B'Elanna entered the cargo bay with undisguised caution; her stealth like approach hampered by the call of greeting she received from several of the other, equally nervous, women within. She nodded a greeting to Samantha Wildman, before gawking in disbelief at a blushing Jennifer Delaney.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," said Seven, appearing as if from nowhere to stand directly behind B'Elanna. "Thank you for attending."
"Seven!" Hand on heart, B'Elanna turned an irritated look on the former Borg, her mouth falling open as she took in the other woman's coiffure. "What have you done to your hair?"
With a tentative touch to the loose strands of hair framing her face, Seven looked decidedly uncomfortable. "My research indicated that a more informal atmosphere would help relax my test subjects and thus provide more accurate results." She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Is it . . . Unbecoming?"
"No." There was a moment of indecision as B'Elanna resisted the urge to reach up and run her fingers through Seven's hair. It was the kind of impulse that could only cause her undue embarrassment and a plethora of unwanted questions, and was therefore quickly quashed in favour of addressing an unrelated question. "Seven, I thought your five test subjects were meant to have been abstinent for six months?"
"That is correct."
B'Elanna nodded towards Jennifer. "A Delaney sister?"
"A Delaney sister?" The last word rose in volume and garnered the attention of all the women in the room, including the Delaney sister in question, who promptly stomped out of the cargo bay, a muttered curse on her lips. "Wait, Jen!"
Seven felt an almost irresistible urge to ring B'Elanna's neck. "Jennifer Delaney has been suffering a 'dry spell' for the last thirteen months," she explained. "A situation that she tends to find somewhat embarrassing."
Tal Celes rushed by, a look of disgust thrown in B'Elanna's direction, before she disappeared through the doors. Several moments and even more dirty looks in B'Elanna's direction later, Celes and Jennifer returned, and with an apologetic smile in Seven's direction, retook their seats in the cargo bay.
It was at that point that B'Elanna decided that, no matter what, she wouldn't be opening her mouth again until the stupid test was over and she could escape to the safety of her engine room.
Then the captain walked in.
Janeway glowered in B'Elanna's direction before smiling at Seven and quickly taking the seat to which the younger woman directed her.
"The captain?" B'Elanna whispered.
"She fit the general criteria for the test."
"But she's the captain."
"I fail to see how her position at the zenith of the ship's hierarchy would prohibit her from feeling the effects of sexual abstinence." Seven looked to where the captain was talking with Tal Celes, a blush working its way onto the younger woman's cheeks with every second they spent together. "She is still a sexual being, is she not?"
"I guess." B'Elanna thought that highly unlikely. "But what about her 'thing' with that hologram?"
"But I thought you said . . ."
"Seven?" interrupted the woman in question. "Do you plan to start this ... test of yours anytime soon? Only I do have work to do."
Seven quickly ushered the remaining test subjects into their assigned seats and began outlining the parameters of the test. The format was as straightforward as the machinery was complex; not that any of the subjects, with the exception of B'Elanna, realised the extent of the data Seven was collecting, or the reasons for her interest.
"Please pay close attention to the monitors," Seven instructed, before pushing a button and activating the equipment.
The test was scheduled to last for twenty minutes and would measure every conscious and subconscious reaction to the stimuli the subjects were being fed. It was a mastery of modern science and, as Seven studied the staggering array of data, she realised it couldn't compete with the sight of an irritated and slightly uncomfortable looking chief engineer scowling down at her monitor.
If she had understood the purpose of expelling her breath in an audible and emotion-filled manner, Seven would have sighed. She had devised the test as a way to understand and nullify her continued fascination with B'Elanna but, so far, it had only succeeded in fuelling that fascination and increasing her desire to get closer to the woman.
"The test is complete," Seven informed them, twenty minutes later. "Please do not discuss this procedure outside the confines of the test group, and be available for follow up questions once the results have been properly analysed."
"Follow up questions?" B'Elanna appeared to be the only one surprised by the idea. "You never said anything about follow up questions."
Tal Celes and Jennifer Delaney performed a synchronised rolling of the eyes, before saying goodbye to Seven and exiting the cargo bay. The captain opened her mouth to explain the process of scientific enquiry, but realised the pointlessness of that endeavour, and simply followed the other women out of the area.
"It is standard procedure," Seven explained. "I presumed you were well versed in the principles of scientific enquiry."
"But you are surprised at the idea of follow up questions?"
B'Elanna couldn't work out if Seven's seemingly civil question had been an insult to her intelligence or honesty. "What sort of questions?"
"That will depend on my analysis."
A study of the long term side-effects of sexual abstinence on the female psyche was unlikely to produce the type of questions B'Elanna would feel comfortable answering. "If I refuse to answer the questions?"
A tiny smile lit Seven's face. "Then I will have to inform the captain that she took part in a 'sex survey' for nothing."
"You don't play fair," B'Elanna mumbled, secretly impressed by Seven's deviousness. "But if you repeat anything I tell you, to anyone, I'll loosen all your bolts and send you back to the Collective in a doggy-bag," she threatened.
With one last scowl B'Elanna turned and marched out of the cargo bay, leaving Seven to contemplate her data and, more importantly, the questions she would soon get to ask the lieutenant.
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