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

 

Prologue

An icy stare-down ensued between Kathryn Janeway and her former protege, Seven of Nine, neither flinching. Janeway, in her ship, the Phantom, crewed by herself, Tom Paris, B'Elanna Torres, and her Voyager EMH, while Seven was the lone occupant of her small ship that had been lured into this trap.

The last time Janeway and Seven had laid eyes on each other was when Chakotay had died, at his funeral on Dorvan V. That reunion had left their once-close relationship in tatters, one of the many things that had driven Seven of Nine into her current state, as the Quadrant's most-wanted terrorist. Her series of killings from Freecloud, to Cardassia, and into Ferengi space, had thrown much of the Quadrant into turmoil.

Now, at the moment, it was personal.

"Seven, again, lower your shields, and power down your weapons." Janeway's face brooked no compromise.

"Is that how you greet your former protege now, Kathryn?" Seven's voice was equally devoid of any warmth. "By threatening me?"

"This isn't a threat-not yet, Seven," Janeway said in the same tone. "I can make it one, if you'd like. I'd rather avoid any unpleasantness."

"It's already pretty fucking unpleasant, Kathryn," Seven spat. "What have you done with Qochur?"

"He is onboard his ship, which, like you, has our shields around it. The Doctor is onboard with him."

That stunned Seven. "The...the Doctor? As in..."

The Doctor broken in on her screen. "Hello, Seven," he said with an even voice. His voice was not completely devoid of emotion, as Janeway's was, but he was dead serious. "Yes, I'm onboard with your friend. We had to...create a little ruse to get his attention. He is unharmed."

"I wish to see that he is unharmed, Doctor."

The Doctor looked truly aghast at the former drone. "Seven, I'm a doctor, not an interrogator, and I resent that you'd think I'd harm him. But here he is."

Qochur's visage appeared on her screen. "I am unharmed, Seven. I was tricked into believing they were XB's, and I apologize for my failure."

"The failure is not yours, Qochur. The failure is mine."

The image returned to the doctor. "Satisfied, Seven?"

Seven nodded. "Yes, I am, Doctor. Thank you for confirming that no harm has come to my friend."

Janeway was getting impatient. "I'm glad you two are having a lovely reunion, Seven, but you still have not complied with my request."

"And if I don't?"

Another new image appeared on Seven's screen. "Then," B'Elanna said, in the same, uncompromising tone, "we have the ability to keep you in tow indefinitely, and can, if we want, destroy your shields, Seven. Don't make us do that."

"B'Elanna," Seven said softly. "I have...missed you."

"And I've missed you, too, Seven, but right now, this is no moment for a tearful reunion. Please, for Khaless' sake, do as Kathryn says?"

"I suppose Tom is with you?"

"I sure am, Seven," the helmsman replied. "Please, like B'Elanna said, stand down?"

Again, only Janeway was looking at her. Finally, Kathryn's face softened slightly. "This is my last request, Seven: warnings are next."

Seven took a moment to collect herself. Despite the implacable look on her own face, she was shaken to the core that Janeway, Paris and Torres, along with the EMH, had lured her out of hiding. She surmised that, if they wanted to kill her, they would have done so, but even with her decades-long anger at Kathryn Janeway, she knew, in her heart, that her former Captain would not do that-unless Seven forced the issue.

Clearly, they were here to talk.

"Very well, Kathryn," Seven said in a softer, quite voice. She tapped a few commands on her console. "Shields are off-line, and I have taken weapons off-line as well."

Janeway gave huge, unintentional sigh, which Seven almost smiled at. "Thank you, Seven. With your permission, I would like to beam over-alone. We have a lot to discuss."

Seven nodded her head. "Prepare to be energized, Kathryn."

 

I

 

In a matter of moments, Kathryn Janeway was face-to-face with Seven of Nine. Both of them still maintained their frigid facial expressions. Kathryn had been correct: it wasn't a happy reunion, at least not to this point.

"Hello, Kathryn," Seven said with a frosty voice. "Welcome onboard."

The last time Kathryn had seen Seven, she had all but been the same Seven she had been on Voyager: hair in a bun; a usually-neutral facial expression; hands clasped behind her back. Now, her hair was long, and slightly disheveled. Her expression was one of a person who had been hardened by the worst life could throw at someone. Her blue eyes, that used to captivate anyone who looked at them, were dulled and almost void of anything that could be thought of as life. Her voice was that of a normal human, one filled with bitterness and anger.

She had changed.

"Hello, Seven." Janeway's face remained hard, but her voice had softened. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?"

Seven slightly softened her voice in kind. "Yes it has. A whole helluva lot has changed since Chakotay's death?"

"Indeed it has," her former captain said evenly. "Can we sit down?"

Seven merely nodded, as each woman took a seat near the helm. "May I offer you some coffee, Kathryn?"

"If it isn't too much trouble, thank you."

Seven replicated the coffee, and set it down. Perhaps the coffee might warm things up between them, Kathryn thought to herself.

"Now, if I may," Seven continued, "what the hell is the meaning of this deception against Qochur? What do you want from me?"

"I think it's obvious, don't you?" Kathryn took a brief sip of her drink. "You've gone on a killing spree that has the entire Quadrant up in arms, looking over their shoulders. Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"I really don't want to discuss any of this, Kathryn," Seven said in a flippant voice. "The last thing I need is for you to lecture me, of all people."

"Oh, I'm not gonna give you a lecture, Seven, but it was a valid question nonetheless. Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"No," Seven said without missing a beat. "I'm trying to save the lives of XB's. That's the term for Ex..."

Janeway cut her off. "I know what XB's stands for Seven, for God's sake. I'm no fool. So you're out saving former drones, are you? At what cost to yourself?"

"Do you know how many XB's I have save in the last decade, Kathryn?" Her voice was neutral, but very tight. "Thousands. I will keep rescuing them, be it from the Cardassians, the Ferengi, or the Federation. That is what I live for now."

"Yes, and now half the quadrant is after you. You do know that?"

"I have...surmised that, yes," Seven said somewhat sheepishly. "I have been in hiding, as it were, busy repairing my ship. I didn't take much notice of the outside galaxy while laying low."

"I figured as much. Well, Seven, you've done quite a number. Starfleet has sent ten ships out in search of you."

"I was aware of that, Kathryn," Seven replied, with some huffiness. "Qochur advised me of that when we parted ways."

"He didn't know that they're all Intrepid-Class ships, with Voyager as the Flagship."

Seven's eyes widened in surprise. "Someone really does have a burr up their ass, don't they?" It was if she was talking to herself, but had said the words out loud.

"A burr up..." Janeway stopped herself, the corners of her mouth twisting upward. "Uh, never mind. I get it. That's a good way to put it. We don't know who ordered them out, or who is commanding those vessels."

"So you have a plan?"

Janeway hesitated. "A concrete plan?" She shook her head. "Not yet, but I'm starting to get some ideas. We need to keep those Intrepid's off our our asses while we think this through. First thing," Kathryn concluded, "is to get you over to our ship, and start planning. That is, if you're willing."

"Oh, I wouldn't miss this for anything, Kathryn." There was no smile on her face. There was still too much in both their pasts to play games right now.


Thirty minutes later, Seven was still nervous about seeing her former crew mates, but Kathryn reassured her that they would welcome her.

"Janeway to Phantom."

"Go ahead, Kathryn." The distinct, still boyish-like voice of Tom Paris came over the comm.

"Two to beam over."

Both of them could virtually see the smile on his face. "Aye, Captain, two to beam over."

In moments, they materialized on the Bridge of the Phantom.


For a moment, Seven dare not look at the four other individuals, as Qochur was also back onboard Janeway's vessel. She was ashamed of herself at the moment.

"Hey, your Borgness," she heard B'Elanna say, in the once-familiar nickname the Klingon hybrid had given her. Seven looked up at the other woman. B'Elanna was smiling, but tears were in her eyes.

She quickly enveloped the taller blonde in a fierce, welcoming hug, both of them crying, Seven returning the hug as if her life depended on it.

"B'Elanna," Seven cried. "I have...I have missed you."

"Khaless Seven!" B'Elanna wrapped her up again. "I'm so glad to see you, too." The hug continued for several minutes.

Next Tom Paris came up, and in a much more quiet manner, embraced Seven. "It's good to see you, my friend. It's been far too long." He kissed her gently on the cheek after their embrace broke.

"It has, Tom," she said, the beginnings of a smile now creasing her face. "You were always there for me."

She then turned to the Doctor.

"Seven," the hologram said with a soft stoicism, a smile slowly breaking over his features. "You're overdue for a check-up."

That made Seven actually laugh-a laugh that none of them had heard before, which brought tears to the other three, as she embraced her other former mentor.

"I will submit myself to examination. Doctor." She kissed him lightly on the cheek, the Doctor returning the sentiment.

She finally went over to Qochur. "I'm sure this weak human display of emotion isn't the cup of tea for a Klingon Warrior?" She embraced her friend, who gently embraced her back, belying everything one would think about a Klingon.

"Do not be ashamed of your tears, Seven of Nine. You are clearly among friends." He chuckled. "I'm most grateful they kidnapped me now."

Everyone without fail broke into laughter, including Seven.

Kathryn brought them back to the moment. "Seven, I will want the Doctor to examine you shortly, but I believe right now, we should all eat, have something to drink, and discuss the future."

"Yes, Capt...yes, Kathryn." Seven turned red at reverting to old form.


Admiral Elizabeth Shelby, commanding U.S.S Voyager, was as patient as anyone. Years ago, she was just the opposite: impetuous, reckless, and eager for everything to happen right that moment.

No more.

Years had given her the perspective needed to be an Admiral, and, in this case, she was aware she was hunting a dangerous, and very intelligent opponent. Such things required the patience of a Jean-Luc Picard. That thought made her wryly smile to herself.

And patience was needed, because her fleet had not even had a whisper of where Seven of Nine, threat to The Federation and Starfleet, might currently be. Maybe Necheyav was right. Maybe Seven had been killed somewhere along the line, and her fleet was searching for a ghost.

Yet Shelby didn't believe in ghosts. Even while she feared Seven of Nine, and what she was capable of, she admired the former drone as well, for being able to strike so quickly, and seemingly without any warning, then disappear like that proverbial ghost.

No, Shelby thought to herself, Seven was still out there. Elizabeth Shelby would be the one who stopped Seven's vengeance on the Alpha Quadrant.

Her search would continue.


After their splendid, albeit replicated meals, the six individuals aboard the Phantom began talking in earnest. Despite the scene onboard Seven's ship, Kathryn Janeway was under no illusions that Seven had suddenly reverted back to the old Seven, at least insofar as her belief in humanity was concerned. She had taken too many hits over two decades for all the bitterness to be wiped away with the bat of an eye. She knew Seven would take a long time to recover.

Kathryn began the conference. "While over on Seven's ship, I informed her, in so many words, what she is facing a Quadrant full of people after her hide; Section 31 actively hunting her, under the guise of The Federation and Starfleet; and, in general, causing panic throughout the Quadrant."

Seven's eyes were cast on the floor, unable, again, to look into the eyes of her friends. Kathryn then softened the blow.

"That's the bad news. The good news is that, as of now, I'm certain that this fleet of Intrepid's currently hunting Seven have no idea where she is, and we plan to keep it that way. That may limit the Fenris Rangers for a while, but it may just help to stabilize the situation, until we, and others like us, can get a handle on this."

That make Seven look up sharply. "Others like you? What do you mean?"

B'Elanna handled that one. "Seven, you may have pissed a lot of people off, but you have more friends who want to help you, and to help XB's, as you call them, to survive and become themselves again. We couldn't have found you without the help of a number of people."

"Who would help me?" Seven had trouble believing anyone was on her side.

"Jean-Luc Picard, for starters," Janeway informed him. That made Seven's eyes go wide, hearing the name of Locutus of Borg. "Yes, he's pissed at you, Seven. He feels you double-crossed him when you went back to Freecloud and killed Bjayzl and the others. But he hasn't given up on you. He contacted me after finding out about Freecloud. I took it from there, but he's just the beginning."

"I don't think you should tell me any more names at the moment, Kathryn," Seven said evenly. "The less I know, at least right now, the better."

Kathryn nodded her head. "Fair enough. But in time, you may need to know who the others are-and I suspect that list will grow as we find out what's truly going on."

Tom spoke up. "I just realized that I hadn't even let my father know what's going on. Yeah, he's getting up there in years, but I know he has no love for Section 31, and I know he has a group of other officers who don't either. If needed, they'll be willing to help us."

"We'll keep that in mind for a little later," Janeway advised. "Going back to Earth would be a dangerous step, but one we may have to take."

"I think we'll need some information on what's going on in San Francisco," B'Elanna interjected. "If this is indeed Section 31, Owen and his friends will be key allies. We could head back to Covis III, and Tom and I can equip another ship and head to Earth."

Janeway didn't like it. "That would be damn risky, B'Elanna. I imagine any former Voyager crew member that shows up on their radar, as it were, will be under surveillance. You'd have to be damn careful about approaching Admiral Paris, or anyone else."

"I understand that, Kathryn," the Klingon hybrid persisted, "but if we're to keep Seven safe-and by extension, help XB's, we will need this information. We'll need more allies."

"If you need more allies, may I suggest that I arrange a meeting with the leadership of the Fenris Rangers, Janeway?"

Qochur's suggestion made the room go silent.

"An alliance with the Rangers?" Kathryn didn't think such a thing had a chance.

"An alliance?" Qochur shook his head. "Maybe nothing so grand, but, shall we say, cooperation regarding certain mutual interests?" He glanced over at Seven. "Seven's...zeal, in helping XB's may have caused an uproar, but I believe it can be used to help temper the Rangers for a while. Not," he held up his hand, as Seven began to protest. "Not to deviate us from our main mission, which is to help XB's, but within that mission, perhaps uncovering what is going on with Starfleet and The Federation, would help in our mission."

They contemplated that for a few moments.

B'Elanna turned to face the other Klingon. "So you're suggesting that we go to Fenris, and negotiate with them?"

"No." Qochur shook his head emphatically. "The Rangers are safe on Fenris, but it is always under observation. The Federation and others haven't attacked us there, because it would come with a price they can't pay. The Rangers are stronger than you might believe, B'Elanna Torres," he continued. "However, as safe as it might be there, if you and your friends are tracked there, it might force Starfleet into a major conflict with us. We want to avoid that."

B'Elanna saw his point. "Meet the leadership at a neutral site?"

"That is what I propose. Again, I would have to contact Fenris to ascertain if they are willing. When they discover you have Seven with you, I assure you, they will want to talk."

"So we're looking at, perhaps, another month, maybe a little more, where Seven has to remain invisible?" Janeway was warming up to this idea, risky thought it was.

"That is correct, Kathryn Janeway. Do you think you can keep Seven safe for that period of time?"

Seven blushed at the question, although why, she couldn't say. Janeway gave her a sideways glance.

"I think I can do that, yes." She summed up their discussion. "Tom and B'Elanna, you'll be heading back to Earth. But you'll stop at Covis III first?"

Tom nodded. "Yes, we will. I'd like to take Seven's ship, if she agrees to it, so you two can keep the Phantom. No offense, Seven," he said, smiling at your friend, "but you're gonna find out this ship can do some pretty incredible things. You'll be safer here, trust me."

"None taken, Mr. Paris." A hint of smile crossed her lips.

"Once we get to Covis III," B'Elanna continued for her husband, "we can get a ship that's equal to the Phantom, then make our way to Earth. We won't tell you how, or who, we will contact one there."

"Plausible deniability?" The Doctor raised his holographic eyebrows.

"Exactly, Doc," B'Elanna confirmed. "Makes everyone safer."

"Agreed, B'Elanna," Janeway said approvingly. "And Qochur, can we trust you to arrange this meeting with your leaders, at a neutral site?"

Seven spoke before her Klingon friend had a chance. "Kathryn, I can vouch for his honor and his integrity. He will do as he promised."

The Klingon male looked slightly annoyed, which made everyone chuckle a little. "I was about to say that, Seven," he said with a touch of sarcasm.

"I know you were, Qochur, but I wanted to say that, to let you know-again-that I do not hold you at fault for falling into Kathryn's...ruse. My former shipmates are as clever as they come."

That brought a smile to everyone's face, and made a good way to wrap the meeting up.

"OK," Janeway looked around at the assembled. "We start moving in different directions tomorrow at 0600. Tom," she looked at her helmsman, "I want you and B'El to head over with Seven to her ship and get acquainted with its operations. After that, You two can stay onboard and leave right at 0600. Seven." She turned to face the former drone, wariness still in the air between them. "After that, you can return, and I will familiarize you with the Phantom. Is that acceptable?"

"It is, Kathryn," she said in an even, business-like tone. "I shall contact you when I am satisfied that Tom and B'Elanna can navigate my vessel. I don't think it will take too long."

With that, everyone set out for their current assignments, leaving Kathryn Janeway, for the moment, alone with her thoughts onboard the Phantom.

Her thoughts needed some tempering, and three fingers of whiskey would do the trick. It was sipping whiskey. Kathryn wanted to relax, not get bamboozled.


Kathryn and Seven had been civil to each other onboard the Phantom. Yet Kathryn was certain the other four present could feel the tension between the two of them. She was quite certain Tom and B'Elanna knew just how...attracted the two had been to each other on Voyager. Tom Paris may have been the "class clown" at times, and came off as nonchalant, but his mind and instincts were as sharp as anyone that Kathryn had ever known. And despite her nosy nature, B'Elanna had always had a good sense about she and Seven.

Now there was a chance she and Seven would be alone with each other for the good part of a month, maybe longer. She wondered to herself if she should keep the Doctor with them as a third wheel, or send him of with B'Elanna and Tom. She hadn't decided yet. The Doctor was not versed in psychology, and that was precisely the help Seven needed, if she would ever agree to it.

Deanna Troi came to mind. Deanna would be ideal to assist Seven, but could she chance going back to Earth, when Tom and B'Elanna were already doing so, and having Seven try to work with the esteemed counselor? Again, it was something that, perhaps, she would talk to Seven about.

Janeway would still have to tread carefully in dealing with Seven. She had to find a balance between in-your-face directness with her former friend, but also allow Seven to realize that she could use her as a pressure valve-to find a release for the confusion that danced within her Borg-enhanced mind. One step, too far, in either direction, could drive Seven away.

If she drove Seven away, she was certain that the former drone would start another killing spree, and Kathryn would never see her alive again.


It took Seven only about four hours to completely tutor Tom and B'Elanna about the ins and outs of her little ship. Like any ship, it had its own quirks, and with an Eidetic memory, Seven didn't miss one of them.

Before she departed, more signs of the old Seven appeared-at least to these two treasured friends. Unlike Chakotay, or Kathryn, or Bjayzl, these two, once they had become friends, had remained loyal and steadfast, even though she hadn't seen them for a year.

Tom went up to Seven first, as she prepared to take her leave, and return to the Phantom.

"I know Kathryn is trusting herself to keep you out of danger, Seven," he said, with a small smile, "but you have to promise me you'll do the same for her. I know," he said, with a small wave of his hand, "that things haven't been right between the two of you. That's none of my business, but we're still Voyager family, and even when having problems, we protect family."

Back on Voyager, Seven might have given no more than an eye roll to those words from Paris, but now, here, today, they touched her deeply. "Thank you, Tom," she said in a voice cracking with emotion. "I give you my word, that, if we don't kill each other first, we'll protect each other if we're in a fight." That made the other two laugh with some hope.

B'Elanna strode up next. "Well, Ice Queen," she said with her iconic, smirky smile, "we barely had enough time to drive each other crazy."

"I have a feeling, Lieutenant Torres," she mimicked, in her old Seven mannerism, "that we will have plenty of time to do that when all this mess blows over. Thank you for remaining my friend."

"Always, blondie." She wrapped her taller friend in a tearful hug, wondering if, perhaps, they might never meet again. "You take care of yourself and Kathryn, you hear?"

"I will, B'El." Seven bent down and tenderly kissed her former rival on the forehead. "DaH jImej, my friend."

"Goodbye, Sev."

Janeway had decided that having the Doctor onboard the Phantom would be too uncomfortable for all three of them, so he was going with Tom and B'Elanna.

"I can't say I'm happy the way things have gone in the recent past, Seven," the EMH said honestly, "but you always could get yourself into a fix."

"I am...hopeful, Doctor, that the fix won't last for much longer. It would be my pleasure to catch up with you. I have missed your mentor-ship."

That didn't quell her friend's worries. "Please take care of yourself, and as the old saying says, 'stay low for a while', OK?"

"I shall try to comply," she said softly, hugging the holographic being.

Seven took a few steps away from her friends. "Seven to Janeway." Just saying those words shook her soul.

"Go ahead, Seven."

 

II

 

Kathryn had replicated a light meal for the two of them, as they settled back in for goodness-knew how long. With just being the two of them, they would either end up coming to a truce, or kill each other, with no middle ground for anything else.

Dinner was eaten in uncomfortable silence. Afterward, it was Seven, oddly enough, who wanted to talk.

She volunteered to put everything in the recycling unit, then ordered up two Romulan Ale's from the replicator, and handed one to Janeway across the table.

Janeway stared at the replicated highball glass, and the liquid in it. She looked up at Seven, and raised her eyebrows. "You trying to get me drunk, Seven?"

Seven was not amused. "Stop the bullshit, Kathryn. We haven't talked in a decade, and you think you can just show up and believe it will all be normal again?"

Kathryn didn't blink. "No, in fact, I didn't think that at all, Seven." Her own voice was like ice. "Remember, you and Chakotay sprung your surprise on me-while I was defending both of you in my Court Martial, no less-and things went downhill from there, if you recall."

Seven almost laughed. "You seemed to be the only one that didn't realize that Chakotay and I were in a relationship, Kathryn. How could someone so intuitive, so incredibly intelligent as yourself not see it? Or did you not want to see it?"

"The first clue I had," Janeway retorted, "was when the two of you told me. Sorry if I wasn't following the personal intrigues of my crew. I was busy trying to get us home."

Seven went to answer, but Janeway stopped her. "You know what infuriated me more than finding out like that, in the middle of my Court Martial, and having to defend every fucking decision I ever made in the Delta Quadrant? It was the fact that I busted my ass to get you, Chakotay, all the Maquis, and the Equinox crew members off without as much as a reprimand, and neither you or Chakotay ever had the courtesy to thank me for my efforts. Tom and B'Elanna thanked me; the Doctor thanked me; hell, even Noah Lessing, who I almost had killed, thanked me, but not the two people I was closest to on Voyager."

The abject hurt on her former captain's face was like a punch in the gut to Seven, but it didn't slow her down.

"You vanished off the face of the Earth, Kathryn!"

Janeway stopped her. "Yes, of course I did! I had gone through five months of non-stop debriefs, questions, accusations, second-guessing, and threats against not only me, but you, and Chakotay, Icheb, the Doctor-damn near everyone in my crew. They gave me a Vice-Admiral's promotion, and wanted to put me behind a desk, so they could keep an eye on me. I left as fast as I could, and I'd do it again!"

Again, Seven was taken aback by Janeway's uncompromising tone. For the first time, it cracked her own icy facade.

"You could have said goodbye, Kathryn."

That simply made Janeway madder. "Why? So you could flaunt your relationship with my First Officer in my face? Knowing how much I loved.........." Her voice cracked, "How much I loved both of you? And how terribly you had hurt me?"

"Don't lie to me, Kathryn," Seven said heatedly. "I know you cared for Chakotay-I really do. But you didn't disappear because you loved him, for God's sake. You left because you still...."

She couldn't get the word out of her mouth.

Kathryn still wasn't letting up. "I guess that was a mistake, wasn't it?"

With that, Janeway rose, gulped down the rest of her Romulan Ale in one swig, and turned to leave for her quarters.

"Kathryn," Seven said, her voice unsure, "where are you going?"

"Away from you, for now."

Janeway disappeared, leaving a very stunned Seven of Nine in her wake, pondering what the hell was going on, and how the two of them would co-exist onboard.


Tom Paris, his wife B'Elanna Torres, and the Doctor arrived back on Earth ten days after leaving Janeway and Seven. They picked up a new ship on Covis III, which Tom christened Icheb I, in honor of their late crew member. They wouldn't forget that all of this, in part, would be so that his spirit could rest in peace.

Icheb I was just as stealthy as Phantom, the threesome, going in cloaked, easily able to penetrate Earth's defenses without notice, had sent a subspace message to Will Riker and Deanna Troi, telling them of their imminent arrival. They wanted to work with the Admiral to figure out how to monitor Starfleet and The Federation, and help warn Kathryn, Seven, Qochur, and the Fenris Rangers of what they might run into.

"It won't be easy," Riker began, after they had arrived and relaxed for a while. "Being retired, and not being able to command a ship any longer, it's gonna be tough finding out what's going on, and, more importantly, who is calling the shots."

Tom looked at the Admiral dead in eye. "Best guess whose running this thing?"

Riker shrugged. "I'd still have to say It's Necheyav." He held up his hand as Tom started to reply. "I have no proof. I have nothing to go on in saying that, but my instincts are telling me you can't launch ten re-designed Intrepid Class ships without her knowledge. I could be wrong, but..." He shook his head.

"Maybe it's time you brought your father in on this, Tom?"

Paris looked at his wife. "I was hoping to avoid that. I mean, dad's nearing the end of his career, and I'd hate to fuck it up for him. Yeah," he continued, "we've had our ups and downs over the years-more downs than ups-but we've put all that behind us. I just wanted to avoid it."

"I know your father has no love for Necheyav," Riker said pointedly. "He's butted heads with her over and over. How he's still in Starfleet, with her in charge, is beyond me. I don't know your father well," Will continued, "but I've had enough conversations with him to know he's damned concerned about Section 31. He and Admiral Hayes have been quietly trying to find out about the group for years. They haven't had much luck."

Tom considered that. He knew it was true-his father had said as much to him privately over the years. If his dad and Admiral Matthew Hayes, perhaps his father's best friend in Starfleet, hadn't been able to crack what was going on with Section 31, he didn't know who could.

"I can't exactly send him an invitation on an open comm link, Admiral," Tom offered. "I have a hunch he's probably monitored."

"I have a hunch you're right, Mr. Paris." Will took a sip of his iced tea. Then he twinkled that famous Riker smile. "There's ways around that, obviously."


Riker hadn't told Tom and B'Elanna the whole truth: he in fact had kept in close contact with Admiral Paris and Admiral Hayes, among others, over the years. Those two Admirals, along with Will, Jean-Luc Picard, and, surprisingly, Admiral Edward Jellico, who had not had a good relationship with Riker during Jellico's short stint as Captain of the Enterprise years ago, had long ago formed a cadre of influential Starfleet brass, trying to learn all they could about Section 31, who was running it, and what it was doing within Starfleet and The Federation. In the eight years they had been quietly meeting and discussing the subject, they hadn't found out much.

To be sure, they weren't doing it on the own: they had slowly, methodically built up their own network to try and dig up dirt on Section 31. They knew a little, but not enough to crack the top echelon of the mysterious group. Even though Jean-Luc was still out on his mysterious mission, Riker quietly touched base with the other four Admirals.

In two days time, they would meet at a quiet location in the Caribbean, along with Tom, B'Elanna and the EMH, to discuss what they knew, and how they could proceed.


Two Days Later, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Island

 

Admiral Paris called the meeting, such as it was, to order. Everyone had drinks in front of them-just enough alcohol to relax, not get drunk. The subject matter called for clear minds, not inebriation.

After Tom and B'Elanna had filled in for The Brass what had been going on, Admirals Paris, Hayes, and Jellico were both astounded by some of the news. Of course, they knew about Seven of Nine's rampage, but had not heard a word about Picard's foray to The Artifact, of of Janeway's successful attempt to corral Seven.

The biggest surprise to them was the revelation of the ten Intrepid-Class ships that had been sent to hunt for Seven. None of them had even heard a peep about that.

Owen Paris was first to speak. "Will," he said, addressing Admiral Riker, "you're certain about the Intrepid's? None of us has heard a peep about them being even in service."

"That's the intel I received, Owen. Ten of the ships, led by Voyager."

"But we have no idea who ordered this, or who is in command of that fleet?"

All eyes turned to the intense face of Edward Jellico. He and Will Riker would never be buddy-buddy, but they had gained a hard-earned respect for each other since those cataclysmic days onboard the Enterprise. He still had that laser-like focus, and Riker knew that was needed, should they ever want to break Section 31.

"Not a hint of that, sir," Tom advised him.

"Whoever ordered this kept it a tight secret," Owen Paris offered. "I had no clue of it. All the information I had was that the Intrepid's were all on stand-by until needed."

"I think we have to assume," Admiral Hayes added, "that, unless we get information to the contrary, we have to go on the working assumption that Necheyav ordered those ships to hunt for Seven. I can't imagine a fleet of that size and power now being used without the authorization of the C-in-C."

Riker was no fan of Necheyav, but he had to play devil's advocate. "Perhaps she's not calling the shots, have we ever considered that?"

Everyone looked at Riker like he had two heads. "Will," Jellico responded, "there's no way, at least that I can see, that Alynna doesn't have her hand in the cookie jar. Who else would be calling for such a fleet?"

"Whoever is running Section 31?"

Now everyone turned to the Klingon hybrid. B'Elanna had never been shy about speaking her mind, and she wasn't going to start now. Not with Kathryn and Seven in Starfleet's cross hairs.

"Think about it," she continued. "In a normal operation, the three of you," now she looked at Admirals Paris, Hayes and Jellico, "would all know about ten ship like Voyager being sent out on such a mission, am I right?" She continued on. "I'd bet all of you would know who is commanding that fleet, under 'normal' circumstances, but we don't seem to have the first clue. It certainly won't be someone green in command: it would have to be someone with a lot of experience, and some knowledge of Seven and the Borg."

Will Riker's eyes clicked hard, losing focus momentarily, when he heard that last sentence. He thought back to a very unpleasant meeting that he had attended years ago with Admiral Picard.

"Elizabeth Shelby."

It wasn't a question. It was an educated guess.

"Shelby?" Owen's eyes went wide. Paris thought it through. That meeting between Shelby, Picard and Riker years ago, had been a pivotal moment in the chasm between Picard and Necheyav that would never heal. Necheyav had backed Shelby's recommendations over Picard's objections, only to back down after most of the senior Captains in Starfleet had protested the policy. Could Necheyav had quietly gone on and implemented that policy? The death of the former Borg Icheb almost a decade ago, would certainly validate that possibility. So would this fleet hunting Seven of Nine.

Owen continued. "If Shelby is involved with this, that's trouble. Her recommendations caused a split that has never been repaired. I remember reading the report, and was astounded that she proposed killing Icheb and Seven, and other former drones."

"I could be wrong, remember Owen." Riker took a hefty gulp of his drink. "But this sounds like her views coming to life." Riker looked over at Tom and B'Elanna. "From what these two tell me about that Bjayzl, who butchered this young man Icheb, she may have been working for Starfleet or The Federation. That hasn't been confirmed, but there's circumstantial evidence."

"And Seven taking out Bjayzl and the others on Freecloud, then at the other two targets....." Admiral Jellico tried to think it through. He looked up. "Maybe she's spooked Section 31? I have no doubts they have been experimenting on former drones. Again," he added, "we have no proof, but would those ten ships be sent out to hunt down Seven simply for what happened on Freecloud, in Cardassia, and on that Ferengi trading post?"

"The man has a point," Will said gravely. "Normally, I would think we'd be concerned about those events, but to react with such a strong force being sent out? Someone is spooked, I think Ed is right."

There was silence for a few moments. B'Elanna then asked the big questions.

"So, then how do we confirm that Shelby is leading this fleet? How do we confirm Necheyav ordered it? And how do we find out if Section 31 is running this entire fucking show?"

Tom smirked under his breath, as did Owen, but the way B'Elanna had framed the issue was most appropriate.

"That, young lady," Admiral Hayes said looking right at her, "Is for the four of us to figure out. Will," he said, turning to the retired Admiral, "do you have any idea when Picard will return?"

"Not a clue, Admiral" Will said crisply. "But I think it's time to call in a few markers in our network, don't you? We know there's some very good Captains out there that will support us if things get dicey, and perhaps they can turn up some information."

"Who do you have in mind, Will?" Owen Paris seemed to be on board with this.

"Geordi LaForge, for starters. Sam Lavalle." Riker inwardly smiled thinking about the now-highly respected Captain Lavalle, who had been so eager to please when training on the Enterprise years ago. Will looked over at Tom and B'Elanna again. "I hear good things about Mike Ayala and Susan Nicoletti, whom you two served with." Ayala, the former Maquis, had stayed in Starfleet and earned a reputation as a tough, but very fair Captain, and Nicoletti had made her mark as an Engineer, then had switched to Command, and was highly regarded.

"We can definitely meet with them, if you guys can arrange it," Tom advised. "If they know Kathryn and Seven are in trouble, they'll help."

They continued to talk and discuss for another hour, putting together the most ambitious plan they had ever devised to try and crack Section 31, and to figure out what the hell was going on within the organizations they loved and worked for.   


It had been a quiet few days aboard the Phantom. Neither Kathryn Janeway nor Seven of Nine had said much between them, save for operating the ship, preparing meals and the like. The tension between them was still thick.

Kathryn had had enough of the the Cold War.

Looking behind her, Seven was sitting in the tactical chair, swung away from the tactical consoles, her feet propped up on a nearby desk, apparently reading a pad. Janeway's face grew red, tired of the brush-off since that first night on Seven's other ship.

She set the auto-pilot, engaged the cloak for the ship, then headed to the replicator. She ordered two whiskeys, four fingers each. Seven was deep into her reading, and hadn't heard Janeway order the drinks.

To get her attention, Janeway slammed the two highballs on the table in front of Seven, making her jump.

"What the fuck was that for, Kathryn?" She literally screamed at the woman. "You scared the hell out of me."

"Too goddamned bad, Hansen," Janeway spat with her own venom. Seven's eyes widening at the use of her given last name. "You're on my ship. And right now, you and I are going to have a long discussion about all the bullshit going on between us. You got that?"

"What if I don't want to talk about any of it?" Seven raised her chin in defiance, as she had done so often on their years on Voyager.

"You aren't calling the shots here, Seven," Janeway retorted. "I am. Now, what should we talk about, hmm? I mean, we have a plethora of subjects to cover. We could start, say, with how you and Chakotay sprang that surprise on me during my Court Martial. Or perhaps, we could move on further and reminisce about that wonderful week after he died, and your berating me up and down for five days?"

For the moment, Seven didn't talk.

"That doesn't interest you? Perhaps we could talk about Bjayzl, and what she did to Icheb, hmm? Of course, what that bitch did has led to you getting yourself into a huge helping of trouble, hasn't it?"

She took another swig. "So, what's your preference....Borg?"

Seven snapped.

She got off her chair, and slapped Kathryn hard across the face. "How dare you call me Borg! I hate the Borg, hate everything they stand for! You should know that better than anyone. Goddamn you to hell...."

Kathryn rubbed her cheek when she righted herself, but otherwise did not react, her eyes still boring into Seven.

"How have you been any better than the Borg that last few months, Seven? Answer that." Janeway rose from her chair and moved into Seven's personal space. "You've killed how many people? One-fifty? Two-hundred. For what? It certainly wasn't to get closer to perfection! What makes you any better than The Borg right now, Seven!"

Her eyes, normally a clear blue, were dark and angry, in a way Seven had never seen-not even during the worst times with the Kazon, or The Borg-or even with the Equinox. It was something alien to the former drone.

"I did it for Icheb, Kathryn!" Seven was leaning down toward the shorter woman. "You didn't see what was done to him! His eye had been ripped out! His uniform was torn open! They had cut him and drilled into him, with no anesthesia! There was blood everywhere! He was nothing but a thing to them! They butchered the only family I had! That's why I did it, Kathryn Janeway! They butchered a young man I considered my son!"

She raised her hand to strike Janeway again. Kathryn was ready for her this time, and sidestepped the blow.

"Those Cardassians didn't kill him, Seven!" Janeway's voice had no give. "Those Ferengi didn't kill him, Seven! Bjayzl ordered him to be butchered! You saw Bjayzl got the justice she deserved! But what of the others?"
"What about them, Kathryn?" Seven was shaking with anger and bitterness. "They were going to do to those XB's what Bjayzl had done to Icheb! They're not people to them! They're things to be traded and bartered then taken apart! They didn't deserve to live!"

Janeway was goading Seven, but Seven wasn't aware of it. Janeway exploded with anger with her next question. "How does that make you any better than Bjayzl! Did cutting them down bring Icheb back! Did killing scores like that satisfy you! You are no different than they are, if that's how you see things, Seven!"

That stopped Seven cold. She had never thought of it that way. True, avenging Icheb by killing Bjayzl was one thing: even killing the Gul and the DaiMon were justified, perhaps, but killing the rest? Was there any justification for that? Was there any justification when The Borg assimilated every man, woman, and child of a species, in search for perfection? What had she become? What would Icheb think of what she had become?

That last thought shattered her. When Seven saw Icheb on that biobed-eye ripped out, blood everywhere, shaking and terrified, begging her to put him out of his misery, what would have the young man said to her, knowing what she was to become? Seven knew the answer.

Kathryn had seen everything sluicing through Seven's tortured mind. She didn't know what the thoughts were exactly, but she knew that Icheb was in those thoughts. Seven's eyes had lost focus, her mouth trembling in pain, her body shaking like an earthquake.

Without warning, Seven fell hard to her knees, and wailed a cry filled with so much pain, agony, and regret, Kathryn never before hearing such a desolate sound coming from another being. Seven's whole body was racked with sobs, as she crumpled from her knees onto the floor.

"My God, Kathryn!," she sobbed, "what have I become! I couldn't save him, Kathryn! I couldn't save Icheb, he was my son! I couldn't save my.........son."

Her voice left her, but the uncontrollable sobs and shoulder-wracking pain continued, Kathryn kneeling down by Seven, wrapping her in a fierce embrace, her own tears pouring in a torrent from her eyes.

"Seven, let it out, honey. Let's it out. It's OK. I've got you." Kathryn could physically feel the despair, the crippling pain, and undisguised regret radiating off the younger women, coursing through her own body. The image of Icheb, a young man that Kathryn had been so proud, passed through her mind. The thought of how his life had ended tore through her soul.

For forty minutes, Kathryn held Seven, the younger woman unable to compose herself, the weight of the last decade cascading down on her like a sudden avalanche. Slowly, very slowly, she did begin to calm, Kathryn never letting go.


When Seven finally calmed, Kathryn had a fresh cup of hot Earl Gray tea placed in front of the younger woman. Seven looked up from where she was now seated, nodding toward Kathryn without comment.

Janeway had no illusions. This emotional display was all about Icheb, and what the young man had gone through on his final day. It hadn't touched the relationship between the two strong-willed woman. Kathryn knew that, if they had the chance, that confrontation would be just as painful, just as angry as this one had been.

For now, however, she simply wanted them to decompress from the emotion that had been vented.

It remained quiet for long minutes, Seven finally speaking up, but still not glancing at her former Captain.

"Do you have any plan, now that you have me, or was that the entire plan?"

The question surprised Kathryn. "No, it wasn't the entire plan, Seven," she said evenly. "Yes, Tom, B'Elanna and I wanted to get you off the radar for a while. But that isn't good enough. We need to find out who is running Section 31, why you've seemingly scared them so bad, and then hope to shine a very bright light on them."

"What about XB's?" That was, for the moment, all Seven was concerned about.

"I'd imagine, logically, that XB's are a big reason why Starfleet has ten ships trying to find you. I guarantee you, Seven, they have their own prisons, for lack of a better word, and are running their own experiments on XB's. Uncovering those facilities may be the key to beating Section 31."

"Let me correct you, Kathryn," Seven responded, now looking directly at Janeway. "The term prison is exactly the right term to use. Gulag would be more appropriate."

Kathryn took a sip of her coffee before responding. "I can't argue with you there, Seven," she said softly. "It's barbaric." She now looked back into the eyes of her former protege. "Having seen what you saw, hell, I might have done exactly what you have done. Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge you."

Seven cocked her head to one said, surprised at those words. "I appreciate your...candor in the matter, Kathryn, but you were right: what I did went far beyond simply avenging Icheb. What's done is done, and I can't change it, but I damn well don't want to repeat it, either."

Kathryn nodded her acquiescence. "We can't do a whole lot until we hear from Tom, B'Elanna and The Doctor. I have a good idea who they're talking to back on Earth, but I'm not going to simply guess. We need to find out, first and foremost, who is leading this Starfleet armada."

"That makes sense. I still have my suspicions about Bjayzl."

"What suspicions, Seven?"

"I think she was recruited by Starfleet and The Federation," Seven said coldly. "More specifically, by Section 31."

"If you're right, and if it comes to light, Seven...you could be talking a Civil War. Starfleet, taking out one of its own like that? And in such a fashion?" She gave an involuntary shudder.

"I hope I'm wrong, but my gut tells me she was somehow tied into Section 31."

Kathryn gave a brief laugh. With the air still tense between them, that surprised Seven.

"Something funny in all this, Kathryn?"

The venom in the former drone's voice saddened Kathryn. No doubt, Seven was not the Seven she knew. The anger within the young woman would one day destroy her, or so Janeway felt.

"In this situation? Not a thing, Seven. You need to check the anger. You're too quick to let it surface." Seven was about to reply, but Kathryn held up her hand. "What was funny is listening to you talk about using your gut-your instincts-as a means to extrapolate what you know." Kathryn shook her head ruefully. "A long way from how you were in the Delta Quadrant."

Seven felt properly chastised for the moment, blushing at the mild rebuke. "I'm sorry for the way I answered, Kathryn. You're right about my anger. We'll discuss that another time." She took another sip of the tea. "Yeah, when you're on the run, you learn to count on your instincts rather quickly. I don't think I'd be alive now without them."

"You wouldn't," Kathryn said with a deadly quiet. "I'm certain of that. It was only a matter of time until you developed yours."

"True." A little steel in her voice returned. "Perhaps I wasn't going to find it when still close to anyone on Voyager? I discovered it the hard way."

Kathryn nodded her head. "You may be right. And I've found, some of the most valuable things in life have been acquired the hard way, Seven."

"Amen to that," the blond said, barely above a whisper.

Kathryn stood up. "Would you like another tea?"

"Please," Seven said with a wan smile. "So, Kathryn, where shall we go while waiting on our friends to find out more information?"

Kathryn returned with a fresh cup of liquid for both of them. "I was thinking that if anyone had an inkling what was going on with all this, it would be Tuvok."
Seven raised her eyebrows in the all-too-familiar manner. "Vulcan."

It wasn't a question. It was a statement.

"One to beam back."

 

III

 

Tom and B'Elanna left Earth on their cloaked ship the following morning, to rendezvous with Mike Ayala and Susan Nicoletti, both of whom had their ships docked at McKinley Station. The two former Voyager crew members then shuttled from McKinley to Mars Colony, meeting Tom and B'Elanna at a resort on the red planet.

As far as Ayala and Nicoletti were concerned, this was going to be a social call. They had not seen their former mates for at least five years, and both were excited about the get-together.

Captain Mike Ayala was the master of the U.S.S. Smolensk, a fast-attack cruiser capable of quick hit-and-run strikes on an enemy. His main function during peace was to train other fast-attack officers and crew, as Starfleet was building a large fleet of the Canberra-Class ships.

Captain Susan Nicoletti, was in charge of the U.S.S. Christa McAuliffe, a science vessel of the Tyson-Class, her ship named after the "Teacher In Space" from the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger in the 1980's. She was an engineer by trade, and had also become well acquainted with stellar cartography and even medical science. She had served as an XO, however, on two ships of war over the past fifteen years. She was very versatile in what she could do.

They were already seated in the resort's main restaurant when Tom and B'Elanna arrived. Excited hugs and words were exchanged between the long-time friends, then they sat down, ordered drinks and their dinners, then began to talk.

Tom and B'Elanna did go over the comings and goings of some of their mutual friends, also filling in the other two about Miral. When enough time had fashionable gone by on the social questions, Tom dove right into what they were there for.

"We need to be honest with you, guys," Tom began, taking a brief sip of his drink. "We didn't come simply to catch up on old times. Lord knows, however, we do need to find more time to see you guys."

"Something up, Tom?" Ayala had been Tuvok's number two at Security aboard Voyager, and he sensed something immediately after Tom had spoken.

"I'm sure you've both heard about the exploits of Seven in the last few months?"

"Who hasn't," Susan spoke up. "She's gone quiet, from what I hear. I wonder if her luck ran out?"

"Oh, no," B'Elanna shook her head vigorously, "Seven's alive and kicking, I can tell you that."

Sue turned to her former Engineering boss. "How do you know?"

Torres smirked. "Because we were with her for a short time just under a month ago."

Ayala and Nicoletti both resembled a cod fish at the moment, their mouths hanging open.

"You're fuckin' kidding me," Ayala said, an octave higher than his voice normally was. "You saw Seven?"

Tom answered. "Yes, we captured one of her Fenris Ranger comrades, and set a trap for her down in the Rigellian Sector. The Doc was with us. Kathryn set an elegant trap for her."

"Kathryn?" Sue almost fell off her chair. "Janeway was with you? Hell, she's been nothing but a rumor since Chakotay died! She was in on this?"

"It's gets better," Tom informed them, going into detail about Picard contacting Janeway, of their dealings with Will Riker, plus their little trick to get The Doctor out of Starfleet Medical, all the way up to Seven's capture by Janeway.

"Wow," Nicoletti breathed hard. "So what's going on now?"

Tom lowered his voice. "Starfleet has sent ten Intrepid's out to hunt down Seven-Voyager is the Flagship. The normal brass-my dad, Admiral Hayes, Admiral Jellico, and Admiral Riker, knew nothing about that mission. The working theory is that Seven spooked Section 31, and they want to take her out."

Ayala drained almost his entire drink in one pull, calling for the waiter to bring him another. Silence ensued for a short time, as the two Captains tried to digest what they had heard. Ayala spoke up again, after his drink had arrived.

"You guys want to find out who ordered that fleet to sail, and whose commanding it, right?"

B'Elanna smiled broadly at her former Maquis comrade. "You were always on the ball, Mike." She turned serious. "That's exactly what we want to find out. We think Section 31 is running this But we don't know if Necheyav is involved or not, or who is really calling the shots. But Seven unnerved someone."

"Where is Seven now?"

"She's with Kathryn," Tom advised them. "Where they are, we don't have the first clue, and even if we did, I doubt we'd tell you-nothing personal guys."

Mike nodded. "I get it: plausible deniability. What do you need from us."

Sue stared at him as if he had three heads. "What do you mean, Mike?"

"That's easy, Sue," Mike turned fully to face his long-time friend. "Tom and B'Elanna are looking for information that might help them figure this out." Ayala turned back to the married couple. "I assume that you've talked to some brass about this-I imagine that includes your father, Tom?"

Tom grinned. "Again, no names, please, but yeah, we've been talking to some people."

"Jesus," Sue breathed again. "You know what kind of shit we can get into, guys?" She looked around at her friends.

B'Elanna handled the answer. "Look, Susan," she said, bringing back her Engineering command voice from years ago, "I know you have had a fantastic career with Starfleet. I'm proud of both you and Mike, trust me. But if these assholes catch and kill Seven-and now, that means probably killing Kathryn as well, not only will a lot more XB's die, but Starfleet and The Federation will become more dangerous than the Klingon's, the Cardassians, or the Roumlans ever were. What's even worse, they want to go pursue The Borg in other Quadrants-seek them out and bring on a fight. The Quadrant isn't ready for that yet."

"She's right, Sue," Ayala agreed. "I'm loyal to Starfleet and to The Federation-but I'm certainly not loyal to them if those fuckers at Section 31 are calling the shots. It makes sense-Seven's spree at those three places really has someone in San Francisco shitting bricks, pardon the expression. There's a lot going on here."

"If we're caught.." Sue didn't like it.

"If we're caught, then the Quadrant is toast," Tom said with emphasis. "Right now, we simply want you to keep your eyes and ears peeled. You don't need to do anything overt. If you hear or see something, put it on a PADD, and keep that PADD close. Right now, we're simply trying to get information. I'm not asking you to head to San Francisco and confront Starfleet."

Mike let out a low whistle, then gulped his second drink down.

Sue Nicoletti took a large intake of breath. "I guess I can do that. I always was a nosy Nellie on Voyager, wasn't I?" They all chuckled.

"Second only to me, kid," B'Elanna said with a warm smile. Sue and B'Elanna hadn't always had this camaraderie. Even after B'Elanna had started seeing Tom on Voyager, Sue had, for a time, tried to be a distraction to Paris. Those childish days were long-gone. This was deadly serious business.

For the next two hours, they laid the heavy news aside, enjoyed a wonderful dinner together, and recounted old times in the Delta Quadrant.


At almost precisely the same time, Admiral Riker was meeting with a former protege-at least of sorts.

Captain Sam Lavalle, who was the master of the U.S.S Sadat, the second-youngest of the Galaxy Class Starships, which were no longer in production. It had once been the most capable starship in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, but had since taken a back seat to the Sovereign Class. In just under two Earth years, the Sovereign would begin to be displaced of that honor by the new Hercules Class starships, as the first one of those monstrous ships would begin shakedown runs after leaving Utopia Planetia.

Lavalle had cut his first baby teeth for a Galaxy aboard the long-since destroyed Enterprise-D, and he still took occasional grief for how he had tried to butter up then-Commander Riker to get the Ops position over his friend, the late Sito Jaxa. He and Riker actually had an excellent relationship now, with Lavalle being one of the few people who could hold their own while playing poker with the Admiral.

"Sammy!" Riker moved toward the younger man moments after he materialized. His hand was already extended as he stepped of the transporter. "You ready to lose some serious chips in poker tonight?"

Captain Sam Lavalle just laughed, taking the Admiral's hand. "With all respect, sir, I've kicked your ass like five times in a row, if you do mind me saying."

Riker laughed, enjoying such light banter. He knew it would end soon. "This old dog still has a few hands in him, Captain. Get your four best players ready, and we'll see what happens later."

Lavalle took Riker directly to his quarters. The Admiral had told him that this was for his ears only. At his desk were already two high ball glasses, each with about three fingers of bourbon. He wanted the Admiral to relax, nothing more.

"This the real stuff, Sam?" Riker's eyes twinkled at the younger man.

"Would I stiff an Admiral with synthahol or second-rate liquor?" He looked back at Riker with his own sly grin. "The real stuff, Will. Picard recommended this to me a few years back."

"That's good enough for me. Thanks, Sam. Cheers."

They clinked their glasses together, then Lavalle got right to business.

"So, what brings you out here to Utopia?"

Riker spent the next twenty minutes giving Captain Lavalle a rundown of all he knew, his own opinions and ideas, and then a summary of what might happen next.

"Jesus," Lavalle said, when Riker had finished. If he hadn't known better, the who thing sounded like something out of an elaborate holo novel. "I've heard of this Seven before all this hit the fan, Will, but man...this is some heavy stuff."

"It is, my friend," Will said, as they both finished off their first drink, Lavalle refilling the glasses. "Seven of Nine has simply become the catalyst for what is going on in San Francisco. Obviously, she's spooked someone there. Starfleet doesn't just randomly send out ten ships of any type, let alone updated Intrepid's, for a walk in the park."

"Agreed', Lavalle said, without missing a beat. "If whoever is behind this is successful at hunting down Seven and Admiral Janeway, Section 31 may have a clear path to do whatever the hell they want. No one will be able to rein them in."

"That's the fear. Starfleet and The Federation are devolving from being organizations where science and exploration come first, and the military is only used for defense, into one that will more resemble the Cardassians at their worst. No one will be safe."

Sam took a heft swig of the drink. "What do you need me to do, Admiral?"

Will smiled. Lavalle had been trained the right way. He thought for himself. He knew what was what, and when the time came, he didn't wait to be ordered, but instead was already thinking about ways he could help.

"For now, nothing, Captain," Riker said more formally. "Just keep your eyes and ears open. I won't tell you yet who else is involved in trying to find out what Section 31 is up to. That will become clear soon enough, my friend. I still have a few other Captains to talk to."

Lavalle gave his I have a winning hand poker smile. "Tell LaForge I said hi when you see him, OK?"

Well was caught off-guard by the remark, and couldn't help a snicker before answering. "Who said anything about LaForge? What gave you that idea?" He winked at the younger man, to let him know he got it.

"Uh-huh. So, Admiral, wanna give me about an hour? I need to check on a few things, and rustle up my best poker players, and I'll meet you back here, and we'll see whose wearing the long pants today."

This time Riker did laugh. "You got it, sonny boy," he said with an impish grin. "Better bring your A game tonight."

"Always, Admiral," Lavalle laughed loudly. "One hour, don't be late...uh, sir."


Admiral Edward Jellico's current assignment was heading the section that was still tasked to glean information about the Cardassians. No, they weren't the power they were two decades ago, during the Dominion War, but they had long memories, and the Cardassian Union had not forgotten that war. Jellico led the department that kept tabs on The Federation's old nemesis.

In the labyrinth that was politics within both Starfleet and The Federation, one never revealed, even to one's superiors, everything they knew. Jellico had his own network of intelligence gatherers peppered throughout both organizations, for the most part, simply to keep tabs on what else was going on. He had one operative, for lack of a better word, that he trust more than any other, and it was time to put that person to work.

Captain T'revva had done a lot of sensitive missions for Jellico. The graduate of both the Vulcan Science Academy, and of Starfleet Academy, was a highly regarded, and highly decorated member of Starfleet. During the Dominion war, Lieutenant T'revva had been thrust into command of the U.S.S Suez when the entire senior staff was killed during a battle, leaving her, the Communications Officer, as the master of that vessel. She had performed no less than a minor miracle, taking her heavily damaged Light Cruiser, and not only escaping an attack from three Cardassian vessels, but destroying two in the process. Her climb to her current position as Chief Intelligence Officer under Jellico in the Cardassian section had been steady and distinguished.

The Vulcan, who was seventy-six, as counted on Earth-a still young age for a Vulcan-had not sought any accolades, which was typical of those of her race, but she had a deep pride in what she accomplished. She was not, however, completely devoid of emotions, as Vulcan's like Sarek, Spock, and Tuvok were. She had learned to allow herself some emotional leeway. In the jungle that was Starfleet, those emotions, which had given her the ability to develop instincts, as well as relying on logic, had served her well.

She had been on leave at Vulcan when Jellico had summoned her. T'revva did not have the first clue as to what her boss wanted, but he was a serious man, and she knew it would be a serious matter.

The vessel that Jellico had sent to retrieve her was leaving Vulcan at almost the exact moment that Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine arrived.


Fenris

 

Qochur had taken a brief respite from his rather embarrassing capture by the Phantom and it's resourceful crew. He had admitted to himself, after parting ways with those who had caught him in the trap, that he liked their style. He felt, in the end, he had made life-long allies and friend.

That had only lasted a few days. Now he was back on Fenris, and meeting with the leadership of the Fenris Rangers. Most importantly, he would meet with the Commander-in-Chief of the Rangers. It was time to make strategy and plans to possibly counter Starfleet and The Federation.

The C-in-C of the Fenris Rangers was a former drone herself, who had made it her life-long mission to help any beings that had somehow broken free from The Collective and had regained their individuality, and who were threatened by prejudice and fear from species throughout the Alpha and Beta Quadrant's.

Fifteen years earlier, Ani Besho had been freed from the Collective in the Beta Quadrant, as a Borg scout ship that she had been assimilated on ten years before that, had run into an ferocious ion storm, which had completely disabled the ship, and inexplicably, severing it from The Collective. Many of the drones onboard had died, yet the Bajoran woman, who had been a freedom fighter for Bajor against the Cardassians before being assimilated, had found a way to survive.

The forty survivors had been rescued by a caring, nomadic species in the Beta Quadrant, who after caring for them for almost one Earth year, healing their wounds and minds, had given them a ship, and a second chance at life.

When they entered the Alpha Quadrant, they had encountered hatred, suspicion, and prejudice for what they used to be. A few of those survivors had been killed or captured at an outpost near the Romulan border, while the others had fled in terror, not stopping until they reached the Ficus Sector, and the troubled planet of Fenris.

Fenris had devolved into chaos some years earlier, yet by the time these Borg exiles arrived, it was on it's way to being a diverse, welcoming society, where difference were not seen as a weakness or a cause for conflict, but as something that was a strength and to be admired. It was here that Ani Besho had founded the Fenris Rangers, which became an organization dedicated to the protection of outcasts in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. No one had been seen as bigger outcasts as former Borg drones.

To be sure, the Rangers didn't exclusively protect former drones, but that had become their primary business, in the dual-quadrant area where more and more former drones were showing up, most likely because of the Federation Starship Voyager's destruction of a large chunk of The Collective in the Delta Quadrant.

Seven of Nine had joined the Rangers a few years later, after Icheb's death. She did not want nor seek a leadership role in the Rangers, although Ani Besho thought Seven was far more capable than she was in leading the group. But Seven's arrival had brought a new-found focus and determination among the Rangers, and her service on Voyager, with her knowledge of so many disciplines, including the merging of Borg technology with that of Alpha Quadrant starships, had turned the Rangers into a formidable force in both quadrants.

Depending on which side you were on, the Rangers were seen as either freedom fighters, or terrorists. There was no in-between.

As much as Ani Besho cared for Seven, she knew that Seven's actions over the very recent past, had been more an act of terrorism than of fighting for freedom. With the news from Seven and Qochur, that Starfleet and The Federation had sent a powerful fleet of ships out to look for Annika Hansen, Besho knew it was time for what could only be seen as a council of war.


Kathryn and Seven arrived at the home of their old, sage friend, Tuvok late in the Vulcan afternoon. His wife, T'Pel, greeted them with more warmth than was customary for Vulcans.

"Kathryn Janeway," T'Pel said in her soft, cadenced voice, "it has been to many years since we last met. Peace and long life to you."

Janeway smiled brilliantly at the Vulcan woman. "I'm sorry that I haven't visited in so long, T'Pel. I miss working with you and Tuvok in your garden. I sincerely apologize."

T'Pel gently waved her off. "It is nothing for you to apologize for, Kathryn. Life leads us in directions we cannot always define, does it not?"

Kathryn nodded sadly. "It does, in ways that you can't begin to understand, T'Pel. Thank you for receiving us. This," and she turned to Seven, "is my former Astrometrics Officer on Voyager, Seven of Nine. Seven, this is T'Pel."

Seven reverted to some of her old, formal self for at least a few moments, nodding politely to T'Pel, and speaking more as she used to. "Live long, and prosper, T'Pel of Vulcan. It is my honor to finally meet you."

"The honor is mine, Seven of Nine, Annika Hansen," she said lyrically. "Tuvok has told me much about you, and how vital you were in helping Voyager return. For that," and she glanced at both ladies, "I am always in your debt. Come, Tuvok is inside making some fresh Vulcan spice tea."

Even though Kathryn was a renowned coffee-holic, she almost drooled thinking about the spice tea, which was one of her favorite beverages outside of coffee. It filled her with many wonderful memories of being here, simply talking-and listening a lot-to both Tuvok and T'Pel.

Moments later, they were in the kitchen area of the home, Tuvok over an old-fashioned kettle, with the steam rising from the spout, the fragrance of the liquid filling the air with a pleasant warmth.

Upon hearing footsteps behind him, he turned. "Kathryn, Seven," he said in his typical, unhurried Vulcan manner, "it is most agreeable to see both of you after so many years. I have missed you both very much."

Kathryn stepped up to Tuvok, wanting to give a hug to her old friend, but knowing with T'Pel was watching, it wasn't appropriate. She laid a hand on his arm. "I've missed your counsel, and your humor, Tuvok." She gave him a teasing smile.

His eyebrows shot up. "Humor, Captain," he said, but all three women could see the small twinkle in his eyes. "I'm sure I do not know what you are referring to."

Seven let out a giggle, at hearing her old tutor's bone-dry humor, that was there in abundance. But it was T'Pel who spoke.

"I assure you, my dear husband, I find much of what you say humorous. Do not be so...shy, about such things."

This time Janeway snickered, Tuvok simple looking very cross, yet the twinkle remained. Had he been the kind to share his feelings, he would readily admit he missed Kathryn's humor, and his penchant to always try to goad her into laughter. It had always brought him satisfaction.

A few moments later, they were on the patio, sipping at the delicious tea. After appropriate approbations to Tuvok for the excellence of the drink, Kathryn jumped into the frying pan.

"I suspect you have at least some idea why Seven and I are here, Tuvok?"

Tuvok gave a curt nod. "I suspect I know far more than you think I do, Kathryn. I, too, have my sources and networks, even though I have not left Vulcan in quite some time."

Tuvok went over what he knew, knowing Janeway and Seven would fill him in. He was up to speed, as both women had suspected, on what was going on, but he also had some news that they were not aware of.

"I have been informed, through my own sources, that the officer leading the Intrepid Class fleet, is none other than Admiral Elizabeth Shelby."

Seven knew the name, but not much of the background. She turned to Kathryn, and noticed an immediate, angry countenance in her former Captain.

"Shelby?" Janeway paled hearing the name. "That's just fucking great," she lamented, sotto voce. Three sets of eyebrows rose in surprise.

Kathryn blushed. "My apologies to all of you, for my coarse language. Forgive me for it."

"To be honest, Kathryn," Tuvok said calmly, before taking a sip of tea, "I think your sentiment is most precise."

Now Kathryn's eyebrows went up. "You do?"

"Without a doubt," he concurred. "Whoever is leading this faction-and my sources do not know who that person or persons are, to have Shelby in their corner is formidable. She is, after all, the undisputed expert on The Borg within The Federation and Starfleet."

Seven's interest was now piqued. "I know the name, Tuvok," she admitted, "but what makes her so formidable?"

Even though Seven had been at Wolf 359 when her cube had destroyed much of the fleet that Starfleet and the Klingon's had sent to meet them, the name Shelby had not been known. Certainly, Riker had been known, and, of course, Picard...

Tuvok went over her biography into how she had become held in such esteem for so many years. He also gave an account of the disastrous with Picard and Riker, so many years ago, and the schism it had started to form within the two organizations.

"Indeed, Shelby was the original architect of what your former...comrade Bjayzl did to Icheb. It is exactly what Shelby wanted to do to you and to Icheb, and it made Picard and Riker furious, this beginning the split within the ranks."

Seven turned to Janeway. "Having heard Tuvok's take on Shelby, Kathryn, I agree with him-your choice of words was most appropriate." She turned back to Tuvok. "Is there any chance that Bjayzl was working for Shelby, or whoever Shelby was working for?"

"The link has never been established, however, the fact that it sounded much like what Shelby proposed years before Icheb's death, there are those who believe that there must be a connection somewhere between Bjayzl, and either Shelby or Shelby's superiors."

"Jesus," Kathryn muttered, growing angrier by the moment. "And she has this modern Intrepid fleet at her disposal. Any idea where the fleet is, and what they're planning."

"I do not have that information as of this moment, but I am expecting to be updated in the very near future, Kathryn. I also know of the Council of War that will be taking place very shortly on Fenris. The Rangers are getting uneasy with so much Federation power currently sailing in the quadrant. There are rumors that, at least some of those ships, might try to mount a campaign against Fenris, as means to get to you, Seven of Nine."

Seven was not surprised. It angered her that she had put her comrades within the Rangers in such a position. It wasn't easy to find a Ranger-not everyone was as resourceful as Kathryn Janeway, Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres. But it could be done. But finding Fenris itself was no problem.

"So if they don't find me, Tuvok," Seven said as dispassionately as she could-which was nothing like her dispassion years ago, "that if they cannot find me out and about, they could threaten Fenris itself?"

"That is correct, Seven." He paused, then cautiously went on. "I do not believe an attack or possibly, a 'blockade' of Fenris is imminent, however sources think it is an option that might be considered if their search for you turns up empty."

Despite their decade-long estrangement, and the changes that both she and Seven had gone through, she instantly recognized the look that came into Seven's eyes.

"You are not going to sacrifice yourself for us, for the Rangers, or anyone else, Seven. Is that clear?"

Forgetting for a moment whose company they were in, Seven's head snapped up in challenge. "Who the hell are you to tell me what I can and can't do, Kathryn? Last time I checked, I had my own free will. You have not had such control over me in two decades."

Kathryn was having none of it. "It isn't about control." She stood up to gather herself. "How often did I get that same look in my eye on Voyager?" She looked hard at both her former charges. "Tell me? I was willing to sacrifice myself to the Borg, to the Void, and to Kashyk, for God's sake, if it meant no harm to all of you. Well I've grown up since then, Annika." Kathryn knew using her given name always felt like a stinging rebuke to the younger woman. "I will not let you try to repeat the mistakes I made. You're too important."

"Too important to who," Seven shot back angrily. "To you? Since when was I important to you? I take offense..."

Tuvok firmly cut her off. "Seven of Nine," he said in his Vulcan command voice, "Kathryn is right. It would not be wise to now acquire some of the more...reckless traits that our former Captain once exhibited." The sideways glare he gave Janeway let him know he wasn't joking, but was dead serious. "Sacrificing yourself will not protect us, nor the Rangers on Fenris."

"Then, quite frankly, Tuvok," she said with a sharpness that she would never have been capable of back on Voyager, "I'm in my own Kobayashi Maru-I can't win. If I turn myself in, they kill me. If I don't, then the Rangers and everyone else..." She paused for a moment, looking over at Kathryn, but knowing she had committed to what she was going to say. "Then everyone else that means anything to me will suffer."

Kathryn's heart felt light for the first time in years. No, she and Seven hadn't buried the hatched yet, and they still had a lot to clear up, but Seven still did care, just as Kathryn still did care in return. It was a hopeful sign.

"Seven," Kathryn said softly, "the fact is, even if you turn yourself in, the Rangers will be in jeopardy from The Federation, and an attack by Starfleet. That won't change. The only thing that will change it, is uncovering who is behind this, and defeating them. Will it be easy?" She gave a humorless laugh. "Hell no, it won't, but I'm with you in this, as is Tuvok, and Tom, and Harry, the Doctor...so many people who believe in you, far more than they believe even in what they want Starfleet and The Federation to ultimately be. You're not alone in this. Not any longer."

The table was quiet momentarily, even Tuvok bowing his head in contemplation about what had-and what had not-been said.

Surprisingly, T'Pel was the next to speak up. "I must say, I have always found human emotions to be rather...illogical. That is not unusual for a Vulcan. Yet in observing all three of you, I can say that sometimes, emotions can serve a person well. It is not the Vulcan way, to be sure, but such...attachments, are what seems to sustain human beings."

"I am not human, my wife," Tuvok said, looking rather offended, making Seven and Kathryn glance at each other, trying not to smile.

"No, you are not, Tuvok," she said patiently. "Yet you have spent far more time around Humans than I, and I can see their influence has, to use a Human term, 'rubbed off on you', over the years."

Tuvok continued to sulk. "I believe I should find that remark offensive." His eyebrows shot up.

"Do not, my husband," T'Pel rejoined, Kathryn swearing she saw a slight upturn in the corners of the woman's lips, "for it is a compliment. You have obviously associated yourself with good role models to learn about Humanity. It has made you a better Vulcan."

This time, Kathryn did snicker. "Spock might find that insight...agreeable, Tuvok."

Tuvok simply gave her a bland stare, making Kathryn laugh some more. "I shall take it in the spirit offered. However, T'Pel is right: I have had some exceptional role models in regarding the Human condition."

"Thank you, my friend," Kathryn said with a warm smile, a tear almost slipping from her eye. "I've never been perfect, Lord knows, but I always gave you my best."

"If surrender isn't acceptable, then what options do we have?" Seven brought the revelry to an end for the moment.

"I believe the best course of action is that you and Kathryn continue to lay low. I will contact a trusted source, and see if they can get an audience with the Fenris Ranger high command." Tuvok had obviously been thinking of this prior to this meeting. "I will also require the names of those that are working on your behest on Earth."

Janeway didn't like that. "Tuvok, the less you know, the better."

"Under normal circumstances, I would agree, Kathryn. However, we are looking at the prospect of The Federation and Starfleet becoming the scourge of this Quadrant. No one will be safe if a paranoid, overtly militaristic force takes control in San Francisco. The needs of the many?"

Kathryn simply nodded her head. "I do not know everyone involved, but I can tell you that Tom, B'Elanna and The Doctor are aboard, as is at least one retired member of Starfleet."

"That is acceptable. However, I will need a conduit to information as it become more available among your allies. Perhaps I can arrange for the Doctor to be transported between Earth and Vulcan as a liaison for such information-gathering. That way, no ship need to be put in peril."

"A helluva idea, Tuvok," Seven said approvingly. "If you like, I can spend the next day setting up such a mechanism on this end? It will not take me too long."

"I agree," the much older man said. "I will gather all the materials you need. While you are doing that, perhaps Kathryn and I can clandestinely contact Mr. Paris or B'Elanna on Earth."

"I think that's a plan, people." She turned to Tuvok and T'Pel. "I do not wish to stay here any longer than necessary. I know you understand."

Tuvok nodded. "I do, Kathryn, but I assure you, right now, your location is not known to The Federation. You are safe here for the moment, should you change your mind."

"That is very kind, old friend," she said graciously. "But we both know not to under-estimate them. The best thing to do is keep moving. Our ship is quite stealthy. We can stay concealed."

"Very well," Tuvok agreed. "I shall arrange immediately to acquire what Seven needs to build the transporter for the Doctor."

Tuvok and Seven took their leave, Kathryn looking anxiously at both of them as they departed. She did not notice T'Pel to one side.

"Abdicating responsibility for those that you used to command is not an easy thing, is it, Kathryn?"

Janeway smiled at her. "No, it's not. They're both very special to me. Well," she said, with a sad countenance, "at least one is."

T'Pel wasn't fooled. "Nonsense, Kathryn. Tuvok has told me about the falling out that you and Seven of Nine had. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind, even without the advantages of emotions, that there is still a special place in each of your hearts for the other. Guard that fiercely, Kathryn Janeway. It may be what saves both of you."

Kathryn could only nod.


By the next morning, Seven and Tuvok had completed a device-basically smaller version of the Midas Array that had been used for Voyager to contact Starfleet and visa-versa, while they were in the Delta Quadrant. It could move the Doctor from Earth to Vulcan, or anywhere else, if needed, and back. The next step was for Tuvok to contact B'Elanna and Tom on Earth. That would take some time. In the meantime, Tuvok insisted that Kathryn and Seven not wait around on Vulcan for him to accomplish that fact.

Her former Security Chief had even recommended a place for the two of them to stay off the sensors, as it were. Even though their ship was more stealthy than anything Starfleet had, he had a point that there was always a chance that one or more of the ten Intrepid Class ships might run into them.

It was fairly close to both Earth and Vulcan, which would allow quick movement to both, if needed, but was a place that did not warrant any interest from the powers-that-be: a small planet inhabited by a small number of Vulcans named Valnor, in the Tellerite Sector, not far from Bracas V.

Kathryn and Seven left late the next morning, arriving at Valnor that night. Tuvok had arranged for some friends there to give them use of an unoccupied home that was on the outskirts of the main colony.

Seven and Janeway would hunker down. They thought it would give them time to finally clear the air between them.

Their stay on Valnor would be shorter than they had anticipated.


Qochur had departed Fenris, with instructions from the Rangers, as well as the Prime Minister of the planet, to contact Kathryn Janeway, and try to arrange a meeting between the former Starfleet Admiral, and Rangers leader Ani Besho. The information Qochur had given his leadership had alarmed them. They certainly did not want a war with Starfleet and The Federation, but the also knew that staying silent could lead the Quadrant to become part of a a far-flung authoritarian regime, run from Earth.

That was unacceptable.

Qochur left Fenris, not knowing where Seven was. Seven, however, had never divulged to Janeway that among her possessions was a homing signal that Seven had devised years ago for the Rangers to contact one another on the sly. As soon as he left Fenris space, he activated the signal.   


A Few Days Later, Starfleet Headquarters

 

It took a few days for Captain T'revva to return to Earth, and to San Francisco, to meet with her CO, Admiral Edward Jellico. The Admiral had cleared his schedule for that day, and had his office swept for any listening or video devices.

Yes, paranoia was high on the agenda at Starfleet Headquarters at the time.

His meeting with T'revva was at 1300, and, as is usual for a Vulcan, she arrived precisely on time, which always made Jellico inwardly smile. He had not seen his Chief of Staff for several weeks, and he greeted her as warmly as he knew how.

"Captain," he said with a smile-a smile he didn't get to show as much as he liked. "It's good to see you again. I hope your journey was uneventful?"

T'revva gave a small smile. "The usual, Admiral. There was no drama, which is acceptable to me."

That made Jellico chuckle. Then he became serious. "Computer, erect a Level Ten force field and acoustic field within the confines of this office, until further notice. Authorization Jellico 1-4-Alpha-6. Enable."

"Level Ten force field and acoustic field now has been established, per authorization of Admiral Edward Jellico."

Captain T'revva raised her eyebrows. "I knew this would be important, sir, but I do not recall you ever raising such barriers in your office before."

Jellico shook his head impatiently. "We're facing a crisis, Captain, and at the moment, what I say cannot go beyond these walls."

He definitely had her attention. "Might I surmise, sir, this has something to do with the...crusade that Seven of Nine has been on throughout the Quadrant in the last few months?"

One reason Jellico had retained T'revva for so long is that she stayed appraised of current events, and had a keen mind and a natural insight into what was truly important.

"You may surmise that, Captain. Now, again, what is said here cannot go outside these walls, but I have a job for you."

"You can always count on me to do everything within my power to justify your faith in me, Admiral."

Jellico rose, and poured a cup of coffee for his subordinate, placing it in front of her. "This is going to require more than I've ever asked of you, and it will be risky."

"Go on, sir," T'revva said calmly.

"It's going to require you to publicly break with me, and request a transfer out of my office. It's going to require you to publicly denounce me."

That was the last thing the Captain had expected. The surprise on her face was very un-Vulcanlike. "That will not be easy, sir, I must say, as you know I highly respect you, and have always, as the saying goes, had your back."

"I understand that, Captain," he said with the same business-like tones. That's why I believe, coming from you, it will be more believable. Vulcans do not complain very often, nor they dishonor their superior officers, but this has to be convincing."

"May I ask the obvious question, Admiral: why?"

That got a grin from Jellico. "There is currently an opening in the mid-level staff for the C-in-C. And knowing how much Admiral Necheyav loathes me," he said with a larger grin, "she won't hesitate to hire you. She'll want to make you an ally to use against me."

T'revva pondered that for a moment. "I suspect you are wanting me to be a double-agent, as it were, and report on activities surrounding the C-in-C? And I believe I can surmise you are wanting some kind of information on Seven of Nine?"

"I knew you'd get it immediately, Captain." He summarized Seven's exploits, which the Captain already knew about, and then went into detail about the reaction from San Francisco: the sending of a secretive fleet of Intrepid's; the story of Bjayzl and Seven, and how it had led to Icheb's death; the deep background on Admiral Shelby's report years ago to Picard and Riker, and how that had driven her into Necheyav's camp; the suspicion that Section 31 was somehow involved.

Despite her Vulcan heritage, she showed more than a little shock at the depth of what was going on. "The portent of all this, sir, is something that I don't really want to contemplate. I know," she raised her hand gently, as he began to respond, "that we have been drifting in this direction, and slowly, for years, but this can only lead to the mutation of Starfleet and The Federation into something that would bring chaos to these two Quadrants."

"That's why I have to know what's going on at C-in-C," he repeated. "There are...others...that are involved in this from our end, but at the moment, I won't give you any more information. That way, if you are pressed, you don't know anything, which is the truth. There will come a time when more risk will be needed. For now, you're just fact-finding."

"I understand, sir," she responded, almost mechanically, but with a small shiver running down her back. This was cut-throat stuff she was getting into, and she knew that.

"Very good," he nodded. "You are going to put in an official request for a transfer today, and I will make sure an official complaint is typed up and signed by you, making your transfer and your dissatisfaction with me very publicly known."

She hated that part, because despite his tough, no-nonsense reputation, he had always been a very fair, very even-keeled boss. She hoped there would be a chance after all this to make it right, even though she knew it was play-acting.

Within the hour, the ruse was in motion. News of a angry split between Jellico and his top lieutenant was made public, and by the morning, T'revva would have her transfer letter in for Necheyav's office.

 

IV

 

Valnor. Five Days Later

 

For two women who had once meant so much to each other, Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine had been estranged for so long that even finding middle ground had been difficult since the death of Chakotay. It had been a long, painful decade-plus, which had left them both disillusioned and emotionally spent. Now, they were trying to put it back together.

They had gotten off to a rough start, with two shouting matches already in the books since Kathryn had lured Seven into her trap, and all but abducted her from her ship. Now the two of them were alone, on the Vulcan colony at Valnor, with Seven still seething over how easily Janeway, B'Elanna, Tom, and the Doctor had lured she and her fellow Fenris Ranger, Qochur, into the snare.

Yet despite all the anger and pain of the last decade, there was still many threads that bound them, and the threads were stronger, perhaps, than either of them knew. There was no doubt at one time they were in love with each other. By the time Janeway had retrieved Seven off the Delta Flyer, after her cortical node had overloaded, spinning one conspiracy theory after another, it became apparent to both of them.

Yet Janeway, ever the Starfleet progeny, had stuck to her guns, and allowed herself no intimate entanglement of any kind while Voyager was marooned in the Delta Quadrant. She had flirted with such thoughts when she and Chakotay had been stuck on New Earth with the virus. Had that situation gone on much longer, she would have had to give in, out of sheer human necessity. Yet Voyager had returned, and any chance of a relationship with Chakotay had gone by the wayside.

They were preparing to leave Valnor, far sooner than expected, as Qochur had hailed Seven-it had taken the former drone three days to receive, as she had shut off the Ranger device that allowed them to find each other. Yet that three days had been dramatic for she and Janeway.

And still nothing was resolved.


Three Days Earlier

 

Kathryn and Seven had avoided any personal talks the first two days on Valnor, as the expatriated Vulcans there had made them their honored guests at more than one banquet. The Vulcans on that planet knew full well of the exploits of Janeway, Seven, and the Starship Voyager, as Tuvok had been a frequent visitor to the colony, the exploits of the once-wayward vessel impressing even the staid, stoic Vulcans.

The third day, the Valnor's let them settle in, and their discussions became much more personal.

They were eating a light lunch when Seven, curiously, took the plunge into the morass first.

"I understand that you had to go through counseling after the last time we saw each other, Kathryn." The words were said in almost a conversational tone, but Kathryn caught the meaning immediately.

"What's that hell does that have to do with anything?"

"I'm just noting that you seemingly had as big a problem handling all this as I did."

"Who said it had anything to do with what you went through, Seven?"

"Come now, Captain," Seven said with an overt, false politeness, "it's public record since you left Starfleet. You went through counseling beginning eight months after our last meeting, and four months later, you left Starfleet. I've read the news stories about it."

Kathryn couldn't be furious at Seven for that. Everything Janeway had done, up until about five years ago, had been front-line news since returning from the DQ. Even her medical records always ended up, in one way or another, in the public domain. The biggest reason she went into seclusion shortly after Chakotay's death, and her disastrous meeting with Seven was that very reason-her life had been taken from her, each piece of her existence being exposed to the Galaxy by God knows who. It had taken the life out of her.

So, by extension, Seven was correct. That didn't mean she liked having it brought up.

"You want to know the truth, Seven?" The anger-and the hurt-in her eyes was something that Seven had never seen before. "I wanted to kill myself by that time. I had fought Starfleet for over a decade, trying to keep it from becoming what is akin to a fascist regime. I fought against Necheyav, and others like her, who not only had dragged my good name through the mud, but had chained me to a desk, and had muzzled me. I allowed them to silence me, and I have regretted that ever since."

Janeway got up to pace, turning back to the former drone. "On top of that, I never got over the Court Martial, where everything I had done in the Delta Quadrant was questioned and criticized, to the point where my loyalty to Starfleet was questioned.

"On top of that, it took everything I had to make sure you, Icheb, The Doctor, Chakotay, B'Elanna, all the Maquis, and all the Equinox crew were exonerated. I had to call in every favor I ever had to clear all of you. It tore me to pieces. And on top of that-during the middle of all this-I find out you and Chakotay were dating."

Kathryn sat back down, not looking at Seven. "I vanished the first chance I got, after the Court Martial, because I was mentally and physically exhausted. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I went to the farm in Indiana, where mom and Phoebe slowly nursed me back to health over the next year, to where I could go back to Starfleet.

"What happens when I get back there? They gave me my Vice-Admiral's pips, and told me I would never go any further; would never get another command, and would not be allowed to be down-graded to Captain. Despite Admiral Paris, Admiral Picard and others vouching for me, Necheyav pinned me to that desk, only letting me out when Starfleet and the Federation needed some good publicity."

Kathryn was just warming up. "Then two years after that, mom..." She paused, almost completely losing her composure. "Mom died. It was sudden and painful, and I couldn't do one fucking thing to help her. Phoebe blamed me for mom's declining health, because I had let Starfleet walk all over me, and we've rarely spoken since.

"Then Chakotay died, and I was devastated. I really was, but all I got from you was the weight of more guilt and bitterness, with you blaming me for everything. And the part that hurt the most? You were right. It was my fault. I had made myself a recluse outside of work. I didn't have mom, I didn't have Phoebe, I didn't have a ship to command, I didn't have..."

This time the tears came. "I didn't have your friendship. I was completely alone, cut off from everyone and everything I had held dear to me."

As quick as the tears came, Janeway stopped them. "I got back from Dorvan, and and took another leave of absence. I went off the grid, and drank myself into oblivion down in Cuba for the next four months. It got so bad, I woke up in a hospital in Havana one day, not knowing what had happened. I had drunk myself blind, and ended up passing out, waking up three days later, dehydrated-I hadn't eaten for a week."

Janeway finally looked at Seven. "When I was released, I went back to San Francisco, and in the middle of my leave, I resigned my commission-went right into Necheyav's office and handed her my pips. I had served enough time that I qualified for a pension, and was able to get a counselor via Starfleet. It took me another year to straighten out my life."

Janeway got up, went to the replicator, and requested a whiskey. Before even leaving the machine, she had quickly slammed the three fingers down, and ordered another, sitting back down after that.

"After that, I simply stayed at the farm in Bloomington. I talked to B'Elanna and Tom, oh, maybe once or twice a year. Harry hasn't stopped being on deep space missions since then, and I might have seen him once."

Janeway went quiet for a moment. Seven spoke again.

"Why didn't you at least try to contact me, Kathryn?"

Kathryn turned sharply toward Seven, her normally sparkling blue eyes, almost black with fury. "You're kidding?" She gave a harsh laugh. "After what you had done to me-over and over-what I let you do to me? You were the last person I wanted to talk to, Seven! You had made it quite clear that you didn't want anything to do with me, and you were right to think that!"

The room went deathly quite for a few minutes.

"You had broken my heart years ago, Seven. I've never gotten over it. I don't think I'll ever get over it."

Kathryn rose to leave for her quarters. She turned back toward Seven as she reached the doors to leave The Bridge. "Maybe someday, Seven, we can try to reconcile, but not now, not while the Universe is after you, and while we could find ourselves in a fight soon. Maybe we can be friends again, but beyond that, I don't want to think about it right now."

Janeway turned and the doors opened, the former conqueror of the Delta Quadrant retreating with slumped shoulders, and without a backward glance.

After Kathryn's meltdown, the next two days were all but silent between Janeway and Seven, only talking to each other if absolutely needed. Seven didn't push Kathryn, and knew she needed some space after her tirade. Seven hadn't realized how much her former Captain had gone through after leaving Voyager. To be sure, she had known some of it, but not the drinking, nor how severe her depression had become. Despite their estrangement, what Seven had heard truly frightened her.

As for Kathryn, her "command mask" came back on, something that, after so many years, was almost natural to her. She had been surprised at how venomous her words had been toward the former drone. Had she had time to compose her words, she wouldn't have been so vindictive, but the only outlet she had found over the years was a therapist, and there were none in the area. Seven simply had set her off.

Seven might have been surprised to know that Janeway actually felt better after letting it out, despite her quick exit from The Bridge. She had needed to vent at Seven, just as Seven had needed to vent at Janeway. Twenty years of pent-up hurt and acrimony would take a while to blow over.

Now, with Qochur's message finally received by Seven, it gave the two women something less personal to concentrate on. Qochur had informed them that the leader of the Rangers, and the Prime Minister of the planet would meet them on neutral ground. He had the time and the place already arranged.

The night before the departed, they went over Qochur's message, and discussed strategy. The tension was thick, but both were smart enough to stick to business.

"According to Qochur's instructions, we are to meet with he, the Commander of the Rangers, Ani Besho, and the Prime Minister, Cyan Sladek, in five days."

Kathryn looked over the message. "Korop," she said intently, then looking up at Seven. "That's in the Gamma Sector. We could get there in two days with the slipstream, but five days at about Warp 6.8, with the cloak on, we should make it easily."

"I agree. We could leave in two days, and just head to trans-warp, but even cloaked, that could draw some notice, if someone is on the ball."

Kathryn got her meaning immediately. "You mean if there's an Intrepid Class Starship sniffing around?" Seven nodded. "We don't know what kind of upgrades they've done to those ships, so you're probably right. No need to call attention to ourselves."

"We have to believe, Kathryn, that Starfleet has developed some more advanced technology to hunt cloaked ships, and in tracking energy signature. As advanced as this ship is," she concluded, "we can't take the chance."

"Can you target the scanners on the Phantom to specifically track an Intrepid?"

"Yes, that's easy. Even with their upgrades, the Intrepid Class still would have a basic warp signature that Voyager had while in the Delta Quadrant. With this sensors on here-and I have to admit, Kathryn, B'Elanna and Tom, and whoever helped them?" She shook her head in admiration. "This is a damn good sensor array."

That made Janeway put out a small smile. "Next to you, I've always thought B'Elanna had the most incredible mind I've ever witnessed. I'm sure you'll find a way to improve them."

That made Seven blush a little and give her own small smile. "Perhaps once all this is over, I can sit down with B'Elanna and talk shop again."

There was, at least for a moment, a comfortable silence between them. Kathryn rose and retrieved a cup of coffee for her, and a tea for Seven, setting the cup and saucer in front of the tall blonde. Kathryn looked out of the window in her quarters. "A long way from the DQ, Seven. I'm still amazed sometimes that we made it home."

"We made it home for one reason-you were our Captain. No one else could have done it." Despite their distance over the years, Seven had always been adamant on that point-she truly did feel no one else but Kathryn Janeway would have saved them from the Delta Quadrant.

Kathryn gave a small dismissive wave of her hand. "I was the Captain, yes, but we had a damn fine crew, Seven. I don't think we make it if we didn't have the kind of crew we had."

Seven raised her cup of tea. "You're right. But the crew was damn fine, because they had the best Captain in the Galaxy."

Janeway gave Seven a genuine smile, thinking that yes, there was still a few threads holding their relationship together through the time and distance between them. She wasn't sure if they'd ever find the feelings they once had for each other. Right now, both of them knew they had a ways to go simply to be friends again.


As Admiral Jellico had surmised, Admiral Necheyav wasted no time in snapping up his now former chief of staff, Captain T'revva, and adding her to her own staff. She never wasted an opportunity to dig at a rival. Nothing that Jellico did was unknown to the C-in-C, or so she thought, but in her initial interview with T'revva, there's no doubt that the younger Vulcan and Jellico did not part on good terms. More the better.

The day after all her computer "paperwork" had cleared, T'revva report to Necheyav's office for a one-on-one with her new boss.

"Captain, I try to be as transparent with my staff as this position allows. As you know," Necheyav continued, "being C-in-C, there are some things that most, if not all the staff, will not be privy to, but that is rare. I am going to bring you in immediately on a few items that I deem important right now."

"I'm here to serve you, Admiral Necheyav," the Vulcan said in a relaxed fashion. "It will be...a relief, if I may, to work with a sense of transparency."

"I understand you and Edward didn't exactly part on good terms. Jellico isn't a bad man, and he has served Starfleet well, but he has some old ways of thinking. I think you'll find the atmosphere much more conducive to your liking."

Within a few minutes, Necheyav had gone over a few sundry subjects, all of which T'revva was familiar with, at least on a basic level, as they were matters that Jellico were aware of. She had gone into the meeting not expecting her new boss to fill her in on the one thing she wanted to know about.

Necheyav surprised her.

"The most important thing currently going on is something that we've confined only to member of this staff, the Federation President, and a few others. It is Classified, beyond Top Secret, and I will have to have you affirm some more orders and directives before you get filled in. It's that important."

"I understand the need for discretion, Admiral." Inside, the Vulcan couldn't believe her luck. She knew what was coming next. First, as Necheyav had mentioned, the Admiral's Chief-of-Staff was summoned, and had T'revva take an additional oath of secrecy, and to electronically sign a few documents. It was not unusual in the regard that T'revva had been needed to sign such things when under Jellico's command.

Ten minutes after that, it was just she and Necheyav again.

"Captain, currently, we have a very sensitive, very-extremely-important operation going on. It's Code Name is Lancet." She handed the Vulcan a PADD. "This is an overview of Lancet, it's current status, and the goals that have been set for it. I cannot stress enough that this PADD, and this information, cannot leave this office. The PADD is encrypted so that if you try to leave the premises with it-and a few have done so-I did it once, not even realizing I had the damn thing with me-then an alarm will sound. That's how sensitive this is."

"A wise precaution, Admiral," the Captain responded. "I will try not to embarrass myself by setting off the alarm."

Necheyav wasn't known much for humor, but she lightly laughed. "We're all fallible beings, Captain. I took a lot of good-natured ribbing afterward."

"Have I been assigned a desk or location, Admiral? I would like to get up to speed on not only Lancet, but the other operations that are currently in progress. I try to be most thorough, so I can best help my superiors."

"Very good, Captain," Necheyav said pleasantly, "I will show you to your station. We have a very large Operations Center here, and you'll find you have all the space you need, without anyone breathing down your neck, as it were."

A few minutes later, T'revva was at her station, which was surrounded on three sides by large fiberglass walls, which had been darkened for privacy. Not everyone was filled on on what others were doing, and T'revva, while not being at the bottom of the totem pole as far as rank went, was nevertheless the new kid on the block, and they wanted to make sure she kept her nose where it belonged.

That was fine with the Vulcan Captain.

One thing that was not included in her Starfleet dossier was something known only to Edward Jellico: she had, like Seven of Nine, an Eidetic memory. She couldn't store information like Seven could, but when she read something, it stayed in her memory.


Back in her office, Admiral Necheyav smiled thinly-perhaps the only way she could smile, at the thought of tweaking Jellico by hiring his disgruntled Chief of Staff away from him. She never passed up a chance to take a dig at an enemy. She had scored a coup against Picard by recruiting Elizabeth Shelby, and landing T'revva, while not as large a fish, was still a major victory for her.

She had pretty much had her way with her adversaries: Owen Paris was still in Starfleet, but had been cut out of the important decisions. Picard had left Starfleet after the schism with Shelby. Will Riker had caved into her easily enough, but gave the man credit for trying, at least to find common ground. She had won the battle for supremacy between herself and Admiral Hayes, who didn't like her plans for Starfleet. Finally, she had out-dueled her long-time nemesis, Kathryn Janeway, who had left Starfleet in disgrace a decade ago, after being chained to an empty Vice-Admiral's role for a decade.

A thought popped into her mind that hadn't been there. It gave her a moment's pause. She was well aware how close Janeway and been to Seven of Nine on Voyager. Kathryn had never said it, but it was obvious that the two had gone through an unrequited love while stranded in the DQ. On finding out that Seven, tired of waiting, had paired up with the late Commander Chakotay, during the debriefs and Janeway's Court Martial, Necheyav and her cronies had kept the estimable Captain on the defensive, threatening Seven and Icheb with arrest and banishment, wiping the program of that pain-in-the-ass Mark I EMH, as well as the Maquis who had served for her on their wayward mission.

Necheyav had made Janeway battle and battle for her crew, knowing that, at least in the short run, her crew would get off without a scratch. Necheyav had wanted, and had gained, her pound of flesh by humiliating Janeway for months during the investigations, so much that the Hero of the Delta Quadrant had fled into seclusion with a year of leave, immediately after her Court-Martial and ascension to Vice-Admiral.

The Admiral hadn't heard anything about Janeway, nor much of her crew in years. Yet she had known Janeway very well, and while she had always despised her, she respected her abilities. Necheyav was certain that Janeway, and through her, members of her crew that remained loyal to her, had to know about the recent reign of terror by the former drone.

She pressed her computer screen. Her Chief-of-Staff answered the intercom. "Yes, Admiral?"

"Robert, I'm sending you information onto your personal PADD. I would like you to have Internal Affairs do a quiet inquiry into the current whereabouts of Kathryn Janeway, Tom Paris, and B'Elanna Torres. It's not terribly urgent, but I need to get in touch with them."

"Right away, Admiral."

Transporting made such searches quite easy, as did open, Quadrant-wide data bases. By the end of the day, she knew that Janeway had been seen recently at her home in Bloomington, Indiana, and that Owen's son and the Klingon engineer were living on Covis III.

She tasked IA to do a more thorough look at where the three former Voyager crew members currently were.


By the end of the week, Kathryn and Seven had made the trip to Korop. It had been uneventful, which hadn't surprised Janeway. She had full trust in Tom and B'Elanna's ship, wishing they had such toys when they were in the DQ all those years ago. The cloak, especially, had mad this a quiet journey.

Qochur had used this planet as sort of a "safe house," to coin an old Earth euphemism, on more than one occasion. It was not heavily populated, and there was enough empty land not to be noticed. He had chosen well.

Kathryn had landed the Phantom at the designated spot, Qochur waiting to escort them to the meeting.

"Seven," he said, with a toothy Klingon smile, "it is most agreeable to see you again. Captain Janeway." He slightly bowed to the the diminutive redhead. "I trust you are both well."

"No worse for wear, Qochur," Kathryn rejoined with a smile. "Things are far from perfect." She gave a sideways smirk to Seven, who blushed, "but we haven't killed each other...yet."

Qochur gave a hearty Klingon laugh. "Today isn't the day to die, that is for certain."

"No disrespect to Klingons, my friend," Seven said with her own deadpan, "but I hope not to die for a number of years still."

"I second your motion, Seven of Nine," Qochur heartily agreed. "Come, ladies, will you follow me?"

As they were led away, Kathryn initiated the cloak, the ship now firmly concealed. Seven and Janeway glanced at each other.

Fifteen minutes later, they were in a large wooden structure, obviously built for such meetings. There were perhaps twenty people in the structure, most there to attend to the Commander and the President, and others to serve food and refreshments.

Ani Besho knew Seven by sight, so in deference, she approached Kathryn Janeway first. "Captain, I am Commander Ani Besho, Supreme Commander of the Fenris Rangers. Welcome to Korop. It is my great honor to finally meet you." The firmly shook hands. "Seven has told me so much about you."

"And after that, you still agreed to meet me?" Janeway was only half-joking, but Besho's laugh gave Seven enough coverage.

"I know that you two have had...a strained relationship for some time. But Seven has always insisted you're the best Captain that anyone could have, and that there is still no one that she would trust her life with more than you."

"That's news to me," Kathryn said, sotto voce, knowing full well with her enhanced hearing, Seven would pick it up. Seven did look mildly uncomfortable.

"Captain Janeway, may I introduce you to the Prime Minister of Fenris, Cyan Sladek. Prime Minister, Captain Kathryn Janeway."

"Prime Minister," Kathryn said formally, taking the hand of the tall, muscular Fenris leader. "It is my honor."

"Thank you for allowing us to meet, Captain Janeway. After the debrief from Qochur, I do think we have a lot to talk about. But first," he added, "it is too late today to begin discussions, so please, be my guests at a dinner that we have prepared? We will begin talks in the morning."

"I accept your gracious hospitality, Prime Minister," Kathryn replied, having never lost her skill at diplomacy. "If you do not mind, I think Seven and I need to freshen up and change after our journey, if that is acceptable?"

"Quite acceptable, Captain," the Prime Minister agreed. "Dinner will be served in one hour. I will let Ani escort you to your quarters."

Five minutes later, Seven and Kathryn were at a much smaller, albeit still large structure, where both of them had their own suites to spend the night.


Lars Rolfson was a first-rate pilot and engineer. He wasn't as good a pilot as Tom Paris, and wasn't anywhere near as good an engineer is B'Elanna Torres, but once upon a time, he was a jack-of-all-trades on more than a few Federation Starships. He had graduated in the top ten of his class at Starfleet Academy, and had logged more than forty years as an engineer.

The crowing achievement of his career had been as Chief Engineer onboard the Galaxy Class Starship U.S.S Raymond Spruance, named after the legendary American Naval Admiral that had helped win the Battle of Midway during the Second World War. The Spruance, registry NCC-29041, had done a tour of duty during the Dominion War, and had been one of the few ships that had escaped unscathed before that from Wolf 359.

Lars Rolfson had retired fourteen years ago, promoted to the rank of Commander when he hung it up, and had been decorated with just about every award known to Starfleet and The Federation. He, like so many others, had become disillusioned with the continued drift toward authoritarianism that had infected the Federation since before the Dominion War. When he had retired, he moved to Covis III. Like many Starfleet lifers, he had never married and had no children.

He didn't quit working on ships after he retired. A few years after arriving on Covis III, he had met Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres, and, being familiar with their Delta Quadrant exploits, struck up a friendship with both. Soon he, along with his two new friends, and a shipyard of other like-minded souls, had begun building experimental ships. With the brilliance of B'Elanna Torres-who was hands down the most innovative and most incredible engineer he had ever seen-and some tricks learned from their former Borg friend, Seven of Nine, they had been working on cutting edge designs ever since.

They weren't advertising their designs. Lars and the others didn't want Starfleet getting any ideas on the kind of ships they had been building. Sure, Starfleet had sniffed around once in a while, but the work was done underground, far away from any of the myriad of cities on Covis III. They were designing ships not to help Starfleet, but to build ships to defend themselves and others against Starfleet if they kept on the course toward becoming a militaristic regime.

Yet Starfleet and The Federation weren't dummies. They had an idea where many of their former members were at any given time. They had known that Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres had moved to Covis III years ago, but the two hadn't drawn much attention from San Francisco. With the recent actions of their former ship mate, Seven of Nine, and at the behest of Admiral Necheyav, that had begun to chance.

When intelligence realized that not only Tom and B'Elanna had been living on Covis III, along with others like Lars Rolfson, Necheyav had sent intelligence operatives to the planet to find out if there was any connection.

Necheyav had sent out operatives to a number of planets, simply to try and find out more about Seven of Nine.


Three days after arriving on on Korop, Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine were finishing up their talks with the Commander of the Fenris Rangers, and the Prime Minister of Fenris. It had been more of a get-to-know-you session for Janeway, and to gauge exactly what the Rangers were about, and to learn more of their capabilities.

She had been impressed.

The Rangers not only had dozens of ships like Seven's and Qochur's, where individual Rangers and small teams had followed leads around the Alpha and Delta Quadrants, they had a sizable armada of larger warships available, protecting the planet of Fenris and the surrounding areas. Their warships weren't as formidable as an Intrepid Class, let alone a Galaxy Class or a Sovereign Class, but they were well-armed and well-trained, and would give anyone in the Quadrant a bloody nose if war would break out.

Kathryn had an idea pop into her head the last day of the meetings.

"The ship that I and my small crew used to lure both Qochur and Seven into our trap is called the Phantom. It's about half the size of an Intrepid Class Starship, but has what Starfleet would consider an experimental slip-stream drive, ablative armor, and an array of weapons that Starfleet would give much to have.

"And the kicker is that they are also cloaked, and capable of remaining cloaked even when using weapons, and when extending shields and the like."

That got Commander Besho's attention.

"Our smaller ships are capable, Captain Janeway," the hardened leader of the Rangers observed, "and there aren't many pilots we have that are better than Qochur and Seven. It's impressive that you were able to capture them so easily."

"Trust me, Commander," Janeway added, "without the technology, I and my crew would not have been able to pull it off. We're good, but the technology, in this instance, made the difference."

The Prime Minister was no slouch either. "Captain, might I inquire where these ships are being built? And do you know if they have larger ships available, so that we could possibly upgrade our defensive capabilities?"

Cyan Sladek could see the benefit of having this upgraded fleet. He and the Rangers might even be able to take on Starfleet, or anyone else for that matter, with such a fleet, if they were forced into a fight.

Kathryn shook her head. "For now, I'd rather not divulge that information, Prime Minister." Kathryn had never lost her touch at such negotiations, and she was not about to reveal that information-at least not yet. "With those Intrepid Class ships out in force, any major moves, such as Fenris sending out diplomatic feelers, might easily be discovered. I imagine in time that you'll find a receptive audience where they are being built-they haven't been building them to help Starfleet, I assure you of that."

"I understand, Captain," the Prime Minister said, with a gentle bow of his head. "If roles were reversed, I'd be doing the same thing. Nevertheless, it is something to keep in mind for the long-term safety of our planet and of the Rangers."

Seven jumped into the conversation. "It might be possible, again, in the not-to-distant future, Prime Minister, to get approval from those building the ships to share the technology with Fenris, using quiet back-channels. I agree with Kathryn," she said, glancing at the smaller woman, "for now, it is too dangerous to divulge that information."

"I will be in touch in the very near future with some people who are working on those ships," Janeway added. "I can get a better feel for the possibilities after talking with them. I simply cannot violate the confidence they have placed in Seven and I."

"Understood, Captain," Commander Besho finally concluded. "I think that's an excellent place to end our talks. For now, as you say, nothing overt should be tried on our part, or, I imagine, on your part. The best course of action is to keep Seven as transparent as possible, and see if things don't settle down."

They agreed to meet again in the foreseeable future, and to keep their lines of communications open. Kathryn left Korop believing that they might have a very valuable, and very tough ally, in Fenris and the Rangers. But for now, Seven and Kathryn plotted their next move. They would leave Korop the next morning.


Before they had parted ways a while back, Janeway had given Tom and B'Elanna an encrypted communicator that Seven had devised that was similar to what the Fenris Rangers used. She advised them that she would use it to contact them if needed.

Just as she and Seven had departed Vulcan, Seven sent a message to the couple, advising them of their meeting with Tuvok, and that he wanted to personally see The Doctor. Seven had sent with the transmission a piggy-backed message explaining to Torres how to construct the device to use on their end. It had taken B'Elanna five days to construct the device, test it, and send a test message to Tuvok. Tuvok had acknowledged the transmission.

After Tuvok had been informed that Janeway and Seven had left Valnor for Korop, he contacted B'Elanna telling her that he now needed to be briefed by The Doctor. Two days later, the Doctor materialized on Vulcan.

It only took the EMH five minutes to walk to Tuvok and T'Pel's residence. He didn't fancy just materializing in their living room. He never tired of being able to walk freely on a planet. He doubted he ever would.

He knocked on the door, and in moments, his old ship mate appeared on the other side.

"Doctor," the Vulcan said easily, the hologram sure he saw a little twinkle in the man's eyes, "It is good to see you again. It has been a long time. Please, come in."

"Thank you, Tuvok," he said graciously. "When was the last time you and I conversed? I believe it was during the memorial service for Chakotay, was it not?"

"You are correct, Doctor," Tuvok said with a slight nod. "Unfortunately, that was not a pleasant reunion. I have been remiss in not contacting you, or my other ship mates. For that I apologize."

The Doctor just smiled. "No apology necessary, Mr. Tuvok. I was inactive for almost five years, and it was a blink of an eye to me. I must say," he added, "that it does me good to see you in such good health. You look better now than you did when we arrived back from the DQ."

Tuvok raised his eyebrows. "I will never forget, Doctor, that it was your hard work that kept my neurological condition at bay until we arrived home. If not for your dedication, I would have been beyond redemption, I fear."

The two of them wandered into the flower garden behind the residence, where they could talk in private.

"I assume, Doctor, that you are fully briefed on what is going on?"

"I am. I imagine that we both know things right now, that the other does not. Hence the importance of this meeting."

They dove into it for the next few hours. Tuvok confirmed that Admiral Shelby was leading the pack of Intrepid's that were hunting Seven. He filled the EMH in on the results of Kathryn and Seven's meeting with the Commander of the Fenris Rangers, and the Prime Minister of that planet, and their decision to simply keep all channels open for the moment.

The Doctor, for his part, gave Tuvok a comprehensive list of who-at least so far-was involved in the attempts to glean information about who was running this operation. The consensus, from everyone involved, was that Admiral Necheyav was involved, but beyond that, there was still no clear-cut evidence. Tuvok was impressed with the names The Doctor had given him-especially that of Admiral's Riker and Jellico. They were formidable individuals, and he was glad they were on their side.

"Unfortunately, Doctor, we cannot have you transmitted between Earth and Vulcan very often. The system Seven and I devised is advanced, but eventually, Starfleet will discover what is happening."

"I would think the fact that a facsimile of me that is currently at Starfleet Medical would delay their discovery?"

"Perhaps, but Starfleet and The Federation will catch on eventually. We will use this only on a truly must-need basis. I trust you will tell the others that as well?"

"Of course, Tuvok." The Doctor paused. "What is your take on this whole thing, Mr. Tuvok?"

The Vulcan considered the question. "I cannot condone Seven's recent actions, although part of me, even as a person who eschews emotions, understands what she did to a certain degree. Icheb was, in essence, Seven's son, and his death, as gruesome as it was, has left a deep hole in her heart. However, she took things too far, in my estimation. I believe, like everyone else, that Seven has alarmed Starfleet, and that they are hiding their own laboratories, for lack of a better term, where they are experimenting on former drones."

"If they have other drones, why go after Seven?"

"As you, Doctor, Seven was Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix One, which means she was in close proximity to the Queen. Seven knows things that other former drones do not. The Queen didn't share everything with every member of The Collective. Seven was privy to much that the Queen knew. Her cortical node, if harvested, would be a treasure trove for Starfleet."

"To put it succinctly, they would butcher her the way Icheb was butchered." The disgust on his face was palpable.

"Precisely. And it would be used to not simply defend the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, but to turn Starfleet into the terror of both quadrants. That cannot be allowed to happen, my friend."

The Doctor took his leave from his old friend, each promising that they would try to stay in touch once this current crisis had past. The Vulcan would not forget the debt he owed to The Doctor.

But for now, Tuvok, The Doctor, and everyone else involved, hunkered down and waited for events to unfold.


Sloan was sitting in his opulent home in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco. Overlooking the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge, it was the perfect setting for a man who wanted to look down on people, and to hold power over them. It's what drove him. It was the only thing he lived for.

Sloan was a close to a "non-person," as Orwell had once observed, as existed in the Universe. But he did exist, and even those that he was conspiring with, most notably Admiral Necheyav, didn't know much about his story.

He wasn't a shape-shifter, or a genetically-engineered human being, as the legendary Khan had been. But he was human. Yet no one had any real records on the man.

That's because Sloan, who was born with the name of Lucas Sheldon, hadn't been born on Earth.

He had been born on Roumlus, forty five years earlier. His father and mother had served onboard the U.S.S Enterprise, NCC-1701-C, under the command of Captain Rachel Garrett. Unbeknownst to anyone in the present timeline, the Enterprise-C had been thrown twenty-two years into the future during a battle with the Romulans, trying to defend a Klingon outpost at Narendra III. They had met up with the Enterprise-D in that alternate timeline, when The Federation and the Klingons were involved in a terrible war. The Enterprise-C had reluctantly returned to its timeline to finish the battle, thus erasing the Federation-Klingon war from existence.

Yet in the battle, while most of the ship's compliment had been killed, Sloan's parents, Richard and Evelyn Sheldon, both engineers on the the ship, had been captured, along with Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Richard Castillo, and tactical officer Tasha Yar, and held until their deaths on Romulus.

Lucas Sheldon had been born in 2354, and by the age of twenty, knowing nothing but a Romulan life, he was being trained as a spy to eventually infiltrate Earth, and to try and contact other Romulan spies planted throughout Starfleet and The Federation, in order to compromise those organizations. Unfortunately, approximately five years after U.S.S Voyager had returned from the Delta Quadrant-which was almost the same time that young Lucas Sheldon had arrived on Earth under the name of Robert Aurelius, at the age of twenty-five, with a full life story from Earth, the Romulan Empire collapses when a supernova destroyed Romulus, scattering its people into a nomadic existence.

Sloan had been trained to love the Romulan Empire and to hate Earth and The Federation. Yet the reason for his training had been wiped out with that supernova, but he had never lost his hatred for what Starfleet and The Federation had stood for.

For the past fifteen years, he had met his other Romulan plants, most of them human, but some from other races. His intelligence, and his drive soon took him to the very top of that clandestine group, who continued to undermine The Federation from within. And over those years, he had eventually eliminated all of his co-conspirators. He had his own plans now. Ten years earlier, he had become a Senator in the Federation government, and had quickly allied himself with Admiral Necheyav and other hard-liners within the organization, who had been jilted by the battle at Wolf 359, and, later, the catastrophic Dominion War.

He quickly became a trusted adviser to Necheyav, and others like her, who wanted a more militaristic and feared organization than currently existed. Yet in the end, he wanted to control its destiny, not simply be a part of the change. He was able to convince Necheyav to arrange his "assassination" of Senator Aurelius, hide for the next year, where he had his appearance and his voice altered, then returned as "Sloan," an un-person whom no one could find any trace of. Very few people ever saw him. Even fewer talked to him. He was, quite literally, an aberration.

His ultimate goal was to have absolute control of the Federation government, and it's military arm, Starfleet, and rule it with an uncompromising iron fist, making it into a creation that not even the Romulan government would have recognized.

Eventually, he would sweep aside even Necheyav and anyone else that wanted the ultimate power. He wanted to be a dictator in a manner that even men like Khan, Stalin, and Hitler could never have imagined.


Covis III

 

Lieutenant Commander Sade Ozi had been part of Necheyav's staff for over twenty years. The Bajoran man had, like Necheyav, lost a loved one, in his case, his sister, at Wolf 359 so many years ago, and, also like Necheyav, had taken a harder line for Starfleet and The Federation ever since. He had done many inquiries and investigations over the years for the Admiral Necheyav. This was simply another in a long line of such work he had grown used to.

As was the case, Ozi had been briefed on what and who he was looking for, but not on the details of why he was being tasked. Plausible deniability was a very effective defense against people who tried to pry too much. Ozi had simply become used to operating in that manner. He had been given a list of names of people who were former Federation or Starfleet personnel, whose last known address was on Covis III, with the names of Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres at the top, and a host of other names below that. His portfolio included photos of the people he was scouting, along with a brief biography of each.

His job here was information only. If anything else was needed to be done with his persons of interest, well, that was something that he tried not to think about, as it could be unpleasant. He simply went about carrying out his orders.

As was the case with most people like Ozi, he knew some of the best places to find out information was at night clubs and bars, where people drank. When people drank, often their tongues loosened. Since there only major city on Covis III was the Capital City of Fonar. That's where his search would begin.

 

V

 

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 news...it 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, but...it 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."

 

The End

 

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