DISCLAIMER: The story and characters belong to Paramount, etc. They are so not mine and no money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is very much an AU; I wanted to reveal that TPTB are impotent when it comes to understanding of what makes a good interaction and a powerful bond. For some reason (no offense to any men on the list) a lot of male writers think powerful women always must engage in fragile-ego futile pissing contests. (Men who write for CSI have done the same thing there as well.) It is true just because there are strong females doesn't mean they have to have slumber parties and be members of "we're woman in a man's world so we have to bond club" either. However I'm playing B'Elanna as a true Maquis someone who sees atrocities and fought against it. I want to play her as if she had seen first hand Cardassian Concentration camps and 'in the like of' Stockholm syndrome refugees freed from those nests of horror. I want to write her as I think she might have reacted to Seven given her background.
AUTHOR'S NOTE 2: B'Elanna isn't rebelling against her Klingon self in fact she embraces it despite her past is the same as it is in Canon. No declawed Klingons here!
SOILERS: Directly for Scorpion I-II, The Gift, Day of Honor, off-hand First Contact, previous seasons of Voyager and all Borg related episodes of the Trek series. Time line and canon are a little off but you are fanfic readers and can adapt.
WARNING:please take careful note there will be mentions of pain and torture as B'Elanna recalls the things she had seen in the Cardassian concentration camps, bearing in mind Voyager Canon as well as Jean-Luc's torture at the hands of a Gull it isn't too hard to believe the crimes they committed against another soul. I have used much of what I heard from survivors of the camps in Germany, documentaries as well as what is available on the net. Please bear in mind I am not trying to exploit this dark history but use the information in this story as writers of the show have done in the past to shed some light on the troubling context. We must remember.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Elizabeth Carter


Part 13

Janeway was tired she hadn't realized how on edge she had been these last several days. Torres, her crew and Kim pushed through the barriers of Borg crippling technology. Every exhausted victory over the modifications brought the ship one step closer to running five by five. So when the tampering of communications network happened she desperately wanted to beg of life for a moment and wish it all away.

Walking briskly the captain had met her chief security officer in the corridors heading out of Engineering. Each moment of this day was growing progressively worse by the nanosecond. Slate-blue eyes regarded the tall dark skinned Vulcan with an amount of severity most would have withered beneath. But not her old friend, still Janeway was swift enough to see he was pensive about something more than a Borg practically tapping into the com-system.

"I can tell by the expression on your face that you've got some bad news," she took two steps for every one of his longer strides.

"I have no expression on my face," The Vulcan retorted with mild agitation to be accused as something so base as an emotional outpouring. "However, you are correct. The news on two separate fronts is not good." At his captain's own agitated concerned features Tuvok knew he would have to deliver the facts quickly. "I checked the subspace bandwidths. At least a partial signal was transmitted from Voyager."

Janeway let out a long suffering puff of air. She had in vain hoped Seven of Nine had not been as successful as that. "Enough for a Borg ship to track?"

"Possibly." Tuvok said in truth. He had never shielded his captain with false platitudes of reassurances that were not pure fact. He wouldn't start now.

Dreading the answer, the Captain asked the pending question lingering in the air before them. "And the second front?"

"I believe there is also cause for concern regarding Kes." He had been right to fear the exponential growth in the young woman's prowess with psionic powers. What she had displayed in her quarters with the meditation lamp and the later neutralization of the Borg drone was nothing short of omnipotence. Something Tuvok was loath to admit he was frankly terrified of. The flash of his torment under her misguided powers in the past flickered brightly in his memory. His flesh melting, his body broiled from the inside out as if exposed to microwave radiation.

"Explain." Janeway sounded remarkably like a Borg potentate at that moment.

"Internal sensor logs show that she destabilised the Jefferies tube at the molecular level. The effect weakened the infrastructure throughout the deck," Tuvok answered. His dark eyes growing blacker with his internal fears. "If she wishes to develop her abilities further I am not certain it would be safe, for Kes or Voyager." His voice gave no hint of the turmoil he was struggling to suppress. He knew his old friend would pick up on it; Janeway had the annoying trait of hearing the emotion he struggled so hard to repress.

The small redhead snorted discordantly, "I've got an Ocampan who wants to be something more and a Borg who's afraid of becoming something less. Here's to Vulcan stability," She slapped him on the back. Their quick steps had brought them to the doors of the brig. "Wait for me," the Captain ordered and entered with nothing further spoken.

Seven of Nine glowered in the Brig, her face stone cold and analytical. She had tried to simply walk through the Brig's forcefield but found herself repelled back. Her ocular implant had magnified the harmonic matrix but to her chagrin she could not adapt her personal shield and therefore neutralize the threat against her.

'They have done this to me. They changed me, assimilated me.'

The more she brooded on the subject the greater her anger grew, the more frustrated she grew. They had taken her from her home, her people, the connection to the Hive Mind was silenced. So much silence, now they had locked her up. Why! Why had they locked her up and not deactivated her? That would have been preferable. But they had kept her imprisoned and now they had furthered their assault by encasing her in the brig behind a forcefield she could not penetrate. Why hadn't they deactivated her?

Anger burned deep in her chest. By the time Janeway came into the Brig the anger was an inferno. The small woman stood before the forcefield causing a sudden flash of impulsive want to snap the woman's head in hundred and eighty degrees.

"So this is human freedom." Seven's voice dripped with cold sarcasm as she paced the confines of the brig she had been forced into by Rothery's quick thinking to transport her there.

Janeway crossed her arms, as she stood before Seven of Nine as if she were scolding a petulant child. "I've decided to keep you in the brig until I'm certain you won't try to harm us again. If necessary the Doctor can treat you here. I honestly believed you were going to help us."

Seven paused for a moment struck by the very notion that she did indeed had intended to help the crew of Voyager despite their imprisonment of her. Borg were not known to be deviously talented anymore than a Vulcan. "You were not deceived, Captain Janeway. It was my intention to help you." Seven said honestly. There was no point in denying it.

And Janeway believed her. Sometimes the best intentions are fraught with opportunities one cannot pass. "What happened?" The Captain was puzzled why anyone would act in such a way as Seven had done. It hadn't dawned on her that Seven of Nine actually desired to return to the Borg.

"There was a chance to contact the Collective. I took advantage of it," Seven of Nine answered crisply. Her impertinence manifested further in her contempt. "Your attempt to assimilate this drone will fail. You can alter our physiology but you cannot change our nature."

Nature... 'Because it is in my nature,' the scorpion answered.' Chakotay's words echoed sharply in Janeway's mind. She felt as if she had been struck in the gut with a boot at the notion that her contrary first officer might have been right. 'Frack the man!' Janeway snarled inwardly. Her anger was redirected back to the Borg for the crime of proving the infernal man correct.

"We will betray you. We are Borg." Seven refused to be brainwashed into becoming the good little Starfleet soldier "Human…" she spat out the words as if it were a vile, odious thing, "To be exactly like you. Flawed, weak… organic. We have evolved to include the synthetic… we use both to attain perfection. You take this away from us. We will resist! We are Borg!"

Janeway didn't rise to the bait as swiftly as Seven had intended. Much like she had with B'Elanna years before the captain remained perfectly calm.

"I've met Borg who were freed from the collective. It wasn't easy for them to accept their individuality, but in time they did." She referred to the survivors of a crashed Cube where the drones had assimilated themselves into fractured communes. They of course forced a neural link on Chakotay so he might be used to create a link between the two warring factions so they were unified, a Hive again. "You're no different. Granted, you were assimilated at a very young age, and your transition may be more difficult, but it will happen." Janeway pressed her optimism and pragmatic viewpoint on the fuming drone as if she assumed Seven would adapt to it.

"If it does happen, we will become fully human?" Seven said in a voice that revealed just how unsure she was about everything. She walked away from the forcefield and turned her back to the captain.

"Yes, I hope so." Janeway smiled in such a way even Tuvok rose an eyebrow. He squashed the rise of insubordinate irritation quickly ashamed it had even been given birth to.

"We will be autonomous, independent." Seven continued to use the Borg collective "we". Her voice was unrecognizably curious, almost hopeful.

"That's what individuality is all about," Janeway explained slowly.

Seven turned back to face the captain staring at her with a long calculated look. "If at that time we choose to return to the Collective, will you permit it?" there was now hope in the voice where none was heard before.

"I don't think you'll want to do that." Red shook her head denying Seven's needs in lieu of the picture she was painting of being the glorious one who restored a lost girl to humanity.

"You would deny us the choice as you deny us now," she had a colorless note to her voice. "You have imprisoned us in the name of humanity yet you will not grant us your most cherished human right," the words were pointed and sharp, "to choose our own fate. You are hypocritical, manipulative." Seven edged close to the forcefield her mouth a line anger, more than anger it was rage. Her words a scream of pure fury "We do not want to be what you are! Return us to the Collective!"

"You lost the capacity to make a rational choice the moment you were assimilated." Janeway's voice took on the edge of command that broke no arguments. "They took that from you and until I'm convinced you've gotten it back I'm making the choice for you. You're staying here."

Tuvok again found, rather annoyingly so, that this was a very round argument of logic. His captain had accused Seven of not being able to make rational choices and would make choices for Seven just as the Borg had done for over eighteen years.

"Then you are no different to the Borg," Seven spat.

Tuvok watched as shock riddled the older woman's face. Red eyebrow's formed a 'v' of contemptuous anger because she knew the drone was right. Janeway felt the full wind leave her sails. Dejected and torn she left the Brig. She could in no way deny she was as Seven said just the same as the Borg. She was no different than the Queen.

Her mind took a detour to the notion that if points were indeed being taken as in velocity the score was very clearly Seven of Nine's.

There was a horrid, billowing silence.

Tuvok knew far better than to comment on Seven of Nine's remark about comparing the Captain's recent actions to those of the Borg. For he too knew the drone's words had been correct. What they had done was no different than the Borg.

Ensign Ayala was a former Maquis officer who had served not only at tactical and ops but also tended to be put on duty whenever there was someone in the Brig. He had been on duty when the Captain had her conversation with the Borg.

He had been discussing the very subject with Hogan from Engineering and Junior Lieutenant Mariah Henley who was a Gamma Shift bridge officer so loudly that B'Elanna Torres couldn't help but overhear.

'You go girl!' B'Elanna silently cheered and then her expression fell as the weight of Seven's words sunk in. 'Kah'less! That is exactly what we are doing. WE snatched her from the Collective turned her into a human without her permission without regard to what she wanted and forced her to adapt as a human and even going as far as to tell her what she wants. No not We... HER! She's doing this!' B'Elanna growled low in her throat.

The sound erupted from her throat had caused others to look at her with astounded expressions. This was due to the fact that no one was around the half-Klingon to have caused such a reaction from her. Not even Neelix who was still busily puttering around in his kitchen. And she was eating a replicated rubin on rye so not even the food she was eating should make the klingon growl.

B'Elanna ignored the looks she had been given. Her mind continued to coil around the words traded between the Borg and the captain. Seven, the Klingon decided had the knack of speaking uncomfortable truths and this no doubt would have a very unsettling affect upon the Captain.

Torres continued to mull the conversation Ensign Ayala had related her anger still brewing darkly about the woman she had more feelings for than a crewmember was supposed to and the Borg Drone.

' "I'm making the choice." Did you even hear what you said Kathryn? How could you do this! This isn't the captain who sacrificed her dignity to help me through that fucking pon farr. The woman I care about….why have you turned? Who are you?' B'Elanna wanted to shout out, she felt as if the Captain had betrayed the woman who is Kathryn. The Kathryn who B'Elanna would have given her heart to was a traitor to the woman B'Elanna idealized.

B'Elanna tried to focus on the here and now but rushes of images of echoed voices of the past took siege of her will and she was forced to view a slide show she wasn't prepared to see. Fate is sometimes like a strange unpopular restaurant filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like. 'I don't know you any more Kathryn. You're not the same woman who captured my heart, the same woman I would have called BangwI.'

Stunned faces watched as their mercurial B'Elanna stormed out of the Mess hall. She moved so fast it was as if she had transported. She dashed between Harry Kim and Tom Paris both wearing stunned faces as they watched their friend dart out. They felt certain disquiet in her wake but it soon vanished for the grumbling emptiness in their stomachs that required refueling even if it was one of Neelix rather odd concoctions he labeled as food.

Several light-years away aboard a Borg diamond the Queen currently disengaged from her torso as she was suspended by cables into the central plexus. Governing the Borg was a task of unending multitasking one the Queen since her emergence from the maturation chamber had been groomed for such purpose with specialized implants.

One such implant had picked up the faintest traces of algorithms calling out to her. 'Seven of Nine,' The Queen uttered the name of her favored drone. 'Impressive. You managed to escape the bounds of your captors despite the fact they severed you from the Hive Mind.'

The Queen was well aware that the Collective had picked up the transmission. Three cubes had already engaged recovery protocols, altered their course and started to pursue Voyager. The Queen allowed the pursuit to a certain extent. She didn't want them to get too close. Seven of Nine needed to remain where she was if the Queen's strategy were to work successfully.

There was no note of remorse in the Queen's small corner of personal mind. Seven's torture in the hands of the crew of Voyager was necessary and that a part of her regretted. The Queen swiftly squashed the irrelevant sentiment from her frowning that she had the fleeting emotion in the first place.

Seven of Nine remained standing in the Brig waiting. She knew her signal had been transmitted and yet twenty-nine hours had passed and there was no sign of the Borg. No red-alerts, Janeway hadn't come down and no threats of death from that little male Chakotay, no Borg.

Anger rose to fear.

They weren't coming for her. The Queen had forsaken her.

She was one alone. Alone. One. She could not survive as one alone. The Hive Mind was needed to survive, to give purpose. Without the Collective there was no purpose. Seven continued to pace the Brig. Three meters by five meters a part of Seven's mind calculated her confines.

Dread filled Seven of Nine taking over logic. She was one. One alone.

B'Elanna Torres continued working to restore Voyager. Her frustrations over the captain's decision to keep Seven of Nine bothered her. It was wrong. Seven was only trying to escape, she was doing what anyone else on the ship would have done if captured by an enemy, Borg included. B'Elanna herself had with Kim escaped the Ocampans, after the Caretaker transported them.

And they escaped the anthropometric personification of Death, Q and Borg, Kazon and the list continues. So why hold an escape attempt against the hapless young female now in the Brig? The others in engineering murmured against the Borg Drone. They cursed her, fuming that she had called the Borg. They couldn't trust her; Chakotay would have had his way and killed the Borg. The only good Borg was a dead Borg.

B'Elanna was torn. She didn't want to sympathize with the Borg drone but she understood her. Understood the need to flee, the need to return to what was safe, known… home.

This troubling notion occupied B'Elanna's for two long days. She had disassociated herself from her friends, poured herself into work she didn't want to think of the captive in the Brig. She didn't want to think of the forced isolation the drone suffered. Seven of Nine was accustomed thousands of voices, of the presences of billions and now she was one. One alone.

It is a terrible thing to be so isolated. B'Elanna shivered in memory of what isolation had caused her.

It was so dark all the time B'Elanna started to believe she could pick out wisps of black, blue and purple shapes in the dark. The truth was she was imagining such fancies and she knew it was true. But she pretended that it didn't bother her. But it did. There is a constant deep biting cold nagging her bones. The Cardassians knew Klingons loathed the cold that it affected them harsher than it did Humans, Bajorans or the frelling spoonheads themselves.

The spoonheads deliberately piped her box with frigid air. Blue and purple shadows linger along the edges of B'Elanna's visions like the hallucinations of hypothermia. There was more truth to this than her imaged furnishings of her cell.

They had left her here because of an act of compassion. She had killed a dying woman being tortured by an honorless cardie. He had taken his frustration of his lack of torture victim out on B'Elanna, already weakened from the scraps of food and foul water she had lost her klingon inherited strength and now was as weak as a human child. She gave a struggle but she wasn't strong enough. The cardies had stripped B'Elanna of all her strength, of her power, plagued her spirit and tortured her body. When they had finished they dumped her body into a hole, turned on the tormenting cold and left her there. It was weeks now: left in the dark, the cold and fed so little food and so little water it was the afterthought of food.

Three days had passed since the ill-conceived escape attempt had failed; the doctor hadn't called to claim he needed an engineer to help with extraction of Borg assimilated body parts leaving the hybrid Klingon very disconcerted.

B'Elanna had managed to restore the compromised hull breaches and bulkheads thanks to Kes' unorthodox way of neutralizing the drone; this at least should have felt like a triumph. If it was it was a dry victory, leaving the woman with the taste of ash in her mouth.

The more she thought about Seven of Nine's internment and her own past the angrier B'Elanna came. She felt a shiver take her as she had for three days she felt frozen and shrugged on a smock feeling a little warmer for the effort.

A dark pain in her stomach reminded her she had yet to dine. She considered it seriously deciding that perhaps it was a good idea to eat. Besides it wasn't as if she was officially on duty this was a triple after all. If B'Elanna was truthful with herself her thoughts of the lost woman, the work, the memories of the death camp were eating away at her so harshly there might be nothing left of the engineer when the Borg' Calvary' showed up. So far the ship and crew had been able to avoid them but luck wouldn't hold for long. It never did for Voyager.

The mess hall was only three quarters filled. She saw the Delaney twins eating at one of the more central tables. To the far back Rothery ate, her eyes always watching like a near feral cat, much like Lanna did her first year on Voyager. Rothery had not been Maquis but her wariness matched that of someone on the run. Kes was sitting with Samantha Wildman and the tiny Naomi all of them eating the day's special. There were others but B'Elanna was too tired and too hungry to take further note.

She moved to the kitchenette hoping Neelix wouldn't try too hard to play his role of morale officer and simply serve her the carrot and coriander soup and the tuna like fish sandwich she wanted.

"Not today Neelix," Torres said as soon as she saw the cheerful personality of the Talaxian bubble forth like a super nova. "I just want to eat and go to bed."

His furry whickers bobbed a bit. "I…I understand," He smiled warmly and dished up the weary young woman.

She was mid way through her meal when she heard Paris and Kim enter the hall, the former laughing boyishly at one of his own jokes and Kim merely tolerating what ever it was his pal had said.

"She looks a bit down in the mouth," Kim said cutting a glance to B'Elanna.

"Come on Harry, when doesn't she?" Paris shrugged indifferently.

Both Neelix and Harry shared a look of concern. "I think she's overworked and needs time to rest." Neelix hinted that it would be best to leave dozing Klingons lie.

"Nonsense. She needs someone to cheer her up," Tom took his own bowl of soup, swaggered with the confidence of a man believing himself could do no wrong and plopped uninvited at B'Elanna table.

"I'm not in the mood," B'Elanna said before she yawned disarming all the ferocity out of her tone of voice.

"That is when you need it the most," Tom smiled his best charming smile that made many females blush.

"Not now, Paris," B'Elanna made a show of tearing into the last wedge of her sandwich almost mutilating it in the process.

"Why are you wearing that?" Tom scoffed boldly not seeing the smoldering fire in the Klingon's eyes.

"I'm cold," came a terse reply.

The helmsmen snickered, "You look like your trying to hide a pregnant belly."

Harry winced. B'Elanna snarled. Tom laughed.

B'Elanna snatched up her tray of food, slammed it in the replicator to be recycled. "Piss off."

Tom, feeling he might just have said something wrong rose and followed B'Elanna towards the exit of the Mess hall. He had just managed to grab the klingon's arm and tried with some difficulty to stop her.

"Let go," B'Elanna snarled loud enough for those in the mess hall to look up from their own meals to see the drama unfold before them.

"Oh come on B'Elanna, I was only joking - where is your sense of humor?"

"You will let go or I will rip your arm off."

Tom didn't let go. "You're acting all weird what the hell has gotten into you?"

"I said let the fuck go you mangy mousy weak helmrat. I don't want your fucking hands on me, and you will not ever touch me! Just because I didn't fall for your spluttering words or want to have your cock anywhere near me doesn't mean you try harder to climb into my pants. You mangy mutt will never touch me again! Now piss off."

Tom dropped his hand, tripped over his own feet and teetered back against the table he and Harry had been sharing with the ill-tempered woman.

No one said anything; all of them were far too stunned at the behavior of their chief engineer to say anything. Tom looked to Harry seeking an understanding but the ensign swallowed hard the bit of food he hadn't quite finished chewing.

"I think it comes down to she wanted to be left alone, her character unmolested as with her honor. You denied her all three." Kes said coming up behind Tom. "If you call her friend then you damaged her far beyond what any enemy could have done."

Tom's face fell, his normally ruddy complexion fell shades into the tones of a corpse. "I didn't mean to. I just wanted to raise her sprits. She's been moody for the past three days since that drone came aboard."

"Tom, leave her for now," Harry advised. "Let her cool off a bit then go apologize."

"Me - why should I say sorry? She's the one who said all those things."

The snort of disbelief came from Kes. "I thought you were her friend. Instead of trying to lay blame for her unrest perhaps you should try to look beyond the inward into what lies beyond what you can not see."

Tom and even Harry gave the young woman a very blank stare of unfathomable incomprehension. She gave a look to Neelix and even he seemed a little perplexed though he did try to translate:

"I think she means you have to look at why our Lieutenant is so upset and stop accusing her of being moody. And yes Tom you were wrong. That comment about her wearing that Engineers smock was a little uncalled for."

Even the Delaney twins who were willing enough to give his bed a tumble ever so often glared at him for the comment. Rothery passed by and deliberately accidentally bumped into him. "Oh sorry… 'mangy mousy helmrat.' Paris." The bit in the middle muttered under the breath. "I guess you shouldn't stand in the way."

One by one all the females followed suit and Kes shook her golden elfin head. "You have to make this right Tom before all the women on Voyager decided you're enemy number one."

"I'm not…that is that damn Borg drone who is the enemy. Not ME!" Tom was indignant that such a reputation would be branded upon him.

"But you're the one they heard slurring a women." Neelix commented. "A woman who is working herself into the grave to restore Voyager, I might add. And if you can make that sort of off-hand comment about a friend what do you say about the women you are not acquainted with?"

Tom groaned and walked out of the mess hall feeling far more sorry for himself than for what he had said to B'Elanna. But of course he knew of he didn't try to make amends he would never get a piece of tail for a very very long time.

Harry Kim the patron choir boy of Voyager grew more concerned for his friends. It had started after the drone Seven of Nine had been separated from the Collective. The young Asian saw B'Elanna pull more into herself. She displayed more of the growling klingon front and lapsed into nightmarish flashbacks of her time in the death camps of Cardassian occupied space. Tom on the other hand was as insensitive as always but when Torres pulled further away from them, Paris began acting as if he was the deliberate target. His wounded "feelings" - in truth, ego - had gained him the company of one or another female crewmember for the night on previous occasions until they realized they had been played. Tonight in the mess hall it was fortunate that B'Elanna had shown her anger by slamming her tray in the recycler and not her fist into Tom's jaw.

He hoped for B'Elanna's sake she would just crawl in-between the welcoming sheets of her bed and sleep for the next twelve hours. She deserved it after pulling a triple shift and a double before that. As for Tom Paris, Harry hoped his best friend would get his head out of his ass and start acting like there were people on the ship that mattered more than him. Tired himself from a series of long shifts which to his mind were a trifle compared to those undertaken by the Engineering crew he stifled a yawn and headed back to the bridge to take ops.

His sympathetic mind always wavered to the lost soul in the brig. Seven of Nine frightened him. Oh not in the pedestrian Borg terror but for the terror in her own eyes. Actually eye since the other had once been an ocular implant. She put forward such a cold exterior it was almost like trying to have a nice discourse with the ships computer. What terrified Harry was that a living human could be so tormented, so conditioned she didn't see herself as a single entity but as a part of a whole, and without that whole she was nothing. Without that whole she believed she could not survive.

"You have the heart of a marshmallow you know that Harry," Tom said as if he had heard Kim's inner monolog, as they entered the turbo lift together.

Harry frowned.

"Don't tell me you actually feel sorry for that toaster? She and her kind killed billions."

"Assimilated," Harry lazily corrected.

"Same thing, their heart is dead, their spirit is dead. They are just animated corpses with wires. Chakotay did the others a favor by blowing them out of the airlock. And I'm not the only one that agrees we should do the same with that bim-bot in there."

"Nineteen-forty three on Earth my maternal ancestors were in an American internment camp. They were 'reeducated' by the system because they looked Japanese. My family is Chinese. They came over and helped build the 'white-man's' railroad and then made their home in San Francesco. After Pearl Harbor my ancestors had to face atrocities because they 'looked' like the enemy.

"My Grandmother told me stories she had been told by her grandmother and so on of how 'white' boys would hurt our ancestors because they were better off dead than alive. They weren't considered by these men to be human anyway; they were 'gooks'. The enemy," Kim turned on Paris, his dark eyes glinting in anger. "Next time you want to subjugate a person because they were in a situation they couldn't help but be in and didn't volunteer for… you better start thinking of what humans did to other humans first. Chakotay is a fascist contrary hypocrite. He should know better so don't go using him as your poster boy for what is the right action."

"Harry…"Tom truly looked crestfallen and ashamed.

"B'Elanna's right, Tom. Piss off."

Harry remained mute as he watched his friend head hung down get off on the next deck. Kim was loath to speak as he did but what happened in the mess hall, what had happened during the past couple of weeks had him on edge. He hated to be so coarse but sometimes a person had to vent. Thankfully he would have a few hours of work to take his mind off the turbulent problems his two closest friends and himself had found themselves in.

Hours passed between lunch and the late evening tête-à-tête between the ship's resident morale officer and a young woman whom he loved.

Kes was radiant. Neelix had always thought that but of late she was even more so. The halo of golden mane falling in cascading curls around her shoulders. She was beautiful and angelic sitting in the dim half light of mess hall. Neelix as momentarily struck how magnificent his former lover was. This shaken awe was transferred into his voice when he spoke.

"Talaxian champagne, moon-ripened," he held up a black bottle and two champagne flutes. "Your favorite." He popped the cork and began to fill the glasses.

Kes's lips pulled into a truly delighted smile. "Neelix, where did you get this?" The moon-ripe grapes used to make the sparkling wine glowed in shimmering silver before turning golden amber.

"I put a bottle away for a special occasion," a smile burst on the spotted face. In fact he had five other such bottles stashed away in cargo bay two. He knew he would never again share another toast with his dear sweet Kes. For the moment however he would enjoy his time with her. Oh how he loved her so. "Remember when we last sipped this together?" He lifted his glass watching the bubbles rise to the surface and pop much like his pain in the knowledge his Kes was going to leave them soon.

"Three years ago," her voice soft and tender, bubbly like the champagne. "It was when we first arrived on Voyager."

The man continued to smile. His voice almost sing song in lilt as he spoke again. "And do you remember the toast I made?"

Kes' blue eyes sparkled as she pulled the memory of that long ago day to the forefront of her thoughts. "Yes. To the adventure," she lifted her glass for Neelix to toast against. Which he did with the same smile despite the blinking of eyes at the tears that threatened to fall.

"To the adventure."

They each took a sip of the deliciously tangy and refreshing sparkling wine. After swallowing, Neelix averted his gaze to the bubbles in the champagne before resting them on Kes. His voice a husky whisper filled with emotion. "When you left Ocampa you said that your people were being held back. That if you were only given the chance you could become something so much more."

There was no mirth in the smile on Kes's elfin face. Though what she was feeling couldn't be expressed as sadness either.

"And you have," Neelix finished his thought.

"I don't think things have worked out exactly the way we planned," her voice as ever was satin on velvet.

"I was only holding you back," this time he swallowed his broken heart. "That's obvious to me now."

"No," Kes denied firmly. Her free hand reached across the table and took the spotted larger appendage of the Talaxian into her own. "I couldn't have come this far without you! And I love you. I always will." The words were not a simple platitude. She meant them with all her heart. "It's just, erm…" her own eyes now filled with tears.

"My cooking," Neelix offered quickly trying to smile but failing miserably. "You've always hated my cooking," his voice now freely quivering.

Kes giggled softly allowing the feeble excuse to lift the somberness that descended. "That's exactly what it was."

They were both silent for a moment each staring into the amber of the champagne.

"Ah. So tell me more about what's happening to you." He pulled at his whiskered nervously hoping he didn't sound as intrusive to her ears as he had to his own. "What's it all mean?" He was more concerned than curious.

Blue eyes danced. Not in apprehension but in pure wonder and bliss. It was an expression that made the Talaxian leery.

"I don't know, and that's what makes it all so exciting." Her mouth pulled back into a wide smile of pure delight. "It's as if I can see into a place where the distinction between matter and energy and thought no longer exists."

Neelix was lost in her explanation, as he could not grab what it was she was referring to. Or perhaps he simply didn't want to.

"And that's only the beginning," Kes went on. "I feel as if all the boundaries within me are about to fall away."

Always the diplomat, Neelix tried to sound supportive when he in truth was anything but. No he was racked with fear married to ignorance. "It sounds ah, sper, ah, interesting." It was the only thing left in his mind to say.

The Ocampan either didn't pay attention to her long time friend and once lover's nervousness or she truly didn't see it. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say she didn't want to see it. Didn't they understand? Didn't any of them know? Tuvok her beloved mentor, Kathryn who was as a mother, and dear Neelix. Dear sweet Neelix. How couldn't they not rejoice and celebrate with her? Perhaps if she could just get Neelix to comprehend the wonder of what was happening the others would too.

"I only have to look at an object, to gaze at it and I can begin to see that the space between the atoms is being filled with something else." She tried to explain by showing her former lover precisely what she meant by her words.

As they had with the meditation lamp Kes' eyes glazed over dilating. Neelix thought for a moment they had gone white like the eyes of a blind woman. The glass of moon champagne bubbled not from the carbon dioxide in the wine but from the frantically dancing molecules. She didn't squint her eyes but opened them wider staring at her target with all her inner will. Her mind spiraled into the spaces past the subatomic levels.

Before her the space blazed with wondrous colors beyond descriptions, beyond definitions.

Neelix opened his mouth gaping. The table wavered in molten dermoplastic.

"Er, Kes." He was still in a state of shock.

"I can see them," Kes' voice had a far away quality to it, almost euphoric. "I can see."

Neelix swallowed a mammoth bout of gripping fear as the table, floor and now walls started to waver as a turbulent ocean. "Kes!" He wanted to reach her but he dare not move for his former lover. "Stop!"

Kes didn't hear the desperation in the friendly voice. She only heard disapproval and the threat of parental disappointment. She would have none of it. It was exhilarating! She wanted to soar into this new world. "No. Neelix!" Defiance.

Several decks above. Harry Kim stared at the readouts on his kiosk. None of it made any sense to him. It was as if some sort of energy was picking apart the hull on the subatomic level. This was not good.

"Captain, I'm picking up some strange energy readings from deck two, the mess hall."

Gunmetal gray eyes tilted into the compression of a frown. "Bridge to Neelix. What's going on down there?" she gave allowance for the chef come morale officer and ambassador to respond. But a full forty-five seconds passed and still no immediate response. "Neelix, report." This time there was no uncertainty to the voice of command.

From behind her the captain heard the voice of her Ops Officer. "The bulkhead in that section is coming apart."

"Increase the structural integrity field to deck two," Chakotay spun in his chair pinning the ensign with a searing look of force. On an inner personal level Chakotay couldn't help but wonder if that impotent Borg drone was somehow to blame for this as well.

Janeway was already up and out of her command chair and accelerating toward the turbo-lift. "Tuvok."

In an instant the Vulcan security chief was at his captains' side.

The scene that unfolded before them in the Mess Hall was nothing short of dramatic majesty. Kes was upon her knees, her arms outstretched above her head as if to receive some divine blessing. This image was reinforced by the fact this elfin woman was aglow in golden light. The halo emanated not from the heavens but from her own body. Around bulk heads, floor, tables and chairs waved as if they were water or rather rippled like the surface of a pond disturbed by the tossing of a stone.

Before any word could be issued from Janeway's mouth Kes slumped bonelessly to the floor. Now freed from the power of Kes' deliberate tampering with its particles the Mess Hall righted itself back to its normal unmoving state. But like that pond with the stone, it would never be the same again.

Three very concerned figures convened in the aquarium like elliptical office of the Chief Medical officer. The only other person in sickbay was lying still on a diagnostic bed with her hands neatly folded over her abdomen her elfin face at rest. A halo of wheat gold hair splayed about the pillow in gilded masses.

"I've run every conceivable neural analysis. Everything short of dissecting the brain itself." Photonic eyes looked over the prone figure of his patient before turning their attention to the diminutive woman before him. "Her telesynaptic activity is increasing but I don't know why, or how to stop it."

Janeway pursed her lips into a fine drawn line fraught with concern and tiredness. She did not speak not even to answer the Doctor's next question.

"Have the ship's internal sensors revealed anything?"

It was Tuvok that spoke. "For seventeen point four seconds Kes's body went into a state of cellular flux. She began to destabilize at the subatomic level." His voice might be monotone as any Vulcan but there were the undercurrents of someone much concerned over pupil and would be daughter.

"Then for some reason her atoms re-established their bonds and she was back in one piece." Janeway finally spoke. Her own eyes expressing guarded need to protect not only her ship but this lost young woman.

"But what about the next time?" The doctor voice took on a keen edge of worry. He imagined Kes coming apart like the meditation lamp or champagne flute. "Her condition is escalating. We must find a way to suppress it or the last we'll see of Kes could very well be her molecules blowing through the ventilation ducts!"

The very thought was so disconcerting in its possibility Janeway blanched. Kes' condition… her metamorphosis was far more dangerous than her becoming something other than Ocampan. She could as she had the tables; bulkheads and glassware in the mess hall or the bulkheads, fire and meditation lamp within her own quarters do the same to the entire ship. And do so without intent but without regard as well. Kes was willful and playful with her new found abilities. It had been like this before a year ago when the young woman first found she could expand upon what she knew under the misguided instruction of Tanis.

The Ocampan people lived at most nine years, Kes was now three. Tanis had been fourteen when he crossed paths with Kes. He had even claimed his father had been twenty. This alone was unheard of and it was enough to tempt Kes. Under Tanis' instruction Kes started down a darker path in the use of her psionic powers. He had in truth opened her eyes to telekinesis and telepathy giving her a taste of what she could be and could do. Destruction certain at her whim at her will. So far they had only seen ill-advised exploration of power and no control. Tuvok advised caution with Kes needing to explore what she could do.

Janeway's expression hardened. "Tuvok, enhance the structural integrity fields throughout the ship. If she has another incident I'd like to avoid a hull breach." Blue eyes never lifted from the figure in the other room, the grim expression on her face softened but didn't fade as she drew out the next words. "Doctor, maybe it's time we broaden our horizons. This appears to have gone beyond medical science. We're into particle physics now."

The physician didn't want to agree, he was loath to admit this was beyond his ability to heal, to help this young woman. He had been there for her during her elogium, the strange spontaneous puberty all Ocampan went through. In a matter of a week, Kes had gone from adolescence (despite the fact she had the body of a twenty-year-old human) to a woman. What took humans tens years Kes suffered in seven days. Three of which she spent trying to convince herself and her then lover Neelix to have a child.

Now Kes was undergoing another rapid change and this one far more life altering than puberty.

"I'll try looking through the quantum substructure database. Maybe it'll give me some inspiration." His voice was as hollow as his matrix.

Janeway straightened her tunic preparing to leave sickbay. "Keep me informed."

The Doctor watched both Tuvok and the Captain leave sickbay before turning his full attention back to the young woman now on her feet wandering the confines of the chambers as she always did. She could have been a talented doctor. Her mind had been a sponge soaking up and assimilating the medical databanks. She appreciated straight forward facts when it concerned medical information served up with a dose of good bedside manner. But he didn't have answers to give, and he hated it.

The Doctor almost had a crestfallen expression. "Kes, until I can devise another diagnostic procedure you're free to return to your quarters."

"Actually I'd like to stay here, help with the research." Kes gave a soft warm smile. Her face a glow with the inner warmth she always carried.

The bald man shook his head, "I don't want you to overexert yourself and risk precipitating another telepathic incident." He patted her hand as if to dismiss the inner demons of ignorance of the situation. "Try to get some rest."

Kes would have none of it. She fought back her own tears. She knew, she knew that her time with her friends, her family, with Voyager was limited. "Just let me stay for a little while." The words hung in the air heavily, placing an elephant in the corner. "I haven't seen you much over the past few days." She smiled again. "I miss you."

He didn't have a true larynx but all the same he felt the photons tighten in his throat. "All right, just for a while." He handed her a data pad he had been studying.

There wasn't a single thing anyone could do about the changes Kes was undergoing and the changes overcoming the hapless drone were at least something the Doctor could tackle, it was tangible and just as important. For the past five days Seven of Nine had been locked away in the Brig. Fortunately she hadn't needed treatments but there were signs that her body was rejecting more implants.

Three long days.

She was alone. No voices of the Hive. Nothing. There was nothing but emptiness. Who was she? What was she? Seven of Nine Tertiary Adjunct Unimatrix Zero-one? Annika Hansen? No she wasn't anyone, anything. She wasn't Borg. She wasn't human she was nothing.

Three long days she had paced the cell, ignoring the stares of her captors. She had been given rations but they were left untouched. For now her Borg implants were sustaining her but for how long? They were going to fail soon, Seven knew it. Perhaps there was a way to accelerate the process of her deactivation.

It was too much, too little.

Everything was so wrong.





Three days of confinement and Seven felt lost to the void, to the chaos. She was nothing now. She wasn't even relevant enough to the Queen, to the Hive for them to come for her, to rescue her. She wasn't relevant enough to Janeway for her to speak to her about the pragmatic ideals of humanity. She was nothing.

Desperately Seven wanted bring forth her deactivation this was no way to survive. She would have to find someway to deactivate herself. Her one active eye stared at the forcefield. There! Yes there was the way. The humans had ripped apart her implants making her impotent but she was not without resources. The humans had taken her from the Borg, but Seven would not allow them to keep their trophy.

Janeway left Sickbay for the Bridge.

There was so much before her that needed her attention. So many things weighing on her shoulders. Kes and her changes, Seven and her own metamorphosis. Chakotay's little prodding's about Seven was growing weary on the Captain's nerves and then of course there was the still malfunctioning warp core. To top it off they were still in Borg space. It seemed for the moment however that the bargain struck was with the Borg was solid. There were no sign of Cubes anywhere in vicinity.

Janeway rubbed her face with her hand just a moment before the com-panel chirped at her. Striking it a little harder than she meant to the Captain barked out a command to speak.

*Ensign Ayala to the bridge.*

The Borg… Janeway heard the note of fear in the young man's voice. "Go ahead, Ensign." 'Oh why can it never be easy…'

*You'd better come down to the brig, ma'am. * The fear was overlapped with apprehension and nervousness.

Janeway winced hard at the prospect of what was awaiting her several decks below.

Part 14

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