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She Who Hesitates is Lost
By Lisa Countryman


Chapter Five: Home Sweet Home

Seven pushed the shuttle door open with her foot and then let B’Elanna go through first. Torres leaned out and paused, holding her hand up to keep Seven behind her.

"Wow, nice driving, Seven." Torres leaned back in and smiled.

Seven followed Torres out of the door and looked out over a vast valley full of evergreen trees that were hundreds of feet tall. She looked behind the shuttle at the exposed ground that stretched out for almost a mile where the shuttle had crashed through the dense forest, then she turned to the front of the shuttle itself. The entire front end was caved in and there were huge pieces of the structure torn away.

"Our survival was…unlikely." Seven touched the dented alloy, then jerked her hand back from the friction-heated metal.

"Yeah? Well, I say any landing you can walk away from is a good one." Torres turned and looked around the forest. "Looks like we won’t have to worry about a welcoming party. I say we try to set up a transmitter to contact Voyager."

Seven looked at B’Elanna suspiciously. "That could prove to be difficult given the lack of communications components and given the fact that Voyager will not even be looking for us for at least four more days. Our more pressing concern is survival."

"Oh, all right," Torres said with a dramatic huff. "But I’m telling you right now that I hate camping. I’d be much happier playing with circuitry then playing campfire girl."

"Playing? I do not believe we should be wasting our time playing."

"Oh, shut up and find some firewood, Seven." Torres retrieved the tricorder and then went into the forest and began scanning the area.

Seven frowned and leaned against the shuttle and watched as Torres walked in circles, scanning and rescanning the area. After several minutes she went inside and began cataloging the supplies they had.

Nine hours later Seven had a huge roaring fire built in front of the shuttle wreckage. It looked more like a small forest fire than any control burn. Torres came out to check on the inferno for the third time.

"Seven, I said start a fire, not burn down half the forest. What are you gonna’ have left to burn tomorrow?" Torres moved closer, holding her hands out to warm them against the cooling night air.

"Perhaps you would prefer to freeze to death," Seven responded as she used a branch to push a large rock into the flames.

B’Elanna ignored the comment and stared into the flames and then looked up at the night sky. It was filled with brilliant stars and two moons, both only half full. "I rigged the energy converter with the solar panel. It should hold you until Voyager finds us."

"If they find us. We should prepare for the possibility that they may not rescue us." Seven moved around the fire pit and pushed another rock into the flames.

"Yeah," B’Elanna said quietly. "We should get some sleep so we can get an early start tomorrow."

"I will be in shortly. Have you noticed anything on the tricorder scans?"

"Nothing except a few small animals. I think the bigger critters must have been scared off by our landing," Torres said. She moved around the fire next to Seven and watched her push another rock into the flames.

"Critters?" Seven asked without looking up.

"Yeah, animals." Torres pointed at the rocks in the flames. "What are you doing with those?"

Seven smiled and gave B’Elanna a sideways glance. "I believe the temperature will drop considerably tonight…and you requested that I avoid a cold landing zone. I will bring the heated rocks into the shuttle to increase the temperature."

B’Elanna smiled, and blushed. "Thanks." She turned and went inside, hoping Seven hadn’t noticed her reddened cheeks.

"No," B’Elanna yelled at Seven. "Why should we build a cabin when we have a perfectly good shuttle to sleep in?" Torres took a bite of her ration bar and rested her head on the large boulder she was stretched out on top of.

Seven stepped away from the downed tree she was stripping and stalked over the B’Elanna. "Because the shuttle does not have enough insulation. It is designed for the short flight from orbit to the ground and half of the fuel cells were allocated to heating the interior. We will freeze if we do not build more efficient shelter."

"Efficient? Oh, that’s the Borg I know and love," Torres yelled as she jumped off of the rock. "How many Borg log cabins have you built? Or did you just assimilate them?"

Seven glared at Torres and moved closer to her until their chests were almost touching. "I am not a Borg. We have been here three days and it is obvious we cannot communicate with anyone on the surface let alone in orbit." Seven stepped closer pushing Torres back into the rock she had been resting on. "It is entirely possible we will not be rescued. We must build a shelter before the winter weather sets in."

"Back off, Borg," Torres growled, pushing Seven with both hands.

Seven picked her up by the collar of her uniform jacket. "I am not Borg. If I were, you would be a drone or dead," Seven said through clenched teeth and tossed Torres off to the side.

B’Elanna took a deep breath and prepared to attack, but then looked at Seven’s arrogant features and noticed something else; she saw pain. She stood in place and studied the tall blonde. Seven had her hands clenched, the knuckles gone white, and her jaw was trembling.

"Seven?" B’Elanna said gently.

"What?" Seven said without looking up.

"I know you’re not a Borg. I was just angry." Torres edged closer to her volatile companion.

"Anger is irrelevant. Your opinion is irrelevant." Seven turned away.

"Okay, I tried," B’Elanna said as she turned and walked back to the log Seven had been stripping of branches. She kicked at the pile of bark Seven had already peel off. "You gonna’ use this for kindling?"

"Yes," Seven answered, still not turning around.

B’Elanna began gathering up the bark, the closest thing to a peace offering she could think of.

"B’Elanna?" Seven asked without turning. She was looking out into the dense tree cover and her voice sounded small and alone.

"Yes?" B’Elanna asked as she continued with the bark.

"The men in those cities? The ones Malok spoke of?" Seven said in a whisper.

"Yeah? What about them?" Torres carefully put the bark into a small pile and studied Seven’s back.

"Malok said…any offspring would be beamed up with us," Seven said. "He was referring to unwelcome sexual advances and the possible children from those couplings, was he not?"

"Yes, he was." B’Elanna stood and moved a few steps closer to Seven.

"If those men had… attacked me, would you hate me?" Seven asked, so quiet that if Torres hadn’t been focused on her, she wouldn’t have been able to hear.

"No, of course not, Seven." Torres moved closer and put her hand on Seven’s shoulder and eased the taller woman around so that she could look at her. "Why would you ask that? Seven, I would never blame you for that."

Seven lifted her head and looked into B’Elanna face. There were tears sliding down the former drone’s alabaster cheeks. "The Borg took me against my will. I had no choice. Every time you call me ‘Borg’ or ‘drone,’ you remind me that you have not forgiven me for being attacked."

B’Elanna felt like someone had thrown her out an airlock. She felt like all the air was ripped from her chest and just looking at the pain on Seven’s face felt like a dagger being plunged into her stomach. It had never occurred to her that Seven felt such pain from her assimilation. Now that she heard the words, she wondered how she could have ever missed it. The pain on Seven’s face was so intense, and obvious, even under her thinly veiled attempts to look emotionless. She saw in Seven’s face her own attempts to hide her own shame from growing up a "half-breed" that was never accepted by either race.

"Seven, I… I never knew." B’Elanna closed her eyes and rubbed her ridged brow. "Geeze, I know how stupid that sounds. I… I’m just sorry."

"I did not tell you this to receive an apology, only to clarify as to why the situations are different," Seven said sincerely.

"They’re not different. And I promise you, I won’t forget that." Torres pulled Seven back toward the downed tree. "Come on, let’s get back to work on that log cabin."

After eight days of back breaking work the shelter was not finished, and there was still no sign that Voyager had come looking for them. ‘The Homestead,’ as B’Elanna had decided to call the small cabin, overlooked a deep blue lake and a rolling green valley. It was almost finished. Seven had used chunks of the hull plating and fashioned them into axes. The walls of the cabin were double thick and packed with a one foot thick layer of mud and insulation from the inside of the shuttle walls. B’Elanna had suggested using the shuttle’s thin insulation to add to the cabin’s walls and Seven had quickly volunteered to salvage the itchy material from the hull.

B’Elanna warmed her hands as she stood next to the small fire in front of the budding cabin. They had a lot of work to do before the structure would be a shelter, but she needed to do another parameter survey. She wanted to make sure there weren’t any other prisoners in the area. She looked over at Seven, who was using a sharpened piece of hull plating as a makeshift plane, slicing off layers of wood to get the lumber to conform to her ‘master plan’ for the cabin. That in and of itself was rather comical, making B’Elanna smile at the picture of a Borg carpenter, but there was more. Seven was singing, almost as if she was doing it unconsciously. The sounds of her melodic voice carried across the meadow and would have been quite awe inspiring if she hadn’t been singing one of the Doctor’s favorite ditties.

"Seven," B’Elanna said as she walked over to the beautiful blonde. "Can’t you sing something else?"

Seven stopped, the words to "I’ve been working on the railroad" dying on her full lips. "You do not like my song selection?" she asked as she looked up from the wood shavings littering the forest floor at her feet.

"Do ya’ see any railroads?" B’Elanna asked as she swung her arm in a wide arch.

"No…" Seven said slowly, "However…I am working." She glanced over at the evidence, a stack of perfectly formed boards, each one shaved to within a centimeter of perfection.

"Yeah, well," B’Elanna said, suddenly feeling uncomfortable as Seven studied her. Seven’s deep blue eyes seemed to look beneath her skin, directly into her soul, and it made the Klingon nervous. "Can’t you pick something that seems…relevant to your situation? I heard enough of that song from the Doctor… although I like your version much better," she said before she could stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth.

"Thank you," Seven said and then blushed. "I will try to choose a song more to your liking."

"Umm, you’re welcome," B’Elanna said. She was mesmerized by the blush moving across Seven’s skin like a wave, not just her face, but down her neck and plunging under the fabric of her biosuit. B’Elanna wondered how far down the color managed to spread, and then realized Seven was looking at her. It was B’Elanna’s turn to blush. "I should get going."

"You will be careful?" Seven asked. She sounded genuinely concerned, as opposed to the smug, condescending tones B’Elanna was used to hearing from her on board Voyager.

"I will," B’Elanna promised.

Seven stood and went to pick up a small pack that was sitting next to her. "I packed a nutritional supplement for you consisting of nuts, berries, and two ration bars," Seven said as she held out the package. "I also including an emergency blanket."

"Thank you…" B’Elanna was stunned by the gesture. "I… I shouldn’t be gone more than a few hours, but this is… wow. Thanks."

"You are welcome. I didn’t want you to be caught unprepared. I am however, glad that you will be… back before nightfall." Seven said. She had to stop herself from calling the small encampment home.

B’Elanna laughed as she secured the pack to her waist. "Don’t worry, I’ll be here to keep you warm." B’Elanna suddenly blushed anew. "I mean… I…"

"It is all right," Seven assured her. "Your Klingon physiology does make your body heat… desirous. I was uncomfortable sharing our heat at first but it does seem most…efficient."

"Yeah, efficient little heater. That’s me," B’Elanna said as she headed off into the forest, escaping while she could. ‘My Klingon physiology does more than make me put off heat,’ she thought as she moved quickly through the trees. ‘It also makes me want to do more than share heat with you,’ she thought of the previous night. ‘I want to generate some heat of our own.’

As B’Elanna moved through the trees, she remembered the night before. She and Seven had both been shivering despite the large heated rocks Seven had moved in to warm the shuttle. Finally, Seven got up and came to B’Elanna’s bedroll and settled next to her, spooning her from behind. B’Elanna thought her heart was going to beat out of her chest. She had known she was attracted to the exdrone for some time, but in that moment, in the near darkness, she could feel Seven’s skin before they ever touched, as if B’Elanna’s body was calling out to Seven’s. She had asked Seven what she was doing, and Seven had slid under the blanket next to her, replying, "Conserving heat." Seven had no idea how much heat she was generating with the press of her lanky body against B’Elanna’s more compact form. It took several hours for B’Elanna to fall asleep, the distraction of Seven’s sighs and sleepy groans had made B’Elanna want to roll over and take the former Borg into her arms. It took all of her willpower to stop from doing just that.

B’Elanna made her perimeter sweep around the valley in a few hours and the sun was high in the sky when she returned to the cabin site. As she neared the meadow, she heard Seven’s voice echoing across the grassy hillside. She had taken B’Elanna’s words to heart and was singing something else. It was a song B’Elanna was unfamiliar with, but she was taken by it none the less. She made her way through the dense forest and found herself being as quiet as possible, as if disturbing Seven would have been a terrible crime. She crested the last hill to see Seven standing at one end of the cabin structure tying off boards that would become the rafters. The exdrone was singing as she worked, occasionally stepping back to inspect her handy work, but never losing her perfect pitch. B’Elanna leaned against a tree and enjoyed the scene.

Seven continued working, tightening the ropes as she sang the chorus. "I want to lay down on your shoulder, just inside your arms," she sang. "I wanna listen to you heartbeat and your breathing on and on. I want to lay down on your shoulder, surrender to your peace… and go to sleep." Seven moved to the pile of wood and picked up a large board, struggling to lift it, but kept singing. "After we’re gone a million miles. Made true our dreams with sweat and bone. After we build it up… with our bare hands. Made strong a place we can call home…"

B’Elanna wondered what had inspired Seven to choose that song. Was it their experience the night before? B’Elanna had awakened in the night to find Seven snuggled on top of her. Seven had been mortified when she woke up a few minutes later. She jumped up and apologized profusely. B’Elanna had chalked it up to the fact that Seven hadn’t ever slept next to anyone and had naturally sought out the warmth and comfort of another body. Now she wondered if the unconscious gesture had a deeper meaning, that Seven might have feelings beyond friendship.

B’Elanna shifted her weight, causing a small branch to snap.

Seven turned, her eyes flashing and her expression angry. "Do not ‘sneak up’ on me," she yelled, obviously embarrassed. "You have accused me of being rude…and yet this behavior is exactly what you instruct me to avoid." She fell back into full Borg mode as she slammed a board into place over the doorway.

"I didn’t mean to sneak up on you," B’Elanna said, although she had been quite stealthy in her approach. She went to Seven and tried to help her lift one of the larger boards. "It was beautiful," she said quietly.

"It was… a reflection of my mood," Seven said, and then realized what the admission sounded like. "I am…tired, and require sleep."

"Oh, I see," B’Elanna said, not buying the excuse for a second. "Why don’t you go take a nap. This isn’t a Borg cube. I don’t expect you to work yourself into the ground."

"Into the ground?" Seven asked as she clenched her hands, trying to relieve the cramping in her fingers. "Borg cubes have no ground." Seven shifted the board, trying to get it to drop into the notch she had carved into the rafter.

"I meant, don’t overdo it," B’Elanna said. She knew full well that Seven understood. She was beginning to get a handle on the exdrone’s dry sense of humor.

"I see," Seven said as she made sure the board was in place before letting go. She stepped back and absentmindedly rubbed her sore palms.

"Did you hurt yourself?" B’Elanna asked, pointing at the exBorg’s hand.

"It is nothing," Seven replied. "We have much work to do before nightfall."

"Let me see," B’Elanna insisted. She grabbed Seven’s hand and pulled it to her. Seven held her arm firm, throwing B’Elanna off balance. "Come on, Seven. Just let me have a peek."

"I am fine," Seven said as she relaxed her arm and let B’Elanna examine her. She uncurled her fingers and revealed bloodied blisters covering her fully human palm.

"Kahless! Why didn’t you say something?" B’Elanna exclaimed. She tugged Seven toward the first aid kit just inside the area that was going to be the cabin’s living room. "This must hurt like hell."

"My pain is irrelevant. We must…"

"Not to me," B’Elanna shouted, making Seven stop mid-sentence. "Damn it. Do you think I want you hurting?" She lifted Seven’s hand and blew on the bloodied and overheated skin. She could smell the blood, mingled with sweat and thought of her Klingon heritage. This was considered a romantic aroma, and yet the thought of Seven’s blood made her chest ache. She didn’t like the idea of anything hurting the exdrone. She wondered when her feelings had shifted toward Seven; her animosity was gone, replaced by concern. Perhaps she had always been attracted to her, and just hid it beneath Klingon hostility.

"Lieutenant?" Seven asked after a few minutes. She was enjoying the sensation of B’Elanna’s warm hand cradling her injured appendage, but was becoming distracted by B’Elanna’s warm breath over her sensitive skin. Seven identified the emotion that went with the sensation. She was becoming aroused. She had to make B’Elanna stop immediately. The way the Klingon was pursing her lips and gently blowing on her palm was extremely distracting, as if she were frozen in mid-kiss. "I fail to see the medicinal value of your action," Seven finally managed to say.

"Huh?" B’Elanna looked up and realized what she was doing. She had been caressing Seven’s hand while blowing across the injured area, leaving the dermal regenerator sitting on the ground. "Oh, yeah. I…needed to make sure there wasn’t any sawdust in the wound," B’Elanna explained lamely.

Seven raised an eyebrow, letting the Klingon know that she didn’t quite believe the excuse.

"Hold still," B’Elanna said as she healed the injury. Once finished, she continued holding Seven’s hands in her own. She turned them over repeatedly as if checking for any missed blisters.

"I believe I am fully healed," Seven said, though she was reluctant to lose contact. She liked the way B’Elanna’s higher Klingon temperature made her hands feel as if there were nimble infernos dancing over Seven’s skin.

"Oh, yeah." B’Elanna released Seven’s hands, instantly missing the weight of her willowy fingers. "From now on, stop when you get a blister and let me heal it."

"I will," Seven promised. If the tender treatment was standard procedure, Seven hoped she got many more blisters.

Two more days passed without incident, and the two women continued to sleep curled around each other at night. Neither mentioned it, but both felt passions awakening toward the other. Both were too afraid to mention their budding emotions, certain their feelings were not returned.

The sun rose from behind the mountains in the east, and B’Elanna stopped her work on the cabin roof to watch as the golden light broke over the summit. She found the difficult work strangely rewarding, and while it didn’t involve schematics or warp cores, there was a great deal of engineering involved in designing the cabin. B’Elanna had insisted on a large fireplace in the middle of the structure. It opened on two sides, one that faced the sleeping room, and another that heating a small cooking area. The Klingon-human hybrid looked down through the rafters into the room below and watched as Seven concentrated intently on some project. B’Elanna smiled and leaned her chin onto her hand as she watched as Seven worked near the hearth. After several minutes, Seven stopped and looked up at B’Elanna and caught her staring.

"Lieutenant Torres, do you require assistance?" Seven asked with a tiny smile as she shielded her eyes from the sun coming through the bare rafters.

"Ahh…no," B’Elanna said.

"You have quit working. Are you tired? I would be glad to take over for you." Seven stood up and went to the ladder they had crafted a week earlier. She grabbed a Starfleet canteen on the way and climbed the ladder with ease. "Are you dehydrated?"

"No," B’Elanna said. She didn’t want to admit that she had been simply enjoying watching her companion. "Just resting." Seven handed her the water and Torres took a long drink.

"If I assisted you, we could finish the roof by lunch," Seven offered.

"Thanks. That’s a good idea, then we can finish moving the rest of the supplies down from the shuttle." B’Elanna looked up the hillside at the shuttle. It was at the top of the ridge, and it would have been almost impossible to see were it not for the angry tear across the landscape their landing had caused. They had decided to build the cabin down by the lakeshore so that they could use the natural protection of the mountainside and would be close to an abundant water supply. B’Elanna turned back toward the lake and realized it was a utopian setting.

Seven sat on the roof and looked down at the lake, then at B’Elanna. She had been driven to distraction by the Klingon’s habit of striping down to her tank top while she worked in the sun. The sun was barely up, and already B’Elanna had been working three hours on the roof, long enough so that her arms were glistening with sweat and her muscles were pumped into sharp angles. It was most distracting.

"It’s very beautiful here," B’Elanna said.

"Yes," Seven said. "Although I believe the Borg would have found this planet unremarkable."

"Good thing we didn’t invite any Borg to our little party," B’Elanna said and then took another drink.

"Party, indeed." Seven raised an eyebrow. She looked down at the roof, and then turned to Torres. "I find that I am feeling a sense of…satisfaction as we near completion of the ‘Homestead,’ and yet, I would gladly leave it unfinished if Voyager were to arrive and rescue us."

"Well, it’s a damn fine cabin for two women who’ve spent more time in space than they have with grass under their feet." Torres handed Seven a stack of shingles. "You did a great job on these. I didn’t have the patience to cut them."

Seven seemed uncertain how to respond to the complement. "I am certain you could have managed." She reached for a handful of square nails from a pile near Torres. "These nails were an insightful invention."

B’Elanna laughed. "I didn’t invent nails, I just figured out how to slice up the deck plating and shape them. Now, let’s get to work. I can’t handle all this warm and fuzzy talk."

Seven nodded and they went to work, both distracted by thoughts of Voyager and why they hadn’t been rescued yet.


Chapter Six: The Food Chain

B’Elanna looked up at the finished roof and stretched her back. "Well," she thought, "if I can’t get back to Voyager, maybe I’ll have a career as a roofer." She rubbed her shoulder, trying to work out the knot that had been there for the past two days. She wondered what was taking Seven so long; she had left over a half-hour earlier to get fresh water. The lake was only five minutes away.

"Lieutenant," Seven whispered as she came running up the path from the lake.

"What is it?" Torres turned and saw that Seven didn’t have any of the water containers she had left with.

"There are large beasts at the lake, and they are coming this way," Seven said as she reached B’Elanna.

"Beasts?" B’Elanna didn’t like the sound of that.

"Large creatures, two meters at the shoulder and covered with thick fur. And they have large horns." Seven’s eyes darted around the camp area looking for some kind of weapon.

"Oh great," B’Elanna said as she dragged Seven toward the cabin. "Just what we need, company." She pushed Seven inside and then stood in the doorway.

"We should seal the door. If the creatures see us they will attack the structure." Seven paced the small room.

"Shhh," Torres said as she looked toward the lake. "Something’s coming." She watched as the trees along the path shook and a low rumbling sound proceeded whatever was heading toward the camp.

A large black animal came into view, followed by three white ones. They were four legged animals, slightly larger than Bison from ancient earth. B’Elanna studied them as they meandered up the path. Several more broke through the treeline and wandered around the camp before stopping to graze on the tender shoots of grass under the trees.

"Get back," Seven whispered. "They are formidable predators. Did you see their horns?"

Torres smiled and looked out at the grazing animals. They had three horns down the center of their foreheads, the largest on top and the smallest on the bottom between the eyes.

"Those are not predators," B’Elanna said as she continued watching the animals.

"What are they?" Seven asked as she edged toward the door. As a Borg drone she had little experience with large animals and found them somewhat intimidating.

"Dinner," Torres said with a feral smile.

"You cannot be serious. Those creatures will eat you alive." Seven pulled B’Elanna away from the door.

"Seven, those things don’t eat meat. They’re giant cows. You’re looking at a ton of hamburger on the hoof," B’Elanna said, remembering that Seven had actually enjoyed Neelix’s version of grilled burgers during Voyager’s summer barbecue.

"And how do you plan on killing it?" Seven demanded. "Simply walk up to it and ask it to jump onto a bun?"

"Uhh," B’Elanna looked out at the animals. They moved slowly around the camp, chewing lazily on the grass looking very much like cows, but their size was intimidating.

"I see," Seven said and crossed her arms over her chest triumphantly. "Shall I get the buns?"

"Oh, shut up." Torres flopped onto the floor. She reached over and pulled a piece of scrap metal over to her and began studying it.

Seven peeked out the door at the ‘cows’ and studied them. Once she knew that they wouldn’t devour her, she was curious about them. There were at least thirty of them around the cabin now, in many different shades from black to a creamy white.

"Lieutenant," Seven whispered, waving her hand to draw Torres over to the door.

"Seven, can’t you just call me B’Elanna? It’s not like we have a command structure here," she said as she turned the metal over in her hand.

"B’Elanna, come here."

"Fine," Torres said with a sigh and stood. "What is it?"

"There are offspring." Seven pointed at a group of young calves frolicking around the larger cows. One was a pale reddish blonde and its horns were just beginning to sprout. "That one resembles Naomi Wildman," Seven said.

"Hey, I could take one of those down with a crude knife," Torres said.

Seven was mortified. "You wouldn’t."

Torres looked at Seven’s horrified face. "Oh, all right. I won’t kill the one that looks like Naomi, but we need food, and I call this a nice delivery service."

"Are you certain we must kill them?" Seven asked.

"Seven, Voyager should have found us by now." Torres stared out at the herd of animals as she spoke. "We’ve been here almost two weeks, and I don’t know how much longer the ship will stay around to look for us."

"I have thought of that," Seven said quietly. "Perhaps we should prepare meat for long term storage."

"I figure we can dry whatever we can’t eat right away," B’Elanna said. "We’ll put it that large storage area at the back of the cabin. It would help if we had some dried nuts and grains, too." B’Elanna held the piece of metal out to Seven. "Think you could use that Borg tubule drill of yours to hone an edge on this for me?"

Seven took the metal and turned it over slowly. "I believe so, however there are other alloys at the shuttle that would be more effective. The hull plating at the front of the shuttle is duranium. It is much harder and will hold a sharp edge longer. Also, it will be less likely to break off should it strike bone."

"Can your tubules cut duranium?"

"Of course," Seven said.

"You’re just a regular Swiss Army knife." B’Elanna stood and wandered the small room.

Seven wasn’t sure what the reference meant, but thought it was a compliment. "If you mount a duranium point on a spear, you would have a weapon that could bring down one of the cows."

"I’ll do it. I’ll go out as soon as we have the spears made, and when I… when I’ve finished, you can help me bring the meat back."

"Is it safe?" Seven asked.

"Hey, it’s a cow. I’m a Klingon warrior. Do the math."

"Indeed. Perhaps I should accompany you," Seven offered.

"What? And have you naming the rest of the herd? I’ll be fine," B’Elanna promised. "Maybe you can take the tricorder and find some edible nuts and fruits."

Seven didn’t seem convinced, but then nodded. "I will give you four hours and then I will come find you."

"Eight," Torres said.

"Six," Seven countered.

"Okay," B’Elanna said and then wondered how in the world she was going to bring down one of the giant animals.

B’Elanna left the next morning at first light armed with four duranium spears. She followed the wide path left by the herd and tracked them to a huge meadow a kilometer from the cabin site. She watched the animals for quite a while before deciding on a small male that had moved off to a stream to get a drink. Her first throw hit its mark, cutting through his ribcage and bringing him down to his knees. She rushed the beast and used a long dagger to slit its throat and quickly ended its suffering. Seven had surprised B’Elanna with the dagger the night before. It was an amazing piece of cutlery, the blade as long as B’Elanna’s forearm, and honed to a razor sharp edge. Any Klingon warrior would have been proud to carry the blade, and B’Elanna noticed that Seven had taken the time to carve Klingon symbols into the hardwood handle. The handle was perfectly balanced and fit B’Elanna’s hand as if she had been born with it. It was a touching and useful gift, one B’Elanna already cherished.

As she skinned the animal she thought of Seven and how much she had opened up in the few short weeks. Torres wondered why she had never taken the time on board Voyager to get to know the complex and beautiful woman. "Beautiful?" she thought. "Man, I’ve got it bad. I’m gutting an six hundred pound steer and thinking how beautiful Seven is." She wondered if her attraction to her companion was obvious, and more importantly, she wondered if Seven was getting over Captain Janeway.

B’Elanna cut the animal into manageable chunks and then wrapped most of the meat in the hide. She used some fiber optic cables she had salvaged from the shuttle to hoist it into a tall tree and out of any scavenger’s path and then headed back to the cabin with as much meat as she could carry.

She reached camp and was surprised to find Seven still gone. Apparently she was still out collecting nuts and berries so B’Elanna began cooking a large piece of meat and smoking the rest. After another three hours, she was beginning to worry. B’Elanna was torn between being furious and being terrified. She was pacing when the door to the cabin opened.

"Where have you been?" B’Elanna yelled before the door was even halfway open. "You scared…" the words froze on her lips when she saw Seven. The blonde was paler than she had ever seen her and covered in blood.

"I found a predator," Seven said and then collapsed onto her knees. Her biosuit was torn across the chest with blood seeping through the material. Her leg had a deep gash and was leaving a trail of blood across the floor.

"Oh, my god." B’Elanna grabbed her and eased to onto the floor. "Where’s the medical kit?"

Seven looked up at Torres with glazed over eyes. "You are beautiful."

"Yeah, thanks, but where’s the medical kit?" she asked as she tore the damaged material away. She scanned the room and saw the kit and quickly retrieved it. "Hold on, Seven. What the hell did you run into?"

Seven’s eyes rolled back into her head and she moaned, struggling to stay conscious. "It was not a cow," Seven finally said.

"I never should have sent you out alone. This is all my fault." B’Elanna studied the deep wounds and gave Seven a painkiller, then began gently cleaning them. "I’m gonna’ have to used the muscular regenerator before I can heal the skin surface. Hold on."

"It is not your fault. Did you get a cow for dinner?" Seven asked.

"Yeah, I got a cow. Now if you just hang on, and I’ll cook you up a nice steak for dinner." Torres frowned when she saw how deep the gash in Seven’s leg was. The slice reached down to the bone.

"B’Elanna, the creature may have followed me." Seven tried to sit up, but fell back, the painkiller making her dizzy.

"Hold still. Unless you want one leg shorter than the other," Torres said as she mended the wound. "I’ll take care of whatever did this to you." Inside she was seething. Whatever had injured Seven was going to die at the end of the blade Seven had given her the night before.

"Big," Seven whispered, "with… sharp teeth." She passed out.

Torres sighed and finished healing Seven’s wounds. "At least you won’t have to feel this. Damn it, Seven. You went out to get nuts and berries; leave it you to hunt down something big with teeth."

Two hours later Seven woke up alone in the cabin.

"B’Elanna?" She eased herself up and noticed that her biosuit was in shreds. She stood and walked unsteadily to the door but before she could reach it, it swung open.

"Seven, how are you feeling?" Torres moved into the room; her arms were covered in blood, but she appeared to be uninjured.

"Where have you been?" Seven stared at the blood soaked fabric of B’Elanna’s pants.

"That thing won’t ever hurt you again." B’Elanna went to the small cooking area and took the pot of hot water off of the fire and began washing her arms.

"You killed it?" Seven demanded.

"Damn right, I killed it. Used that knife you gave me," Torres smiled up at Seven who was standing next to her.

"You could have been damaged." Seven grabbed her and began looking for any sign of injury.

"I’m fine," B’Elanna said with a smile. She picked a piece of flesh off of her arm and flicked it into the fire. "Yuck."

Seven pulled B’Elanna into a tight embrace. "Do not ever do that again. I could not… if anything had happened to you…"

"I’m fine," B’Elanna said, but she didn’t pull away. She actually enjoyed the closeness, and wondered if perhaps Seven returned her blossoming feelings. "Shh," she whispered as she pulled back and looked at Seven.

Seven reached out and gently touched B’Elanna’s cheek. "B’Elanna?" she whispered.

"Yes?" B’Elanna answered, her throat gone dry.

"I, may I? Can I…" Seven leaned down until her lips were almost touching B’Elanna’s.

"What?" Torres asked in a husky whisper. She was keenly aware of the feeling of Seven’s body pressed against her, the softness of their breasts molding together, the strength in the arms enfolding her.

Seven let her lips touch B’Elanna’s instead of answering her. It was a timid, tentative kiss, but she followed it up with a more aggressive touch, this time letting her tongue ease out and flicker across B’Elanna’s mouth. B’Elanna moaned and pulled Seven closer to her and deepened the kiss. She opened her mouth and welcomed Seven’s exploring tongue. Finally Seven pulled back and gave B’Elanna an angry glare.

"Don’t ever risk your life like that again," Seven said, but the effect of her words was greatly diminished by her hands roaming seductively down B’Elanna’s back.

"I won’t," B’Elanna promised and leaned in for another kiss. After several long, leisurely kisses, the half-Klingon pulled back again. "Wow."

"Wow, indeed," Seven said and then smiled. Her hands were still moving across B’Elanna’s back, learning every curve and nuance.

"I, didn’t know you felt, umm, felt the same way I do." B’Elanna reached up and pushed a strand of hair out of Seven’s eyes.

Seven pinned B’Elanna in her gaze. "B’Elanna, I believe I am beginning to falling in love with you." Her blue eyes were pale as ice, and showed the anxiety she was feeling.

"I think I am, too." B’Elanna cleared her throat. "I never expected this."

"Is it an unwelcome discovery?" Seven asked quietly.

"No," B’Elanna said. "It’s a very welcome discovery. I just don’t know where we should go from here."

"Perhaps we should…make love," Seven said and smiled coyly at the half-Klingon.

B’Elanna laughed and eased away from the tall blonde. "I don’t think we should move quite that fast." She studied Seven, wondering what possessed her to suggest taking things slowly. B’Elanna couldn’t deny the obvious attraction she felt for Seven.

Seven stuck out her bottom lip and looked like Naomi Wildman when she was pouting. "How fast should we move?"

B’Elanna looked at Seven and shook her head. She couldn’t believe how cute Seven was when she didn’t get her way, and only a few weeks earlier she couldn’t stand being in the same room with the woman. Perhaps the sparks between them had always been from repressed attraction. She knew that was how she and Tom Paris had initially interacted.

"Seven, have you ever been with anyone?" B’Elanna asked.

"No," Seven said. "But I am open to new experiences."

"You said you were beginning to fall in love with me, right?" B'Elanna moved back toward the cabin door with Seven on her heels.


"Well, your first time should be with someone you are in love with. Someone who loves you too." B’Elanna took Seven’s hand and kissed her knuckles. "Let’s see where things go, okay?"

"All right," Seven said and smiled at the way B’Elanna continued to kiss her knuckles.

"Now, we’ve got a giant cow to drag back here and smoke, and a big toothy whatever to deal with down by the lake. I think it’s some kind of bear, but I’ve never seen one with claws that long." She tugged Seven’s hand and pulled her out the door. "You up to walking?"

"Yes," Seven said. "I have recovered and can assist in the retrieval of the meat." She walked alongside B’Elanna, not releasing her hand until they reached the spears lying against a tree.

"Here." B’Elanna handed her one of the longer spears. "Keep your eyes open in case that bear thing has family."


Chapter Seven: New Feelings

Two months passed, and B’Elanna and Seven fell into a familiar routine. They woke up with the sun and had breakfast together, talking about their thoughts about dozens of topics. B’Elanna would go out and hunt for game, usually small rabbit-like animals that had tiny round ears and long hind legs. They would eat the rabbits as fresh meat, and about once every two weeks B’Elanna would hike out to the meadow to take down one of the ‘cows.’ The herd had stayed away from the cabin once they discovered the two humanoids were predators, but there were six large herds that roamed the valley. All of them came down each morning to drink from the lake and graze in the huge meadow. B’Elanna would kill and dress the animal and then Seven would come to help her bring the meat back. It took almost an entire week to dry the meat and even longer to tan the hide, but most of the labor involved slicing the meat and hanging it. After that, they only had to turn the meat while it smoked in the large shack that B’Elanna had built just for curing the meat.

Seven spent the early mornings collecting nuts and working with the various barleys and wheats she had harvested from the surrounding valley. She was using her own nanoprobes to bio-engineer a hardier plant with a fast rate of maturity, unfortunately, it still took far too long for her. In the afternoon, Seven would spend a few hours regenerating with the modified power converter. The solar panel didn’t provide as much energy as her alcove on board Voyager had, but it also didn’t have to power a comm station and a full database like her station on the ship had. She was taking in more and more energy from food, and the regeneration only had to power her Borg implants, but B’Elanna still checked the power converter everyday to make sure it was working at peak efficiency. The Klingon also made a point of finding something to do at the Homestead while Seven was regenerating. She was never more than ten feet away from her companion while she was unconscious during the process. Even though they had set up the small device inside the cabin near the hearth, she wasn’t going to risk Seven being attacked.

Each day the two women grew closer, they had not moved into a sexual relationship yet they had become increasingly more comfortable with each other. B’Elanna had never considered herself an overly affectionate person, but she found herself drawn to Seven in a way that was completely new. Anytime she was around the lanky blonde she felt the need to touch her. Seven seemed to feel the same way, constantly touching B’Elanna’s waist when she eased past her in the confines of the cabin, or just wrapping her arms around her from behind when they would watch the sun set. B’Elanna felt cherished, and it was a new and welcome feeling, one she never had the entire time she had dated Tom.

"Good morning," Seven said as she came out of the cabin. She walked over and sat next to B’Elanna on the long bench they had set up looking out over the valley. Their bodies seemed drawn together, Seven’s leg pressing against B’Elanna’s as soon as she relaxed.

"Yes, it is," B’Elanna said and leaned against her companion.

Seven wrapped her arm around B’Elanna and leaned over and kissed her temple. "Are you going hunting?"

"I was thinking about taking a day off." B’Elanna snuggled into the embrace and ran her hand over Seven’s top. It was made of leather from one of the cows, the golden colored suede a pleasant contrast to Seven’s pale skin that peeked through the leather laced opening. Seven’s biosuit had not survived her encounter with the large bear.

"I have been perfecting the barley," Seven said. "I believe I have solved the problem of the extended growing season. Perhaps you would like to assist me?" Seven asked. The truth was that she loved spending time with B’Elanna no matter what they were doing.

"I’d like that," B’Elanna said and then kissed Seven on the cheek. "Maybe later we can go on a picnic."

"Acceptable." Seven blushed, something B’Elanna found endearing. "I have altered the dermal regenerator, I think I may be able to use it to accelerate the growth of the barley."

"Really?" B’Elanna thought the idea was brilliant. "So can we look forward to some Borg barley for breakfast soon?"

Seven smiled, she had grown comfortable enough with her companion and herself to engage in gentle teasing. "Perhaps, if you behave yourself. Otherwise I will be forced to eat it myself."

"Lucky Barley," B’Elanna said and stood up. She turned and offered her hand to Seven and helped her up.

Seven smiled and led the way to the makeshift nursery she had set up near the curing shed.

The dermal regenerator ending up working better than either had expected. By lunchtime they had a six by twelve-foot area of barley that was ready for harvest. Seven was leaning over the barley waving the regenerator over the shorter stalks, deeply concentrating on providing the perfect amount of assistance to the smaller plants.

"Hey, time for lunch," B’Elanna said as she wrapped her arms around Seven’s waist. Seven shifted to one side causing them both to tumble into the waist high barley.

"You are not behaving yourself," Seven said as she rolled over and pinned B’Elanna to the ground.

"Did I tell you how brilliant I think using that regenerator is?" B’Elanna pulled Seven’s full weight onto her enjoying the intimate press.

"Four times." Seven smiled.

"Seven?" B’Elanna stared up into Seven’s eyes; they were dark blue and sparkling the way they always did when she looked at B’Elanna. It was a color no one on Voyager would recognize since it was her passion for the Klingon that had darkened them.

"Yes?" Seven was lost in B’Elanna’s deep brown eyes.

"I love you," she whispered uncertainly, terrified she was rushing Seven.

Seven’s lips trembled, and her eyes began to tear up. "I love you, too." She leaned down and kissed B’Elanna with complete abandon. Soon they had rolled over and smashed the rest of the barley.

B’Elanna laughed as she picked a stray piece of barley out of her mouth, not quite knowing how it got there. "We’re crushing all your hard work."

"I do not care," Seven said as she continued kissing B’Elanna.

"Okay, this is one way to bring in a harvest." She rolled Seven over and began unlacing her top, eager to reach her full breasts. Her hands were shaking, making it difficult to loosen the leather laces, but finally she was able to slide her hand through the opening. The leather was soft and the earthy smell filled her nostrils, but Seven’s skin was softer. B’Elanna moaned when she felt her lover’s breast heavy in her hand and warmed by the contact with the leather.

Seven arched into B’Elanna’s hand wanting to increase the contact. "B’Elanna," she whispered.

"Call me Lana," she answered as she squeezed Seven’s breast and kissed her throat.

"Lana…" Seven smiled, liking the way the shortened name sounded. She moved her hands down B’Elanna’s back and began lifting her shirt. Their kissing continued and Seven managed to get her hands under the thin fabric of B’Elanna’s tank top, her hands migrating to her breasts.

"Inside…cabin," B’Elanna gasped. "Now."

Seven didn’t seem convinced and she continued her gentle massage of B’Elanna’s breasts. When B’Elanna sat up, Seven seized the moment and tore off the Klingon’s shirt and took her bra covered nipple in her mouth and pressed B’Elanna back down into the fresh barley.

"Oh, god." B’Elanna guided Seven’s hands to her bra and they tossed it aside.

Seven stared openly at her lover and then began kissing her hardening nipples.

"Inside the cabin," B’Elanna said even as she moaned at the contact. She was a romantic, but the barley was poking through her pants distracting her, and she didn’t want any distractions when they made love for the first time.

Seven pulled back, her eyes wild and darting over B’Elanna’s exposed body. She took the half-Klingon into her arms and carried her to the cabin continually kissing her neck.

Once in the cabin, Seven kicked the door shut and let B’Elanna down. She turned to lock the door and felt B’Elanna tugging at her top. Seven turned back, smiled at her shorter lover, then peeled off the leather shirt.

"You’re beautiful," B’Elanna whispered. She moved closer until their bare chests came together with an almost electric touch. "I love you," she whispered into Seven’s mouth as their tongues met. They stumbled to the bedroom and B’Elanna eased Seven down onto the pile of blankets and furs and crawled down beside her.

"‘Lana, I… I want to…" Seven was shaking and looked down at the blankets. "But, I…"

"What is it?" B’Elanna asked as she took Seven’s face in her hands.

"I do not have any experience with…" Seven looked back down at the blankets and blushed.

B’Elanna smiled and caressed her lover’s cheek. "There’s no hurry. We can go as slowly as you like."

Seven gave B’Elanna a frustrated glare. "I do not wish to go slowly. I am simply unsure of how to proceed."

"Oh," B’Elanna laughed. "We can take care of that, darling."


"It’s a term of endearment. Is it all right?" B’Elanna looked shyly at her lover.

"Yes, it is." Seven leaned over and kissed B’Elanna and let her hands roam. "Show me what to do."

"You’re doing fine," B’Elanna said with a whimper. "Just keep touching me." B’Elanna let her body collapse onto the blankets and held her arms out to Seven.

"I will." Seven climbed onto her and began kissing her neck. They continued to explore each other for several minutes until their remaining clothes became problematic.

"Clothes off. Now," ordered B’Elanna. She tugged off her pants and then helped Seven out of hers.

"Now what?" Seven rolled onto her back and looked up at B’Elanna.

B’Elanna leaned over and straddled Seven, resting her weight on her hands and staring down at her. "We make love," she said as she lowered her weight onto Seven’s body. They continued kissing until B’Elanna eased off to the side and began caressing Seven’s chest and making her way down to her belly.

"Show me, Lana," Seven whispered.

B’Elanna took Seven’s hand and placed it on her own breast, demonstrating how she liked to be touched. Seven was a fast learner and soon her mouth joined her hands. After a few maddening moments B’Elanna edged her lover onto her back again and began guiding Seven’s legs apart. Seven rolled her head on the pillow and moaned, her legs spreading of their own accord.

"Like this," B’Elanna whispered. She ran her fingers down and over Seven’s belly, alternating between gentle touches and a slow scraping of her fingernails over Seven’s muscled abdomen. Every few passes she would detour to let her fingers tangle in the blonde thatch of hair between her lover’s legs and then return to her belly. The entire time, her lips traveled from Seven’s mouth to her neck and then down to her breasts. Finally, when Seven’s nipples were painfully erect, B’Elanna let her hand slip down to her lover’s thigh and slowly moved back toward her center.

Seven’s breathing was coming in ragged breaths and she was alternating between whimpers and moans, not knowing what her body was craving, but certain that B’Elanna was the only one who could provide it.

"Lana," Seven whispered. "Lana…" she felt lightheaded, like she was leaving her body, which at the moment was the last thing she wanted to do. Right now her body was feeling things she hadn’t known existed and she wanted to be there for the entire experience.

"I’m here," B’Elanna whispered into her ear. She kissed Seven’s cheek and then nipped at her throat. "Right here. Are you ready?" B’Elanna asked as she let her fingers caress Seven’s opening. The moisture she found flowing from her lover answered her question. "Oh, yeah, you’re ready."

"Yes… I do not know what I am ready for…but I know I am ready," Seven said between gasps. She was panting, arching her back each time B’Elanna kissed or touched her.

The Klingon laughed, deep and throaty, and pressed Seven’s hips back onto the blankets. She leaned up and kissed Seven tenderly as her fingers dipped into the waiting wetness. She was like molten slick velvet, her labia swollen and saturated.

"Yes, that," Seven yelled. "I am ready for that." Her legs trembled as B’Elanna circled her with loving sweetness.

"You feel so good, Seven," B’Elanna said between kisses.

Seven could only whimper in response and turn to kiss B’Elanna again. She dug her willowy hands into B’Elanna’s thick sable hair, trying to deepen the kiss even more. B’Elanna growled into her mouth and tugged at her lip as she pulled away and looked into her cobalt blue eyes.

"No," Seven begged, trying to pull B’Elanna back to her mouth.

"I want to look at you." B’Elanna had tears filling her passion darkened eyes.

Seven nodded and looked up at her lover as she felt B’Elanna enter her. "Oh," Seven moaned, her eyelids drooping as she felt herself filled for the first time. "Lana, I love you." She continued moaning, her voice rising with each thrust. Their eyes remained locked and Seven felt her own hot tears sliding down her cheeks and a power was building inside her toward some unknown focus. Then, she knew she was there, her body stiffened and she felt her breath leave her body and her muscles seemed to be warring with each other, torn between clenching to keep B’Elanna inside her and shaking her into a million tiny pieces.

B’Elanna felt Seven gripping her fingers and felt the rush of moisture as her lover climaxed. She continued her caress, lightening the contact as she guided Seven through another peak, then slowed and let her come down. Seven went limp, as if her bones had been tossed aside and B’Elanna eased out of her and gathered her into her arms, snuggling down on her chest and showering her skin with fleeting kisses.

They lay in their cabin, covered in sweat, gasping as they fought for their hearts to slow. B’Elanna clung to Seven, not wanting to lose the connection with the woman who held her twin hearts.

"B’Elanna?" Seven finally managed to ask, her voice hoarse and rasping.

"Yes, love?" B’Elanna asked without lifting her head from its warm resting place on Seven’s breast.

"Thank you, for loving me."

B’Elanna felt Seven’s chest begin to shake, and she lifted her head to see that the one-time Borg was sobbing. She shifted her weight so that she could stroke Seven’s cheek with the back of her hand. "What’s wrong?"

Seven shook her head, smiling through the tears. "Nothing."

"Oh, darling." B’Elanna laughed and kissed each of Seven’s eyes, savoring the salt. "I love you."

Seven slid to the side and positioned B’Elanna on her back. "I want to love you." She kissed B’Elanna torturously with gentle, soft kisses that she didn’t deepen, teasing the Klingon until she was growling like the bear she had killed months earlier.

"Please," B’Elanna begged.

Seven smiled into another kiss, then pulled back. "I am glad you are the first, the only one I will ever love this way."

It was a promise of monogamy that B’Elanna had not asked for, but one she would be eternally grateful for, because in that moment she knew she had given her soul to Seven. She had never understood the Klingon rituals that swore eternity to a partner after making love, but now she did. She realized that she had never made love until this very day with Seven and she knew she would never touch anyone else or be touched by another because Seven owned both Klingon hearts beating inside her chest.

"You are the only one," B’Elanna said, her voice breaking. "I am yours, Seven. I pray to Kahless you never tire of me, because no one but you will ever touch my soul again."

"Tai be’nal?" Seven whispered. It was a benediction and a request, the Klingon term meaning, "honored wife?" When uttered during love making it was a promise of love beyond the grave and a request for your partner’s pledge in return.

"HIja’ epetai-zana," B’Elanna answered without hesitation, telling Seven "It is true Honored and exalted one," in Klingonese. The response meant that she belong to Seven forever.

Seven kissed her and then eased away and turned her cheek to B’Elanna for the ritual bite, but B’Elanna shook her head.

"Never pain, my wife." B’Elanna then kissed her on the cheek instead of sinking her teeth into her flesh. "I will spill my last drop of blood to prevent you from shedding even a drop of blood or a single tear in pain."

Seven nodded and reached up and turned B’Elanna’s cheek toward her and pressed her lips to the tender flesh and left a lingering kiss in place of a bite. "I will never hurt you, B’Elanna," Seven promised. "If I had a god to pray to, I would thank him…or her…for bringing me to this planet with you."

"Even if Voyager never comes for us, I will thank Kahless everyday for giving me this time with you." B’Elanna pulled Seven on top of her and their kisses deepened as Seven began to love B’Elanna as she had been loved, but she had been a Borg, so it was her goal to improve on the perfection of B’Elanna’s touch. They spent the rest of the day and night learning ways to bring each other to heights of passion unknown to either woman before. The animals of the valley heard new cries that night and more than one beast looked out into the night wondering what predator had such fierce cries.


Chapter Eight: Voyager to The Rescue

Captain Janeway had a knot in her stomach, and that meant something was wrong. If you asked her, she would deny believing in such obvious superstition, but years of experience had taught her not to ignore the feeling.

"Mister Kim, see if you can hail the away team on subspace," Janeway ordered.

"Aye, Ma’am." The handsome ensign quickly sent out a message, never thinking to question why the captain would need to call the shuttle that had only left two days earlier.

Janeway sat in her chair and stared at the stars on the viewscreen with a casual expression while waiting for Harry’s report.

"Everything all right, Captain?" Chakotay whispered as he leaned over from his position beside her.

"Fine," she said casually. "Just thought I’d make sure our missing black sheep haven’t killed each other yet," she joked. She often referred to the crew as her flock, and surely her devotion to them rivaled any shepherd.

"Good idea," Chakotay said with a gentle smile. "Those two are like oil and water."

"No," Janeway said, shaking her head. "Water isn’t explosive. They’re more like matter and anti-matter."

Tom Paris nodded his head. "And just as dangerous."

"Captain," Harry said from his comm station. "I’m not getting any response, and there’s no sign of them on long range scanners. I’ve checked their entire flight path, all the way to the planet."

Janeway stood and turned to the worried Ensign. "Extend the scans outside the flight path." She looked over at her Chief of Security. "Tuvok, scan for debris and look for any sign of raiders."

"Aye, Captain," Tuvok said, having already begun the scans as soon as Ensign Kim had said he couldn’t find the shuttle.

Tom turned and looked at the captain, his eyes asking if he should set a new heading.

"It’s probably nothing, Tom," she said calmly, but inside she knew something was terribly wrong.

Three hours later Kathryn Janeway felt like a cat in a room full of hunting hounds. There had been no sign of the lost shuttle, and she was beginning to lose patience with the sensors, the scanners, and the crew manning them.

"Report," Janeway barked as she turned to give Harry Kim a deadly glare.

"Nothing ma’am," Harry said as he continued to reset the scanners hoping to find something.

Tuvok straighten his already perfect posture. "Captain, I have detected a small nebula in sector 3259. It could be masking the shuttle’s signature," the Vulcan said.

Janeway looked at her dark skinned officer, her eyes asking him if it was worth a detour. She had known him longer than anyone else on board, and his deep brown eyes were telling her that it was the only thing left to check.

"Mister Paris, set a course for that nebula." Janeway sat in her chair, crossed her legs, and waited.

Two hours later, Voyager was sitting at the Dengari board, nose to nose with a battlecruiser.

Alloc, the Dengari leader spoke with an almost lyric tone, soft and soothing. "Captain Janeway, we do not wish to enter conflict with you. Be on your journey and all will be well." His face was tense and the thick ridges on his cheeks reddened as he spoke.

"I don’t think so." Janeway remained in her chair, her shoulders squared and her jaw set. Her voice was calm, and deep, and left no question that she would not be toyed with. "You are holding one of my shuttles at your space station. I want to speak to my people, now."

Alloc looked off to the side of the viewscreen, then nodded and turned back toward Janeway. "That will not be possible."

"Why?" Janeway demanded.

"Because your crewmembers," he paused to look at a data padd, "Torres and Nine, are no longer here."

"Where are they?" Janeway’s eyes darkened and her voice became even more menacing.

"They violated our space. They have been sent to our penal colony," Alloc said quietly.

"I need to speak to whoever runs this penal colony of yours," Janeway said. It was not a request.

"Captain, you are in no position to demand anything." Alloc shifted in his chair, uncertain of his own words.

"You can either arrange a meeting with the head of the penal colony, or I will go in there and get my crewmembers on my own. I’d rather do this diplomatically, but I will do it." Janeway stood, and crossed her arms. Behind her, Chakotay mirrored her body language, folding his own arms.

Alloc hesitated, and Kathryn Janeway knew she had him.

"I’m waiting," she said.

"Follow me to the space station, but remain at impulse and do not charge your weapons. All sensors must be kept off-line. This is a correctional facility. If you wish to enter the station you must use the docking facility and leave your transporters off-line." Alloc seemed more confident handing out orders. "Follow us to the station and maintain station keeping 2000 meters off of the port docking ring and await orders."

"We’ll be right behind you," Janeway said.

After an hour of stalling, the Dengari allowed Voyager to dock and then sent a ‘welcoming party’ to meet them at the airlock. Janeway headed the away team herself, bringing Tuvok, the Doctor, and Neelix as well.

"Captain Janeway," Alloc said when the airlock hissed open. "If you will come this way." He motioned down the corridor.

"Where are my crewmembers?" she asked as she moved into step with him. Tuvok, the Doctor and Neelix walked directly behind her, followed by four muscular Dengari guards.

"As I said, they are not here. I will take you to the Overseer’s office. She will explain." Alloc moved quickly and said nothing more.

They stopped at the end of a long corridor and stood next to a large metal door with a guard on either side. They nodded to Alloc and the door opened revealing a stark waiting area.

"This way," Alloc said.

"My patience has limits," Janeway said as she paced the small room.

Before Alloc could answer, a smaller door opened and a woman stepped forward. She was almost seven feet tall, and had long, impossibly straight, jet-black hair pulled back neatly over her ears and had faint ridges on her cheeks.

"I am the Overseer," she said with a deep, sensual voice.

"I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager." Janeway tended to use a formal introduction when she wanted to intimidate someone, but she doubted this woman intimidated easily. "I’m here to get my people."

"Their sentence has begun. You are too late." The Overseer stopped in front of the captain and looked down at her, studying the much shorter woman.

"What was the sentence?" Janeway asked. Behind her, Tuvok and the rest of the away team stood at attention, but said nothing.

"Two and one half years." The Overseer moved past Janeway and studied Tuvok.

"For trespassing?" Janeway asked and then moved around the Overseer and blocked her path.

"It is the minimum sentence for entering a restricted area. We cannot tolerate any incursions into our correction facility," the Overseer explained. Her voice was gentle as if she understood the stress the captain was going through.

"I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding. If I could talk to my people we could figure this out and find some way to end this amiably." Janeway edged closer and gentled her own voice. "I’m sure your government has dealt with cultural misunderstandings in the past. Isn’t there some way to work this out?"

The Overseer studied Janeway and then nodded. "Cultural misunderstandings are not uncommon, but we cannot allow our laws to be broken with impunity. Chaos would ensue."

"Well, we wouldn’t want chaos," Janeway said with a disarming smile. "I hardly think that two crewmembers wandering off course would start the breakdown of your social structure."

The Overseer smiled and nodded. "I will contact the Magistrate and ask him to review the case."

"Thank you," Janeway said warmly.

"Wait here," the Overseer said. She nodded at the guards and they exited through the large door. "I will return after speaking with the Magistrate." She turned and exited through the smaller door.

"That went well," Janeway said as she turned to her away team.

"Perhaps too well," Tuvok said.

Neelix stepped forward and whispered despite the fact the guards were no longer in the room. "Captain, this place has a bad feel to it."

Tuvok raised his eyebrow. "Mister Neelix’s ‘feelings’ aside, I believe the Overseer was too easily convinced."

"Doctor?" Janeway asked, wanting his unique input as well.

"The guards don’t seem to enjoy their work," he said.

"Oh?" Janeway asked.

"Well," the Doctor explained. "They don’t even make eye contact. I’ve been studying humanoid interactions, and these guards don’t want to face us. They don’t like what’s going on here."

"Did it occur to you, Doctor, that the cultural norms may be different for Dengari?" Tuvok asked. "It may not be acceptable for lesser workers to make eye contact with someone of our stature."

"Enough," Janeway said. "I think we need to keep on our toes. I get the feeling," Janeway paused and looked at Tuvok, "Sorry, old friend… I get the feeling that there is more going on with this Overseer than meets the eye."

The Overseer entered her stark office and went directly to a communications panel on the far wall. She tapped in several commands and then stood at attention as an elderly man appeared on the screen. His ridged cheeks were wrinkled and his black hair was streaked with grey. He looked at her and then frowned.

"Magistrate," she said quietly.

"What news?" he asked.

"The Captain of Voyager is most insistent. She is demanding that I let her speak to her crew." The Overseer sighed and cleared her throat. "She is persistent."

"How long have the convicted been on Jusari Prime?"

"They began their sentence yesterday," the Overseer said.

"Does Captain Janeway understand Jusari Prime’s unique nature?"

"No, Magistrate. She has no idea. What should I do?" she asked.

"Stall her. Tell her that I have to mediate a dispute and I will return in seven days. After she objects, argue with her for at least an hour, then return to your office and wait another hour. Then go tell her that I have canceled my mediation and will arrive in four days." The Magistrate smiled and picked up a small statue from his desk. "Justice will be served."

"Yes, sir. And if she discovers the temporal differential?"

"See that she doesn’t. In five days their sentence will be completed. You know the law. If they do not serve their term, you as Overseer will complete the sentence."

"Yes, Magistrate," she said.

"Good day," he said and then closed the channel.

The Overseer accessed the panel and an image of Jusari Prime appeared. It was a blue and white planet with swirling patterns around its length. The poles had deep sinkholes dipping into the core of the planet. She sighed and rubbed her ridged cheek, wishing she hadn’t been born into her position as Overseer. She would see that the sentence was served, if only to avoid being sent to Jusari Prime herself. She didn’t like the idea of spending even a second on the planet that existed outside regular timespace causing it to experience an accelerated existence. She sighed and sat in her chair and decided to let the Starfleet captain wait a while longer. She briefly wondered what had become of the two officers in question, knowing that they would have already experienced months on the planet. She pushed the idea from her mind. As Overseer, such thoughts were unacceptable.

Part 9

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