DISCLAIMER: Voyager and its characters are the property of Paramount Pictures.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I began to think of this story as a response to Rachel’s Challenge #46, wherein Voyager is so badly damaged that the crew must choose between continuing on toward the Alpha Quadrant with a badly damaged ship or to find an inhabited planet to settle on. Then I saw her two challenges, the “1001 Nights Challenge” and the “Epic Proportions Challenge,” and decided that I could roll them all into one story, composed of individual definitions but held together by the basic premise of the Challenge #46 and the “1001 Nights Challenge.” I have also long wanted to write a sequel to my story “The Strong Are Saying Nothing,” and this seemed a good place to work that in, as well. I am numbering the stories by the words to be defined and where they appear on the list provided by Rachel. This does not mean that the stories will not be sequential; however, I reserve the right to go back in time and fill in any gaps I find interesting to fill. Sorry if this confuses. Thanks to the Memory Alpha website for background on all things Star Trek.
CHALLENGE: Written as part of the 1001 Nights Challenge - shades of grey.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Scheherazade Stories--#800 –Shades of Grey
By Jillo


All eyes turned toward the ready room door as it hissed open, admitting Captain Kathryn Janeway into the briefing room. The dark circles under her eyes and the disheveled appearance of her uniform bespoke a night spent pacing in her ready room rather than getting a much-needed eight hours of sack time in her quarters. Neelix rose immediately to present her with a steaming cup of leola bark tea and pulled the chair out for her. The rest of the senior staff waited tensely for the Captain to seat herself and begin the briefing.

"Thank you, Neelix," she told him softly before taking a sip of her tea.

"You're quite welcome, Captain," he replied, taking his seat.

She repressed a grimace at the lip-shriveling bitterness of the leola bark brew as she placed the cup carefully down on the conference table. Her eyes lingered a moment on the cup as the silence lengthened. She would never have admitted it to her senior staff, but she dreaded the moment when she would be compelled to raise her eyes and address them with her decision. For a moment she lost herself in her memories of the past several hours until the discreet cough of her first officer brought her back to the present, and she raised her eyes unwittingly to him. Chakotay recoiled slightly at the pain he saw reflected in them.

She looked into his eyes a moment longer and then scanned the faces arrayed around the table.

"Thank you all for coming," she began. Tuvok raised an eyebrow at the nicety. He wondered at the Captain's unusual gesture. It hardly seemed necessary to thank the staff for attending a required meeting. He waited for her to continue.

"You all know the situation we're in. And you all know the ramifications of the choices we have before us." She paused and looked each member of the senior staff in the eye for a moment. She had their complete attention.

"I've spent the past night trying to decide what we should do, what I should order you to do." She got up and began to pace around the table. "I've carefully weighed the options. I've gone over and over the timetable to see if we can squeeze more time out of it to find a third choice." She stopped pacing and turned to them. All eyes were trained on her slight figure standing before the viewport, the stars against the black of space serving as a backdrop for the rendering of her decision.

"But I can't. We're out of time. We need to make a move now before we're so low on deuterium that we can't reach a planet, either for colonization or for mining purposes."

Janeway linked her hands behind her back and took a deep breath. Her chin came up.

"I made a promise to myself, but more importantly, to you that I would bring this ship home. I intend to keep that promise."

The spell was broken. Some crewmembers looked at one another in disbelief while others sighed heavily and leaned back in their chairs. Then several people began to talk at once. Captain Janeway held up her hand for silence. "I'm not finished," she said sharply. It got quiet again abruptly. "I intend to continue to make our way toward the Alpha Quadrant. I hope that you will join me." She looked at each face again with a small, sad smile. "But I will understand if you wish to try to make a go of it on a planet."

She waited. The senior staff seemed suddenly to be unable to speak. Finally Chakotay spoke up.

"Captain, does this seem wise? Surely we'd better our chances if we stayed together. You need at least 100 people to man the ship, and Voyager would be a great resource were we all to settle on a planet. Splitting us up worries me."

"Chakotay's right," asserted Ensign Paris. "Whatever we do, we need to stick together." He looked around the table for confirmation. "And I think our best chances are to find the nearest habitable planet and grab it." He'd had his say and let his eyes rest on his long-time girl-friend's face. He was surprised to find her looking elsewhere. He followed her gaze and frowned slightly when he saw that she was staring intently at Seven of Nine. Seven was looking down at her hands resting on top of the conference table.

At Tom's remark, B'Elanna Torres's head whipped around toward him where he sat at the end of the table. "Tom! I can't believe you'd say that!" She glanced over at Seven, who was still looking down at her hands. They all knew the implications of settling on a planet. The Doctor had sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. "Hmmph," was all he said.

"Well, no offense," Tom said, backpedaling a bit and glancing briefly at Seven and the Doctor. "I'm just saying that even though we haven't ironed out all the problems yet, I just think we'd have a better chance if we grounded the ship on a planet and used it as a base of operations until we could set up a permanent colony. That way Seven and the Doc could use the resources of Voyager." He paused and looked earnestly around the table. "For as long as she lasted, that is." His shoulders sagged. He cast a look at B'Elanna that asked her to understand and forgive him. She continued to look at him in amazement and consternation.

"The fact that there are so many unknowns in both scenarios makes it difficult to calculate the probability of survival in either case," Tuvok added. "Logic dictates that we select the option that offers the best possibility for the survival of the crew, given all known factors. It would be unwise to split the crew up, Captain." He looked steadily up into the Captain's grey-blue eyes.

Captain Janeway sighed. She walked over to her chair and resumed her seat. She had hoped that her senior staff would stand behind her on this decision, that they'd be unwilling to chance the sacrifice of members of the crew for their own survival. Of course, there were no guarantees of anyone's survival, but the difference here was that Seven and the Doctor were gone if they couldn't find a means to support their systems. And they all knew it going in. She stopped herself from going in that circle again.

"I've made my decision," she told them sternly. "I want a list of everyone who would like to be deposited on the nearest habitable planet by 0800 hours tomorrow. Dismissed." She got up and disappeared into her ready room.

"B'Elanna, wait a minute!" called Tom as he caught up to Lieutenant Torres. Torres was walking rapidly toward Engineering in a dark mood. She was disappointed in her lover, and she didn't feel like dealing with him at the moment. She'd left the briefing room immediately, desiring only to get back to Engineering to work on the insoluble problem of how to keep Seven and the Doctor functioning.

"What, Tom?" she asked impatiently as she let him pull her to a stop by her arm.

"Hey, don't be like this!" he implored. "I can't believe you're mad at me for wanting us to survive!"

"I really don't want to talk to you right now, Tom," said B'Elanna. "I have work to do." She turned to go, but Tom grabbed her by the arm again.

"B'Elanna!" he cried.

"All right!" said B'Elanna in exasperation. She hadn't wanted to do this in so public a venue, but the flyboy's insistence left her little choice. "I can't believe you can't believe I'm angry at you! You'd sacrifice the lives of Seven and the Doctor just to save your own skin? Where is your honor? I'm ashamed of you, Tom." She stared up at him in anger.

Instead of looking sheepish, Paris got defensive. "Oh, come on! Don't you think you're over-dramatizing this? We don't know what's going to happen or when. Maybe we'll find a planet with some development. Maybe we'll be able to rig something, build a generator or something." He lost his aggressive demeanor and tried to smile at her. "Come on, honey. You know I didn't mean anything by it! I know you're close to Seven and the Doc. Let me make it up to you. I'll break open that bottle of champagne I replicated last year. It's my last one, and we can—."

"I don't think so, Tom," B'Elanna told him, her eyes straying to the PADD in her hand. "I'm going to work tonight."

"Work? On what? That's all you've been doing since this whole thing started. You can take a night off now and then." He laid his arm around her shoulders and began walking her toward Engineering.

"No, Tom," she insisted as she slid out from under his arm. "I really want to work on this problem. I've been working on getting a little more out of long-range sensors while we still have the power. Maybe we can see a bit farther into our future this way." She looked up at him adamantly.

"Okay. I see," said Tom petulantly. "You know, B'Elanna, you could spare a little time for me now and then. I mean, anybody'd think you cared more about them than you do me!"

This stopped B'Elanna in her tracks again. "I'm going to work. I don't want to talk to you anymore about this." She turned and left him, disappearing as the doors to the engine room hissed shut behind her. He stared after her, holding his hands out in frustrated confusion.

Deep into the Gamma shift, Lieutenant Torres sat in the mess hall, the lowered lighting of the last shift of the day even lower now that the ship was operating on grey mode. She sat at a small table beneath the viewport, the table at which she always sat when she wished to signal to the rest of the crew that she wanted to be left alone. She frowned and sighed, reaching for the long-cold cup of leola bark tea.

"Ugh," she grimaced as she forced the disgusting brew down. It was even more revolting cold. She chuckled to herself at the thought that Neelix made up for its horrible taste by the seemingly unending supply of it. She laughed again at her own misguided optimism. Every time she had a sip she hoped she'd like it better. She never did. Tired and sore from hunching over a PADD, she got up and turned toward the viewport, stretching her back and rolling her shoulders. She tried to let her mind go blank as she stared at the passing stars, but it refused to cooperate. She couldn't stop her worries from besieging her once again. How much longer would she have this view, she wondered. How much longer would she feel the deck of her beloved Voyager beneath her boots? As the years had passed aboard the trim little scout ship, B'Elanna had developed a sense of ownership for the Starfleet vessel that surprised her. She suspected that other Chief Engineers had had similar feelings. Who else knew the ship as well as the Chief Wrench? Who else knew every hiccup, every glitch of the engines? Who else could gauge the way the engines were working in her sleep? It was as if her mind and the engines were one. She knew that she was aware of the ship's status on an unconscious level. She knew, too, that she would mourn the loss of that continuous connection. With a sudden flash of insight, she realized now what Seven of Nine had lost upon being severed from the Borg Collective—the awareness of that constant connection to something larger than herself.

Now that her mind had turned to Seven, she knew that she must give her thoughts and feelings their sway. She'd been successful since this whole crisis began at keeping her fears and feelings for Seven at bay. But now, at this late hour, she was too tired and too sentimental to keep them reined in. In the years since they'd connected on such an intimate level on the Vidiian-occupied planet, she'd felt a closeness to the ex-Borg. They were more alike than she'd cared to admit to herself, and she now knew that this stubborn refusal to accept the woman was a feint to avoid smacking up against just this realization. She shook her head. Hard-headed Klingons. She allowed herself to remember that night, the urgency, the almost hostile aggression she'd felt as she stripped the young woman and taken her body—her virginity. She'd been taken as well as she'd taken, to be sure. It was hardly love-making on either of their parts. But, oh, it had been exhilarating! She sometimes wondered what they might have said to one another, what they might have done had they been stranded on the planet any longer. But there'd been no time; they were rescued almost immediately upon waking up naked next to one another the following morning.

B'Elanna shivered at the memory. She'd never told Tom, and she and Seven had never talked of that night. She'd never felt guilty about that, and she still didn't. They were facing their deaths. They'd needed each other. It was that simple. She thought of Tom. Was she being too hard on him? After all, now they were all facing their possible deaths. Should she fault him for wanting to survive? For grasping onto any chance that presented itself? But to so cavalierly abandon Seven and the Doc to their fates! She couldn't so easily forgive that. Her face grew soft at the memory of Seven and her, together, and she smiled. Then her ridged brow crinkled in worry and pain at the thought of losing her.

She remained standing facing the viewport as the door to the mess hall swished open. She remained standing as the footsteps approached her. And she remained standing as the arms encircled her waist and the soft lips kissed her temple. She sighed as she leaned back into Seven's embrace, folding her arms over the arms that held her.

"How did you know?" she whispered.

"I knew," Seven whispered back.

B'Elanna turned in Seven's arms and looked up at her, searching her face. "Why does it take death to make us do this?" she demanded.

"I do not know, jonwI. It just does." Seven lowered her head slowly and captured B'Elanna's lips with her own. B'Elanna moaned into Seven's lips and slid her arms around Seven's body, pressing herself to her. Their kiss was passionate this time, and they stood that way as the Gamma shift waned, against the passing stars, kissing deeply, sweetly, lovingly.

A tear slowly made its way down Seven of Nine's alabaster cheek, and she looked off into the middle distance with the memory.

"A ship full of hypocrites!" smirked the Borg Queen. "You had sexual relations with the half-Klingon, half-Human hybrid even though you both knew she was involved with another."

"Yes," said Seven. She would not defend herself. There was no defense. There was nothing she could say. How could she explain love? How could she use logic to explain the illogical?

"And your 'shipmates'," she sneered. "Some of them were willing to sacrifice your life for their own. So much for the vaunted Starfleet 'honor'."

Seven's chin came up as she met the Borg Queen's icy eyes. "Yes," she said again. People were people. They were flawed. They were selfish. She looked away.

"That is all you have to say?" demanded the Borg Queen. "You cannot explain your fellow creatures' behavior?"

"I am tired. I need to regenerate," said Seven, dispirited. She turned haunted eyes to the leader of the Collective.

There was a long pause. Seven wondered if this time the Borg Queen had had enough of her stories and would assimilate her. She almost looked forward to it.

"I will return tomorrow, little one," breathed the Queen. "Go. Regenerate."

The End

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