AUTHOR'S NOTE: First Story in the series "The Ranger" This story is complete.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Chapter 1: Prologue
Aboard The Starship La Sirena, The Prophus Sector
To say former Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard felt troubled was the understatement of the millennia. Just three days earlier, Picard had found out that Dajh Asha's twin sister, Soji, was currently onboard The Artifact, which just happened to be in Romulan space. He had finally found Bruce Maddox, only to have the famed cyberneticist die in the sick bay aboard the La Sirena.
His day was about to get worse.
As he was pouring over what little information he could find on The Artifact, his mind turned to Soji, wondering what exactly she was doing onboard that mysterious vessel. Maddox had said that Soji was aboard The Artifact for the same reason Dajh had been sent to Earth: to find out the truth about the ban on synthetic life forms.
As he was taking a sip of the splendid Earl Gray he had replicated, he was approached by Raffi Musiker. Picard thought Raffi had departed for good at Freecloud, to find out about her son, but he had rejected Raffi out-of-hand. She returned to the La Sirena, locking herself away in her quarters for two days, before finally ending her seclusion, and rejoining Picard, Rios, and Jurati. She had been searching for information on the exact whereabouts of The Artifact.
While on station on The Bridge of the ship, some disturbing news had reached her from Freecloud. She entered Picard's quarters.
"JP," she said quietly, not wanting to startle Picard too badly.
The older man looked up at his associate. "Yes, what is it Raffi?"
Raffi took a seat next to Picard, and with a sad sigh, delivered her news. "I just received information from Freecloud. The authorities-such as they are on that place-have put out an APB on your friend Seven."
Picard fully came to attention. "An APB. What for?"
She sighed again. "She returned to Freecloud after leaving the ship, and she murdered Bjayzl, her two female attendants, and.....and about thirty of Bjayzl's security people. She then vanished. And, from what I can gather, The Federation is trying to track her down."
"Good Lord," Picard whispered, feeling both horrified, and, on a more personal level, betrayed by Annika Hansen. Picard had felt physically ill when Seven of Nine had recounted the death of her "son," Icheb, at the Seven Domes on Vergessen, almost a dozen years earlier. He understood Seven's fury, and the reason she wanted to kill Bjayzl. Yet Jean-Luc had parted with Seven, thinking that she had seen to reason.
Her question to him, before departing, if he had regained all of his humanity after the Enterprise-D had severed him from The Collective, haunted him. He should have seen the warning signs in Seven's question, and her response.
But it was too late to curse himself for missing that.
A few moments later, both of them walked out to the Bridge. Rios was dozing off, as the ship made its way toward Romulan space.
"Rios," Picard said with a command voice any former Starfleet member would recognize.
He immediately came to. "Yes, sir?" He answered as any Starfleet member would to the sound of that command voice.
"I need you and Raffi to work discreetly on contacting someone back on Earth."
Rios looked at the man as if he had lost his mind. "Earth? Picard, if we contact Earth, it could tip off The Federation where we're at and what we're doing."
Picard raised his eyebrows, and gave a small smirk. "Discreetly, Rios, was the pejorative word in that sentence."
Rios got it. "Ah, gotcha," he said with a sly grin. "Who do you want us to, uh, discreetly, try to contact?"
"I need you to contact former Admiral Kathryn Janeway. She was Seven's Captain on Voyager when it was lost in the Delta Quadrant."
Raffi got it immediately. "I read up that Janeway and this Seven had a rather...interesting relationship when on Voyager, and for a while afterward?"
"'Interesting' doesn't begin to cover it, Raffi." Jean-Luc quietly sat down. "I fear the only person who might be able to reach Seven is Janeway. If Seven has bowed to her fury, many people, in many places, are in mortal danger."
"We'll get right one it, JP," Raffi promised.
"Make it so."
Two Days Later, Bloomington, Indiana
Kathryn Janeway had taken a walk back to the lake that bordered the home where she had grown up and now owned. When she had left Starfleet fifteen years earlier, having done everything she could to keep The Federation and Starfleet from becoming overt militant entities, she had retired to this house, where her parents had raised her sister Phoebe and herself.
Her mother had passed away three years after she had returned the U.S.S Voyager to the Alpha Quadrant, following their seven-year ordeal in the Delta Quadrant. She had updated the home so it wasn't without twenty-fourth century conveniences, while keeping the basic tenor of the traditionalist lifestyle her parents had lived.
After the news she had received today, she had needed to get out of the house, and get some fresh air, after the communication from former Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. The air had helped.
But it didn't take away the devastating pain she felt in what the message had said.
"My God, Seven," Janeway lamented out loud, to no one but the lake, "what has happened to you?"
She hadn't seen Seven in a decade. Their once-close relationship had been all but destroyed when Seven had began a relationship with Chakotay shortly before Voyager arrived back to Earth. Kathryn had felt betrayed by her young protege, who, too late, found out that the Captain was very much in love with the former Borg drone, but had hidden part of her feelings, demanding she deny herself any intimate relationships in the Delta Quadrant.
For her part, Seven had felt exactly the same way as Janeway, yet she had concluded that Janeway hadn't been interested. Less than a year after their return to Earth, Kathryn and Seven had met, in an attempt to clear the air.
It had been a disastrous meeting.
Seven had accused Kathryn of abandoning her, forcing her into Chakotay's arms, while they were still in the Delta Quadrant; Kathryn claimed that Chakotay and Seven, by hiding their romance, only telling her about it over dinner one night, had been the straw that broke the camel's back, sending Kathryn into a deep depression, and using a year of personal leave to all but vanish.
For the next five years, Kathryn had no contact with Seven or Chakotay, the bitterness of having their relationship held secret, then revealed during the long, tortuous debriefs, hearing, and, for Kathryn, a Court Martial which she had to endure. Even after being blindsided by both Seven and Chakotay, she had steadfastly defended them at the hearings, and at her Court Martial. Her testimony had convinced Starfleet to allow the Maquis members of her crew to continue to serve, if they chose, and had guaranteed the citizenship for Seven, Icheb, and the Doctor.
Yet neither Seven nor Chakotay had thanked her after the fact. In fairness, two days after the Court Martial had concluded, with Kathryn being promoted to Vice-Admiral, she had taken that leave and vanished.
The last time she had seen Seven was twelve years ago, after Chakotay had been killed in an anthropological expedition on Varnas VII, when a sudden plasma storm had descended on his team, and he had been hit by a bolt of plasma lightning.
Despite their estrangement, Kathryn had been devastated at the news, and had offered Seven her sincere condolences, which Seven had accepted. Yet by the end of the five days Kathryn had been on Dorvan V, the relationship with Seven was broken seemingly beyond repair. The bitterness that Seven displayed contained nothing that Kathryn Janeway recognized as Seven of Nine, only that of a disillusioned, angry woman.
Kathryn still had her sources, and she had kept track of the former drone, finding out a long time ago that she had joined the Fenris Rangers, a vigilante group dedicated to protecting former drones from attack.
Kathryn had been devastated by Icheb's death, and had become physically ill when reading what had happened to him. She had to run to the en suite to vomit, so upset had she become. She had to admit that part of her physical reaction was reading that Seven had gone on a killing spree in the last few days, to avenge Icheb's death, all those years ago.
That wasn't the Seven she knew and loved. This was someone completely alien to her. Despite their estrangement over the years, Kathryn's heart strings clenched, knowing that she had to do something. She couldn't simply let someone she still cared about destroy her life.
She had calmed down enough after about thirty minutes, going back inside her home. From there, she put out a subspace call.
Two Weeks Later
Like many of the crew from Voyager, Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres had left Starfleet in disgust as the organization became more paranoid, and more militant in the years after their return. Like everyone else, they had been appalled at the destruction visited on Mars by synthetic life-forms, but had objected to outlawing the existence of such life-forms. For them, it came perilously close to home, since such sentiment could be extended to other life-forms, such as ex Borg Drones, and holographic Doctors.
When Kathryn Janeway had called, Tom and B'Elanna were living on Covis III, near the border, such as it was these days, with the Ferengi Alliance. Tom had been working with various groups to improve propulsion systems for more than a decade, while B'Elanna had helped to install and test the designs that Tom and his colleagues came up with. It was a perfect partnership for pilot and engineer.
They had been enjoying a day off together, when around mid-day, they had received a sub-space message from their former Captain, Kathryn Janeway, insisting the meet at the Paris' residency on Covis III. When pressed for answers, Janeway had told them that it would be better to discuss this in person. Whatever it was, Tom and B'Elanna knew it was serious, and agreed to the meeting.
Janeway arrived early a few days later, Tom and B'Elanna having cleared their schedule for their friend and mentor, knowing she wouldn't have made a six-day journey to simply catch up on the Paris family.
When they arrived at their home, Tom, being the ever-attentive person he was, immediately asked if Kathryn wanted some coffee.
"Honestly, Tom," Janeway replies, "when I tell you what I came her for, we'll need something a lot stronger than coffee. You have any whiskey?"
That made B'Elanna sit up. "Whiskey? It's not even mid-day!"
"I'm serious "B'El," Janeway said, not even a hint of a smile on her face.
Tom did as requested, and hauled out some real whiskey, and filled two fingers in a highball for each of them.
"OK, Kathryn," Tom said, looking her dead in the eye, "what is so important to get you out here, drinking whiskey in the morning?"
For the next twenty minutes, Kathryn went over literally the entire history between she and Seven, as well as Seven's joining the Rangers, through Icheb's death, and the recent events on Freecloud.
Tom was naturally fair-skinned, but became more ashen-faced as the story unfolded. B'Elanna, like Janeway when she had heard the news, had to excuse herself to vomit, so upset did she become. The details about Icheb's death, and how Seven had recently exacted revenge had truly appalled the Klingon/human hybrid. She had developed a tender spot for Icheb before they had made it back to Earth, and she and Seven had become friends after their arrival home.
They both knew Seven had all but vanished in the last decade, but this? This sent them reeling, and truly frightened for their friend.
"Khaless," Torres breathed after returning from the bathroom, still shaken by the new. "I knew she had joined the Rangers. That was no secret. But this?" She looked over at first her husband, then her former captain. "This just plain murder! That's not our Seven, Kathryn."
"No, it isn't," Janeway lamented. "But she hasn't been 'our Seven' since Chakotay died. And what this other woman, this Bjayzi, did in playing her to get information on Icheb, then all but butchering him to death ten years ago....I wonder if 'our Seven' even exists any longer."
The sad, bereft look on Janeway's face conveyed far more than words every could. Not many people had surmised that Janeway and Seven had been in love at one time. Tom and B'Elanna had been two of the few, and they had cursed the stubbornness of both women over the years for fucking up their chance to be together. B'Elanna, almost too late, had become close to Seven, seeing the tall, lithe blonde as she saw herself: a person caught between two worlds, not fully accepted by either. Now, her erstwhile friend was, for all intent and purpose, a criminal on the loose.
Tom had been quite up to this point. Gone, at least for the moment, was the flippant, off-handed helmsman who had kept the sanity of most of the crew while in the Delta Quadrant. He had been one of the first to befriend Seven onboard Voyager, and the two, while never becoming best friends, had looked out for each other back then, and had stayed in touch-until a decade ago.
"This...." For once he struggled to even enunciate a thought. "Part of me understands her wanting revenge. We all knew Icheb had died, but Starfleet didn't release any details, except that he died serving on the Coleman. If I had known, hell, I might have gone after that murdering bitch myself." He held up his hands as the two women began to protest. "But for God's sake, it sounds like she simply slaughtered these people on Freecloud." He looked again hard at Janeway. "I imagine you're here to cop a ship and try to find her, am I right, Kathryn?"
Despite the oppression of the subject matter, Kathryn smiled. "You know how to read me, Tom. You always have." The she became serious. "That's exactly what I want to do. I can't really waltz over to a Starfleet dock and get a ship, can I? One reason I thought of you is, well...."
Tom gave her an impish grin. "Yeah, well, we do have quite a few ships around here that aren't registered, and that no one will miss."
"Thank you, both," Kathryn said softly, obviously touched by their generosity.
"On one condition, Kathryn." B'Elanna had that there will be no argument about this look on her face.
Kathryn caught it immediately. "Oh, no, you don't, B'Elanna," she said, erecting a Force Ten glare at her former Chief Engineer. "You and Tom are not coming along. You have work here. Miral is...."
"Miral is on Earth, going to college at Kent State, to get an aviation degree," Tom interjected. "We told you that, Kathryn. She wants nothing to do with Starfleet, and she is doing fine."
Kathryn ruefully looked at them. "Tom, B'Elanna," she began, "This isn't going to be a happy reunion if we find Seven. It's going to be extremely dangerous. The Fenris Rangers aren't exactly known for their tactfulness. I don't want others taking the risk."
"Whose gonna fly the ship for you?" Paris gave her his boyish grin, which made Janeway roll her eyes. "These aren't Starfleet vessels, Kathryn: they're prototypes, and have a lot of new technology poured into the. Technology that Starfleet doesn't even know about. I know how to drive 'em."
Kathryn gave into the inevitable. "Alright, you two. First thing we're going to do is, obviously, have you pick a ship that you think is right for this mission. After we leave, we need to track down someone onboard a ship that is heading toward Roumlan Space, and The Artifact."
That got their attention. "That destroyed Borg cube?" Tom shuddered. "I hear they're experimenting with freed drones on that thing. Who would be going there?"
The silence deepened.
"Why is Picard going there, for Khaless sake?" B'Elanna was beginning to think that, no, this wasn't going to be fun and games.
"From what he tells me, he found Bruce Maddox, the scientist who tried to have Commander Date dis-assembled years ago, and apparently he was aware that Data had created two offspring-twin girls. Jean-Luc told me one died in front of him while on Earth; the other one is on The Artifact."
"What does that have to do with Seven?"
"Nothing," Janeway said flatly. "However I need to find out everything that happened when Seven was on that ship. It might give us a starting point in trying to locate her."
"Romulan Space," Tom muttered. "They may be nomads at the moment, but I still don't trust them."
"After Starfleet abandoned them, after promising to assist them in finding a new home, they hardly trust anyone, and I don't blame them." B'Elanna currently had no more love for Starfleet or The Federation than Janeway or Seven, or Picard for that matter.
"Is Picard working with Starfleet?" Tom enunciated the obvious question.
"He went to Starfleet for their assistance, but was rebuffed, rather rudely, from what he tells me. He believes there are people inside Starfleet working with the Romulans on The Artifact, and believes with Seven pulling off this killing spree at Freecloud, they'll be after her as well."
Both Kathryn and Tom looked over at B'Elanna, not disagreeing with her assessment.
"Those bastards have taken over and corrupted Starfleet, and The Federation." She held up an contemptuous hand. "I know, I didn't love either to begin with, but I respected them. Now? They're no better than the Romulans were, or the Klingon's at their worst. I wonder if this former friend of Seven's had ties to them, that go back to what happened to Icheb?"
Kathryn shook her head. "That's going way beyond what we need to accomplish, B'El, although it's something we might discover. I don't want Icheb's death to be forgotten, nor to have been for nothing. But our goal is to find Seven, and see if we can ascertain what's going on with her."
"Then I suggest," Tom amended, "that we find a way to get The Doctor out of Starfleet Medical."
Again, there was shocked silence in the room.
"And just how the hell do you propose we do that?" Janeway almost yelled the words. "Do you think we can simply waltz into fucking Starfleet Medical and take him. For Christ's sake, Tom, this is gonna be hard enough as it is!"
"Whoa, Kathryn!" Tom threw up his hands, almost like he was going to defend himself. "I know it won't be easy, but The Doc knows more about Seven than any of us. I think it's vital he come alone with us. It's not like we're gonna need him like right now. We have time to figure this out"
B'Elanna smiled inwardly, the irony of her having to be peacemaker not lost on her. "OK, both of you, pipe down! Tom, we need something very creative if we're gonna get The Doc. Kathryn, Tom's right. If we can have The Doc with us, it will help us to help Seven, if and/or when we find her. Now, both of you, take a sip of that whiskey and calm down for a few."
They both looked at her as if she had two heads. "What?," she replied defensively. "Someone has to keep calm through all of this. I want to help my friend."
That sobered both Tom and Kathryn up, bringing the conversation back to the focal point: Seven of Nine.
Tom looked at his drink, grabbed the highball, then raised it up. "To Seven: may we find her and bring her some peace."
"To Seven," Kathryn echoed softly. "I apologize, Tom, but this whole thing is just so.....unreal."
"I know, Kathryn," Tom lamented. "I don't blame you. In fact, I like the fact your so charged up about this. It's going to be needed."
They quietly sipped at their whiskey, then the three of them got to work.
A week later, the trio was ready to set out, first to rendezvous with the La Sirena, which was just outside of what used to be the Neutral Zone. It would take four days to reach that ship.
Tom had chosen a medium-sized vessel, complete with two bedrooms, which sported a new, advanced slip-stream drive, the likes that Starfleet would kill for (literally, Tom thought): an advanced, albeit still-experimental continuous modulating shield, and long-range sensors that were as good, if not better, than anything anyone else in this Quadrant had. It also boasted a state-of-the-art cloaking device. It was a tough, fast, maneuverable, and stealthy ship.
Tom was teaching Kathryn how to fly the ship. Kathryn was an excellent pilot, and even though some of the technology was new, and she needed to learn the ins-and-outs of how they worked, flying was still flying, and she caught on quickly. What surprised Janeway is that B'Elanna had become a first-rate pilot over time. Tom had learned a lot about the Engineering aspect of the ship, but he never would approach B'Elanna's insane intellect when it came to that discipline.
Kathryn was the last one to board, then Tom buttoned up the ship that he had named Phantom, in honor of its cloaking device, and it's speed. The name met with everyone's approval.
"I received a subspace message from Picard," Kathryn announced. "He'll meet us at the rendezvous in four days. We won't be staying more than a half day with the La Sirena. They're on their own mission, and we don't want to interfere with that, either."
"Sounds good to me," Tom said seriously. "Time to get moving...Captain?"
Janeway looked at him, startled, then over at B'Elanna who simply had a lopsided smirk on her face. "Hey, Kathryn," the hybrid mentioned, "you do have the most seniority still among us. This is your mission, and it's your ship now."
Kathryn sighed, ignoring the desire to roll her eyes. "Very well, you two," she said deadpan, "I'm in charge now."
The ship literally jumped off the ground, unlike a large Starship, and within three minutes, they were free of the planet's atmosphere.
Tom looked over at Janeway. "Course, Captain?"
"Lay in a course 203, mark 115, full impulse until we clear the planetary cluster, then prepare the slip-stream drive, B'Elanna."
"Aye, Captain," the engineer said without missing a beat.
Cardassian Military Prison, Lamenda Prime, The Following Day
Gul Dir Ordet wasn't the happiest Gul in what was left of the Cardassian Union, but he had to admit, others had it a lot worst than he did.
A lot worse.
He was currently in charge of the Lamenda Prison on Lamenda Prime. The prison housed various criminals against the State: traitors, foreign spies, criminals and murderers. The usual lot one would find in a prison throughout the Quadrant.
Recently, he had been assigned a new group of prisoners, who had been captured wandering the region between the Cardassian Union and the Ferengi Alliance. This was an especially fearsome, very unknown quantity for Cardassians.
They were former Borg drones, freed from The Collective.
Even while the Cardassian Union had been severely limited in the makeup of its military after their defeat during the Dominion War, they always seemed to find ways to skirt the peace treaty with the Federation, the Klingon's, and, now, what was left of the Roumlan Empire. There were no official records for these prisoners.
Yet just like Bjayzl, who had culled former drones for their technology, the Cardassians were doing the same thing, on a much larger scale. The main concentration of that effort was at this prison on Lamenda Prime.
They cared nothing about the actual sentient beings, the flesh and blood, that hosted the cybernetic implants. They only wanted the technology, to study, to learn about, and, hopefully one day, to use to regain their status as a major player in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. Such a day was long off, but it had to begin somewhere.
Currently, Gul Ordet had fifty-five former drones at his disposal, to do with what he wanted. Unlike Bjayzi, and quite surprisingly, Ordet used anesthesia on his subjects, in heavy amounts, so they could die in oblivion once his people had extracted every piece of hardware for study. It still was barbaric, but wasn't on the scale of Bjayzl's barbarism.
Not only did they extract from the former Borg, but talked to them beforehand, trying to understand a little about what the Borg were like. It had revealed some interesting information that would help them to use the technology, or so they hoped. But every former drone had the same sentence in the end: death.
This day, about twenty of the beings were in the lab to be cut open and dissected for their parts. Then they would be given an injection that would kill them immediately, their bodes to be incinerated afterward.
All in all, it was a typical day, and Gul Ordet was relatively content.
That contentment suddenly turned to chaos, without so much as a warning. In the blink of an eye, his people started falling to phaser fire like ninepins, Ordet not even to ascertain who was doing the shooting, or how many were shooting. It was pure mayhem.
Within minutes, Ordet himself was down with a severe injury, certain his spine had been broken by a blast. He could hear cries of panic from his people. The room quieted, but he cold hear more tumult down the hall, in the holding cells, again as phaser fire, and the screams of Cardassians echoed back into his location.
Moments after that, the former drones began disappearing, being beamed away, most likely to a ship nearby. In moments, the room and the holding area was all but silent.
Gul Ordet watched a single individual: a tall, lithe human blonde, he could clearly tell, going around the room, shooting any Cardassian that showed signs of life. When she turned, he could see the implant over her left eye.
She was a former drone.
This individual made the rounds of the room, finally stopping where he was, the lame Gul looking up at her in fascination.
"You are the Gul, are you not?" The voice was calm, but deathly menacing at the same time. This person obviously knew her Cardassian military insignia.
"I am. I am Gul Ordet, commander of this outpost."
"If I may correct you, you were the commander of this outpost." Her eyes blazed at him. "You are relieved of that duty."
He didn't even hear the phaser blast that ended his life a moment later.
Four Days Later, Near the Romulan Border
The Phantom and the La Sirena rendezvoused as scheduled, just outside of Romulan space. Picard welcoming Janeway and her crew onboard. After being introduced, Picard and Janeway got down to business in Picard's quarters.
"I regret, Kathryn, that I missed the signs from Seven that she was going to do precisely what she ended up doing."
"How so, Jean-Luc?"
"She had asked me if I had ever regained all of my humanity after being severed from the Collective. I didn't hesitate. I said no, but I told her that both of us were working on that very thing. She replied, 'Every damn day.' Yet the question itself should have warned me that she wasn't going to listen to her humanity after leaving the ship." He gave a sad, sorrowful frown. "I'm deeply sorry for my failure."
Janeway shook her head. "The failure isn't yours, Jean-Luc. It's squarely falls on Seven's shoulders." She took a sip of the coffee Picard had prepared for her, while he sipped at his standard Earl Gray. "A lot happened to Seven after we returned from the Delta Quadrant. Starfleet wanted her to be a prisoner, along with Icheb and our Mark I Doctor. Our friendship disintegrated, which was mostly my fault; her husband died eight years after we returned."
That was news to Picard. "Her husband? Seven was married?"
Kathryn nodded, sweeping away the fleeting pain that entered her mind. "Yes, she married my former First Officer, Chakotay, a year after we returned. After his death, she pretty much vanished off the grid."
"That is a lot to go through, Admiral Janeway," Picard observed.
Kathryn smiled. "Just call me Kathryn, Jean-Luc." She nodded her head out toward the bridge where Rios, Tom, B'Elanna and Raffi presently were. "Those two clowns have given me the rank of Captain again." She turned serious. "And, yes, it was a lot, even for you and me. But for someone who was still trying to find her humanity after eighteen years with the Collective? It was impossible for her."
She took another sip of the caffeinated liquid. "After Chakotay died-well, that was the time that Starfleet and The Federation started to fall firmly under the grasp of the hard-liners, and Seven, like many of us, wanted nothing to do with it, especially since she was aware that The Federation, and Section 31, were after her."
"Section 31," Picard muttered crossly under his breath. "Those damnable bastards."
"When I heard she had joined the Rangers, and knowing something about that group, I had hoped she would be able to...modify the worst of their behavior. When she found Icheb," Janeway shuddered, "cut to pieces, begging to die, she obviously snapped.
"She stayed off the grid as far as I know until this incident on Freecloud. Now? Now I'm worried that she's back in the news, and...certain forces will be gunning for her-literally."
"I do wish, my dear Kathryn, that I could assist in that endeavor. Seven has become important to me over the years. We have-or maybe I should say, had-a special kinship because of The Borg. But I have urgent business elsewhere."
"I understand, Jean-Luc," she said sincerely. "Seven and I, at one time, had a special relationship as well." She couldn't meet Picard's eyes at that moment, but unable to put her old command mask on."
Picard could read people as well as anyone, and his eyebrows raised at Janeway's statement about her relationship with one Annika Hansen. He filed that away for later.
"I will have Raffi download all pertinent information we have on Seven, on the Fenris Rangers, and possible targets that she might go after. Unfortunately, that isn't going to find her for you. I wish I could give more."
Kathryn smiled, grabbing the older man's hand and squeezing it. "Jean-Luc, if it's all you can give, I gladly accept it."
A few minutes later, she was on the Bridge with Torres and Paris, ready to head back to the Phantom.
Before they beamed away, Picard approached Janeway. "Kathryn, if you can, I ask that, when you have a chance, to fill me in on what is transpiring with Seven. It may, in the end, have an effect on my end of things. But I also admit, I'm fond of her, and, like you, I want to see her draw away from the path she's on."
"I will do so, Jean-Luc, next time we meet." She put a comforting hand on his shoulder, then returned to where Tom and B'Elanna were.
She smiled sadly at him. "Live long and prosper, my friend."
Picard moved his fingers into the Vulcan salute. "Peace and long life to you, Kathryn Janeway. Until we meet again."
Three Days Later, Starfleet Command
Despite all the turmoil, upheaval, and paranoia that had gripped Starfleet for the last twenty years, since the Dominion War ended, one person still remained at the top of the pyramid, in charge of the vast organization: Admiral Alynna Necheyav.
She had outlasted Owen Paris. She had out-maneuvered Jean-Luc Picard. She had fenced with, and beaten Kathryn Janeway, and a host of others to stay at the top of the byzantine structure. Necheyav was a survivor, and knew how to navigate the rapids that seemed to constantly swirl around her for the last two decades.
And she knew how to keep her enemies off-balance.
She wasn't the Alynna Necheyav that had nearly been broken after Wolf 359, when her husband had been killed. She wasn't even the cunning, voraciously ambitious up-and-comer that she had been twenty years ago. She sat at the top now, and planned to stay there.
Ten years ago, Necheyav had made a decision that few in Starfleet knew about, at least openly, and it had kept her grip on Starfleet. She had thrown in her lot with Section 31, the ultra-secretive organization within The Federation, that would break, any rule to protect The Federation, even from itself. She quite literally ran both organizations now, and she had become more powerful than that 20th Century, genetically-engineered lord, Khan Noonien Singh could ever have imagined. And yet nary a soul outside herself, and the highest operatives within Section 31 knew she had control of both Starfleet and The Federation.
Her paranoia hadn't changed. She still didn't like anything much beyond human beings-even then she loathed most of them. She had a hatred of anything that was contrived: synthetics; holographic life forms; hybrids, like former Borg drones-one especially came to mind.
The hatred of these wannabe lifeforms stemmed in part from losing her husband at Wolf 359, but had been exacerbated by her clashes with the legends that were former Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, and former Vice-Admiral Kathryn Janeway. Her loathing of Picard had let to her loathing of synthetics, like Lieutenant Commander Data. Her battles with Janeway had led her to want to destroy Seven of Nine and Icheb, the two former drones that had arrived on Voyager from the Delta Quadrant, and of Janeway's holographic Mark I EMH, who, to this day, was the same old, cantankerous EMH, who had so protected his ethical subroutines that they had never been broken by Starfleet.
She thought she had been rid of Picard and Janeway, both run out of Starfleet when Necheyav had consolidated her power. Unbeknownst to anyone, she had financed and allowed Section 31 to direct that lunatic Bjayzl, who had had an affair with Seven of Nine, in an attempt to find the young man Icheb, and destroy him. Unfortunately, Seven had escaped Bjayzl's grasp, and, until a few days ago, hadn't been heard of in almost nine years.
Until the reports came in from Freecloud. Seven of Nine was back, and had exacted her revenge on Bjayzl, killing her and about fifty others on that crazy world.
Necheyav had immediately increased security around herself, and around any installations that the Fenris Rangers might try to hit. She didn't think the ex-drone would be foolish enough to attack her or Starfleet, but took no chances.
Now, after this massacre at Freecloud, Admiral Alynna Necheyav wanted to unleash Section 31 to find, and, finally, destroy the former Borg drone.
Kathryn Janeway had a somewhat clearer picture of the current frame of mind of her former protege, Seven of Nine, as her intrepid little crew of three began to devise the next part of the plan to find her. This part of the plan might prove to be the most dangerous: freeing the Doctor from Starfleet Medical in San Francisco.
In fact, Kathryn Janeway did have an idea about that, in the person of a former Academy classmate, who happened to still be in Starfleet, despite his opposition to the current climate within the organization. But how to get in touch with him, without drawing suspicion to herself and her small crew?
Despite not being in Starfleet, Janeway had her own sources about who was where, and doing what. It wasn't just to be nosy, but she felt it had given her a sense of awareness about the organization that she had left, and whose supreme leader still regarded one Kathryn Janeway as an enemy.
Getting back to Earth, and beaming down, or landing wasn't too difficult. Non-Starfleet ships came and went all the time. But Kathryn was quite sure that if they landed the ship in Bloomington, that the news would get back to Admiral Alynna Necheyav, and that's the last thing Kathryn wanted. And she certainly couldn't land anywhere near San Francisco.
She had Tom land the ship near where the person she wanted to meet lived: Malaga, Spain.
Retired Admiral Will Riker and his wife, Deanna Troi, were simply lounging lazily in the mid-afternoon sun at their beach-side estate near Malaga. Will had left Starfleet five years earlier, although unlike Picard and Janeway, he had done so on relatively good terms with the organization. He had tried to work from within the system to keep Starfleet the organization that he had become a man in, and that reflected his deep-seeded values of its guiding principles.
He had fought the good fight, but there were simply not enough voices to be added to his in trying to stave of the paranoid fanaticism that had infected the protection arm of The Federation. Even as the master of the flagship, the U.S.S Enterprise, NCC-1701E, his voice didn't carry enough weight to sway many to either break from the militants, or, what was more likely, because of fear of reprisal.
He had been diplomatic about his opposition, and had even met, more than once, with Admiral Alynna Necheyav, to discuss their difference. He hadn't been as openly curt with her as Picard had been, but then Necheyav didn't look at Will as she had Jean-Luc: Will was a human being in her eyes; Picard would always be Locutus of Borg.
He had retired with an Honorable discharge, a medal for his meritorious service pinned on him by Necheyav herself. He still even had privileges visiting Starfleet Headquarters, or any Starfleet facility, for that matter.
He was bringing out a tray containing two glasses, and a large, cold pitcher of lemonade. Deanna smiled over at him as he set the tray on the patio table.
"You know my sweet teeth too well, don't you?" She picked up the glass her husband had just filled.
"Intimately," Will said, with that famous twinkle in his eye and cherubic smile. "Not that I would ever use it to my advantage, mind you?"
Deanna laughed. "No, never. We can't have that." She took her first gulp. "Aah, perfect, as always. Thank you, my dear."
"Anytime, my lovely lady."
They were in quiet, but animated conversation, when they noticed three people approaching from one side of their estate.
Deanna shaded her eyes. "We weren't expecting any guests. I can't make out who it is, but I definitely see a Klingon in the group."
"That's strange," Will echoed. He rose and moved a little toward the arriving group, in part out of curiosity, and, in part, to protect his wife if the need arose. He was never without a phaser.
As they came closer, Riker's eyes widened in recognition of the female in the middle. "I'll be damned," he whispered. "Kathryn Janeway."
Despite the seriousness of her visit, Kathryn Janeway smiled as she approached her old classmate. "Will Riker," she said with a laugh, as Will got closer. "It's been a long, long time!"
Riker gave her his best smile, as he embraced her and kissed her on the cheek. The two had had a short, fiery affair their junior year at The Academy, and had remained good, albeit long distance friends ever since.
"The conquering hero of the Delta Quadrant," he said with a chuckle. "You look wonderful, Kate." He bade the three to join he and Deanna at the table. Deanna had been pulling up three more chairs, with a knowing smile on her face.
"My friends, I'd like you to meet my charming, lovely wife Deanna," Will said gesturing to his Betazoid wife, who was still standing, a welcoming smile on her face.
Kathryn approached Deanna and shook her hand. "Counselor Troi," she said with a wide grin, "it's so nice to finally meet you."
"Likewise, Captain. I'm surprised we never ran into each other over the years."
"Will, Deanna," Janeway announced, "I'd like to you meet two of my dearest friends, my former Chief Engineer on Voyager, B'Elanna Torres, and her husband, my former Chief Helmsman, and continual pain-in-the-ass, Tom Paris."
Tom rolled his eyes. B'Elanna only snorted a laugh.
"Owen Paris' son?" Will stepped up and gave the man a strong handshake. "I can see the resemblance."
"Oh, thanks a lot, Admiral," Tom said with that boyish grin the he still owned. "The receding hairline did it, right?" They shared a laugh.
Will excused himself for a moment to fetch three more glasses, filled them, and then became the proper host. "So what brings you to Spain? I have a feeling it's not just to catch up, although I'd love to do that, Kate."
"I wish it could be social. I haven't seen you in years, and I'd love to get to know Deanna," she said with a fulsome smile. "No, this is quite serious."
Kathryn spent the next twenty minutes telling Will and Deanna about Seven of Nine. Both knew of her, and had actually met her once years ago. Deanna had become quite proficient at turning off her Betazoid empathic talents, and simply listen to what others were saying. After the twenty minute recital, both were ashen-faced.
"Good God," Will breathed out. "Someone like Seven, with her abilities, and in that state of mind?"
Deanna agreed. "She isn't just a danger to herself. She could threaten thousands of people, Kathryn."
"I know," Kathryn said in almost a whisper. "At heart, Seven is a caring, tender, loving individual. When we arrived back from the DQ, however, she was still discovering her humanity. I believe I and my crew set for her the best examples of humanity, but I'm afraid, when Starfleet when after her, and I had to defend her, she started to see the worst of humanity. And it snowballed from there."
B'Elanna spoke up. "It took me a long time to warm up to Seven. She could be infuriating when on Voyager," she said with a laugh. "But Kathryn's right. I found out she was one of the most precious people I'd ever known. This breaks my hearts to think what she has become."
"Maybe forced to become, is a better statement," Deanna offered. "I can't even imagine what seeing Icheb on that biobed did to her psyche, and then having him beg her to put him out of his misery?" She shook her had sadly.
"Kathryn approached us in trying to locate Seven," Tom informed them. "We try not to let one of our own suffer like this if we can help it."
Riker nodded. "I'd be doing the same thing." Then he put on his formidable poker face. "I suppose that, somehow, you're going to ask something of me." He said it with a smile, but his words were deadly serious.
"Yes, Will," Kathryn admitted. "Tom made the suggestion that we need our former Holographic Mark I doctor to go with us. He knows Seven inside and out. He's even written case studies about her. I'm convinced his assistance is vital to reach Seven and try to help yer-if we find her that is."
Deanna caught on first. "And, he's currently downloaded at Starfleet Medical, correct?"
It took Will a moment. "Wait, you want me to try and retrieve him from Starfleet Medical?"
"To be blunt, yes." Janeway had her own command face on, which was also formidable.
"Didn't he have a mobile emitter for a time on Voyager?"
"He did, Admiral," B'Elanna offered. "I've replicated one myself. I studied that thing inside and out, and even though it's 29th Century technology, I was able to do so. We won't have to find the original."
"That's a relief," Will commented with obvious sarcasm. "Isn't his program somehow protected? I would think if there was an attempt to download him into a tricorder, it would set alarms off all over the place?"
B'Elanna had done her research since joining Kathryn on this quest. She shook her head. "Nope. He's been downloaded countless times, from what I can tell, and gone on missions, as long as he remains on a ship, or within an area that has holo-emitters. They simply feel he's safe within the walls of Starfleet Medical."
"You have one more thing that works for you, Will." His wife looked at him seriously. "Beverly is currently doing research work at the facility."
"Dr. Crusher is there?" Janeway hadn't the first clue that Jean-Luc Picard's ex-wife was still in Starfleet. "Talk about coincidence."
Will shook his head. "It's still damn risky. I'd have to get in and out of there, with neither Beverly-if I involve her in the first place-being suspected of anything, then disappear from San Francisco in a hurry." He looked over at Janeway. "Did Picard put you up to this? I know he and Seven of Nine are friends."
"Absolutely not," Kathryn said with conviction. "He is on....another mission, shall we say, that I can't talk about, and he knows that Seven and I are....were once close, and thought if anyone could find Seven and talk her off this ledge, that I could do it. I volunteered to do this, Will."
He didn't doubt Janeway's statement at all. He had implicit trust in the word of both Jean-Luc Picard, and Kathryn Janeway. Both had taken a slightly different path as he had, when it came to trying to steer Starfleet and The Federation in the right direction, and he hadn't burned his bridges to Starfleet simply because someone had to keep the lines of communication open.
He also surmised that, if he got caught, it would mean the end of his freedom, and most like that of Janeway, Paris and Torres, at the very least, and would make the hardliners even more ruthless.
Yet at the pace Starfleet was moving, even with Necheyav getting up in age, just like the rest of them, both organizations were on a course to become what the Romulans and Cardassians had been in their prime: ruthless, militaristic entities, who would do anything to crush even a perceived threat to their survival, be that synthetics, former Star Fleet Admirals, and former Borg drones.
If Janeway could get Seven of Nine to stand down on her wrathful spree, it could go a long way to helping to reverse the trend in San Francisco. He wasn't sure how, but instinct told him that the former drone had a greater destiny than simply exacting vengeance.
"I do have one idea. I don't know if you've though of it." He looked now at B'Elanna Torres. "Is there any chance to make an exact duplicate of your doctor? His mannerisms; his knowledge that he's gained; his personality?"
That is something B'Elanna hadn't thought of. "How come I didn't think of that?" She stood up and began pacing, trying to think about this.
"B'el," Tom interjected, "is there away to duplicate him quickly, and insert him into the Starfleet Medical data base? That way, they'd never know, perhaps."
"It's possible," she began cautiously. "I'd have to run some simulations on a holodeck to see if it would work, but it is theoretically possible."
"How long would it take you to research this, B'Elanna?" Kathryn delivered that in her old command voice, as if she were back on Voyager.
"Maybe a couple days-a week tops," she replied with the same caution. "I'd have to see if their computer could download the Doctor's program and clone it almost instantaneously, hand have the 'new' doctor uploaded. If we had weeks to do a maneuver like this, yeah, I would know how, but instantaneous? With as large of a file as the doctor is? That's gonna be tricky."
Janeway nodded. "I don't want to set a timeline on this, B'Elanna, but you know the sooner the better."
Torres nodded her head. "Yes, Captain." They all looked at her with benign smiles. She furiously blushed. "I mean, uh, yes, Kathryn."
Tom simply snickered under his breath, his wife shooting a death glare at him.
"That gives me some time to ponder over this, Kate." Riker stood up, not to dismiss them, but he wanted to make more lemonade for them, and perhaps talk about more mundane matters. It was getting late, and even though his guests could sleep on their now-cloaked ship that was nearby, he had plenty of room, Deanna insisting they stay at least the night.
Later that evening, Kathryn was awaken by Riker. The news about the attack on the Cardassian prison, the freeing of the former Borg drones there, and the killing of thirty-five Cardassians, had reached the Federation security services. Another APB had been issued on Seven.
Kathryn woke B'Elanna briefly, informing her that there was now a timeline on this. The situation was deteriorating by the day.
The Next Morning, Starfleet Headquarters
Admiral Alynna Necheyav, the Commander-In-Chief of Starfleet, and for all intent and purpose, the head of The Federation as well, had called her hand-picked Federation President, and a few others, to a meeting in San Francisco that morning at 0900. The news that reached her the night before had made this meeting critical.
The President, Alexandria Fetisov, had "won" an election that was clearly rigged three years earlier, but which no one could prove. She was a former member of Starfleet, had gone to the Academy with Necheyav, and had been as hard-lined toward the outside galaxy, that wasn't completely loyal to those two entities. She was as uncompromising as Alynna, and, like Necheyav, she had her own ideas about what the two institutions should be.
The other major player at the meeting was someone almost completely unknown to everyone else at the meeting. He simply went by the name of Sloan. Anyone who tried to find more information on the man would run into a brick wall. Who he was, what he had done in his life, and even rudimentary information on him was non-existent. It was like he was a contrived individual, with no past.
Sloan and Necheyav wanted it that way. What was more important, to him at least, is that he was the actual director of this entire overhaul of Starfleet and The Federation, to make it not a benign, explore-first duo, but one feared throughout the Alpha Quadrant, and beyond. He wanted others to tremble at the mere mention of either Starfleet or the Federation, just as they had once feared the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Empire, and the Cardassian Union.
It was he who had orchestrated the synthetic "revolt" on Mars, unbeknownst to Necheyav, or anyone else. He had put into motion the abandonment of the Romulan colony at Vashti, and had deliberately had the synthetics destroy the Starfleet rescue armada in the process. He had been the one who had clandestinely hired Bjayzl, and the Cardassian prison to hunt down and tear apart former drones to get their technology. He had, in effect, ordered Icheb's death all those years ago, which has eventually sent Seven of Nine, a name he was well familiar with, on her recent campaign of terror.
He was the mysterious leader of Section 31: an organization within both Starfleet and The United Federation of Planets. Its existence had never been confirmed by anyone, but had always been a whisper in dark corners at parties. It had been formed a century ago, to secretly protect the "interests" of both organizations, even at the cost of breaking Federation and Starfleet law. Sloan had taken them over ten years ago, and had turned them from simply a minor sideshow into the power behind both groups. He was, truth be told, the one who headed both, and he was using Necheyav and Fetisov to shape both in his image.
Just about everything had gone the way he wanted it to over the last decade. Yet now, he was faced with a problem that he hadn't foreseen: a one-woman army named Seven of Nine.
Bjayzl had captured Seven years ago, only to have the woman escape. Sloan had wanted to bring her to Earth, and cut up that former drone himself, knowing that her vast knowledge of not just the Borg, but the Delta Quadrant, could be a treasure trove for the Federation and Starfleet for years to come. He wanted her as his prize conquest, to do with as he pleased, for as long as he pleased, before killing her for her implants.
He had been denied that opportunity. Now she was terrorizing the Alpha Quadrant, and anyone who was holding former drones. She could conceivably threaten the entire house he was building-not to mention himself personally.
That is why he had directed Necheyav to call this meeting.
There was one other person there that would have raised eyebrows, had anyone known they were there.
Admiral Elizabeth Shelby, who had pointed Starfleet in the right direction to try and combat the imminent threat from The Borg, after Q had thrown the Enterprise-D thousands of light years across the galaxy into Sector J-25, where Picard had encountered the Borg, was the final member of the group.
She was a natural fit to join the Enterprise crew when The Borg entered the Alpha Quadrant, and was instrumental in helping Acting Captain Riker defeat, then destroy the Borg cube that had crippled The Fleet, while simultaneously retrieving Captain Picard and separating him from The Collective.
She had had a falling out with Picard and Riker about thirteen years ago, as she had advocated a more militant response to go seek out The Borg, perhaps in the Delta Quadrant, and destroying them. Picard had disagreed, noting that the Dominion War had left Starfleet crippled, and, even then, a full ten years after that conflict ended, Starfleet was still rebuilding. Picard had counseled completing the rebuild of The Fleet before any more military adventures.
It was at that time that the schism in Starfleet and The Federation truly began, with one side advocating caution, while the other side, led by Necheyav, wanting to go after any and all enemies of Starfleet, without any provocation from those enemies.
Shelby now was firmly in the Necheyav camp. She hadn't talked to Riker or Picard in a decade, and their last encounter was contentious, to say the least.
This was the core group that was leading both Starfleet and The Federation onto a path of a dictatorship, and one of open aggression toward anyone who didn't toe their wishes.
In the end, it had taken B'Elanna six days to figure out how to implement and execute an almost instantaneous cloning of the Doctor's program. It would take her another three days to show Will Riker how it had to be done. They went through countless simulations in the holodeck that was within the Riker household. It wasn't easy, and Will had trouble syncing the transfer. B'Elanna was patient-a virtue she had learned by being a mother-and knew Riker could do it. It wasn't easy, and she knew it, but she had full confidence the former Admiral was up to the task.
Nine days after B'Elanna had begun her work, Riker had perfected the technique. Now it was time to get one other person involved in this undertaking.
Admiral Doctor Beverly Crusher couldn't believe she had agreed to this scheme. One one hand, it could be career suicide, and lead to life in prison, but on the other hand, after Riker had communicated with her, she understood the importance of Janeway's mission, and how trying to bring the former Borg drone back into line would benefit everyone, including Starfleet and The Federation.
She was no fan of Alynna Necheyav. Never had been. The C-in-C had a long, running feud with her ex-husband, Jean-Luc Picard. Even though she was an "ex," she and Jean-Luc had divorced amicably, and she still would stand by his side if needed, including against Necheyav, if it ever came to it. Knowing that Jean-Luc had a role in starting this operation was all the justification she needed.
She met Will at the secured entrance to Starfleet Medical. As a former Admiral, in good standing, he was granted entry to Starfleet and Federation facilities. It still didn't stop the guards from giving him the once-over, knowing full well who he was, and that he had, politely butted heads with the C-in-C. But he was admitted without delay.
They first went to lunch, as to not garner any suspicion. In fact, they hadn't gotten together in over a year, the pace of her schedule not allowing much in the way of a social life. They discussed their comings and goings, Beverly promising that she would see Deanna soon enough.
Part of the plan was to give Will a thorough tour of Starfleet Medical, which, surprisingly, he had never visited. This would garner much less attention than a quick in-and-out, and it would let them spend more time in the spot they wanted to be in. The tour took a good two hours.
About an hour-and-a-half into the visit, they accessed the area where the Doctor's "office" was located, blessedly no one was inside, which wasn't rare. Someone only activated the doctor when they needed him. They wouldn't need to activate him for this little to-do.
Will accomplished in under five minutes, having put on surgical gloves if he needed to contact any surfaces in the office. B'Elanna had shown him how to leave nary a trace of the transfer. For all anyone there would know, it still would be the very same Mark I Holographic EMH. No traces would exist that he had been cloned.
They retired to Beverly's office for another thirty minutes, to wrap up what looked like, and, in fact, what was largely a social call, then after hugs and kisses on the cheek, Will Riker departed Starfleet Medical, and within the hour, he was back at his home near Malaga.
Kathryn Janeway dare not even touch the Doctor's program until they were far, far away from Earth, heading toward the Cardassian/Ferengi border of the Quadrant. It was Seven's last known location, and it was as good a place to start as anywhere.
Once they were free of Sector Zero-Zero-One, Kathryn had B'Elanna download the Doctor into the ship's computer. Torres checked, and double-checked to make sure the program was running nominally, then she nodded at Janeway.
"Computer, activate EMH."
Within moments, her old friend materialized. "Please state the nature of the medical.........."
As was often the case on Voyager, he didn't get to finish, which made the other three smile in remembrance of those days.
He looked around, then at Kathryn. "Admiral Janeway? What are....where am I?'
Surprised by her own reaction, Kathryn couldn't help but going up to her holographic friend. "Hello Doctor," she said with tears misting her eyes, "it's been a long, long time. I'm glad to see you."
The Doctor momentarily forgot about why he was where he was. "It's so good to see you. I know it's been a while because you're a lot.....well, it's been a while."
Janeway laughed. "It's OK, Doctor, it's been eight years, to be exact, and, yes, I look older. We all can't keep our younger good looks-except for you, you know."
If he could have blushed he would have. Then he turned to B'Elanna and Tom. "Ah, my favorite partners in crime! B'Elanna, how is my goddaughter, Miral?"
B'Elanna gave him a bright, warm smile. "She's doing great, Doc. Studying at Kent State still. She's in her Junior year." B'Elanna, too, couldn't keep tears out of her eyes. "It's so good to see you again, old friend."
"Doc," Tom strolled up, his jovial voice still the same, although with a hairline that was starting to rival that of the Doctor. "Nice of you to drop in."
The Doctor laughed. "Mr. Paris, my estimable pain-in-the-ass sidekick from Sickbay." The others almost doubled over in laughter. "But I must say," he continued, shaking Tom's hand, "that I still miss those days." He looked at his old friends again, then his mind turned back to the present. "Where exactly am I, and, what, exactly, am I doing here?"
"I know you don't have to sit down, Doctor," Janeway said with much sarcasm, "but, please, sit down. This going to be a long story."
And so it was.
An hour later, the threesome had filled the Doctor in on where he was, how he got there, and what their mission was. He was aghast, as they all had been before him, to learn of Seven of Nine's recent rash of terror around the Quadrant. The Doctor and Seven had a special bond, and always would. He was, in the end, glad his friends had freed him from Starfleet Medical, but wondered how on Earth they had been able to duplicate his program and download it so quickly. That could wait.
"Captain," he said out of, what for human beings, would have been reflex, "I don't know what to say. This isn't the Seven we all knew and loved, and," now he looked over at B'Elanna for a moment, "fought incessantly with on Voyager. My information has been...very restricted, and I knew of none of this. I had no idea about Icheb, and that was a dozen years ago?" He shook his head. "I can't even imagine what he or Seven went through. Of course, I want to help and see if we can find her and talk her down, as it were."
Kathryn smiled sadly. "I'm glad you agree, old friend. This isn't going to be a pleasant mission, and I don't expect, at least at first, a happy reunion, but Picard was right: if anyone can reach her, it's the four of us."
It would be an eight-day trip to their destination inside Cardassian territory, such as it was, even with the advanced slip-stream drive. The cloaking device would let them evade any Cardassian security along the way.
They didn't expect to find Seven right away. They know she was probably long-gone, but perhaps, if they visited the prison she had attacked, they could find more information on where she might have gone.
Six Days Later, Hypeeria Trading Post, Ferengi Alliance
The Ferengi hadn't changed much in centuries. Arrogant, squat, profit-driven, and, in the end, for the most part, not particularly bright. A few had evolved beyond their crass lifestyle. Dr. Reyga, who had developed a metaphysics shielding technique-and was murdered for it-was one. Lieutenant Junior Grade Nog, who became the first Ferengi in Starfleet, also had broken from the normal yardstick of what was thought of Serengeti's. Beyond that, they were tolerated, at the very least. But never under-estimated by potential enemies.
The Hypeeria Trading Post, however, was quintessentially Ferengi in every way.
The Post was vast, larger than Manhattan Island on Earth, with everything imaginable being traded, bartered, squabbled over, and haggled about.
Including former Borg drones.
These former drones, like so many in the Alpha Quadrant, were seen as freaks, not as beings whose lives had been ripped away from them by The Collective. They were just more merchandise for Ferengi and others to make a profit from, either as a whole, or, like what Bjayzl had wanted, simply to kill and to take parts from. It didn't matter. As long as profits were made, and clients were happy, no one cared.
Today, DaiMon Fral had acquired sixteen former drones for sale or barter. His clients never went by their real name, and could be from anywhere in the known galaxy. Even a few stray Breen had wandered in from time to time. As long as their Latinum, or their gold, or their silver, or what they had to exchange in kind was seen as acceptable, no questions were asked. Bjayzl had acquired more than a few of her victims from this trading cesspool.
They didn't hold an auction, but individual customers would inspect their "inventory," make some inquiries about them, and then put in a bid. After a set time frame, each bid on the "items" was made known to everyone, and then customers had ten more minutes to adjust any bids they had made. After that ten minutes, the bidding was done, and the winners announced for each "purchase".
Just as the ten minute adjustment period began, DaiMon Fran had a toothy grin on his face, seeing lots of profit to be made from today's trading. As he was strolling the venue where his goods were being sold, a tall, hooded stranger came up to him, and looked down on him, the beings eyes shining a bright blue.
"What do you want?" As was custom with Ferengi, he didn't spend much on niceties.
"I am here to inquire about your products." The voice was eerily deep and lyrical, which momentarily made the DaiMon's eyes glaze over.
"They are all here to inspect. You don't need me to give you a biography on each of them. But you only have a few minutes left to bid. The final bidding is taking place as we speak."
The hooded being leaned down a little. "I think you misunderstand me: I'm here to acquire all of your merchandise, and immediately."
The DaiMon gave a short, sharp, unpleasant laugh. "I do not think you have enough currency to buy all these fine specimens today, friend. However, if you do, you are welcome to bid."
The being looked around the venue, surveying it one more time. "Again, you misinterpret my meaning. I plan to acquire all of them. Now. Without any form of payment."
"Unfortunately, that is not the way it works, stranger."
"It is how it will work today, DaiMon."
In an instant, DaiMon Fral was stunned from a phaser blast at point-blank range, the mysterious figure moving at blinding speed, quickly gunning down the sixty or so people in the venue.
DaiMon Fral, like the Gul at the Cardassian prison not long ago, looked at this being as it approached him. The hood was removed, and he saw a female, human ex-drone, who had pressed a communicator, moments later, all his drones vanishing.
"You...you are the humon Borg, from Freecloud, and the Cardassian prison."
Seven of Nine leaned over him. "You are correct, DaiMon. You have made your last trade."
She pointed the phaser, now set on kill, to his chest and fired.
Five Days Later
The meeting that Admiral Necheyav had chaired not long ago had taken on new significance, with the latest report from the Ferengi Alliance. There was no doubt that Seven of Nine was out to free XB's, and seek vengeance not only for Icheb, but for the plight of all former drones.
Necheyav had Sloan come to her office mid-day to discuss the situation with him.
Sloan was the true kingmaker, not Necheyav. Normally, he would have been very angry being called as if he were the servant, but in this case, he had actually expected the summons form the Star Fleet Admiral.
Necheyav was looking out of her large window, with a picturesque view of San Francisco Bay, something she never appreciated. As the door closed, she didn't turn around, but spoke in a grating voice.
"That fucking drone is going to kill half the Quadrant if we don't find her, Sloan."
Only then did she turn around, the man seated on the other side of her desk, a benign smirk on his face.
"And a pleasant morning to you, Alynna," he said with a sarcastic bite.
For once, Alynna was not having any of his phony pleasantries. "Stick it up your ass, Sloan," she said with the same anger.
"Ah, ah, ah," he tisked at her, but still in a light tone. "Remember who is running this entire operation, Admiral. It isn't you. It's me. I do share your...sentiments, but let's not go overboard and say something you might regret?"
Necheyav had no love for this son-of-a-bitch. But without him, she couldn't mold Starfleet into what she wanted: a feared, deadly instrument to be used at will against all enemies, real or perceived.
"Be that as it may," Necheyav said flippantly, ignoring the baiting the man was working on, "I think we need to move up the timeline on our mission."
Sloan shook his head. "No, I think we're fine. Admiral Shelby will have her fleet ready in two months. We have those nine brand-new, mothballed Intrepid Class ships being readied as we speak, with the updated warp drives. Better not to be slip-shod in our workmanship. Let them do their jobs."
"And meanwhile, Seven of Nine goes on her merry way, killing more people." She turned to Sloan. "What if she turns her wrath on us."
"If", Sloan countered with no little amount of amazement. "She will turn on us. We have our own facilities. Carefully hidden, yes, and completely off the grid, but we're talking about an extraordinary person here. I don't think the Cardassian prison was known to anyone, but she found it. No, if she's allowed the time, she will find us."
"The best reason for Shelby's fleet to be double-timed into readiness." She looked at Sloan, daring him to challenge him on that point. The mysterious man began to speak, but demurred, nodding his head.
Within a few hours, Necheyav had ordered the workers at Utopia Planetia to hurry things along. She wanted that fleet sailing in under a month.
The News of Seven's attack on the Ferengi outpost reached Janeway and her small crew of the Phantom four days after the fact. Kathryn, B'Elanna, the Doctor and Tom all agreed that their friend would be nowhere near Ferengi space by now.
"She has to know she's being hunted," B'Elanna suggested. "She's certainly not gonna backtrack this way, and I doubt she'll make a nice clean circle around the Quadrant."
"Yeah, but unfortunately, these drone harvesting outposts aren't advertised." Kathryn nodded at Tom's words. "Yet, somehow, she's got a pretty good handle on where these locations are."
"Remember, the Fenris Rangers are pretty large group," Janeway reminded them. "I'm sure she's not working quite by her lonesome, and, at the very least, is getting intel from her comrades."
That made B'Elanna sit up. "Why don't we go hunting for another Fenris Ranger, then?"
The other two looked at her as if she'd lost her mind.
"I'm serious. Fenris is located in the Ficus sector and..."
"And that's a hell of a long way away, B'el. We can't..."
She cut her husband off angrily. "Will you let me finish." She took a breath, then continued. "I'm not suggesting we go to the Ficus sector, but we can extrapolate the best routes from Fenris to where Seven has hit, and even over to The Artifact. From that, we can probably find a ship belonging to them."
Janeway had her right index finger tapping on her lips. "Just how do we find out if a ship belongs to the Rangers? They don't exactly broadcast their information."
"I've been studying up on our vigilante friends," the Doctor finally chimed in. "Reports are that they have received distress calls from former drones who are wandering both the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, and they've been known to investigate such distress calls."
"How does that help us?" Tom hadn't gotten it yet.
Kathryn closed her eyes. "You want to disguise us as former drones....don't you, Doctor?"
That made B'Elanna shudder. She and Janeway had both been assimilated for a short time when rescuing Seven so many years ago. To even play dress-up as one made the normally fearless Klingon hybrid sweat a little.
"It's just dress-up, ladies," Tom said, more flippantly than he wanted to.
Both ladies shot him a Force Ten glare.
Kathryn's voice, unlike her facial expression, was calm. "That's true, Tom. But B'El and I were linked to the Hive mind. They rip your humanity from you, and even simply 'playing dress-up' as you put it, is a bit traumatic."
Tom was uncharacteristically chastised for the moment, and he knew his former Captain was right. Kathryn then softened the blow.
"But it is dress-up, so we'll have the Doctor prepare for that. It very well may be our best chance to get some information on what the Rangers-and Seven-know."
Seven of Nine was laying low for a while. She had had quite the few weeks, taking out nearly one-hundred-and-fifty people in rescuing the XB's that she had freed.
Or, that's what she was telling herself, to assuage her conscience. She wasn't even sure of the answer to that riddle.
Deep inside, she had carried this burning desire for years, to avenge Icheb, the closest thing she would ever have to a son, or family, for that matter. The way she had lost Icheb, through an intimate liaison with Bjayzl-because of human emotions and weaknesses, had scarred her for so many years. She had done quite well in keeping that anger close to the vest for years, truly using her talents to help the Fenris Rangers save XB's.
Seeing Bjayzl on Freecloud had unleashed that unbridled anger. She truly hated that she had lied to Picard. Hated it, but Bjayzl had deserved being blown away into fine dust. So did the Gul at the Cardassian prison. So did the DaiMon at the trading post. But the others? Did they deserve to die over this?
It was only her lingering humanity, that had been instilled into her by Kathryn Janeway, and the crew of Voyager, that had made it so she hadn't slept in days and days. Part of her wanted to hold on to that small corner of humanity. Part of her wanted to rip it away forever.
She had realized, after the attack on the Ferengi, that she was doing too much, too quickly, and that, no doubt, half the Quadrant would be looking for her. She would make a surreptitious route to the Archanis Sector, where a small, inhabitable moon between Kazis IX and the Klingon planet Narendra III, was used as a "safe planet" by the Rangers.
She had co-opted a ship after killing Bjayzl and the others on Freecloud, and she needed to have it upgraded. She could do that on the safe moon. Not only her ship, but the six other ships that had followed her banner in the area, who had beamed up the XB's and then whisked them away, where they would also be deposited on the safe moon. She had made sure none of the other six ships, nor their small crews, had been in on the killing. She didn't want them to be besmirched by what she had done.
On the safe moon, she would consult with some of the higher-ups there, who were always in contact with the other leaders of the group on Fenris.
When they arrived, another XB, a Klingon named Qochur, met her to fill her in on what was happening.
"Seven, it is certain that the Cardassians, in their limited way, are looking for you, as are the Ferengi. I would not be too concerned about them."
"Qochur, do not ever underestimate a foe," Seven reminded him. "You, as a Klingon, should understand that better than most."
He smiled wanly. "Point taken. However, our network has been able to ascertain that Starfleet and The Federation are making ten ships ready at Utopia Planetia, in an attempt to search for you."
Seven contemplated that. "I have not attacked Federation interests, so I wonder why they're so up in arms."
"You haven't attacked their interests?" The question was rhetorical. "It tells me that, somewhere, they are hiding their own prisons with XB's. They are scared now."
Seven paced a little bit at that news. "Do we know what kind of vessels they're preparing?" That information would be crucial as to how defend not only herself, but the entire Ranger organization.
Qochur gave a large sigh. "No, we do not have that information." He looked at her seriously. "You need to lay low for a while, Seven," her compatriot advised. "I will go to Fenris and take counsel with the others. I think they would advise the same."
"I think you're right, my friend," the former Annika Hansen agreed. "I will remain here until you return, which I imagine won't be for a while."
Again he gave her a toothy grin. "The longer I take, the longer you stay off their sensors."
Seven gave him a smile as she went to take her leave. As she was about to exit the room, Qochur called to her.
She turned to face him, face impassive.
"I am...glad that you finally killed Bjayzl. She deserved it."
Seven nodded, wanting to say something about the others she had killed, but stopping short.
As Seven went on a sabbatical, everything else calmed down for a while. Not a peep had been heard from her since her strike on the Ferengi trading post, and that was over a month ago now. In San Francisco, Necheyav was hoping that somehow, the former drone had been killed in some other attack. Yet she know Seven was smarter than perhaps any being in the Galaxy, and didn't discount anything.
Her fleet of Intrepid Class ships were almost ready, and she would send them out very soon. She had instructed Admiral Shelby that her Flagship would be the completely overhauled U.S.S Voyager. This was becoming very personal to her.
Kathryn and her little crew had returned to Earth. It was risky, she knew it, but their cloak was something Starfleet had never dealt with, and they felt safe enough, as long as they didn't go to San Francisco. They, too, had wondered what had happened to Seven, wondering the same thing as Necheyav.
Everyone was taking a breather-for the moment. That would all change soon enough.
Aboard the Starship Voyager
Admiral Elizabeth Shelby, the new master of the U.S.S Voyager, NCC-74656, entered The Bridge of her vessel, as one of her crew bellowed. "Admiral on The Bridge!"
"As you were, people," she said with a small smile.
Inside, her smile was quite large.Voyager was the ship that had run the gantlet of the Delta Quadrant; had been led by the legendary (if now almost forgotten) Captain Kathryn Janeway, and her Starfleet/Maquis crew, plus two former Borg drones. It was the stuff of legends. The information that Janeway had brought back from the DQ was still being examined, so much data did they collect.
Yet it was the information on The Borg that had excited Shelby. She had been chosen, by Admiral Picard, among others, to lead the effort to glean over the data on The Borg. After two years of study, Shelby had wanted to map out a plan to hunt down The Borg, wherever they were, and destroy them, based, in part, on the information that Janeway and the former drone, Seven of Nine had collected.
It took her team almost another year to come up with all their recommendations to turn in to Picard, who had been tasked to receive the information, then pass it on to Starfleet with his suggestions for how to use it.
She thought back to the meeting that she had attended with Picard, and Captain Riker. No one knew it at the time, but the repercussions of that meeting were what had led her to this moment, on The Bridge of Voyager.
Captain Shelby sat across from Admiral Picard and Admiral Riker, both men smiling at her warmly. They had done so much to save The Federation and Starfleet all those years ago in Sector zero-zero-one. Today, she would give them her report on her group's multi-year study into The Borg, and how Voyager had successfully fought them off. It had been an eye-opening study for Shelby, who, now more than ever, was determined to defeat this enemy.
She hadn't come to the meeting with the full report. The entire report was gigantic, and would take hours, if not days, to read. She had brought her summary for the Admiral and Captain to read.
After niceties and formalities, and the usual replicating of preferred drinks, she allowed Picard and Riker to look over her summary.
Being the professionals that they were, neither let their facial expressions change as they read, and read the entire summary before commenting.
Riker had finished first, but waited for the few minutes it took Jean-Luc to finish up, deferring to his superior officer to make the first comments.
Picard slowly put down the PADD containing the summary, and looked up at her, his face troubled.
"Captain," he began slowly, "you are proposing that Starfleet, and The Federation, go out in search for The Borg? To actively seek a confrontation with them?"
"Yes, Admiral," she said without skipping a beat. "By destroying one of their transportation hubs, and, perhaps the Queen in the process, we feel they're very vulnerable to being beaten in a way that will severely limit, if not end, their threat to every Quadrant."
"Captain Shelby," Riker chimed in, "we're still massively short-handed after the Dominion War. It will probably be another seven-to-ten years before The Fleet is back to full strength, and even using some of the Borg technology that Seven of Nine added to Voyager, it's still being analyzed for its practicality to use fleet-wide. We aren't ready to take The Borg on, on such a scale."
"I disagree, Admiral. I believe the technology can be safely added to what we have now, and we can strike a crippling blow to The Borg."
"Nothing would make me happier, Captain," Picard said with his cool smile. "I know first-hand that they need to be stopped. Yet Will is right: we aren't ready. Besides," he continued, a suddenly soft, dangerous tone in his voice, "that isn't my biggest concern. My biggest concern is that you want to imprison Seven of Nine, and the young man, Icheb, and make them guinea pigs in finding more ways to combat The Borg. Is that correct?"
"Sir, our group came to the conclusion that Seven of Nine and Icheb are a direct threat to The Federation, to Starfleet, to the whole Quadrant. We see them akin to, as the old American saying went, as the Manchurian Candidate: an enemy within our ranks."
Picard was beginning to realize that Shelby had changed in the course of the last several years. What she was proposing, at least in his eyes, was nothing short of abhorrent. "Kathryn Janeway fought, and successfully so, I might add, so that Seven and Icheb would have the same rights as any other Federation citizen. They have done no harm to Starfleet or The Federation since returning from the Delta Quadrant. Indeed, this isn't the first time this has been proposed. It was proposed immediately after Voyager returned, and Captain Janeway, to her credit, stood up for not just Seven and Icheb, but her Maquis crew members, and those from the Equinox. They are Federation citizens, Captain, and I can, in no way, endorse something like this."
"Sir, what Ambassador Spock said years ago is sometimes very valid: 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.' In this case, can we really allow this threat in our midst? I think, and our group agrees, that the rights of the entire Federation, and those who serve Starfleet, come before the right of two compromised individuals."
"Compromised?" Riker was aghast. "They're both sentient beings, who were abducted by The Borg, were freed, and have not been a threat! I've met them both, as has Admiral Picard. Seven is as brilliant as any human being I've ever met, and the young man, Icheb, is going to make a fine Starfleet officer." He shook his head in disgust. "I can't believe you would actually propose this."
"I'd like Admiral Necheyav to review this and get her response, gentlemen," Shelby said icily. She had not expected this response from her mentors. "The final decision lies with her."
"I've heard that line before," Riker began, remembering how Shelby had done an end-run around him years ago on the Enterprise. "It wouldn't be...."
Picard raised his hand and cut his former Number One off. "Not now, Will," he said gently, then turned to Shelby. "Captain....Elizabeth: you are the renowned expert on The Borg. I have been a Borg, for a very short, nightmarish time. Should I be included with Seven and Icheb? Should I be labeled as 'an enemy among us', as you so cleverly put it? This....this could have monstrous repercussions for anyone else who escaped The Collective.
"I will, as I am obliged to do, take the report, and this summary, to Admiral Necheyav. And I will then be done with my duties for this assignment. But I will also send along my own summary, stressing my objections to going after The Borg, and in, in the end, killing Seven and Icheb for being victims of The Borg."
Shelby came back to the present. That was the last time she had talked to either man, and it set her on the path that she had followed to this day: one of taking a militant stand against not just The Borg, but just about any being that had been part of The Collective, and still had implants. It had driven her into the paranoid, extremists world of Alynna Necheyav, Sloan, Section 31, and the current search for Seven of Nine.
She had been the one who had recruited Bjayzl for Sloan, and given her the orders to capture Seven and Icheb. Unfortunately, Seven had escaped, but Icheb was long dead. It had led to her being now, and avowed opponent of Jean-Luc Picard and Will Riker. She had crossed that emotional hurdle years ago. It didn't even register with her any longer.
It was time for her to set sail, along with the other nine ships of her small fleet.
"Mr. Brosius," she said, turning to her Ops Chief, "hail The Fleet."
"Attention all ships, this is Admiral Shelby. We have been cleared to begin our mission. You all know what this mission entails, as we go in different directions. Finding this Fenris Ranger is deemed vital to the safety and security not only of Starfleet and The Federation, but to the entire Quadrant. Good luck, and good hunting."
With that, a dragnet had been thrown into the galactic ocean to try and capture one individual with a reputation as fierce as a great white shark, roaming under the seas of Earth.
Three Months Later
Tom and B'Elanna had extended their leaves of absence at their jobs on Covis III. They were committed, like Kathryn, to finding Seven, and, it was hoped, to find out what was going on with their friend. So far, the trail had died after the Ferengi attack.
Yet they kept at it.
Janeway still had her sources on Earth that kept her appraised of what Starfleet and The Federation were up to. She had almost blown a gasket when she learned that then Intrepid Class ships, that had been built and mothballed, were to be used to hunt down Seven. She almost had a coronary when she discovered that Voyager was to be the flagship of that fleet.
"Those fucking bastards!" She had just read the report about her former ship, and had slammed down her cup of coffee so hard that she broke it into pieces, making Tom and B'Elanna jump.
"What is it, Kathryn?"
"It seems, "B'Elanna, that Voyager is leading nine other Intrepid Class ships to search for Seven, updated with the latest Starfleet technology. Goddamn them."
"Talk about ballsy," Tom quipped. "Someone has definitely got a burr up their ass about Seven."
"It's Necheyav, Tom," Janeway informed him. "She's had it in for Seven since we returned. Remember, she wanted Seven and Icheb to be prisoners, and to run their own experiments on the two of them. Wolf 359 changed Alynna. She really started to become militant when that happened. It has to be."
"Not that I blame her for that, in a way," B'Elanna offered. "It made Starfleet more militant."
"It wasn't just that, B'el," Kathryn replied. "After that, she never saw Picard as anything but Locutus of Borg, not a human being that had been captured and terrorized by them. She saw Seven and Icheb in the same manner. A lot of my political capital was spent keeping those two from being guinea pigs."
"It didn't save Icheb, unfortunately."
B'Elanna's words quieted the small ship for a few moments.
"No, it didn't," Janeway agreed. "Which is why Seven joined the Rangers. I think she blames herself for Icheb's death."
"She was played, Kathryn," Tom objected. "Seven couldn't have known that...."
Janeway cut him off with a glare. "I know what she was thinking. She blamed herself for falling for this Bjayzl, the same way she had fallen for Chakotay. It..." Her emotions almost got the better of her. "She's been hurt by those who supposedly loved her, and when she was forced to end Icheb's suffering, she completely snapped."
B'Elanna wanted Kathryn to open up to her about what had transpired between her and Seven. This, however, was neither the time, nor the place for that, and she stayed silent.
Tom steered the conversation in another direction. "Why don't we get back to work, and try to find Seven? This won't help us. We'll be coming up on Gagarin V, just inside the Rigellian Sector in about six hours. Perhaps we should send out our fake distress call and see if anyone is at home?"
Kathryn nodded, still disturbed by the news regarding Voyager. She needed to concentrate on the mission, not what someone else was doing right now.
"Very well, Tom," she said with a sigh, "begin the transmission, and let's see if we get any nibbles."
Qochur had left Fenris and the home base of The Rangers six days earlier, taking some time to get back to where Seven of Nine was in seclusion. It had been three months since he left, he and Seven agreeing that she needed to let things simmer down after her reign of revenge throughout the Quadrant.
He had kept in sub-space contact with Seven, advising her that the Rangers wanted her to stay low for a while. They wanted to bring more forces into play, and didn't want Seven to be a one-person wrecking crew.
Qochur was passing near Cygnet XIV In the Rigellian system, where he would slow down yet again, planning to reach the safe moon in three more days. He didn't want to draw attention to himself. It was at that moment that he began receiving an audio-only distress call on the frequency that the Rangers monitored for any stray XB's that might be out and about.
The signal was faint, but he was able to hone in on where it was coming from. As he changed course to investigate, he also raised his shields and charged his weapons to maximum. Traps were known to be sprung by those hunting the Rangers. He was cautious by trade.
Tom was currently at the helm, with Kathryn and B'Elanna at tactical and Engineering, respectively. The EMH was monitoring sensors.
"I think we might have that nibble you were hoping for, Captain." The Doctor turned to face Janeway. "An unknown ship just changed course, directly toward us."
"Put it on the screen, Doctor."
An image of the immediate Sector appeared on the screen, and sure enough, a ship was headed directly at them, less than a light year from their current position.
"At his present speed, Kathryn," Tom calculated for them, "he should reach us in about fifteen hours. Plenty of time for us to prepare our ruse."
"Very well, Tom," she replied. "Slow to one-half impulse, just off-center of his course. In about nine hours, we'll send a video message to whoever this is." Something popped into her mind. "I hope to hell it isn't Seven."
The other three looked at her, as they, too had not even considered that possibility.
"Chances that it's Seven are slim, Kathryn," B'Elanna assured her. "Plus, she's been off the grid for a while. Let's see what we get first, then deal with it."
Janeway nodded. "Agreed." She turned to the EMH. "Doctor, if you don't mind, I'm gonna have you run the ship for a while? The three of us will need to get the rest before all hell breaks loose."
"Aye, Captain," he said smartly. "I suggest each of you take a very mild sedative so you can get a good sleep."
"That's a good idea," Janeway agreed immediately. She turned to the other two. "OK, you two, take the sedative, then it's lights out for us for a while."
Eight Hours Later
The mild sedative had done the trick, with Kathryn, Tom, and B'Elanna getting some much-needed rest. They knew they might not get a lot of rest for a while.
The unknown vessel had continued directly toward the Phantom, which was all but adrift at the moment, as if it was having mechanical problems. Tom would start venting small amounts of plasma through one of the nacelles shortly, to emphasize that falsehood.
The Doctor assembled all three of them. "Time to change your appearances to fairly-respectable....uh, former members of Starfleet, into Borg that have been severed from the collective. I know this is touchy with you, Captain, and B'Elanna, but..."
Janeway waved him off. "We've discussed that already, Doctor. We're ready to deal with it." She gave a look at her engineer, who nodded brusquely.
"Very well," he said, clearing his throat, "Captain, you have the honor of going first."
Within twenty minutes, all three were decked out to look like wayward Borg drones. Tom began venting the plasma, and B'Elanna had already set up a holo-program that would make the interior of the ship look like, as she had succinctly told the others, "like a piece of targ shit," when they were on screen with whoever was out there.
They were about four hours from the rendezvous with the alien vessel. They put on their game faces.
Qochur was moving steadily toward the unknown vessel, which was now three hours away. They had only sent audio transmissions, which made him wary. His ship was small, and wasn't exactly new, but it had solid weapons and shields, and he was a first-rate pilot.
The unknown vessel advised him, and anyone else that might be in the area, that the would be sending a visual message shortly. Qochur would find out shortly what was up.
Thirty minutes later, the message came through.
"I am Three Of Eight Primary Adjunct Of Unimatrix 63. Severed from The Collective. Ship systems are failing. Need assistance immediately."
It looked like a human female to him, under the Borg hardware, but it was hard to tell. He say electrical shortages occurring behind this individual, while what looked to be a female Klingon, was scurrying about to deal with the failures.
"Three of Eight," he announced, "I am Qochur of the Fenris Rangers. We are a group of former drones dedicated to protecting those like you. How many of you are onboard?"
"Qochur of the Fenris Rangers," Janeway announced with the enhanced Borg sound, "we have three drones on board, the others being Four of Eight, Secondary Adjunct of Unimatrix 63, and Five of Eight, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 63. We are in need of assistance."
Janeway ran off a list of their "problems" for Qochur, including the plasma vent, and other sundry issues.
"Three of Eight, I can rendezvous with you in approximately three Earth hours, and will render such assistance as I can."
"Qochur of the Fenris Rangers, we will await your arrival. Three of Eight, out."
Three Hours Later
The bait was on the hook. Time to reel it in.
As Qochur's ship approached within five hundred kilometers of the Phantom, the trio began to prepare for the ruse to be sprung.
"OK, Kathryn," B'Elanna advised Janeway, "I've set the transporters so any weapons he may have on him will be disabled on arrival. I've also made sure to have a Level Eight force field erected around him, just to make sure he's secure."
"Very good, B'Elanna." She turned back to her console. "OK, it's time, people."
"Qochur of The Fenris Rangers, this is Three of Eight, we have you in range of our transporters. Would it be acceptable if we beam you over for inspection?"
Qochur took another reading of the vessel ahead of him: no weapons had been charged; no shields apparent; venting plasma through the port nacelle; he had noticed the internal damage to their ship. He was satisfied. He also carried his Fenris-issued Type V phaser that Seven of Nine had devised.
He was ready.
"Three of Eight, ready to energize." He stood, awaiting the usual blur of blue light.
She simply nodded at B'Elanna, who began the transfer of the other Klingon onboard their ship.
In moments, the three former Voyager crew members turned toward the spot where Qochur was to be set down. They saw the blur of blue, then the true former Borg materialized in front of them, safely in place behind the force field.
"Dochvam nuq!" He realized immediately he was within a force field. He then shouted at them in English. "What is the meaning of this!"
B'Elanna, as the duly designated Klingon representative onboard the ship, spelled it out to him. "I am B'Elanna, daughter of Miral. And what this is, Qochur, is three people looking for someone they consider a friend."
The smirk on her face only made him angrier. "You have no honor, you petaQ! Release me, immediately!"
Janeway stepped forward. "I am sorry, Qochur, but we cannot release you, at least not yet. We mean you no harm, but right now, we need your assistance."
His eyes narrowed, looking at the second diminutive woman. "Who are you?"
"My name is Kathryn Janeway." She turned toward her two crewmen. "You've already been introduced to B'Elanna Torres, and this is her husband, Tom Paris. They were part of my crew on the U.S.S Voyager."
The name Voyager caused his jaw to drop. "You are after Seven of Nine. I will not surrender her to you!"
"We are not wanting to take her prisoner, Qochur. We are trying to prevent her from getting herself killed by others who do want to harm her."
"What are you talking about?"
"You know very well what I'm talking about, Qochur," Janeway said icily. "Her string of murders from Freecloud, to the Cardassian Union, to the Ferengi Alliance? Surely you're aware of those?"
"I am. From my perspective, she is a freedom-fighter, not a murderer."
"And, at heart," Janeway admitted, "I agree with you. But she's gone over the edge. She not only has what's left of the Cardassian military wanting her, and the Ferengi government as well, but there are factions within The Federation and Starfleet that want her as well."
That did make sense to Qochur, and he remembered he had said as much to Seven.
"What do you propose?" He relaxed his stance behind the force field.
"First and foremost, we would like to rid ourselves of these Borg disguises, if you don't mind. Then we can talk."
Thirty minutes later, they were back to looking like themselves. The Doctor had disarmed Qochur within the force field, just in case, and he was handcuffed to a chair near the tactical station, but was made as comfortable as possible.
"What we propose," Janeway began, "is to find her, and see if we can talk to her. She is a friend to all of us: to you, to me, to B'Elanna, to Tom, and to our Holographic Doctor. We want to try and protect her from those that we know are hunting her down. I imagine that's why she hasn't been heard of in several months?"
His captors were well-informed, which didn't surprise Qochur on learning who they were. Seven had talked about how resourceful and tenacious the crew of Voyager had been in the Delta Quadrant. He was seeing it first-hand at the moment.
"What 'factions' are you referring to within Starfleet and The Federation?"
"A logical question," Janeway continued. "There is a group that has been operating on and off within both for decades now, called Section 31. It's basically a group of people who do whatever the hell they want to protect both institutions, even by extra-legal means. They have become very powerful on Earth, and we believe that they are in search of Seven. In fact," Janeway advised him, "they recently sent out ten Intrepid Class ships to scout for Seven. The lead vessel is Voyager. We do not know who gave the orders for assembling this fleet, nor who is commanding it, but they are out there."
That impressed even their Klingon guest. "We knew they were organizing a fleet, but not that they were Intrepid Class ships. That is a lot of firepower, Janeway. And I would doubt using Voyager is a coincidence?"
Janeway gave a humorless laugh. "Hardly. It's to send a message to Seven. And when she learns that Voyager is the flagship, I imagine she'll become even angrier."
"You are right, Janeway." The Klingon pondered for a moment. "I would never, as a warrior of the Klingon Empire, willingly give up an ally and friend, so I imagine you have some kind of subterfuge that you will use to draw her out?"
"Now that you mention it," Janeway said with a serious smile, "we do."
Seven of Nine was growing restless on the safe moon near the Klingon border. There were not all that many Rangers or XB's on the station, with most being in transit between the safe moon and wherever they were going next. The faces changed almost daily. But she remained where she was, a reluctant guest at the boring facility.
She was in her Spartan-like quarters, laying in her bed, simply thinking of nothing in particular-far from the Seven of Nine who couldn't go a second without doing something "efficient" during her time on Voyager.
Even thinking of Voyager left her in a state of flux. She missed her extended family, that had come to mean so much to her in those desperate years. She had finally been accepted as one of them, when they suddenly returned to Earth, all going their separate ways, and losing a vital part of her existence.
She missed what had become the jovial sparring between she and B'Elanna. She missed the wisecracks of Tom Paris, and the simple goodness of Harry Kim. She missed the eye-rolling instruction that the Doctor had given her on humanity, which, looking back, always seemed to make her laugh.
More than anything, she missed her closeness to Captain Janeway. No one had done more to recapture the former drone's humanity than Kathryn Janeway had. Janeway had evolved from enemy, to mentor, to friend, and, in the process, Seven had fallen in love with the woman she once swore she would kill when first being held on Voyager.
Yet simultaneously, she still held a blinding, almost debilitating anger against Kathryn. She felt Kathryn's stubbornness in giving into a romantic relationship had, in the end, driven her into Chakotay's arms. While Chakotay had never mistreated her, she also never felt the visceral excitement and longing as she always felt when around the Captain.
She was still bereft that Kathryn had literally abandoned her when they arrived back on Earth, the Captain's explanation later that she simply let Seven choose her own path had angered her even more. It angered her because she it was a cop-out on Janeway's part, but also, she knew, deep down inside, that she and Chakotay had badly mangled telling Janeway about their relationship. And, in fairness to Kathryn, she had ceased contact with almost everyone after returning home.
Yet Seven's bitterness remained, heightened over the years, no doubt, after Chakotay's death, then after Bjayzl had betrayed her and all but destroyed Icheb. That bitterness had been turned into rage when seeing her former lover on Freecloud, and it had turned her into something that, in the furthest depths of her mind, she knew was far worse than what she was when she was with The Borg. With The Borg, she had no control over her actions.
As a Fenris Ranger, she had the choice, and she had sought to destroy many lives because of her bitterness at the galaxy.
As she was pondering all this, her computer terminal indicated that she had an incoming transmission. Getting up from the bed, she recognized Qochur's coded message, advising her he was returning.
The message told her to take her ship, and rendezvous with him at Brinda IV, in the Orion Sector. The flight there would take her one day.
Qochur's ship had been tractored by the Phantom, his ship no match for the capabilities of that craft. He was astonished to discover that the Janeway ship could cloak, and, what's more, keep a tractor beam around him, which could also be cloaked as well. He shook his head in wonder and in awe every time he thought of that.
Seven of Nine wouldn't even know what she was heading toward. The Klingon, Torres, had disabled his own weapons and shields in such a way that he couldn't begin to understand, so he was an unwilling captive to luring Seven into this net.
Yet from what Seven had told him since they had met that, even though she had some serious anger at Janeway, he knew, clearly, they weren't doing this to harm her.
So he hoped for the best.
Seven hailed Qochur when she was a half light year away.
His visage appeared in front of her.
"Seven, my friend, it is good to see you again."
She gave him a genuine smile, seeing the face of a friend. "It's good to see you too, Qochur. I've become quite bored at that waystation."
Qochur knew what she meant and chuckled. "You needed that time, Seven. Now, we have work to do with the Rangers."
"Agreed." She looked down at her display. "I will be within transporter range of your vessel within thirty minutes. I suggest we talk again at that time."
"Understood, Qochur out."
The Klingon turned to his right, as the holographic EMH sat near him, a benign smile on his face. "Very good, my Klingon friend," the Doctor intoned. "You played that very well."
"I am a Klingon," he said with more than a little irritation. "As your Torres no doubt has taught you, Klingon's don't get rattled very easy."
"You don't know B'Elanna Torres, then," the EMH quipped, half in jest. "Everything upsets B'Elanna, it seems. But, I have to admit, she's perhaps the best engineer in the galaxy."
"Hmpf," was all Qochur would say in response to the hologram. "I will advise you that if you harm Seven in any way...."
The Doctor cut him off. "Believe me, we will not harm Seven. We will, I assure you, defend ourselves if she would attack us, and I guarantee you, her ship will not be a match for this one."
"You underestimate her, Doctor."
The EMH shook his head. "Not at all. If anyone is aware of her abilities, it's the people onboard the Phantom. They will not be lax in their attitudes."
"I still don't like this." Qochur wanted it on record that he was an unwilling participant in this deception. He was a friend of Seven's, to be sure, but he also feared what she would do to anyone who crossed her intentionally.
Thirty minutes later, almost to the second, Seven's vessel was within transporter range of Qochur's ship, and, unbeknownst to her, the ship commanded by Kathryn Janeway.
She hailed her Klingon friend. "Qochur, I am within range of your vessel. Drop your shields so I may energize onto your ship."
There was no response, which Seven found curious.
"Qochur, did you receive my message? Please respond."
Again, no response. Seven began to get nervous.
She didn't have a chance to wonder what she was nervous about.
"B'Elanna, extend our shields around Seven's ship, then de-cloak us."
Seven was alarmed when another set of shields, which weren't from Qochur's ship, surrounded her own. She set in a course away from the rendezvous, and set to go to Warp 1.
Nothing happened. Seven was a sitting duck.
Kathryn Janeway took a deep breath, knowing that in moments, she would be face-to-face with someone she dearly loved, but who might try to blow her out of the stars.
"B'Elanna, hail her ship."
The hail registered on Seven's instrumentation, but she still did not know who was hailing her.
Her eyes went wide as a ship de-cloaked off to her starboard. She prepared to fire her weapons.
Suddenly an image appeared on her screen.
"Seven of Nine, this is Kathryn Janeway. Lower your shields, power down your weapons, and prepare to be boarded."
Janeway's face was implacable.
"My God, Kathryn."
The Ranger, Part 2: Hunted
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