DISCLAIMER: Yes, Paramount owns it all - I am just having some fun with their characters.
SERIES: This story is a sequel to Resistance
PAIRING: B'Elanna/Seven (eventually!)
FEEDBACK: Yes please, I wouldn't post otherwise.

By Rebelgirl

Part Eight

For the next two days, both Seven and B'Elanna were kept busy preparing for the visit to Mahalar. Seven made several scans of the region, plotting every planet, asteroid and fragment of space debris that was present. B'Elanna continued to study the data that had been supplied, and despite having little idea of what was wrong with their systems, made a series of educated guesses at potential problems along with associated solutions.

The half-Klingon visited Chakotay with a request for different quarters and the two women moved B'Elanna's belongings into single accommodation. They shared every precious spare moment together, often cuddling on B'Elanna's couch after eating a replicated meal while they continued to discuss the nuances of the alien technology. The chief engineer prepared more than she had ever done for an away mission, knowing that it would minimalise the time she spent on the planet. Seven ran multiple diagnostics on Voyager's transporters and sensors, making a large number of micro-adjustments until she was convinced that they were working to her satisfaction. B'Elanna knew better than to question the ex-drone's obsession with efficiency, as she would have done the same thing had their positions been reversed.

When Seven returned to her Borg alcove to regenerate, B'Elanna took work with her and continued her studies in the Cargo Bay, wanting to remain near Seven even if the blonde was not aware of her proximity. For her part, the Astrometrics officer found the gesture both touching and reassuring. She was thrilled that B'Elanna thought enough of her to disrupt her own routine and keep her company, and although she had no memory of anything unusual or different during the regeneration cycle, as soon as her eyes opened, the first thing she did was to seek out the presence of the brunette, smiling widely when she saw her hunched over a console and immersed in research.

B'Elanna looked up as she heard the computer announce the completion of the regeneration cycle and returned the smile, before standing up and greeting her lover more appropriately with a morning kiss.

"Have you been awake all night?" Seven asked, once her lips were finally free.

"No. I dozed for a while. If we keep this up, I might have to bring a comfy chair down here for when you regenerate." B'Elanna rolled the kinks out of her shoulders as she spoke.

"You do not have to stay here," Seven protested, albeit somewhat weakly.

"I know that. But I want to be here when you're regenerating. Besides, I've had a very productive night," the brunette replied, turning back to where she had been working.

"Really? Have you finished your study on the Mahalarian technology?"

"Nope, I put that on hold while I looked at something far more important," B'Elanna returned, passing a data padd to the taller woman.

Seven studied the information silently for a few moments, her eyes flicking rapidly over the padd as she absorbed the data. "A mini- alcove?" she queried finally.

"Yes. I've been trying to tackle the power supply problem and interface. I think I've cracked the power, but you might want to take a look at my designs for the interface. Particularly as it will have a direct effect on your regeneration process. At least you'll have something to do while I'm away."

"Where would you want this alcove to be situated?" Seven asked hesitantly. The young ex-drone wanted nothing more than for B'Elanna to say that she wanted it in her quarters but she did not want to impose on the brunette or take up a considerable amount of space from her living area.

B'Elanna paused for a fraction. She did not want to sound pushy or manipulative by putting the alcove in her quarters, and unless Seven wanted an official and private living area there was no real need to make the adaptation at all. Hoping that Seven would consider her proposal acceptable, she took a deep breath. "I'd like to put it in my quarters. It would save me having to put that armchair in here."

"Are you certain? Even with these adjustments, the new alcove will still take up a large amount of space."

"I'm sure. Just as long as you are. It would mean that you could have a bit of privacy, away from any prying eyes in the cargo bay. But you would still have the option of regenerating here if you need a bit of space," B'Elanna explained.

"More importantly, it would mean spending more time with you," the blonde amended, leaning in to kiss B'Elanna again quickly.

"I thought that too," the Klingon replied, grinning widely in relief. She wrapped her arms round Seven's slender body and hugged her tightly, enjoying their closeness. "You have no idea how much I'm going to miss you," she murmured, forgetting that Seven's enhanced hearing would register the words.

The taller woman shifted slightly and kissed the top of B'Elanna's head. "If it is just a fraction of how much I am going to miss you then it will be difficult indeed," Seven replied softly, relishing the heat radiating from her lover's embrace. They stayed holding each other for several long moments before reluctantly parting. "We will be late for the staff meeting," Seven reminded B'Elanna unenthusiastically.

The engineer nodded. "I know. But I also know where I'd rather be." She grinned. "Come on. Mustn't keep everyone else waiting."

The two women hurried to the briefing that detailed Chakotay and Neelix's mission. Every senior member of staff had recommendations and requests to make of the scouting party, but Janeway kept a firm rein on proceedings, underlining what she considered the most important aspects of the first contact meeting. Both Chakotay and the small Talaxian were left in no doubt that their primary goal was to ascertain the safety of the planetary port. Janeway allowed Chakotay's request that Tuvok be part of the party so he could draw his own conclusions. The atmosphere between B'Elanna and Tom remained tense, neither one of them certain of the other's reaction. Seven could not help but be partisan but forced herself to remain impassive during any exchanges that took place. B'Elanna had recounted the events in her quarters when she returned to find Tom waiting for her. The Astrometrics officer did not want to rile Tom any further, and believed that if she drew attention to herself, she would inflame a potentially volatile situation. She was unhappy at Tom's vow to get B'Elanna back, and despite the Klingon hybrid's assurances that there was absolutely no chance of that occurring, the blonde could not help but worry over the situation.

When Voyager finally settled in to a high orbit round Mahalar, Seven and B'Elanna waited for the away party to return from their scouting foray. Both wanted them to return safely, but B'Elanna in particular found herself hoping that the report would indicate that it was not safe for them to continue with their mission, so she could remain secure on board Voyager. The Klingon knew that her hopes were both irrational and cowardly, but as the time drew nearer to her beaming down to the planet, B'Elanna couldn't help but relive the worst experiences of the last away mission and fret over how bad the next one would be.

However, both Chakotay and Neelix were effusive in their praise for the planetary port. Tuvok was impassive as always, and presented his findings objectively. The Vulcan described the security arrangements in detail, stating that Mahalar prided itself on being able to trade to anyone in the Sector fairly and without prejudice. In order to fulfil its pledge, security had to be strict and visibly present. Every visitor was required to wear an identity tag issued by the Mahalar Port Official and ensure that it was displayed clearly at all times. All visitors were vetted carefully before being allowed to trade. Chakotay then explained that they too were subjected to the same strict regulations, and felt that security was obviously very important to them.

Neelix presented an impressive list of wares available for purchase, stating that he had barely seen a quarter of the traders. He was practically jumping with excitement at the thought of a more thorough search and volunteered to lead a buying party if and when Captain Janeway decided to trade at the port. He too was impressed at the security arrangements, describing the elaborate mesh of sensor networks that covered the planet and could detect any illegal entry or departure of people or goods. Everything that left the planet was checked through an export control, and referenced back to the traders to ensure that all parties involved were satisfied with the bargains they struck. Any disputes were dealt with by an impartial adjudicator whose decision was final.

Chakotay and Neelix also investigated the areas set up for shore leave. In order to maintain strict neutrality, the areas were segregated clearly, with substantial distances between resorts so that travellers could enjoy the delights the planet offered in uninterrupted leisure. There were designated areas where people could meet other races and mingle, but these locations were policed heavily to ensure that no vendettas were carried out and so that Mahalar did not become another area for enemies to fight. Once again, it was quite apparent that neutrality was of the utmost importance to the natives of Mahalar.

Chakotay was satisfied that the planet was the perfect place to stock up on much needed supplies and get shore leave at the same time. He gave a glowing endorsement to the planet, accompanied by frantic nodding of approval by the furry Talaxian.

Despite the 1st officer's assurances, B'Elanna couldn't shake a feeling of deep-seated dread at the thought of beaming down to the planet. She bit down on her concerns however, and nodded her acquiescence when Janeway asked if she was prepared to look at the Mahalarian technology.

Seven took the opportunity to request that she accompany B'Elanna to the surface and assess the alien technology together. Diplomatically, Janeway referred the request to B'Elanna, stating that as it was the engineer who was in charge of that part of the away mission, it was down to her who she wanted with her. B'Elanna looked steadily at Seven as she announced that she had not changed her mind, and that Harry would assist her.

The engineer's answer seemed to please Tom, and he sat back and smiled knowingly at the tall ex-drone, wondering if the situation had already changed between her and B'Elanna. Perhaps the temporary split with his wife had put an additional strain on their friendship and they were no longer as close as he first suspected.

B'Elanna deliberately refused to catch her ex-husband's eye, knowing that he would misinterpret the situation completely. Instead, she gazed openly at Seven, hoping to convey in a look, her feelings over the matter.

Seven, seeing raw and honest concern reflected in B'Elanna's eyes felt suddenly ashamed at putting the engineer on the spot during the meeting. It was unfair of her to try and manipulate her publicly. She also knew that there was no slight intended - B'Elanna had explained her reasoning behind the choice on more than one occasion. She nodded acceptance of the decision and let the matter drop.

Seven ran another diagnostic on the transporter console. She diligently checked the instrumentation panel, the efficiency of the transporter locks and the angular confinement of the transmission beam. The young blonde had been in transporter room One for almost an hour prior to the agreed meeting time and had checked every micron of the mechanism and the monitoring equipment associated with the transporter five times but she could not help but commence another review while she waited for the others to arrive.

The doors hissed open just as the console beeped, indicating that her tests had been completed. The Astrometrics officer looked up from the results to see B'Elanna Torres and Harry Kim staring at her expectantly.

B'Elanna was smiling slightly, making it plain that she knew exactly what her lover had been up to. "I'm going to take a shot in the dark here and assume that the transporters are now working within acceptable parameters," she teased lightly.

Seven did not smile but the tension that had been apparent on her features lessened slightly. "Yes. I am satisfied that the transporter lock efficiency has been improved adequately."

"Well, don't get any ideas about improving the efficiency of the Engine Room while I'm gone," the Klingon retorted with a grin.

"No doubt that thought will spur you on to complete the away mission promptly," Seven returned archly.

B'Elanna looked at Harry and rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. "Come on Starfleet." She gestured towards the transporter pad. "I'll blame you if I return to a central nexus instead of a Warp Core."

Harry laughed, happy to see the two women exchanging friendly banter. He was perceptive enough to notice the change in dynamic to their relationship, but had not realised how far that change had gone. He stepped onto the pad, gripping his tool kit tightly.

B'Elanna turned and winked at her lover before blowing her a kiss, knowing that Harry could not see what she was doing, but had a clear view of Seven's face.

To her credit, Seven merely arched an eyebrow in response, though her cheeks flushed slightly at B'Elanna's flirtation, enjoying the special attention she was receiving. "When you're ready, Lieutenant," she prompted.

The dark Klingon stepped onto the transporter and puffed out her cheeks as she forcibly expelled a deep sigh. She had managed to contain her fears and nerves since agreeing to go on the away mission. Now that the time had come, all sorts of irrational doubts swirled round her mind despite her constant mental reminder that Seven would have a transporter lock on her continually. Steeling herself for the mission, she nodded at the willowy blonde behind the transporter console. "Energise," she instructed clearly.

The blue swirl of the transporter distorted her vision for an instant and as it cleared, her eyes flicked round a large cavernous room, lit with multi-coloured panels that shimmered and changed hue intermittently. In front of her, a tall humanoid with deep violet eyes appeared to be waiting for her arrival. For a moment, she froze, her mind a complete blank as to what should happen next. Her heart was hammering, and the young engineer could not help but continue to look around her, wondering what horror lay hidden behind the workstations that surrounded them.

Seeing that B'Elanna was not going to take the initiative, Harry stepped forward and extended a hand in greeting. "I'm Harry Kim. This is B'Elanna Torres. We're here to look at your systems," he announced.

The Asian's actions seemed to snap B'Elanna from her thoughts and she smiled automatically. "Hello," she greeted neutrally.

The dark-skinned Mahalarian seemed to study the woman for a moment before speaking, a wide smile on his face. "I am Par-Haln. From the Port Authority. Greetings. If you would like to follow me, I'll show you which equipment is causing us a few problems." He turned and began to walk to the side of the room.

Harry followed obediently but stopped when he saw B'Elanna hesitate. "You okay, Maquis?"

B'Elanna exhaled heavily again. "Yeah, I'm fine," she replied, steeling herself once again. "Let's do this and get out of here."

Her sentiment turned out to be wishful thinking however. After getting to grips with the problem, which turned out to be a basic issue of power requirement versus power production, B'Elanna and Harry then spent a fruitless six hours of testing, re-testing, comparing algorithms, swapping relays and a myriad of other engineering fixes that made no difference whatsoever to the problem.

Par-Haln had supplied two Mahalarian technicians to help and answer questions on the technology, but B'Elanna quickly used up their knowledge and outgrew their usefulness. The engineer ascertained that the rise in power consumption could not be countered; it was a by-product of the success of the port. The Mahalarians simply didn't have the technical expertise to do a complete refurbishment of the power supplies. Nor did they have the physical capacity to simply add more generators. B'Elanna could definitely solve the problem if they used Starfleet technology, but she was not prepared to do that, regardless of the Prime Directive. The engineers on the planetary port seemed to have no real interest in researching new ideas, and much of what was maintained was done poorly. Allowing them access to new technology would not foster an interest in engineering or technology - it would simply put off the core problem.

Taking a short break, B'Elanna couldn't help but notice how Harry interacted with one of the technicians and realised that the young man had more than just a professional interest in her.

Reassuringly, Janeway kept contact with B'Elanna on a regular basis. Even if there was no progress, it was good to hear from the ship and know that she was being closely monitored. The half-Klingon missed Seven's voice, but knew that she wouldn't break protocol unless there was a specific reason. B'Elanna was tempted to call her, but knew that it would only make Seven worry more than she already was.

Their day was broken with stoppages for meals, and B'Elanna watched as Harry flirted mildly with Kel-Phia. He looked to be making good progress, as she responded positively to his words and actions. B'Elanna smiled. She knew that Harry would definitely take up the offer of shore leave once they were finished here.

The brunette sighed, frustrated at the lack of progress she had made. The away mission had already extended far beyond what she intended. She was also rapidly coming to the conclusion that she needed Seven's help if they wanted to find a solution to the power problem. However, she would not introduce her lover to an area that she did not deem safe. Making her excuses to Harry and Kel-Phia, the engineer left to examine her working environment more closely. It was also an opportunity to stretch her legs and clear her mind after concentrating on the problem for so long. She inspected all the less well-lit areas carefully, discretely scanning them with her tricorder for any sinister readings. B'Elanna also checked the doorways and adjacent corridors. There was no hidden horde of enemy soldiers waiting to pounce. Nor were there any secret assassins ready to kidnap or kill them. B'Elanna shook her head at her paranoia. It was understandable, but difficult to deal with.

Satisfied that the work place held no surprises, the engineer returned to see Harry in animated conversation with their assistant. "Come up with any solutions?" she asked mildly, breaking into their tête-à-tête.

Harry looked up guiltily. "Er, no. Nothing new," he stammered.

B'Elanna grinned, knowing that she had caught him out and that their talk had not been about the power drain. "Me neither," she continued. "I hate to say this, but I think we need a fresh perspective on this."

"I've been thinking that for some time," Harry concurred. "We need Seven down here. She might be able to see something in the results we're missing."

"She also won't be so distracted when she's monitoring our tests," B'Elanna teased, laughing when she saw Harry blush. She tapped her communicator pin. "Torres to Voyager."

"Voyager here. How is it going B'Elanna?" Janeway answered the hail promptly.

"Well, the progress report is depressingly similar to the last one. I've made no inroad into power efficiency at all. None of the modifications we've attempted have made a significant improvement, but there are a couple of things I haven't tried yet," B'Elanna answered candidly.

"Do you need any help down there?" Janeway, as perceptive as ever, got straight to the point, causing B'Elanna to grin.

"That's why I'm calling. Would you mind if we have Seven down here?"

There was a long pause and B'Elanna could imagine Janeway's surprise at the request. She had vehemently refused Seven's help all along, and now the engineer was specifically requesting her presence.

"I have no objection at all," the Captain finally answered. "I'll assign someone else to cover her current duty."

B'Elanna nodded, grateful that Janeway would continue to keep a transporter lock on them. "Thank you. I have a list of equipment that needs to come down too."

"Send it up, and I'll get Seven to collect it and bring it to you herself."

"Good. I'll be back in contact for a report in an hour," B'Elanna concluded, her spirits rising again at both the thought of seeing Seven so soon, and at the potential solution of the power problem.

"I'll look forward to it. Janeway out."

As the Captain closed the communication link, B'Elanna looked back at Harry. "Let's hope that a bit of Borg logic can sort this mess out."

Harry nodded. "I agree. You didn't put painkillers on that list did you? This is giving me a massive headache."

Kel-Phia looked up in concern. "Are you in pain Harry?" Her already dark violet eyes darkened again. "We have an apothecary who could be of assistance to you."

"If it doesn't go soon, then I'll take you up on that offer. But I have a feeling it will lift once we come up with a solution." Harry caught the slight panic on B'Elanna's face at the mention of leaving her and was determined to remain with her until the end of the mission.

The blue shimmering of a transporter beam interrupted their conversation. "That was quick," B'Elanna remarked, impressed at how swiftly Seven had joined them.

The tall blonde smiled openly at B'Elanna before acknowledging the presence of the others. "It would have been sooner, but we had to clear the use of the transporter with the port authority."

That added information made the swiftness of Seven's arrival all the more amazing. The ex-drone approached the nearest workbench and deposited the equipment B'Elanna had asked for. "Perhaps if you brief me with what has already been ascertained, we can continue from there," she suggested, looking at the chief engineer with a raised eyebrow.

Seven's cool, efficient manner didn't fool B'Elanna for an instant. The Astrometrics officer was uncomfortable with the away mission too, and was hiding behind her aloofness as a defence mechanism. A few short weeks ago, B'Elanna would have been furious at her behaviour and they would probably already have begun arguing, but she could read the younger woman much better now. She wanted nothing more than to pull Seven into a reassuring hug, but their relationship was still only known to Janeway and the Doctor. Instead, B'Elanna grabbed a data padd and handed it to Seven. "It'll be quicker if you read what we've done. Question me on anything you're not sure about."

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. He knew that the two women were very much on friendly terms now, but would have put money on B'Elanna blowing a fuse over Seven's initial actions. He thought about it for a few minutes and came to the same conclusion B'Elanna had. Realising that the engineer had read the situation swiftly and adapted to support Seven, Harry did the same and joined the women at the console to offer his input when required.

Seven was grateful for B'Elanna's proximity, and when Harry came to join her, she felt irrationally safer. She and B'Elanna were probably the two strongest people on Voyager, yet Harry's presence increased her sense of security. She knew that her behaviour was stiff and cold, but hoped that B'Elanna would realise that she was merely feeling uncomfortable and exposed, despite the engineer's presence. B'Elanna's actions confirmed that she did indeed understand, and slowly, the ex-drone began to relax and concentrate on the problem at hand.

Within minutes, she was immersed in the data in front of her, and was asking questions and clarifying results almost immediately. After some time, Kel-Phia began to fidget restlessly. However, her distraction went unnoticed by either Seven or B'Elanna who were confirming the validity of B'Elanna's work. It was left to Harry to discover the cause of their assistant's discomfort. "What's up?"

"I was due home some time ago. Normally, it would not matter, but there is a family function that I was expected to attend," she explained.

"Don't stay on our part," Harry replied earnestly. "We'll be here for hours yet. Just tell us how to contact the Port Authority so we can return to the ship if we need to."

Kel-Phia moved to another console and demonstrated the correct sequence to the tall Asian. "This will open the link to Port Control. You can make your requests through them."

"Seems easy enough," Harry nodded, making sure he understood. "Will you be alright returning to your home, or would you like me to escort you?" It was only after he made the offer, that the young Ensign realised the ramifications. It would mean leaving B'Elanna and Seven alone for a short while. But he could hardly renege on the offer, particularly after Kel-Phia's face lit up at the suggestion.

"Thank you Harry. I would like that very much." The technician leapt on the idea immediately.

Harry tugged on his collar nervously. "I'll just go and tell the others," he explained, mentally kicking himself for his lack of thought. He made his way back to where B'Elanna and Seven were working. "Hey," he interrupted loudly.

Startled, both women looked up at the disturbance. "What's up Starfleet?" B'Elanna prompted, noting the young Ops officer squirming.

"Kel-Phia's got to go home," Harry began.

"Then thank her for her assistance, and ask if she is available to continue with us tomorrow," Seven requested.

"Okay. But I sort of offered to escort her home," the ensign continued hurriedly.

"What?" B'Elanna was suddenly very attentive.

"I'm sorry B'Elanna. It just slipped out. I can hardly say I've changed my mind now." Harry looked at her pleadingly.

B'Elanna looked at Seven enquiringly. The tall blonde returned the look, and nodded slightly, signalling that she was comfortable with Harry's short-term absence.

The dark Klingon weighed up the options for a few moments longer, deliberately making Harry fret. "Okay, Harry. Go and do the chivalrous thing. Just get back here as soon as possible."

"Yes Ma'am," Harry replied, a big grin splitting his face as the relief he felt became apparent.

Harry rushed back to where Kel-Phia was standing and gestured for her to lead the way out of the building.

"Are you sure you do not mind being here?" Seven enquired once they were alone.

"Well, you're here with me. And despite me thinking that I'd be distracted by your presence, I'm glad you're here. We've made good progress and I reckon once lover-boy returns, it shouldn't take too much longer to start some experimental adaptations." B'Elanna sounded positively upbeat, and after scanning the room surreptitiously, leant in to place a chaste kiss on her lover's lips.

Seven smiled at the embrace. "Not if you get `distracted'," she demurred good-naturedly. "I agree with your summation," the ex-drone continued, wrapping her arms loosely round the smaller woman's frame. "Besides, with Voyager maintaining a continuous transporter lock on us, what can go wrong?"

Part 9

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