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 4

The Queen wasn't the only one to be hyperaware of events going on outside her immediate area.

Kes had been working in sickbay with the doctor on modifying the nanoprobes to work as an antivirus against assimilation when she buckled at a sudden flash of Harry screaming in such agony. Faltering, overwhelmed by the vision of searing pain the tray of phials she held dropped in a pop of clanging metal and transparent aluminum phials. She was only vaguely aware that someone else was holding her up.

"Kes...?" the soft voice of The Doctor touched Kes in a balm in her panic that had threatened to seize and immobilize her. "Kes?"

Straining the elfin-faced Ocampan managed to find she had a voice, "Harry's in danger..."

"What are you…?" The Doctor started to question

"Get them out of there!" Kes pleaded.

"Sickbay to Janeway." The EMH responded knowing if Kes had a vision of Harry in danger than it must be true. She had had precognitive visions before and all of them came to be, there was no reason now to think this wasn't going to be one of them.

"Janeway here."

"Captain." Kes's voice betrayed her fear, "You must get them back. Please they are in terrible danger. Harry…" She wept, "Oh Captain you have to hurry."

Both Chakotay had Tuvok still investigating the inner-realm of the bio-ship when they heard the strangled urgent voice of Ensign Kim calling out.

Their response was immediate and without question, both dashing for the opening between the two vessels. Harry was standing where they had left him near the distribution node his tricorder still taking readings.

"There's someone in here with us... and it's not a Borg." He tapped a few keys on the pad of the tricorder, "can't localize it... but it's within twenty meters..."

"Perhaps the "pilot" has returned." Tuvok suggested.

*Voyager to Away Team.* Janeway's voice startled them all as it piped through their com-badges.

Chakotay was first to tap his, "Go ahead."

On the bridge Janeway had taken her customary captain's chair flanked by B'Elanna at ops and aft Engineering. But her gray-blue eyes had kept their vigil on her young friend. Kes was distraught, her body rigid with fear of what she had seen.

"Stand by for transport. We're getting you out of there." Her voice betrayed nothing of her deep concern for both the away team and Kes. But anyone looking into her eyes would clearly see the depth of her concern. Only the command mask held anything back that wasn't professional.

*Good idea.* Chakotay said in an almost too-eager voice.

"Energize." Janeway commanded the hybrid Klingon.

B'Elanna easily hit the controls at ops then frowned as it chirped almost defiantly.

She tried a few more times before reporting her failure to comply. "I can't get a lock on them."

"What's the problem?" Janeway hadn't meant for her voice to come out as icy as it had.

"It looks like bio-electric interference... from whatever's coming toward them." B'Elanna answered. Her own frustration seeping into her voice. Her dark eyes turned for a moment towards the Ocampan trembling near the captain's side. Whatever it was the young woman had seen had terrified her into near hysterics.

"I'm going to try a skeletal lock."

"A what?" Janeway had never heard of such a thing: was it even possible?

"Skeletal lock. Scanning and locking onto the minerals of all tissue in the body. I just came up with it, but it might just work."

"Do it."

The away team on the decks of a Borg cube that had been destroyed by something beyond anything the had encountered before B'Elanna couldn't blame the elfin woman for her fear. In fact she shared it. Pushing aside the mocking voices of what a true Klingon warrior might feel in this time of danger B'Elanna strove to somehow by-pass the interference and get her people home.

Though somewhere in her mind her mother's voice came to her 'Only a fool has no fear and boasts about it, a true warrior is one that has fear and faces danger regardless. A warrior can only be brave if there is something to fear.' Those were the words of Kah'less himself. Having been given spiritual permission to feel her fear by the savior of the Klingon race anger washed from B'Elanna replaced by determination.

Over the comm the bridge heard the unidentified scraping of metal on metal, the slap bang of raw meat over metal. B'Elanna repressed a shudder at the imagined thought of the corpse of the away-team being dragged by zombie-Borg. Her hand froze for a second when a shriek pierced through the communications array into the Bridge speakers.

Chakotay's voice shouted over it, *It's within seven meters... let's get out of here!*

Janeway clenched her fists knowing that badgering B'Elanna wouldn't get the engineer to work harder or faster than she already was. She could only listen as she heard the sounds of her people running down the labyrinthine corridors of the dead Borg cube.

*Oh my god!* he heard the voice of young Harry Kim gasp.

Kim had slid to a halt; his eyes could not fathom what it was he was seeing. It could not be true! The creature towered ten feet, maybe more, its spider like limbs cramped in the narrow corridor, it was something of nightmare, something small children knew that lived under beds and in their closets at night, things that crept out of terror. Demons. Demons that ate Borg!

The big warrior quivered in the small metallic, strange place, his rage boundless. It couldn't breathe the air in this over heated sweltering place of discord. He hated it. It resented having to wear the breath mask, resented the hard-shelled prey that came for it, hurt it. Prey had one function, the same as any other species to serve the hive, to feed the hive its essence.

They were a perfect organism, with only one true function. Its structural perfection was matched by only its hostility. The hard-shell prey had come for its perfection and met its destruction instead.

Warm-blooded oxygen breathers. He could see the color of its exhalations even through the barrier of its breathing-mask. He could see the color of its red blood laces with tiny metal machines through its pale veins, analyze its chemistry. He could gauge its weight, its muscle mass its ability to resist. He knew how strong it was, how weak. He could see the color of its emotions, where it was hot or cold, and where it felt pain or fear. He could see it felt fear of the warrior. But it was not enough. The hard-shelled prey did not feel enough fear.

But the soft thing, the tiny soft prey radiated fear. So much it poured from its fleshy hide like the an intoxicant. Rage. Hate. It screeched, lunged slashing with its fury propelling the soft thing back hard against the floor. There it should have moaned its dying warm breath but it did not. It sparked out of existence leaving the warrior to scream its rage as its prey was taken.

"I got them!" B'Elanna cried out triumphantly.

"A "skeletal lock" we'll have to add that one to the transporter manual." Janeway took pride in her officer's achievement in circumventing the radiant energy of the new alien lifeform.

"Captain!" Tom's voice cracked as if here a teenaged boy instead of a man.

Janeway spun around eye eyes drawn to the view screen in time to see the bio-ship leaching on the Borg cube begin to shimmer in incandescent colors. Angry. Turbulent. Pure rage.

Kes gasped a strangled sound at the images flashing, raping her mind. Alien faces, distorted elongated, gnarled and filled with unadulterated rage. They were looking directly at Voyager. Directing their rage at the new interloper. The scream in Kes' mind was enough to send her floundering back against' the First Officer's chair, bonelessly slumping against it.

"Get us out of here - maximum warp!" Janeway didn't hesitate barking the order as she bent to pick up the fallen Kes and placed her in the commander's chair.

Pairs was just waiting for the word he had already punched in the code to warp out of the area all he needed was the command, given it he hit the console perhaps harder than he intended. All he wanted to do was run.

Run they tried. Fleeing the Borg graveyard as fast as the small scout ship could. But not in time to escape a whip-like tendril of crackling energy slung at them from the bio-ship. Powerful and devastating it would have rent Voyager in half had she not the maneuvering capabilities of a shark.

Tom managed to narrowly miss being hit, but he wasn't fast enough to prevent the backlash of the wake. Voyager spun out of control like a child's top. The entire ship shuddered violently, klaxon wailed loudly as if harnessing everyone's fear into one long siren blast. Hands clutched at anything to hang on as not to go flying off into the bulkheads.

Paris desperately tried to gain control over the vessel, Torres frantically trying to keep shields up converting all none essential power rerouted in order to keep Voyager in once piece.

What seemed like hours in reality only seconds had ticked away before the tailspin whipped out and Paris had Voyager under control one more, he hit the command for warp once more.

Seconds ticked into minutes, before the crew allowed itself to breath.

Janeway moved again for Kes, kneeling before her, taking the smaller woman's hands into her own, "Kes?"

"I could hear its thoughts... the pilot of the bio-ship it tried to communicate with me." The dominative elfin woman concentrated on the images that had flashed in her mind trying to make sense of the impressions. "They're a telepathic species... I think I've been aware of them for some time now... the premonitions..." She flinched at the rage she felt coursing within her from the aliens. "Captain, it's not the Borg we should be worried about... it's them." Her voice drained in the terror she was feeling.

"What did it say to you?" Kathryn softly commanded.

Kes looks at her almost blankly, couldn't they hear? Couldn't they feel? It was oh so loud, so clear. But only Kes had touched it, had felt it and felt the drain. "It said. 'The weak will perish'."

Another vessel fell to Species 8472; the drones aboard the cube had been unsuccessful in assimilating as well as defeating the nemesis. Somehow the Federation crew had been transported off the cube, which was something the drones had been unable to do. Species 8472 had rendered the multiphasic shielding impotent.

They had also managed to out maneuver the EM weapons aware in a manner the bulkier cubes were unable to perform. Cubes were not constructed for maneuverability but strength, power and conquest. Only the smaller spheres and the Diamond could match the Federation's scout vessel.

If the Borg were to defeat species 8472 they would need Voyager. The dilemma was they needed the crew to be independent in order to function against the fluidic aliens. The Collective had not prevailed but the chaos had stymied species 8472, species 3259 was proving to be a very beneficial curiosity.

The Queen kept the cubes from coming within sensor range of the Federation vessel and apparently species 8472 had not hunted it down as of yet. The leader…captain of species Five seemed insistent in the futile course of traveling the zone of quantum singular flux, it would not belong before species 8472 destroyed it. This was not acceptable the Borg needed the distinctiveness small vessel's capabilities to fly it into fluidic space to destroy the enemy.

The Collective would have to insure the Federation vessel was not obliterated first. Seven of Nine Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One had come to the same conclusion as the Queen. While the Queen was One of Many, Seven had access to a minimal amount of individuality; enough to be able analyze alien technology and designate its best function for the Collective. This was why she was a part of the Queen's Unimatrix. Beyond this she had no distinction from any other drone. Free will, a moral compass was something no drone had or deemed relevant.

While the Borg do not necessarily have a hierarchy as it is known there are elevated station minus the pride one might have if fully aware of the elevation or 'rank' as it were. Seven of Nine's mind was one with the Hive Mind, it concurred the acquisition of the Federation Starship Voyager was paramount, but not to the extent of traveling in the Flux. Voyager would simply have to be stopped and informed of its futile efforts.

"Captain's Log, Stardate 50984.3. It's been twelve hours since our confrontation with the alien life form. There's no sign that we're being pursued... and we've had no further encounters with the Borg. I've decided to hold our course. The "Northwest Passage" is only one day away... and I won't allow fear to undermine this crew's sense of purpose. even if that fear is justified."

Setting down the data-PADD on the top of her desk in her ready-room Captain Kathryn Janeway felt as if she had been gnawed by a rabid dog and thrown in between a rock and a hard place to be buried alive.

Rubbing her eyes in a futile effort to alleviate the pressure building up in her sinuses all she could think of were the cryptic words the bio-ship pilot had said. 'The weak shall perish.' On top of that the Borg's best line 'You will be assimilated, resistance is futile.' Taking a breath Kathryn let it out slowly. 'Yep Katie…you're fucked.' Shaking the dread from her mind, Janeway slapped on the command mask, left her ready-room to make her way down to sickbay all the while giving encouraging looks to any crew member she passed.

They all trusted her to get them out of this place, to get them to safety. It was a burden she alone had to carry despite Chakotay's words she wasn't alone. Taking a deeper breath than the one she had sucked down in her ready-room Janeway boldly, confidently entered the confines of sickbay.

Not once did her mask fall at the very sight of young Harry Kim. He lay on the surgical bed eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling in the unfocused manner of a man believing he is already dead. The pain in his chest drove deeper each time he tried to take a breath. The agony lessened slightly if he took shallower breath but he could not stave off the sensation of suffocation.

And it was no wonder the young man felt as if he were drowning. The wound on his chest was covered with the alien tissue. Strange, thin tendrils wrapped around his torso and neck and face like a python which tapered into worm-like strands to enter his nose and throat.

The EMH had been standing next to the operations officer but at the entrance of the captain he left the quarantine force-field, strode past the security detail standing guard near the confinement area should Harry Kim become rabid. Not that the Doctor had tried to discourage the security officers but apparently they were following standard regulations and would not be moved. Janeway was disinclined to order them away either.

Joining Janeway at a discreet distance away from Kim the Doctor lowered his voice to near conspiratorial levels. "The infection is spreading. What began with a few stray cells contaminating the chest wound... is now infusing every system in his body."

"It looks like he's being transformed in some way." Kathryn didn't even try to mask the concern in her voice; her eyes betrayed the fear she had for the young man lying so utterly motionless on the bio-bed.

"Not exactly. It has all the dramatic hallmarks of necrotizing faciitis – a flesh eating bacteriological infection which will consume most of his liver and will attack all of his other organs before it terminates his life... The alien cells are consuming his body from the inside out. In essence, Mister Kim is being eaten alive."

Janeway eyed Kim, disturbed. "He's still conscious." Kathryn was a little astonished her crew member would be made to suffer like this. At least sedated he wouldn't feel his body being... consumed. He would feel fear.

"I tried giving him a sedative, but it was rejected immediately. In fact, every treatment I've tried has been neutralized within seconds." The doctor moved to a diagnostic computer monitor and keyed in one of the controls that would show a microscopic view of the alien cells with its accompanying technical data.

The cells as far as the layman could see were similar to human blood cells, but they were in constant, violent motion, agitated, the cell membrane itself luminescent. "These are alien cells. Each one contains more than a hundred times the DNA of a human cell. It's the most densely coded life form I've ever seen. even I would need years to decipher it."

Janeway eyed the technical data with a jaded expression and yet she continued to study out of morbid curiosity. "They have an extraordinary immune response. Anything that penetrates the cell membrane... chemical... biological... technological... it's all instantly destroyed." She drew in a long conclusive breath, "That's why the Borg can't assimilate them."

The EMH agreed with the assessment. "Resistance in this case is far from futile. Nevertheless, I believe Borg technology holds the key to saving Mister Kim."

"How so?" Janeway allowed hope to enter her tone. Her eyes for a moment settled on the young man lying on the bed slowly dying. If the Borg could save him without losing him to the Collective, Janeway would order it done.

"I hope to unleash an army of modified Borg nanoprobes into his bloodstream... designed to target and eradicate the infection. As you know, I've been analyzing the nanoprobes... they're efficient little assimilators... one can't help but admire the workmanship. But they're no match for the alien cells. So I successfully dissected a nanoprobe... and managed to access its re-coding mechanism. I was able to reprogram the probe to emit the same electrochemical signatures as the alien cells. That way, the probe can do its work without being detected. Observe."

He entered a few more commands and the monitor blinked onto a new screen showing a very recognizable Borg nanoprobe. Janeway watched as it maneuvered in to the frame of the scope and began to latch onto and assimilate a few alien cells, turning them dark

and oblong.

Continuing from his earlier speech, the Doctor spoke once more. "Unfortunately, I've only created a few prototypes. I'll need several days to modify enough nanoprobes to cure Ensign Kim."

Skeptical and yet clinging on to hope Kathryn dreaded the answer to her next question. "Does Harry have several days?"

"I wish I knew." The photonic man answered his voice soft and disheartened that he couldn't give a more reassuring answer.

She nodded. The Doctor kept working. Janeway walked past the surgical bay... glanced at Kim, who was lying awake. Kim's eyes looked into hers. He was obviously conscious and aware... but could not speak.

"Fight it, Harry." Her voice was soft and even loving, tears stinging her eyes "That's an order." How she hated the inability to do anything, to stop this pain her ensign was in. How she loathed the creature, the monster that had done this to him.

Harry couldn't respond, couldn't nod his head, he could barely blink away the tears falling from his dark eyes.

At the same time Janeway made her way into Sickbay Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres and Commander Tuvok reported their discoveries to Chakotay. The three of them hovered over a monitor in the aft section of the Bridge where both tactical and operations as well as two science stations were located.

It had taken nearly twelve long hours but B'Elanna had finally been able to crack the Borg encryption codes and which enabled her to download the Borg Data distribution nodules into the ships main library. She scrolled past screen after scene of star charts, species data until she pinpointed one file specially. "We've analyzed the Borg's tactical database. They refer to these new aliens as "Species Eight Four Seven Two."

"Over the past five months, the Borg have been attacked by them on at least a dozen occasions. Each time, they were defeated... swiftly." Tuvok aided.

"Collective has very little information about the species." B'Elanna shock her head disconcerted she had not been able to give up more information. For all the tariquads of information the Borg had on species, quadrants, sectors, worlds and technology much of which B'Elanna hadn't been able to decipher the data on species 8472 was considerable lacking. And somehow she felt a affronted as if she were to blame for small contribution she had been able to deliver.

"Is anything known about where they come from?" Chakotay asked.

It was never good when the Chief of Security and Tactical shared a look of what could only be concern with the Chief of Engineering. Make it very bad when a Vulcan actually shares the look of deep concern with a hybrid Klingon.

"I'm afraid so." B'Elanna sighed out reluctantly. She turned her attention back to the terminal, typed in a few commands in the kiosk to open up a new screen for display. "You're not going to like this."

All hope fled from the First Officer. Grimly, he gave his next order. "Get the Captain."

The vortex was like sailing through a nebula, murky green atmosphere blocked all view of stars giving the area a distinct watery appearance. It was as if Voyager had plunged into an algae infested swamp rather than a region of space. Swamps carried varieties of micro-organisms and in the like the alien ships came in various shapes and sizes of their tiny cousins. At least a fleet of thirty alien ships converted in the immediate area, moving and pulsating with a bio-electric luminosity.

For this very reason red alert with all hands at battle stations had been issued but the sirens had on the bridge been muted. Tuvok waited at the ready for any order from his captain, Shields were already up and weapons on line. Paris looked tense at the helm ready to snap. B'Elanna had been ordered to take Ops despite the very qualified crew from beta and gamma shifts who were on stand-by.

Janeway and Chakotay on their feet both too filled with too much tension to remain seated for more than a nanosecond watched the viewer in dismay. Kes too had been summoned to the Bridge for her unique sense of the aliens.

"The 'Northwest Passage'." Janeway's voice became bleak.

Borg or necrotizing-faciitis aliens.

Dozens of ships in each armada. Going around the area would add on another hundred years to the voyage and as Janeway had said very distinct possible dangers and the opportunity they had now would be lost. They were fracked no matter which option they took.

"It's clear of Borg activity for a very good reason." Chakotay echoed the Chief's words from an hour ago.

"I'm picking up one hundred and thirty-three bio-ships," the Vulcan said. He tried to deny he felt as if he had just served Voyager notice of its death warrant. "More are appearing."

"From where?" Janeway demanded

"They seem to be coming from a quantum singularity."

"I'm localizing the gravirnetric distortions." Torres quickly announced having anticipated her captain's next order.

"On screen." Chakotay said.

Attention was drawn back to the main-viewer from the mucky vortex of space to a vast undulating fissure gaping open in space. Spewing from its canal a bio-ship emerged as if the fissure had just given birth to it, then another and another.

In the flashing crimson glow of red alert, the crew of Voyager starred opened mouthed. Concern etched its way deeply into each brow, Human, Klingon, Vulcan alike watched as the future was about to end.

Janeway felt the flesh on her arms, on the nape of her neck prickle; 'You are probably taking all of these people to their deaths and you to your own… if you are all lucky.' The image of assimilation flashed in her mind not the Collective but the necrotizing aliens. At least as a Borg there was still life, still a chance to come back. Locutus had come back to Picard, Chakotay had been returned…

"Kes... anything?" Janeway would not turn away from the screen.

Kes opened her self up, her mind reaching touching at last sensing the aliens. "Yes... I can hear them..." Her eyes wide but unseeing she watched another probe-ship soared past in the vortex. She propped deeper, forcing her mind to slip into the mind of the alien. She watched as its hand moved over one of the control modules on a kiosk on its bridge. Her mouth worked but no sound came out, her mind too occupied by taking in all the impressions, trying to articulate them into fathomable speech.

"They come from a place where they're alone... nothing else lives there."

"Some kind of parallel universe." Chakotay suggested. Even to him his voice sounded wooden and hollow.

"I don't know." Kes's own voice was as much of a contrast to the First Officer's as the Borg cubes were to the bio-ships. A sudden moment had her shuddering, her face repulsed and lined with deep fathomless fear. "I feel... malevolence... a cold hatred..."her voice was quaking, "The weak... will perish... it's an invasion... they intend to destroy everything!"

"Tom... reverse course, maximum warp. Take us five light years out and hold position." Janeway didn't even hesitate her command was uttered at the speed of light itself.

"Aye, Captain." Paris had no qualms in obeying that order in fact he would have been happy to add on another hundred light years to the distance.

Janeway's head only turned slightly to her Tactical Officer, "Maintain Red Alert."

Janeway considered the shocking discovery, then headed for her Ready Room. Over her shoulder she addressed her First Officer in a crisp demanding tone. "Commander."

Once they entered the Ready-room Janeway moved to the upper railing of the two level ready room making Chakotay take the 'lounge' area and look up at her. She quickly spun around focusing her command gaze on him "That moment we spoke about... it's here." Once more her voice was full of authority and yet requesting his counsel. "Any thoughts?"

"Just one. Flying into that corridor would mean certain death." His tone of certainty was warranted.

"Agreed. The "Northwest Passage" is no longer an option. So now the choice is between facing the Borg in their space... or finding ourselves a nice planet here in the Delta Quadrant... and giving up on ever getting home." Her voice was one of anger, despair and deep biting frustration.

"We'd be turning around, but we wouldn't be giving up. We might find another way home..." Voyager's First Officer commented in a way that informed Janeway that would be exactly what he would be doing if he were in charge instead of her.

But the words sounded hollow. They both knew that it was unlikely. Janeway started pacing, not willing to give in. It was an option but not one she was willing to take unless there was absolutely no other recourse. She was a scientist there was always something, always a way. You just had to discover it and make it happen.

"I'm not ready to walk onto the Bridge and tell the crew we're quitting. I can't do that. Not yet." Her voice was strong determined almost challenging the former Maquis Captain to refute her. "There must be an alternative."

A somber moment passed between them Chakotay knew he would never get her to do what he wanted in her current state of mind. When Kathryn Janeway dug her heels in it was easier to nail jello to the wall than to have her change her mind. "Kathryn." He addressed her by name so he could take the conversation to a personal level. "You haven't slept in two days. Try to get some rest, clear your head. We're safe, for the moment." He knew he was pushing her and if he wasn't careful she would become iron footed and not budge from her course. His next words were chosen with deliberate care. "We can tell the crew tomorrow, if we have to."

Janeway looks at him pensively knowing he was right she hadn't slept in two days, and the coffee was beginning to churn her stomach. Besides she needed time to digest what she had seen and heard, time to develop an alternative to flying Voyager into certain death or giving up altogether. There had to be a way. Finally she nodded to her XO.

"See you in the morning." She watched as Chakotay made for the exit with a troubled expression. Something of his words had set wrong with her. Or maybe she was just tired.

Being tired doesn't necessarily mean one sleeps. Kathryn had kicked off her boots but had left her uniform on as she tried to doze in her bed. She had remained battle–ready at least in dress and that might have been a convenient excuse for her lack of ability to sleep but no… that wouldn't be the truth.

Apathy—that was the greater evil, Janeway knew, for an indifferent force is more to be feared then one whose heart burns with honest hate. Apathy; it stretched out before in infinite rows of faces austere flesh-in-metal faces, body after motionless body, in a grey-green metal sea of life - only the singular voice of the Collective.

A great Hive of drones sleeping dreamlessly in their chambers, moving as insects, generating cubical ships not of creativity but out of instinct. Janeway had called them the Devil and not because it was good versus evil, because the frustration, rage because the Borg saw the fury of their victims, felt their darkest rage, saw their hatred and simply didn't care. That was the bitterest part - that this enemy could be so heartless, so cold that violent hatred of them did not… could not touch them.

'This is a force I can never engage, for they will never care enough to return my hate.' Janeway thought bitterly. '' Species 8427 at least hates us; they at least feel rage and loathing. The Borg simply did not care enough to hate, and so could never truly be hurt.

I just hope they can be bartered with because I'm laying our souls on the line. If they don't hate, they don't hold a grudge, Katie.

Exhaling a large breath of air, Janeway flung back the coverlet, stomped her feet into her boots and headed out of her quarters.

There was simply no way she was ever going to sleep. Not tonight. There were of course other options to settle her mind. She needed to talk out the problem but not with the First Officer or her old friend Tuvok. But someone with a keen mind. A mind that was able to think outside the box. A mind far far ahead of its time. A mind that was still ahead of the twenty-fourth century.

It wasn't long before Kathryn was standing before the holodeck one. "Computer -activate Da Vinci workshop program, Janeway seven."

Gone was the sterile white bulkheads of her beloved Voyager, before her now was a darkened workshop lit by candle and oil lamp light... the flickering shadows lent an almost dream-like mood to the scene. Janeway moved further inside. Here she could breathe.

"Maestro?" Her voice smokier than normal given her weary state. With no answer Kathryn moved ever so slowly though light and shadow and serenity filtered into her body. Still not finding the Renaissance Master she called out once more. "Leonardo...?"

Rounding a shelf of manuscripts she spotted her quarry sitting staring at a wall. He didn't move, didn't acknowledge her presence so fixed on something Janeway couldn't even begin to guess. Whatever it was was almost as troubling to him as her own dilemma was troubling to her. Cautiously Janeway stepped closer and only then did Leonardo take notice of her presence to come out of his reverie, but only a little.

"Catarina... buona sera..." he started to speak in is native Italian. He hadn't moved from his spot his gaze unwavering.

Janeway's eyes attempted to follow his gaze - but he appeared to have been staring at the blank wall nearby. Frowning she turned back to the hologram, clearly puzzled, "Am I disturbing you?"

Leonardo did not answer the question. Instead, he indicated the wall. "What do you see?"

Ever analytical Janeway considered the question before she answered his unexpected questions and musings. Having used this program in the past she had become accustomed to the master's multi-layered inquiries. It was why she was here after all. His insight was unique. The matrix had been conceived from the diaries and codex of his work, from the reports of others and from the philosophies of his works. What was before her was a full and accurate depiction of the man that had lived more than two thousand years ago. Kathryn Janeway was picking the mind of Leonardo Da Vinci.

"A wall... with the light from a lamp reflecting on it." It was the truth it was what she saw, but not of course what her maestro had seen. "Why? What do you see?"

Da Vinci pointed vaguely to the dancing shadows willing his scientific apprentice to see through his eyes. "A flock of starlings... the leaves of an oak... a horse's tail... a thief hanging from a noose." He smiled from under his heavy woolly beard and mustache. He pulled himself out of reverie long enough to turn his speculation into a lesson. "And a wall. With the light from a lamp reflecting on it." His wasn't mocking her but musing. He rose now and moved to the wall, turned so now he was watching his 'apprentice'. "There are times, Catarina, when I find myself transfixed by a shadow on the wall, or the splashing of water against a stone... I stare at it, and hours pass... the world around me drops away, replaced by worlds being created and destroyed by my imagination." He paused taking a breath, "A way to focus the mind."

How accurately he had worded her own dilemma. Her eyes stared at him in awe and wonder. If she didn't know better she would say this hologram was telepathic if not empathic. She turned back to the shadows on the wall and its dancing shadows. For a moment shoe could almost make out vague shapes of the 'Northwest Passage' the necrotizing aliens and Borg.

"There's a path before me... the only way home. And on either side, mortal enemies bent on destroying each other. If I attempt to pass between them... I'll be destroyed, as well. But to turn around. that would end all hope of ever getting home." Her gaze turned back to Da Vinci waiting for his assessment. His thoughts. Hoping he would see something she hadn't just as he had with the wall with light reflected off of it. "No matter how much I focus my mind I can't see an alternative."

Somehow Leonardo knew his Catarina was from another world, another place and time, and he knew she was seeking answered to something greater than he had ever encountered. She had come to him seeking his guidance, his wisdom. "May I suggest... that you turn to the Divine." sometimes when all hope is gone the Divine was the only answer.

She looked at him with skepticism, her blue eyes now ice gray reflected the fact she was not satisfied with the 'just pray about it' answer.

"When one's imagination fails to provide an answer... one must seek a greater imagination. There are times, when even I find myself kneeling in prayer." He admitted gently. He picked up a foot-tall object wrapped in muslin. "I must deliver this bronzetto to the Monks at Santa Croce. Come with me... we will wake the Abbot visit the chapel and appeal to God." He had never once in the running of the program offered to take her with him.

"Somehow, I don't think that's going to work for me." Her voice was saddened. She had hoped his unique visions would set her to a path of enlightenment; give her an answer she could work with. In her mind she had come to the divine. Her eyes turned from the master to the light dancing against the wall. For a moment there was almost a sinister demonic haze to it. In the negative space created by flickering shadow, the captain could have sworn she had seen the shape of a box. This time Da Vinci's words and the shifting patterns give her an idea.

"But there is an alternative I hadn't considered. " She turned back to Leonardo. "What if I made an appeal... to the Devil?"

That was clearly something - the hologram of Leonardo Da Vinci reacted, had not anticipated in fact it down right startled him by his apprehensive remark and was utterly unsure what she meant by it. He stood transfixed as the beautiful Catarina moved for the door of his workshop.

"Thank you, Maestro." With that she was gone out the door.

'Seven of Nine Tertiary Adjunct Unimatrix One.' The Queen's voice was sultry, soothing as she purred in Seven of Nine's ear. You will report to Cube Seven-Three-Nine-One. Species Eight Four Seven Two has penetrated Matrix Zero-One-Zero, Grid Nineteen. All data reports the Alpha Quadrant vessel will survive the alien realm. They must penetrate interdimensional rift.'

This of course had been previously analyzed now the Borg's hypothesis was theoretically possible to the margin of ninety-seven point eight percent of success. The Borg had no weapon as of yet that could neutralize their enemy but the Queen, the Collective didn't find it relevant.

'Species Five-Six-One-Eight are most persistent and consistent in their chaos and contrary behavior. The life of their 'drone' will inspire them to create a way to undo what Species Eight Four Seven Two has done. We must assimilate their discoveries just as they confiscated our distribution node. You will be dispatched with a contingent of tactical and secondary assimilation drones to fulfill this directive. We must negotiate with the lesser of two chaotic species. Comply.'

Part 5

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