DISCLAIMER: Characters belong to Paramount - not me.
SUMMARY: Response to a challenge issued several millennia ago. I think the only rule was that snow had to be involved but not generated by the holodeck! If there are more rules, let me know quickly and I'll see what I can do about incorporating them!
Dedicated to the originator of the challenge - sorry I can't remember who it was, and of course, to Caro, who mentioned it again - I blame you for getting me started on yet another story!
Seven looked at her hands as they once again betrayed her will and failed to do what she wanted them to do. Her fingers had gone numb some time ago as she worked in the freezing shuttle environment, but she had more space and easier access to the instruments and equipment she needed if she was to find a cure for the virus that was raging through B'Elanna Torres' body.
After determining that it was a combination of human and Klingon blood that provided the pathogen with the perfect breeding ground, Seven then re-checked all her results to confirm that it was the snow tainted with mud that was the origin of the engineer's condition. When she was certain that she had collated all the data available, Seven then correlated the results and set about trying to manufacture a cure. Unfortunately, there was not enough power available to enable access to the ship's database so the Astrometrics officer had to rely on her eidetic memory and scientific background as a basis for her research. It was a frustrating process, and her progress was not helped by the harsh conditions within the shuttle.
The blonde woman flexed her fingers in a vain attempt to restore both circulation and feeling to her numb digits. She then clutched her hands under her armpits to try and draw warmth from her own body. She used the enforced break to review the progress she had made so far. Nothing she had attempted so far had even partially affected the pathogens. It was an insidious infection and Seven was getting frustrated at her inability to defeat it.
She was also concerned that she had left B'Elanna alone in the shelter for some time. Seven knew that she had secured the woman so that she couldn't leave the shelter and freeze to death, but while she was continuing her experiments in the shuttle, Seven had no idea how the Klingon was faring. She fervently hoped that B'Elanna's condition hadn't deteriorated but her lack of medical knowledge meant that she had no way of gauging the progress of the pathogen and what sort of time frame she had to try and come up with a cure. The young drone was torn between continuing her work and returning to check up on B'Elanna. She knew it was a futile gesture that would ultimately just be an exercise in time wasting but Seven found that her concentration span had reduced drastically over the last hour as she worried over the engineer's condition. Perhaps if she returned and set her mind at ease, she would be able to focus on the task for a longer period of time.
Coming to a decision, Seven got up quickly and gathered the equipment she had been using, reluctant to leave anything on the shuttle should it be affected by the extreme temperature. Once her holdall was fully laden she slung it over her shoulder and braced herself for the bitter temperature of the outside. Despite her preparation, the blonde still gasped as the cold wind bit into her face, blasting her with icy needles as it blew hard pellets of snow across the tundra. Seven bent down slightly to protect her face against the ferocious storm and headed back to the shelter.
Seven monitored the horizon continuously, squinting through her sunglasses as she irrationally looked for any sign that B'Elanna might have broken her bonds and wandered out into the snow. She tried to hurry through the terrain but the howling storm had deposited a huge amount of snow that made the ground soft and energy draining. The Astrometrics officer was exhausted by the time she reached the entrance to the shelter, and colder than she had ever felt before but her first concern was still for the engineer. She glanced quickly at the sleeping area and exhaled with relief when she saw B'Elanna still restrained.
The ex-drone threw her holdall onto the opposite ledge and closed the distance between her and the Klingon. Rapidly, she waved a tricorder over the still-restless woman and viewed the results with concern. There was no let up in the progress of the virus and B'Elanna's temperature was still rising. She was perilously close to cellular breakdown. Seven could hear B'Elanna's breathing becoming more laboured and her pulse was erratic and weak.
Seven felt her own pulse rate accelerate as she studied her findings. The blonde was feeling a palpable fear for only the second time since she had been freed from the Collective. The first time had been when One had died. Seven was scared that B'Elanna was going to die and that once again, there was nothing she could do to stop it. She was frightened that she would not get the opportunity to tell B'Elanna how she felt about her and that they would not get the chance to explore her emotions together. She also desperately wanted B'Elanna to repeat the words she had said in her delirium and mean them.
Seven was also honest enough to admit that she did not want to be alone on the planet. She had experienced such torturous loneliness when she left the Borg Collective and she did not want to go through that again. Seven knew that if B'Elanna left her, she would indeed experience that bitter isolation again.
Determined not to dwell on her own predicament, Seven grabbed a canteen of water and fumbled with the lid as she attempted to open the container. She tried to pour liquid over the Klingon's cracked and parched lips but nothing came out of the flask. Realising that the container was empty, Seven awkwardly gathered some clean fresh snow, cursing her hands for operating inefficiently and then ran a familiar set of tests to check that it was safe for B'Elanna to consume. Satisfied that the source was free from the harmful pathogens, Seven quickly melted the snow and then dribbled water over the other woman's lips. She was disheartened as B'Elanna made only the barest attempt to capture the liquid and swallow the water, despite her obvious dehydration. Seven persevered until she was satisfied that B'Elanna had taken on a reasonable amount of water, but by the time she had finished her task, she had no sensation at all in her hands or feet and her body was shaking. She tried to touch each finger of her hands with the thumb from the same limb. She could only close her hands enough to make contact with her index fingers and middle fingers, and despite even that amount of dexterity, she could not feel what her fingers were doing. Seven realised that she would be unable to perform anything but the most basic functions on a tricorder and would be unable to drive any other equipment she needed to continue her work.
The ex-drone was at an impasse. She desperately wanted to continue researching ways to combat B'Elanna's infection but knew that her body would not be able to tolerate much more exposure to the extreme temperature. She was also frightened that if she decided to take the time to warm up, B'Elanna would deteriorate or die. She stared at the prone body of the ailing Klingon as her mind circled round the options open to her. In the end, she approached the feverish woman and leant over her body in order to extract the survival bag she had left there from earlier. As she pulled the bag free from the bindings, B'Elanna moaned incoherently at the disturbance, but Seven took heart that the brunette still had the strength and self- awareness to make a protest at Seven's movement.
She brushed an errant strand of hair off the Klingon's face and looked at her tenderly, feeling a lump form in her throat as she continued to worry. "Today is *not* a good day to die B'Elanna Torres," she whispered softly. "Please do not leave me alone," she begged quietly.
She didn't expect a response so was not surprised that B'Elanna did not react to her words. With a quick flick of her wrists, she spread the survival bag on the opposite shelf and quickly stripped off her environmental suit that was soaked through. After removing her shoes, she wriggled into the survival bag, gasping at the initial freezing temperature of the material. As she got in, she could feel various pieces of equipment dig into her body and felt decidedly uncomfortable but was grateful for the painful sensations. She did not want to fall asleep inadvertently. The sole purpose of using the bag was to warm up sufficiently so that she could work efficiently. She used the chronometer function on a tricorder to initiate an alarm signal after one hour just in case her body betrayed her and she fell asleep anyway and placed the instrument by the side of her head.
She could feel the bag beginning to work almost immediately and Seven snuggled down, craving the warmth she had been denied for so long. Her body shuddered as she tried to quicken the warming process and her hands and feet felt like they were burning as blood slowly returned to areas long denied body heat. She set her cobalt eyes on the restless engineer and studied the woman as she felt her body continuing to warm. Seven recalled the first time they had combated the cold and shared a survival bag. Much as she wanted to share B'Elanna's heat again, she couldn't take the risk of loosening her bonds in case B'Elanna escaped and took refuge in the cool snow. Instead, her eidetic memory allowed her to practically experience the situation again, and the young Borg felt her lips tighten into a faint smile as she recalled all the sensations that her body had encountered.
Against her will, Seven found her eyelids getting heavy and begin to close. Despite her best efforts to keep her eyes open, and moving her body so that she was uncomfortable again, exhaustion finally won and she sunk into a dreamless sleep.
B'Elanna stood on the gangplank that lead to the gates of Grethor and frowned. She had no idea how she got from lying on the deck to standing on the edge of a piece of wood. The last thing she recalled was trying to explain her feelings to the ex-drone but getting little or no response from her. Now she was staring at tall, imposing gates that had the Klingon insignia embossed in the top of the archway. She could feel the heat radiating from the gates and her eyes widened as she watched the entrance to Grethor open, the area exposed glowing a burning orange.
The engineer turned back towards the Barge. Seven stood there blocking the way in a familiar stance, standing straight with her arms behind her back.
"Resistance is futile Lieutenant," the ex-drone commented blandly. "Today is *not* a good day to die. But then, you already knew that." Seven whipped a Bat'leth from behind her back and closed the distance between her and B'Elanna menacingly.
B'Elanna backed up slightly but stopped when her heels found the edge of the wood. She looked down and saw the swirling waters beneath her, and could feel the heat of Grethor on her back. "Now, hang on a minute," she began, holding her hands out in a placating yet defensive gesture.
Seven took no notice and with a swift flick of her wrists, used the Bat'leth to push the shorter woman off the Barge and to her fate.
B'Elanna's head snapped back and she choked on a surprised scream as she fell back but the sound stuck in her throat as she suddenly found herself lying on a biobed in Sickbay.
The Klingon wasn't fooled for a second this time. The candles and dim lighting once again hinted at what was going on, so B'Elanna sat up quickly and looked around. The rest of Sickbay was deserted but the engineer knew that it would not be long before someone turned up to continue her torment.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the Doctor stride towards her but jumped when she heard Neelix's voice right next to the biobed. He had appeared out of nowhere.
"Welcome to Grethor, B'Elanna. I'm your guide," he told her conversationally and gestured for her to get off the bed.
B'Elanna snorted derisively. "This happened last time, Neelix. It's not exactly an original response. What's going on?"
"I just wanted you to enjoy a small fraction of familiarity before I introduce to another aspect of Grethor," Neelix replied amiably.
"Oh please. Get on with it if you want to shock me. I've dealt with my demons. Or at least, I've tried to. I shouldn't be here," the engineer replied confidently, though she could feel her heart race even as she spoke the words.
Neelix looked at her knowingly. "You're still trying to convince yourself B'Elanna. I can sense that and I'm not even trying to read you. Come on, there's plenty to see." The small Talaxian gestured for B'Elanna to get off the biobed and follow him to the exit.
"I know Voyager inside out. Far better than you do, Neelix. There's nothing you can tell me about her that I don't already know." B'Elanna strode along purposefully, forcing the orange-haired man to trot in order to keep up with her.
"Who says I'm going to be your guide for Voyager?" he questioned breathlessly.
"That's what happened last time," B'Elanna shot back, continuing to power-walk down the corridor. She had no idea where she was headed but she was determined not to fall victim to the tricks of the Klingon underworld.
Somehow, with no real effort shown on his part, Neelix was once again ahead of B'Elanna and he came to a halt in front of a turbolift. It hissed open and he made a sweeping gesture with an arm to indicate that she should step inside.
B'Elanna hesitated for a fraction and then realised that it probably wouldn't matter if she ran headlong down the corridor. She would still end up where ever Neelix wanted her to be. With a resigned sigh, the brunette stalked into the lift and waited for the little Talaxian to follow her in. As he barrelled in after her, he called out the destination for the turbolift. "Cargo Bay Two."
B'Elanna rolled her eyes when she heard where they were headed but refrained from commenting.
When the lift doors parted, Neelix hurried forward and headed towards Cargo Bay Two. He didn't wait for B'Elanna to follow him and did not look over his shoulder to check if she was moving. B'Elanna paused but decided to go after the small furry Ambassador. It wasn't as if she had much choice. However, when the doors to Cargo Bay Two opened, she couldn't help but gasp at what she saw. A dim green glow illuminated the whole of the area and was only broken by the elongated shadows cast by a number of Borg drones, busy working in the area. B'Elanna's eyes widened as she studied the drones working. They were exclusively female, exclusively human in origin and all of them looked like Seven.
The alarm from the tricorder startled Seven. She tried to sit up suddenly but the survival bag hindered her progress and she ended up lurching to one side and falling off the edge of the sleeping area. The blonde grunted as she landed and lay stunned for a few moments. As Seven struggled to free herself from the constraints of the survival bag, she silently berated the merits of sleeping. She had never fallen out of her regeneration chamber and always stepped from the cycle alert and ready to work. Now, her head felt muzzy and thick, and her limbs felt heavy.
Seven inspected her environmental suit and discovered that it was still soaked through and freezing cold. There would be no point in putting it back on; it would reduce her body temperature more swiftly than if she remained just in her biosuit. B'Elanna's suit was in no better shape so Seven decided to brave the cold.
Now that her head had cleared slightly, Seven snatched the tricorder to examine B'Elanna. She didn't need to read the findings to know that the Klingon had deteriorated again. Her breathing was coming in short, painful gasps and her skin was waxy and pallid. The readings confirmed that B'Elanna was worsening. Seven's heart sank as her feelings of helplessness returned. She had to work quickly and she had to find a solution to the virus.
The Astrometrics officer kicked the survival bag into the back of the shelter and grabbed the equipment she needed to continue her research. She took a few moments to review the work she had already done, hoping that she could formulate another `hunch' but her mind remained resolutely single-tracked. It was frustrating. How B'Elanna managed to run Engineering and solve a myriad of problems that beset Voyager using this type of thinking was a total mystery to her.
She couldn't force herself to think laterally and she was getting annoyed that she was wasting time trying to force a hunch from her logical thought process. She also knew that reading the same information repeatedly would not help but she couldn't help but keep returning to the start of her findings and reading them again. Seven found herself staring at the tricorder readings and barely blinking.
Without realising it, her eyes stopped focusing on the data displayed in front of her and her thoughts drifted away from the linear style she was so used to. For a few moments, she was totally absorbed in the problem, her surroundings disappearing into the fog of her peripheral vision. It was at that moment that inspiration struck again. Seven refocused on the tricorder and tapped in a set of observations so that she wouldn't forget her thoughts or theory. As soon as she finished recording the information, Seven grabbed the other equipment in order to prepare an antidote for B'Elanna.
Sparing a few concerned glances at the unconscious engineer, Seven began to run another series of tests on the pathogen that resided within the dirty brown snow of the planet. Satisfied that her solution would indeed destroy the virus that resided in B'Elanna's bloodstream, Seven then worked to find a way to regulate the introduction of the antidote and then a way of controlling its affects on B'Elanna's systems. Seven concluded her research by determining if there were any adverse side effects or unacceptable dangers to introducing the antidote to B'Elanna's body.
Her research took time, and once again, Seven found herself beginning to feel the effects of the cold. Her teeth were beginning to chatter and her hands shook as she continued to punch commands into her tricorder but now that she was making real progress with the problem, Seven was determined not to let the environment stop her from saving B'Elanna's life.
Satisfied that she had done everything she could to determine both the success and consequences of introducing her solution into the stricken engineer's body, Seven was left only with the problem of how to put the cure into B'Elanna's bloodstream.
She got up and stood next to where the brunette lay. B'Elanna was still, her chest barely rising as her respiration rate continued to diminish. Her skin was slick with sweat and her eyelashes flicked with the tiniest of movements. Seven wondered if the Klingon was still suffering delusions brought on by her fever. She grabbed a cloth and wiped the diminutive woman's face again in an effort to ease her discomfort. Seven knew she was introducing delay into administering the antidote, but she was scared that it would fail. And if her solution failed, she would have no time to come up with another one.
Seven took a deep cathartic breath. Wondering about the unknown was only harming the engineer.
Knowing that B'Elanna would hate it, but realising that she had no time to come up with another option, Seven decided to introduce her modified nanoprobes into the Klingon's system the traditional way and extended two tubules from her enhanced left hand to pierce the skin at B'Elanna's neck. The black needles pushed through the skin easily and the modified nanoprobes were transposed easily. Now all she had to do was wait.
B'Elanna took a step back involuntarily and then looked at Neelix in confusion. Her words died in her throat as she saw implants break out on the orange-haired man's face.
Within seconds, he had transformed into a drone and looked at her coldly. "Is this more like your idea of Hell?" he asked, his voice distorted by a vocal sub-processor.
"It's a nightmare, but it's not Hell. I've been assimilated, remember?" B'Elanna was perplexed. She could admit to herself that she was uncomfortable here, but it wasn't Hell to her. Her biggest worry was that all the drones other than Neelix appeared to be clones of Seven. There had to be a clue in the scenario somewhere but it was eluding the engineer. "Well if I'm here for eternity, I might as well find out what they're doing here," she told Neelix conversationally and stepped down into the main Bay area. She could hear Neelix scurry after her and grinned humourlessly. She might be stuck in Grethor but she was determined not to play by the rules and react predictably.
The Borg workers ignored the Klingon's presence totally, often stepping round her as they continued with their own tasks. B'Elanna stepped up to a workstation and studied the information displayed. "What the hell are they building?" she mused out loud, prompting Neelix to close the distance between them again.
"Probably something you're not going to like at all," he suggested vaguely.
"My, that's a surprise," she replied laconically. Neelix merely looked at her, the ocular implant flashing blips of light intermittently. B'Elanna wasn't used to Neelix being a drone yet and shuddered as she took note of the borg implants that scarred his face.
Turning back to the console, B'Elanna punched in a number of demands and scanned the screen again. "They're building a central nexus," she breathed, astonished at the size of the Borg project, and the speed at which the matrix was being built. "Voyager can't possibly provide enough power to sustain this," she complained, indignant at such blatant disregard for the ship's systems.
"This isn't the Voyager you know. This is Grethor," the Talaxian drone reminded her.
B'Elanna stood back from the console, her hands clenched in frustration. "I don't get it. Why build a central nexus?" She shivered as a drone walked past, engrossed in the data displayed on a padd it held. It was disconcerting to see a carbon copy of Seven in her drone guise and B'Elanna also admitted to herself that she was hurt that there was not a flicker of recognition from the drone. Perhaps the Borg hive might not be her idea of Hell, but being surrounded by a crew of Seven drones that had no interest in her whatsoever was a closer approximation of her image of Purgatory. It had been bad enough on the Barge of the Dead when Seven dismissed her apologies and explanations with scorn. B'Elanna had finally had the courage to admit her feelings and face up to Seven. It appeared to have been for nothing though, and now that she was surrounded by Seven clones, she would be perpetually reminded of the fact that she had waited too long and was now paying the ultimate price.
"Uncomfortable?" Neelix asked.
"Yes," she admitted candidly. "But I'm sure I'll get used to it."
"You should know better than that. Why should your time in Grethor become comfortable?" Neelix somehow managed to sound bland yet sinister at the same time. B'Elanna took an involuntary step backwards, trying to increase the distance between herself and the assimilated Talaxian.
Her movement took her straight into the path of another Seven clone and the two women stumbled as they collided. B'Elanna looked at the drone, shuddering slightly as the fully Borg version of Seven stared straight back at her with an unrecognising gaze. "Er, sorry?" the brunette offered apologetically.
The tall drone cocked its head slightly, as if listening to a command and then suddenly shot out an arm to grab hold of B'Elanna. The brunette tried to leap back and break the grip, but she was held firm and could not get free from her captor.
The Seven doppelganger turned and began to drag the engineer deeper into the cargo bay, unimpeded by B'Elanna's futile attempts to struggle free. The Klingon squinted into the darkened area, illuminated by dim green lighting and the beams emitted from the drones' eyepieces.
B'Elanna didn't know where she was being taken, but her fear was rising exponentially. There was something deeply disturbing over what was happening and she felt powerless to stop the chain of events. The temperature was also rising as she approached the shadowy depths of the cargo bay and B'Elanna could feel rivers of sweat running down her face and back. Perversely, every time she took a breath, her lungs were stabbed with a fierce cold sensation and it was beginning to hurt her to breathe. She took shallow breaths to try and avoid the pain and although the cold subsided somewhat, the chill in her lungs remained.
As her vision became accustomed to the lower luminance, B'Elanna could make out the outline of the central nexus. Great loops of cable and conduit hung round the area, and many panels flickered with an eerie glow. Workstations around the hub were utilised by yet more drones, once again all copies of Seven.
The drone that held B'Elanna captive stopped when she reached the nexus. It released her as quickly as it captured her and then turned to head back to its original task.
B'Elanna looked round and inspected her surroundings. Some of the equipment was familiar, after all, she had spent a number of years analysing borg machinery and adapting it to aid Voyager. There was a great deal that she had never seen before and, despite the hostile surroundings and deep-seated fear that lodged in her stomach, B'Elanna found herself attracted to one of the consoles to examine what exactly was going on around her.
The hybrid had barely touched the console when a familiar voice sounded from behind her.
"Your curiosity is your undoing." Seven's cold voice stopped B'Elanna in her tracks.
The engineer turned again and her eyes widened in surprise. Seven stood before her, in the guise of the Borg Queen. She prowled around the smaller woman as if stalking her, looking B'Elanna up and down as she apprised her. Her movements exuded sexuality, and her proximity was unsettling.
"You're the reason for the central nexus," B'Elanna commented, trying to bite down on the cold fear that was settling in the pit of her stomach. Seven appearing as the Borg Queen was more upsetting than the many Seven drones that were patrolling the Cargo Bay.
"Correct. But your expertise will be needed to complete the modifications to the ship."
B'Elanna laughed mirthlessly. "If you think I'm going to do anything to help the Borg, you are seriously mistaken."
"You do not have a choice B'Elanna Torres," Seven retorted.
"Meaning?" B'Elanna wasn't sure where the conversation was headed but feeling of dread that she had felt when she was first taken into the Cargo Bay.
"Your unique individuality will be added to our own," Seven continued simply.
"I don't think so," B'Elanna demurred, taking a step back.
"You talk as if you have a choice."
"You are *not* assimilating me," the engineer objected, her eyes darting everywhere as she looked for a way to distance herself from the Queen. She could see several Seven drones closing in on her position. "This is not happening," B'Elanna muttered to herself. This wasn't her idea of Hell. She had already begun a reconciliation with Seven. This just wasn't fair. It was as if the last few days had counted for nothing. This representation of Grethor was nightmarish but not a reflection of what she had done. There was something wrong, but B'Elanna could not determine what it was.
"You've been assimilated before. Or are you afraid because this time you have no back-up plan to rescue you?" The Queen reduced the gap between them again and pulled her lips into a knowing half-smile.
B'Elanna swallowed convulsively. She had the impression that she was being hunted down and that she had no choice in the matter. "Seven, this isn't right. You're not a Borg Queen and I have woken up to what an idiot I've been. I'm sorry for how I've treated you." Seven showed no sign of recognition or compassion as she stepped in closer again.
As B'Elanna moved back again, her retreat was halted by two drones standing right behind her. She looked at them and then back at the Queen. She was running out of places to go. "You are *not* assimilating me," B'Elanna repeated, but with far less conviction this time.
The Seven Queen stepped closer once again. "You will be a valuable addition to our Collective," she commented. With fluid grace, she moved her arm up and ran a hand along B'Elanna's jaw-line, smiling a half-smile once again. As her fingers brushed along her neck, she extended two tubules and injected B'Elanna with the nanoprobes needed to assimilate her.
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