informed the Klingon.
"Then it was worth frying my hand for," rejoined B'Elanna as she got herself upright slowly.
"Do you think you can make it out of here?" Janeway directed her question at both women.
"For the moment, I am functioning adequately," replied Seven. "I think it would be expedient for us to move swiftly, whilst that is still the case."
"Agreed," concurred B'Elanna firmly. Her face belied the strength of her voice though and Janeway looked at her with concern.
Seven noticed the look and felt sure it was mirrored on her visage. "Are you sure that you can continue?" the young blonde woman probed.
"I don't see us having an alternative option," rejoined B'Elanna wryly as she picked up the phaser rifle and handed it to Seven. Normally she would have held onto it herself, but knew that she was in no fit state to carry anything. In fact, she had been surprised that she had been able to despatch the two guards.
Janeway's eyes widened slightly at the action and realised that B'Elanna was seriously compromised. However, dwelling on something that none of them could do anything about would not help the situation. "Come on," she ordered, as she returned her attention to the door.
Seven held her gaze on B'Elanna for a fraction longer, but switched her focus to the door when the dark-eyed woman acknowledged her concern with a slight nod. Seven had been tempted to shoulder her weapon and carry the smaller woman again, but decided that now B'Elanna was conscious, she would be mortified at such a gesture and expend more energy objecting than she would just walking out herself. It would also be safer for the blonde ex-drone. She might be stronger than B'Elanna but she was sure that the Klingon could break her jaw with an anger-fuelled punch.
The door proved to be no obstacle and the women shouldered it open, surveying the exit. As they had not entered via this door, it would be important to orientate themselves before looking for a safe haven and attempting to contact Voyager. There was one problem though.
"Where the hell are we?" whispered B'Elanna, as she squinted out at the horizon.
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