AUTHOR'S NOTE: Second Story in the series "The Ranger" This story is complete.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Ranger, Part 2: Hunted
By Treadstone17




Now that the cabal of Admirals knew who was leading the Intrepid Task Force which was searching for Seven of Nine, that information confirmed that Admiral Necheyav most definitely had a hand in the mission. Shelby was a known protege of Necheyav, and the tip-off from Tuvok's information that she was leading the search party was confirmation of what they already thought.

Owen Paris kicked it off. "Has she been in touch with you since joining Alynna's team?" He was referring to Jellico's "former" Chief of Staff, T'revva.

Jellico shook his head emphatically. "No, I want her to completely immerse herself into her new role. Not many people know this, but she has an Eidetic memory. She'll be able to keep the information to herself until needed."

Riker whistled. "You're playing a dangerous game, my friend."Will knew Jellico was up to playing such games. He had seen that firsthand years ago on the Enterprise. "With the stakes so high, I must admit I'm glad we have an insider on this."

"It still doesn't guarantee we'll find out who else is in on this," Jellico reminded them. He went silent for a moment, then shook his head. "I'm still convinced that Necheyav isn't calling all the shots." He smile, raising his hand when his fellow brass began to protest. "Just a hunch, guys. But something tells me that there's more to this than meet's the eye."

"Section 31."

Owen Paris had made a statement, not asked a question. That was the working theory, that Section 31 was behind all of this. Even they had trouble believing Alynna Necheyav could be the end-all of that group.

"It's the only thing that makes sense," Owen continued. "If it was just Starfleet, we'd have heard about the Intrepid fleet."

That gave Riker a thought. "That fleet is important, no doubt, but the reason behind it is even more important." He drummed his fingers on the table for a moment. "Maybe we shouldn't worry as much about Shelby's fleet, and perhaps concentrate on trying to discover where Section 31 has it's own Borg lab?"

That caught Jellico off-guard, which was rare. "So you believe, Will, that we're do something along the lines of what the Ferengi and the Cardassian's were doing?"

Will shrugged. "We don't know for sure, but what else could have spooked someone into sending ten Intrepid's out to hunt down a single former drone?"

"And not just any former drone," said Owen Paris, finishing the thought.

"That's the key, isn't it?" Mike Patterson was the oldest of the four men, but was still extremely sharp. "They wouldn't give a shit about Seven unless they thought she would come after a similar facility."

"It's a good bet that facility has made some interesting finds with any drones they have. But as Commander Tuvok's report stated, Seven was in line to be the Queen, and knew more things that most drones. Necheyav is aware of that. It's in Seven's biography."

No one disagreed with Ed Jellico on that one. If Section 31 were to get a hold of the most important former drone in the Galaxy, it could turn Starfleet, as The Federation's military arm, into a frightening entity.

"I'll need to contact T'revva with this information. Again, I don't know if that information will be available to her, but I can give her a heads up on it."

"What do we do in the meantime, Ed?" Owen Paris didn't like the way things were heading-none of them did-and he had as personal a stake in this situation as anyone.

"I'm not sure we can do anything, Owen," Will Riker said glumly. "Until we get some concrete intelligence and evidence, all we can really do is wait."

Tom, B'Elanna and The Doctor had left Earth. They would head back to Covis III, to check on their home, and gather a few new supplies, and even change ships. Tom loved the Icheb I, but he began to think that something a little more heavily armed, in case he ran into Voyager, or another Intrepid Class ship, would be a good idea.

Kathryn and Seven, meanwhile, were heading back to the Fenris Rangers safe moon near Kazis IX, that Seven had used before Kathryn had detained her months ago. It was literally the safest place for the two women to be at the moment. Even with a ship as good as the Phantom, neither woman wanted to take any chances. They had means to contact the network that currently existed, with Tuvok on Vulcan being the hub of where all communication would be filtered through. They were out of sight, but not out of the loop.

Throughout the Alpha Quadrant, Admiral Elizabeth Shelby's fleet of Intrepid Class ships continued to scour for any information on Seven of Nine. Shelby still conceded that there was the possibility that Seven had met her end somewhere, but her instincts told her otherwise. She would continue to hunt the elusive ex-Borg.

Very soon, events would take a life of their own, and force the hand of virtually everyone involved.

After three days on Covis III, Lt. Commander Sade Ozi hadn't had much luck, but as a veteran of many such missions, he knew patience was required. Besides, since most of his time was spent in bars and eating establishments-and since Starfleet was paying for his drinks and meals, he knew how to enjoy himself while working.

He hadn't run into a soul who know Tom Paris or B'Elanna Torres, yet again, he wasn't discouraged. He would stay here for another week, if need be, before he returned empty-handed. His track record made him feel, and rightly so, that he would not return empty-handed.

On the fourth evening, he was out and about again, this time finding a dive called Pirate's Hangout, which sounded like the kind of dive a guy could possibly find some information. He entered the establishment, and sure enough, it was a dive: poorly lit, over-crowded, and every kind of scum and villainy imaginable carousing the place.

Just his kind of place.

He pulled up a chair at the bar, eschewing a table, a menu and a glass of water being placed in front of him. He ordered some food, not expecting much, and a local ale. He slowly canvassed the place with his eyes, now that he was able to adjust himself to the darkness of the interior. It only took ten minutes for the food and the ale to be placed in front of him, and he was more than a little surprised how excellent both were. He would have to mark this place down for future reference.

As he called for a second drink, two other people sat down a couple of seats over, both smiling and laughing. From their comfort level, Ozi knew they were probably regulars. The one individual didn't take his notice, but the one closest to him-the taller human male-look very much like one of the people he had read up on as a possible source of information in his quest.

Lars Rolfson was a highly decorated, retired member of Starfleet, and Ozi recognized him immediately. There were more than a few former members of Starfleet on this, or almost any other planet, and the chances that he knew anyone of interest was slim, but this is where his training would pay off.

Ozi took a few swigs of the fresh ale he now had, enjoying it immensely. He also had excellent hearing, training his ears toward the two people to his left. Sure enough, within minutes, Rolfson and the other person were talking shop, about engines and starships. That was a natural segue for Commander Ozi to go from passive drinker to getting to work.

He let Rolfson and his companion have a few drinks while he kept listening and eating. He was hoping that the former engineer would drink enough to open up about what he was doing there. Again, patience was needed.

Thirty minutes later, he felt the time was right. Rolfson had downed three of the very ales that Ozi had imbibed, and the man was obviously enjoying himself.

During a lull in the conversation next to him, as Rolfson took a bite of food, Ozi made his move. He rose easily from his seat and moved over toward the other man.

"Excuse me, sir, not to be nosy, but I couldn't help but overhear that you used to work with Starfleet as an Engineer?"

"That's right, young man," Rolfson said with a full smile. "The names Lars Rolfson, Starfleet, retired."

Ozi extended his hand. "I'm Kain Rolem, I did some time on a few Starfleet vessels myself. I wasn't an engineer," he said defensively, but with a smile, "but I was a pretty good pilot in my day." Which was true, as Ozi could handle most any ship decently.

Lars introduced his companion to Ozi, and they started a comfortable, friendly conversation about starships, piloting and engineering. Ozi found it interesting that Rolfson was both an extremely gifted engineer, but his file had also indicated that he was rated good enough to be Chief Pilot on a starship if needed. That was a rare combination. Even without the work he was doing, he respected such a man and his talents.

Rolfson excused himself at one point to use the facilities. Ozi, being an expert at digging for information, slipped a small pill into the other man's drink. His movements were so smooth and innocuous, not even Rolfson's drinking partner had notice. The pill wouldn't cause any nefarious effect, with the exception that, along with the alcohol, it would loosen the man's tongue some more.

"What are you doing out here on Covis III, Mr. Rolem? Not exactly a normal place for a 'Fleeter."

"As I said, I recently retired, and I was looking for some old friends that I heard were living on Covis, and was looking to see if anyone know of them." He ran off some names-some of people who actually were on Covis III, and others, just to mix it up. He had no luck with any of them, and acted very disappointed.

Rolfson didn't disappoint. "I have couple of other friends of mine-haven't seen them for a while-but they're former 'Fleeter's as well. They're married-one's a human pilot, and his wife is a half-Klingon engineer. I've never seen a better pilot or engineer in all my life-and that's saying something, since I wasn't too shabby at each."

"Oh yeah?" Ozi took a pull of his ale. "What are their names?"

"Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres. You might recognize their name from..."

"Voyager?" Ozi knew exactly who they were, but as a seasoned pro at looking for information, he could make his voice sound shocked when he needed. "Damn straight I've heard of them. Who hasn't? And they're friends of yours?" Ozi raised his glass in salute.

"They are. Again, I haven't seen them in a while. Last time I saw them was several months ago-believe it or not, I got to meet their former Captain-that Janeway, who got them back from the DQ. She was here along with that one who was once a Borg...what was her name? I think it was Seven something, but I can't remember. Very nice people."

"It sounds like they're a great bunch."

"Yeah, Tom even took one of the experimental ships we were working on, and the four of them went...somewhere. I have no idea where. Maybe a ship reunion?" Both men chuckled. "Haven't seen him since."

They kept on talking for another hour. By that time, the former 'Fleeter had told him more than he had expected-the location of the facility where Rolfson and dozens of others were working on experimental ships; the address where Tom and B'Elanna lived, and other valuable information. Ozi had even been able to lift the man's wallet and scan an ID card Rolfson had, which gave his address as well.

Part of him hated this job: he was truly fascinated by Rolfson's career in Starfleet. By the end of the night, he had the information he wanted, but also had come to respect the man he had been talking to. It was too bad, thanks to Ozi's upcoming report to Necheyav, that something unfortunate might happen to the man. That was for someone else to determine and, if need be, carry out.

His trip had been a success. In the morning, he would transmit his report to San Francisco, then get lost for a while.

Tom and B'Elanna were in no hurry to get back to Covis III, despite the concern over Seven, Kathryn, and what the immediate future held for the Alpha Quadrant. They hadn't seen Tuvok in a long time, and, like Kathryn and Seven before them, not only wanted to pay their respect to their old friend, but to bring him up to date personally on what was going on.

The Doctor had delivered the synopsis of his meeting with Tuvok to the four Admiral's who were trying to derail Section 31 and Admiral Necheyav, with Tom and B'Elanna present. It was a blow to learn Shelby was leading the fleet of Intrepid Class ships hunting for Seven, and, by default, Janeway, but it hadn't been unexpected either. Will Riker sent out a coded, encrypted subspace message that he hoped would reach Jean-Luc before too long, advising him of the latest. If Shelby was searching for Seven, Picard would almost have to be involved in running defense for the former drone.

Tuvok had prepared a light meal for his former ship mates, and when they were seated, the conversation began in earnest.

"Frankly, Tuvok," B'Elanna started, "I'm worried sick about what might happen to Seven. Khaless knows she had a right to be devastated by what happened to Icheb, but what she did...I can't countenance it in any way."

Knowing some Klingon tradition, that included both honor and revenge, Tuvok found the woman's observation mildly surprising. "You have certainly evolved since our time together on Voyager, B'Elanna." She gave him a glare, but he continued with a brief raising of his hand. "I do not say that as an indictment of you as you were when we were in the Delta Quadrant, nor your Klingon heritage. I have deep respect for both. Yet I am pleased to see that you have grown somewhat beyond what you know your Klingon hearts are telling you."

"I understand what you're saying, Tuvok, and, when you put it like that, I don't take any offense." The half-smirk on her face also made that clear enough. "But it goes beyond that-two people I love and care about-are in a game of cat-and-mouse against Starfleet, and probably Section 31, and it scares the hell out of me."

"Kathryn and Seven are as resourceful as anyone in the galaxy, Tuvok," Tom added, "but B'El is right: even with a ship like the Phantom, going up against ten Voyager's, and someone as sharp as Admiral Shelby is a helluva tall order."

"I cannot disagree with either of you in your summations. Seven crossed a line, and I believe she knows that now. The unproven theory that Starfleet and The Federation are also conducting...experiments...on former drones seems to fit the actions Necheyav has taken in response. The fact that so many within Starfleet are not aware of this fleet is, again, indicative that Seven has, as Kathryn put it, 'spooked' some very powerful people."

"I can't argue with any of that, Tuvok." Tom took a sip of his Vulcan spiced tea. "My biggest concern is that all this could spark a war, notably between Starfleet and Fenris. And that could set off a general war in the Quadrant."

Tuvok brusquely nodded his head. "I concur with your estimation, Mr. Paris. I do not think we are close to that point, at least not yet. If we can keep San Francisco off-balance, my hope is that it will never come to that."

B'Elanna grinned at the old Vulcan. "We? I didn't know you were joining our growing, distinguished list of rebels, Tuvok?"

Tuvok looked mildly offended at the ribbing the Klingon was giving him. "My loyalties, I assure you, B'Elanna, are with Kathryn, and, in this case, to a lesser extent, Seven. Seven is a former ship mate and a friend, but I cannot condone her actions beyond the killing of this woman Bjayzl. I believe that standing with the two of them is the most logical course to forestall a major war in the Quadrant. That will serve no one's interest."

"Except Section 31," Tom added quietly.

Tuvok again nodded. "Yes, with the exception of Section 31."

"I hate to say this, guys, and forgive me if it comes out wrong," B'Elanna said sheepishly, "but I wish something would happen. I feel like I'm watching a game of Chess or Kal-Toh, where everything moves slowly."

"Yet patience is required, Ms. Torres," Tuvok reminded her. "Any false moves, by any of the parties involved, could set off the events that we are concerned about. Section 31 and The Federation will have to be the ones who take this to the next level. It is only then, once they show more of their hand, that we can begin to counter them. Patience, my friends."

B'Elanna nodded with a frown. She would have been surprised to know that, deep down, Tuvok also wanted something to break, one way or another. The game of wait-and-see, even for a Vulcan, could be unnerving.

Three Days Later, Starfleet Headquarters


Admiral Alynna Necheyav was seething.

One thing she couldn't stand were traitors. To this day, she felt that Jean-Luc Picard was a traitor; that Kathryn Janeway was a traitor; that anyone who didn't see things as she did when it came to Starfleet, was a traitor.

She now was almost certain there was a planet-full of traitors on Covis III.

She would know for sure shortly. The fact-finding mission by Ozi had turned up some startling information, the most ominous being that Seven of Nine and Kathryn Janeway had both recently on that planet, visiting with Owen Paris' brat son, Tom, and his half-Klingon wife, B'Elanna Torres. The information that ships were being built there, and that Janeway had procured one could only mean that she was hiding that former Borg bitch, Seven of Nine.

Now she was meeting with Sloan, her personal Chief Of Staff, Captain Robert Quinones, and, by subspace, Admiral Shelby. After going over the information with the other three, she opened the floor, as it were, to any questions and comments.

Shelby, not surprisingly, was the first to speak.

"I wonder if that's why my fleet has had no luck in finding Seven," she mused out loud. "I would think that, with engineers with the talents of Torres and Rolfson, and I'm sure a host of others, they aren't just making standard freighters of passenger ships. They're probably doing cutting-edge work."

"Without us knowing it?"

The others looked at Sloan, who always seemed to get right to the heart of the matter.

"Why not?" Necheyav had a wry grin on her face. "After all, much of the Quadrant has no idea what we're doing, so I'm sure it could work the other way."

"I believe," Sloan said, in his usual dry, sardonic voice, "that Covis III just became quite the center of our attention, has it not?" He looked directly at Necheyav when saying the last few words.

"Oh, yes," Alynna responded curtly. "I'm tasking a group of Special Forces to do a more, shall we say, in-depth reconnoiter of the planet, and where these ships might be, and who else might be working on them. I agree with Shelby-they aren't working on simple, run-of-the-mill ships. Torres has a lot of Borg knowledge that she gleaned from Seven of Nine, I'm sure. We need to find out what those ships are capable of."

"Agreed," Sloan said with his false politeness. "If Janeway and Seven are out there-and it's been months since there was an attack anywhere-then they have to be in hiding right now."

Captain Quinones spoke up for the first time. "Could they be hiding on Fenris?"

That thought hadn't even occurred to Necheyav or Sloan, which surprised both of them.

Quinones expanded on his thought. "I can't imagine that, even if they have a front-line ship, that the two of them could simply be hiding without a little help. Seven is a Ranger, and it would make sense that she's contacted the Rangers to at least let them know she's around. They may not know where she is, or, as I said, she could be ensconced on Fenris as we speak."

The others pondered that for a moment.

"Admiral," Shelby announced, "would you like me to send one or two ships to Fenris to talk with the government there, and to perhaps find out anything from the Rangers?"

Necheyav shook her head. "No, at least not yet, Elizabeth," she added, as she pondered the present subject. "Let's see what else Covis III has in store for us, and find out what kind of ship, or it could be ships, that we're up against, before we approach Fenris."

"Showing up at Fenris could be seen as an act of war by their government," Sloan said off-handedly. "Especially if they're hiding Seven and Janeway." He smiled at the perturbed looks from the other three. "Not that I'll flinch if we have to go to war-I fully believe it's a distinct possibility that we may have to fight Fenris, but I agree with Admiral Necheyav: it's too soon to countenance such a move. But I would suggest we make plans for doing just that."

"In that case, it's time we bring more people into the inner circle," Necheyav announced. "We have other major voices that need to be heard and brought up to speed."

Sloan looked at her sharply, but she continued. "I know, Sloan," she said with a huff, "we can't invite all of San Francisco to have a conference on this, but there's at least four or five others that I believe, now, must be brought into this. If we're going to have to plan a fight against Fenris, and perhaps Covis III, we need their input."

Sloan simply nodded. After a few moments, he looked at the Admiral again. "Who do you have in mind?"

Five Days Later


Necheyav had moved quickly in sending Special Forces to Covis III. She need information, and she needed it yesterday. All-in-all, there were twenty five members of the team she had sent. They would pay Mr. Rolfson a visit, as they were sure he frequented the bar where Ozi had met him, and try to garner information on those ships, and where they were built. They also had orders to keep an eye out for Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres.

The team had covers for being on Covis III, and certainly didn't show up in Special Forces outfits. They tried to mingle for four or five days, just blending in. Once they had the information they wanted, then they would flip the switch to something more akin to a military operation.

That's when things could turn dicey.

Ranger Safe Moon, near the Federation-Klingon Border


Five days after landing on the safe moon, Kathryn and Seven had made enough repairs and upgrades to the Phantom to marginally improve the performance of it's cloak, and it's engine efficiency. They had kept any personal discussions at bay, concentrating on tweaking what was already an incredible ship. They could still work like a well-oiled machine if they needed to.

Once the repairs were done, they then had the time to keep trying to mend the fence between them.

Over dinner on that fifth night, with the hard work behind them, they tried again to get past the years of bitterness and recrimination.

"We've already made our confessions, Seven," Kathryn began quietly, "as to how both of us came up short as human beings, as former colleagues, and, most importantly as friends. You at least have some excuse for it-you have been truly 'human' for not even half your life. You were still going through social and emotional minefields most of us have conquered by the time we are in our early twenties. Me? I've been 'human' all my life. I have no justification for my actions over the years."

Seven looked at her intently, but without the malice and anger that had suffused her mind when they first had seen each other a few months earlier. "I will not allow myself any excuses, Kathryn, for what I have done, especially recently. I'm fully human now, I believe: I no longer re-generate; I no longer say "I am Borg," which was, after all, simply a defense mechanism. I've been 'human' long enough to know better."

"Why do you think you...snapped the way you did?" Kathryn held up her hand and gave a wan smile. "I have a pretty good idea, but I want to hear it from you."

Explaining this would be as emotionally gut-wrenching as anything since Seven had euthanized Icheb all those years ago, but she needed to let it out. She didn't need to yell and scream and sob, but simply to face what she had done.

"I can't think of a better word, to be honest, Kathryn. I snapped when I saw Bjayzl for the first time in a decade. What that bitch had done to Icheb-and to me-was the fuel that kept me going all those years. All I wanted was to find her, and avenge Icheb's death."

"You know she was on Freecloud?"

"Jean-Luc and I, and his crew, had gone down to Freecloud to rescue Bruce Maddox from Bjayzl, who was harboring him there. She had agreed to sell him to the Tal Shiar, which was out of the question."

Seven actually laughed for a moment. "Picard and Rios had us dress up in these ridiculous 'disguises' in an attempt to take Maddox away. It damn near worked," she said with another chuckle, explaining to Kathryn about their costumes, which made Janeway give a soft chuckle of her own.

"I had agreed, in front of Picard and Rios, not to kill Bjayzl, if they handed over Bruce Maddox to us. Then we left."

Kathryn was tempted to speak, but simply nodded for Seven to continue.

Seven took a deep, bracing breath. "I had told Jean-Luc that I was leaving and was appropriating a ship to get me off of Freecloud."

"But that wasn't true, was it?" Kathryn was both captivated and horrified by what she knew was coming.

"Only in part. I did get a ship-but I double-crossed Picard, went back to to Freecloud, and killed Bjayzl without a second thought. Then..." Her emotions almost betrayed her at that moment. Kathryn had fetched them each some bourbon, so Seven took a hefty gulp. "I killed her two personal guards, and as I was making my way to where I knew the ships were, Freecloud Security was racing toward me." Her eyes glazed over with the horrid memory. "I never gave them a chance. I counted twenty-eight that I gunned down, not counting Bjayzl and her two bodyguards."

The silence became deafening. Seven was struggling not to break down again, and Kathryn was trying to juxtapose the Seven of Nine she had known so many years ago, with the angry, desperate woman she had picked up only a few months earlier. She could barely comprehend that it was the same person.

After a long pause, Kathryn spoke up. "I think I can tell, Seven, that by how you describe seeing Bjayzl again, that you two were...very close...before the incident with Icheb."

"Yes," Seven said without missing a beat, almost blowing the word out. "She and I were lovers for a while, and I loved her for a time-so much that I lost sight of what was going on around me. She played me, and she played Icheb. She used seduction and sex to get me to lower my guard."

Seven rose for a moment, fetching two more drinks from the replicator. She sat back down quietly, but Kathryn could tell Seven was emotionally drained already.

"She was a monster, Kathryn," Seven said emphatically, looking directly into Janeway's eyes. "Nothing but a fucking monster!" Seven drained the second drink in two gulps. "I thought she was a loving, caring person, but there wasn't a decent atom in her whole miserable body. This wasn't long after Chakotay died, and I was...lonely...and our last conversation hadn't been pleasant. Bjayzl came along, and made me forget all the pain.

"Then she destroyed Icheb."

"You thought that would be cathartic, didn't you?" She looked at Seven with sympathy. "But it only lighted a bigger fuse, didn't it?"

"Yes." Seven said the word calmly. Despite replaying all the horrors that she had seen and visited on others, talking to Janeway was helping-this was the catharsis she believed would envelop her when she killed Bjayzl. "My anger just exploded. The Rangers had information on the Romulan and Ferengi operations, and we were planning to hit those facilities, but at a later date. I simply took my ship, gathered a small crew of Rangers to go with me, and I...I murdered all those people, Kathryn."

The look of utter desolation in Seven's eyes was like nothing Kathryn had ever seen. The once spectacular blue eyes were gray and void of any happiness or hope. She didn't sob, but tears careened down her cheeks, at the mere thought of what she had done. Seven's hand was on the table next to her highball glass, and Kathryn reached out and squeezed it.

Seven looked away at that moment, not able to meet her former mentor's eyes.

"I simply can't imagine what you have gone through, Seven: losing Chakotay-and me in the process: being betrayed by Bjayzl; seeing Icheb..." This time Kathryn lost her composure, putting a hand to her mouth, struggling not to break down, barely succeeding, but not being able to stop her own tears. "Seeing that dear, sweet boy ripped apart like that. The fucking anger you've been feeling all those years."

This time Seven squeezed Kathryn's hand. For a long moment, there was companionable silence between them, despite the depth of their shared sorrow.

By the time their tears dried up a short while later, both were exhausted, emotionally and mentally.

"I want us to talk some more, Seven," Janeway advised her, "but right now...I need to rest and think about all this. I simply can't talk for the moment. I'm sorry."

"I understand, Kathryn," Seven said in a neutral voice. "I just off-loaded a lot of shit onto you, and I know it isn't easy hearing that. I'm so sorry for so many things-for how Chakotay died, how we fell apart, my failure with Icheb."

"I know you are, Seven. I refuse to believe you've become unreachable, despite everything you've been through. You're a good, loving, caring soul. Even the things you've seen and lived through haven't driven that from you."

"I wonder if that's true, Kathryn," Seven said almost in a whisper. "I've wondered for months if there's anything left of my humanity to salvage."

Janeway paused for just a moment, which made Seven become nervous.

"I'd be wondering the same thing, Seven. Hell, I do wonder that, every day-just as you and Jean-Luc wonder about it. What Starfleet, The Federation, and this fucking Section 31 has done to all of us-what we did to ourselves-I'm surprised we're not just drones again at heart, if you know what I mean?"

Seven's lips curled up at that metaphor. "I can't argue with you on that point, Kathryn."

The two women retired to their sleeping quarters, both deeply troubled, but also filled with a small sense of hope that the future might draw a different path than the one they had been on for two decades.

The next morning, Kathryn and Seven had slept in, both needing the extra rest after their emotional evening. Janeway knew that now, it would be her turn to bare her own soul. She was proud of Seven for how she had handled the night before, knowing that Seven's demons were far more lethal than the ones Kathryn had carried. Nevertheless, what Kathryn had gone through had almost broken her. If Seven could make it, so could she.

"When you and Chakotay took me out to dinner that night, and told me the was four days before the General Court Martial wrapped up." Kathryn had pulled out some real alcohol for the two of them today, and both knew they'd need it.

"Necheyav had put me through an absolute ringer, every day, for eight to ten hours each day, without stop, save for Sunday's. Even then, I was under literal house arrest, which is why, except for that Sunday, is why none of you heard from me.

"Every single decision I made was second-guessed, by people who had no idea what was going on in the Delta Quadrant, or cared that we had no back up, and no chain-of-command besides what was on Voyager."

"Yet you were able to successfully to get pardons for the Maquis, the Equinox crew, had guaranteed freedom for The Doctor, Icheb and myself. We felt that they simply had seen to reason that you were the glue that kept us together for those years. It's shocking to know that wasn't completely true."

Janeway snorted a derisive laugh. "Hardly. Alynna wanted me to call in every chit, every favor, everything ever owed to me by anyone, in order to exonerate all of you. Had I summarily resigned, which I thought of doing, then all of you, save for the Starfleet personnel, would have been thrown to the wolves. You would have ended up like Icheb eventually ended up."

Seven shuddered at that thought.

"I had hope that what you just said had been what was happening. I actually thought I had made them see to reason-until their decision came out. Well," she amended, with a swallow of whiskey, "it wasn't their decision, it was Necheyav's, with some help from Admirals Harrison and T'yket."

"Admiral Dustin Harrison, and Admiral T'yket. A Vulcan, correct?" Seven wanted to make sure she had everything straight.

"That's them," Kathryn said with disdain. "They sat on the tribunal with Necheyav, Admiral Paris and Admiral Patterson, who are both old family friends, and thoroughly honorable men. Ask Tuvok about T'yket sometime. He won't give the man a glowing recommendation."

Next to Janeway, Seven had always trusted Tuvok's instincts more than any other person, and she knew Kathryn wouldn't blow smoke up her butt about that.

"Despite calls for fairness, Necheyav got what she wanted: in exchange for letting my entire crew off the hook, eight reprimands were put in my permanent record, I was bumped up to Vice-Admiral, but knew I'd never go further, and because of those reprimands, I would never see the inside of a Starfleet vessel ever again, at least not in any command capacity. I had been politically spayed and neutralized. I'd do it again, Seven, took a tremendous toll on me."

"I am beginning to understand that. And on top of what Chakotay and I did..."

Kathryn waved her hand dismissively. "You two were not at fault for anything but lousy timing. You had no real control over that. I was blind as a bat to so many things at that moment, and it all hit me at once.

"So I immediately took the year's leave of absence offered to me, and I ran away to Indiana, where mom and Phoebe eventually straightened me up enough to return to duty, being chained to that goddamn desk for almost ten years.

"I could see what was happening within Starfleet and The Federation. The Dominion War that we missed had fucked up both royally, and it wasn't the organization I had come to know, love, and respect. I tried to change it from within, as did Picard, as did Riker, as did LaForge. But it wasn't enough.

"Then mom died, and two years later, Chakotay died on Dorvan V.

"I had hoped the funeral would give both of us some peace, but that was a disaster...after that, I took another leave, disappeared to Cuba, became a drunk for months, sobered up, then resigned my commission. If I hadn't, I would be dead by now Seven. Since then, until I receive Picard's message, I had been practically a recluse."

"I am glad you left Starfleet, Kathryn. I would not have wanted to attend your funeral so soon after Chakotay's. I am grateful for that."

Kathryn gave her a small smile. "Thank you, Seven. Neither one of us were in our right minds at the funeral on Dorvan V. I should have waited to visit, but, well..."

It was in the past, and neither could do much about it.

"I guess, Kathryn," Seven announced, "that, as the old religious saying goes, we both have had our own crosses to bare. But we're here, now, and although there's too much going on right now to completely right our relationship, we've started, and that means a lot to me."

Seven raised her whiskey glass. Janeway reciprocated, and they clinked the glasses together.

"To me as well, Seven. Thank you."

The Next Day, Covis III


Lars Rolfson had just finished a busy, but satisfying day at work. Despite the fact that Paris and Torres had been gone for a while, Rolfson had been able to continue with the design of their latest "class" of ship they had been working on. This one could, after some trial-and-error, and the usual shakedown runs, rival a Federation Intrepid Class ship in firepower. He was certain it would be faster, more efficient.

And the Intrepid's weren't cloaked. These ships would be.

But he didn't want to think about that now. He wanted to get home, take a hydro shower, then have a cold one with dinner, then call it a night. It was already dark as he was leaving the shipyard, that mostly was hidden underground, lest some nosy souls from The Federation or somewhere else were watching overhead.

Without warning, someone grabbed him from behind, and the world went dark.

He awoke some two hours later, with a splitting headache, but no more worse for wear. When he cleared the cobwebs, he realized he was back in the factory, with about fifteen others that worked in the shipyard. They were all seated on the floor, their hands and feet bound, with some very menacing people towering over them in what looked almost like riot gear.

In under fifteen minutes from the time he had awaken, everyone else was pretty much back to their senses. It took a few more minutes until a rather large specimen, his face covered in a helmet, approached him.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," he said with false politeness. "I am sorry you have been detained tonight. If you cooperate this evening, no harm will come to you. We need some information. We want to find out about these ships, what they can do, who uses them-the whole works. Again, your cooperation would be appreciated."

The group of armed individuals then took each prisoner to a separate space in the factory, and begin grilling them about what they wanted to know. Like the others, Lars Rolfson had refused to willingly divulge any information. No threats were made against he or the others, as the soldiers...or whatever they were...continued to interrogate them.

After about a half hour, the leader who had spoken to them earlier stepped up next to the man interrogating Lars.

"Mr. Rolfson," the man said evenly, Lars shocked that the guy knew his name. "We don't seem to be getting anywhere. Since you will not volunteer the information we need, we'll have to use other means to get what we need."

The man turned to another soldier, and nodded. When this "leader" turned back around, he held a hypospray in his hand. "This, Mr. Rolfson, is what is known as a 'truth serum'. It and drugs like it have been used on and off for centuries to get information. It might sting a little when injected, and then you will experience amnesia for a while. After that, we will return you to normal."

Within two hours, all fifteen of the workers at the shipyard had been questioned, the "truth serum" living up to its billing. By the end of that two hours, the...soldiers...had discovered a wealth of information, not only from their captives, but from the computer terminals, where the workers had unknowingly broken the encryption on their systems.

In another hour, they had a working knowledge of the basic of the type of ships that were being built there, and, having brought two highly trained pilots with them, had enough knowledge to fly two of the ships off the planet, and head them toward a pre-planned destination.

When the interrogations were finished, the fifteen workers were given another hypospray. This one, under normal circumstances, would wake them up in about an hour. But these weren't normal circumstances.

In another forty-five minutes, the two ships were under way, the...soldier...who had all arrived as if from thin air on their way to complete their mission, and the capital city, some fifteen Earth miles away, never knew of what had been transpiring....

…that is until a thunderous explosion shook everything within a hundred miles. If one looked north of the city, one could see a huge ball or orange, red, and yellow flames rising in the distance, the ground continuing to shake.

The shipyard on Covis III, along with the fifteen prisoners that had been taken, were no more.

Captain Geordi LaForge was about eighteen months from finishing his assignment as the Commanding Officer aboard the U.S.S Zhukov, another of what were becoming the venerable old Galaxy Class starships that had been the backbone of the Federation for three decades. The Dominion War had destroyed around eighty percent of those ships, others having been destroyed, but then replaced, after Wolf 359. The Zhukov, named after the Russian General who had fought against the Germans during the Second World War, was one of the younger Galaxy ships, and still had some years left in her.

But LaForge was ready to hang up space travel, most likely get a promotion to full Admiral, then hand over the reins to younger people. He had enjoyed a satisfying career, and he hoped that it continued for at least another decade.

Will Riker had met with him a few months back, filling Geordi, as he had Sam Lavalle, about what was going on that had so many worried. He had given Geordi the same message: keep you eyes and ears opened.

It was about 0230 Fleet Standard Time (Western Standard Time in North America), and LaForge was sound asleep. He had a blessed day off tomorrow, although the master of any vessel was never really off-duty.

Without warning, the lights in his room were blazing like a sun gone supernova, startling the Captain out of his sleep.

"What the". He wasn't angry, but just confused at the moment.

"Sir, remember a while back, you gave me information on certain things to keep an eye out for?"

"Commander Viktor, is that you?" Viktor was his Vulcan First Officer.

"Yes, Captain, and I am sorry to disturb you, but..."

Geordi's mind caught up with what the woman had said just before that. "Wait a second," he said, his mind starting to clear, "you mean about what Riker had informed me of?"

"Yes, Captain. It seems we have heard a transmission that is not meant for us, but may be of interest to you."

LaForge sighed. He would be up for the remainder of the night. "Give me about five minutes, Commander, and I'll be in my Ready Room. Send the information there."

"Aye, Captain." The female officer vanished.

Five minutes, almost to the second, Geordi arrived in his Ready Room. He knew it wasn't unusual to have transmissions not meant for a given ship to be picked up by other ships, but for what he was looking for, he hadn't expected something. He was naturally skeptical that this was anything, but as The Boss, he was duty-bound to follow it up.

The transmission, like all transmissions, had been recorded. "OK, Viktor, let's here it."

"It," was a transmission that had been encrypted to a degree, but LaForge and Viktor were both sharp enough to break it. A few words stuck out, and La Forge's eyes went dangerously wide. The words that caught his attention were "Covis III," "Seven of Nine," "Kathryn Janeway," and "Admiral Shelby."

"Viktor, put an encrypted subspace message through to Admiral Riker, like yesterday."

"On our special encryption code, sir?"

Geordi nodded. "Absolutely. I don't want San Francisco knowing who, what, or where on this one."

"Aye, Captain. I will route any reply from Admiral Riker directly into this room."

"Thank you, Commander," LaForge said gratefully. He'd never become comfortable with calling his Executive Officer "Number One."

Malaga, Spain, Noon That Day


Will Riker was in his study, going over some correspondence that was of no importance, save for some personal business, but it passed the time. Deanna had gone into town to shop for some groceries, as Will would use a replicator, but preferred food from scratch.

As he was reading a letter from an old friend who had never been in Starfleet, a red light flashed on his computer. Will's eyes zoomed in on the light immediately. He had put that signal on his computer a few months back, with the help of B'Elanna Torres. It was his way to covertly be contacted by those that he trusted to gain him information.

It was from LaForge. Like Geordi, Will was wide-eyed within seconds, knowing that something had caused some part of Section 31, and most likely, The Federation, to up the ante in the search for Seven.

Within moments, he had received reports from Sam Lavalle, Mike Ayala and Sue Nicoletti. Will needed to contact his fellow Admirals, and get a message to the "resistance" clearing house, that was centered with former Commander Tuvok on Vulcan.

Tom and B'Elanna were to leave Vulcan for Covis III in approximately eighteen hours. They had contacted Janeway on an Borg-encrypted subspace channel, simply to get an update. They would go to Covis III, get some fresh supplies, then rendezvous in a week with Janeway and Seven.

They were tinkering with the Icheb I, doing what pilots and engineers loved to do-which was to see if they could get a little more out of their ship.

"B'Elanna, can you hand me that tricorder to your right?"

"Sure, Tom," his wife replied, tossing it toward him, hitting the back of his foot.

"Nice shot, Torres," he smirked.

"Oh, stuff it, Paris," she said with her own laugh.

"Tuvok to Paris" Both Tom and B'Elanna had communicators to stay in contact with their Vulcan friend.

"Go ahead, Tuvok."

"I need you and B'Elanna to report to the house immediately. It is highly urgent."

Tom looked at his wife. "Tuvok saying that is like you or me saying 'I need you over here, right the fuck now.'"

B'Elanna just snorted a laugh.

"Understood Tuvok, we're on our way."

Ten minutes later, the couple were at Tuvok's residence.

"What's up, Tuvok," Tom said with a broad smile. "We were just making some final adjustments to the ship before departing for Covis III."

Tuvok never flinched. "Your trip to Covis III is canceled."

The married couple looked at him strangely. "What do you mean by canceled, Tuvok." B'Elanna wasn't up for any games.

"You have nothing to go back to. I have my sources on Covis III. Approximately eight hours ago, your shipyard exploded, and at least fifteen workers are unaccounted for. Witnesses saw two ships take off just before the explosions."

"Could be anything," Tom offered. "Could be..."

"Within an hour of that event, Admiral Riker received calls from a half dozen starship Captains that are in his confidence. Here is a transcript of what they could glean from the message."

B'Elanna beat Tom to it. "Advised Covis III mission complete. Whereabouts of targets Janeway and Seven of Nine, unknown, will advise Shelby."

Tom and B'Elanna blanched at reading the message. Despite his Vulcan stoicism, Tuvok himself looked unnerved.

Tom again looked at his wife. "Goddamit, Necheyav knows."

"Indeed, Mr. Paris," Tuvok said, trying to conceal his own concern. "The stakes have just been raised. I think we may be approaching a state of war."


Part 5

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