DISCLAIMER: See Chapter 1

The Traveler
By H.W.

Chapter 13

Meanwhile on board the ship of Empress Shadeen.

"Thank you for joining us so quickly, my Eminence," Shadeen said while she turned around from one of the monitors on the Bridge, satisfied that everything was in order in the Empire.

"Of course, my Empress," Danzoc said while bowing slightly. "When I heard that you had cleared my ship to travel at warp twenty point one I knew this had to be important so I came right away. Now, my Empress, if I may ask, what is so important?"

"Screen." Shadeen said shortly and a second later the image of Voyager filled the viewscreen. "I assume that you have detected that ship when arriving?"

"Yes, a Federation ship. Is that why you summoned me here?"

"It is." Shadeen pointed to a screen on one of the consoles and Danzoc quickly read the text speeding by. "As you said yourself, we don't really know what we are looking for, but all of that indicates that one of the people on that ship might just be the one we are looking for. But since we don't have any real clues this also might just be wishful thinking on our part. So Zerisan and Carizon here both agreed with me that we should bring you in on this. You, as the keeper of the holy texts, should be best suitable to interpret the clues we might find."

Hearing their names spoken was enough for Zerisan and Carizon to leave their posts in the capable hands of the people standing by for that very occasion, and join the conversation. "As you can see," Zerisan said when Danzoc finished reading. "There is nothing that we can point to as a clear sign, everything is explainable using simple logic. Yet overall, it has a certain feeling about it. Something that tells us that the chosen one must be on that ship."

Danzoc closed the file down and nodded in agreement. "Yes, I too get the feeling that whoever we are looking for is on that ship. But from this I cannot point to a certain person, there are several that could be a possibility. And as you know from our history, sometimes the ones that don't seem like a possibility at all are the ones we are looking for. So if the chosen one is on board that ship, identification will have to be done through conversation. It is absolutely certain that if the chosen is on the ship that The Traveler will have left behind the obvious clues..."

"Obvious only to you, my Eminence," Carizon interrupted. "And that is why you are here. The obvious clues, as you call it, are only described in the holy texts, and thereby only known to you."

"True," Danzoc agreed. "However, you will also recognize these clues. They are easy to understand, it is just kept secret in the holy text to prevent impostors from pretending to be a chosen one."

Empress Shadeen made a gesture to one side of the bridge, where the door to the conference room was located, indicating that she wanted to take the conversation to that conference room. "As you know," Shadeen started again after everybody was seated. "I usually don't ask about details concerning the closed parts of the holy text. But now I have to know, just how certain is it that nobody knows these clues?"

"Absolutely certain , my Empress. The books themselves are protected by The Traveler, nobody but the spiritual leader, his or her Eminence, can even touch them without dying. And as you know, never in all of our history has a spiritual leader broken his or her vow to serve The Traveler."

"Very well," Shadeen said, leaning back in the chair. "In that case we will treat this as a standard ship based meeting, with the exception that you, my Eminence, will be present during the meeting. We still have thirty minutes before our guests arrive. Does anyone have something to add?"

"My Empress." Both Zerisan and Danzoc started at the same time. "Please continue, my Lady." Danzoc then said with a polite smile, giving the first word to the Lady of the Empire.

Zerisan made a small nod of acknowledgment before starting to talk. "My Empress, from what I read in those files, their standard behavior during first contact will mean that they will bring Seven of Nine with them as a 'expert' on our race. So we have to beam them into sickbay when we bring them on board. With your permission, I will welcome them and after everything is in order, I will bring them to the secondary bridge."

"Very well." Shadeen agreed, seeing that Zerisan had something more to say but needed to close that subject first.

"And also, my wife," Zerisan continued, calling Empress Shadeen her wife to indicate that she was asking on a personal basis. "You know how I dislike the dry talking of negotiations. So with your permission, when the first meeting is over and the negotiations start with the second meeting, I would like to take the opportunity to get to know the Klingon. Somehow I have the feeling that she will dislike those negotiations just as much. Perfect opportunity to spend some time with her, talking."

Shadeen spent a moment thinking about that, and also thinking about the information she had gotten on B'Elanna Torres from the files she read. She realized that her wife was right and there was no real reason to torture either one of them with meetings they both would probably not like. "Very well. After the first meeting is over and we agree on the next meeting to do the negotiations, you will be excused from them." Then Shadeen looked to his Eminence and prompted, "My Eminence?"

"I just wanted to remind you that if the chosen is on board of the ship this person will have to be tested in the usual way."

"Ah, yes. The tests. We did talk about that before your arrival. And have already planned a way of carrying them out once the chosen is known."

"It is lucky for whoever the chosen is that the tests are not about strength or endurance," Carizon said looking at a padd and going over Voyager's crew manifest. "Some of the races represented on that ship are so... weak. On our Homeworld, half of them wouldn't be able to walk around the palace without the gravity becoming too much for them and they having to crawl on hand and knees. And none of them would stand a chance in a hand to hand fight with a Follower."

"Most races we know wouldn't stand a chance against a Follower," Danzoc reminded. "That is why the tests have never been about that. The tests are there to show whether or not the chosen is worthy of being adopted into our race. If the chosen is worthy of that, then this person doesn't have to be strong, after all, we protect our own."

"That we do, my Eminence, that we do," Shadeen interrupted thereby bringing the focus to herself again. "Well, it is almost time and..."

Empress Shadeen herself was interrupted by the sound of her communicator. "Speak." She ordered after activating the device.

{My Empress, your presence is required on the secondary bridge. The Borg are on their way to one of our new protectives.}

"On my way," Shadeen said before closing the channel. Knowing that this minor problem could only be because the Borg did not yet know that the Empire protected their destination. But that would change. "I'll take care of this, Zerisan, bring our guests to the secondary bridge whenever they are ready. My Eminence, I would appreciate your presence from the very beginning. If you would also join us on the secondary bridge."

"Of course."

"Very well." Shadeen said shortly while standing up and starting for the door.


When Janeway, Tuvok, B'Elanna, and Seven materialized on the Empress's ship they were surprised to find themselves in something that was obviously a sickbay.

The woman that had been sitting beside the Empress during the conversation over the viewscreen stepped closer and thereby gathered their attention. "Welcome on board, Captain, Lt. Commander, Lieutenant, Seven of Nine. I am Zerisan, personal aid to Empress Shadeen." The tall woman said, indicating that she knew all of their ranks and that further introductions were not really needed. Janeway noticed that the woman deliberately was keeping a small distance, probably so that she didn't tower over them. The woman had to be at least two meter and ten centimeters (seven feet).

Then another Follower standing a little bit to the side cleared his throat quietly. Obviously some kind of signal that he was ready for something because Zerisan then looked directly at Seven. "Would you please step over here for a moment so that the doctor can scan the signature of your implants," She asked while she walked the few steps toward the other Follower. But when she noticed that Seven wasn't moving, she

explained why this was necessary. "We like to be prepared. And just in case the impossible happens and Borg drones somehow manage to get onto the ship, we have systems on board the ships that would kill you before you reach the end of the first corridor. The doctor will scan the signature of your implants, which is unique for every drone, and then put that information into the ship's computer so that the security systems know that you are not a Borg intruder and that you are allowed on the ship. This will not harm you in any way."

Seven inclined her head to indicate that she understood and accepted an explanation. Then after quickly glancing to Janeway and B'Elanna to see if they also agreed with this, she walked to where the doctor was waiting with some kind of scanning device. "You could have gained this information during the transport to this ship. Why did you wait until now?"

"As you already know." Zerisan said, and then looked to the others briefly, indicating that she was talking to all of them. "The scan we made of your ship also immediately downloads all the information in your computer system, which also includes the medical files. And we could also have scanned you all during the transport. However, we believe that one's body is the most private thing one possesses. All information about it should be given freely, not taken. This is well established in our society and constitution; we like to give others the same courtesy. Of course, we have to be careful. So the medical files of your entire crew were indeed checked to see if there was something that could cause a problem. But this was done by one of our doctors and as long as there's nothing that could be a threat to us this information will stay only with that doctor. You could compare this to doctor/patient confidentiality. Nobody else has seen those records, nor will anybody else see those records as long as there is no threat to us. But since we already know about Borg signatures, and that they are certainly not a threat to us we did not scan you for it. After all, we know you have one. It is up to you if you want to share that information about your body with us."

"The information has been uploaded." The doctor interrupted before speaking directly to Seven. "It is now safe for you to be on the other parts of the ship."

"Well then, allow me to escort you to Empress Shadeen." The tall woman said while she walked past them to the door.

Immediately upon entering the hallway they noticed that they were obviously on a military ship. The halls were wide, without a doubt constructed with the thought of moving a huge number of people quickly through the ship. The group was quiet as they walked through the halls, knowing that the real conversation would only start in the presence of the Empress. It was Seven who first noticed the decorations on the wall. But

it was Janeway who saw the true craftsmanship. By the third wall painting they came across all of them slowed down to look. It was a beautiful nature scene, from floor to ceiling and more than six body lengths long, showing a beautiful sunrise over a peaceful beach and two people that were obviously lovers sitting in the sand looking at that sunset. The painting seemed so real that it looked as if it was a window that you could step through and be on the beach. It seemed so real even that Janeway just had to touch it. "What..." Was all that Janeway could ask. Somehow something as beautiful as that didn't seem to fit on a warship.

"Our history." Zerisan explained. "You will find paintings like this throughout the ship, throughout the fleet. As The Traveler once said: 'Surround yourself with your history and you can never forget it.' This is part of our history."

"What does it depict?" Seven asked. Somewhere in the back of her mind, the scene seemed so familiar to her. As if she knew that beach.

"That is the beginning of our race. Almost sixty thousand years ago, there was a war going on. Two races were fighting each other for nothing more than the 'sport' of beating each other. Never realizing that if they united themselves they could be unstoppable. One day two troop transporters met in space and a battle began. Within minutes, both transporters had to make emergency landings on a beautiful, but uninhabited, planet. There were more than a thousand of each race on each transporter. So the first thing they did after surviving the crash was start fighting each other for the planet. Any excuse would do. Just when the first drop of blood hit the ground a person suddenly appeared and said to them that fighting for the planet would be of no use since they could never own it. It was his and only he would decide who was worthy of living there. So both sides started fighting for that. Thinking that if they would beat the other they would be worthy of living there.

"But in all the people that survived the crash, only one hundred of each side wished to live together, thinking that might be the way to survive this ordeal as the stranger had suggested. So those two hundred people settled somewhere far away from the others. Those who stayed behind continued fighting until every one of them was dead. However, the survivors continued living together, building a society and over time the blood of the two races mingled and a third, combined, race appeared. They were the perfect combination of all of the strong points of the two separate races and so the Followers were born. The two lovers you see there were of two different races, but they were the parents of the first Follower."

Tuvok was the first to reply. "Interesting."

Zerisan nodded her head a little bit and then made a hand gesture down the corridor "Please, follow me."

When they started walking again, B'Elanna lingered behind a couple steps, taking one last look at the wall painting. Somehow it seems so familiar to her, but she couldn't place it. Just that she had a feeling that she knew that place.

"Thank you for sharing that with us," Janeway said after another moment of silence. "I realize that we didn't make the best first impression. So I'm glad you invited us. I must admit that during our conversation there were moments where I was not so sure about whether or not you would agree to meet with us."

They reached a turbolift and after getting in, Zerisan gave the destination of 'second bridge' before answering Janeway. "That is because our initial talk was to see whether or not you would be worthy enough for a second talk."

"Than I'm glad that we proved worthy enough that the Empress decided that she would see us," Janeway replied, not entirely able to hide what she thought about being 'worthy enough' to be granted a second conversation.

"Actually, Captain, the Empress was leaning towards sending you away. That you are here now is because the Empress is doing me a favor. One of my hobbies is keeping up with other warrior cultures in the Galaxy. The fact that you had a Klingon hybrid on board..." Zerisan's eyes quickly darted to B'Elanna for a second, "... was really the deciding factor. My Empress wants to give me the opportunity to talk to her."

"It would be my pleasure." B'Elanna replied immediately. Even if she wouldn't have wanted to talk with Zerisan she would have done so simply because she realized that if the Empress was doing this woman a favor then this woman could be a powerful ally in the quest to get home. But surprisingly enough that thought didn't even really cross B'Elanna's mind. It was something she realized, but also something that wasn't of

importance. She simply wanted to get to know this tall woman a little bit more. She seemed so fascinating, so civilized, and polite, yet without a doubt, there was a warrior aura around the woman. Even if you were not a warrior yourself, you could easily see that Zerisan was. B'Elanna got the impression that the woman was at complete ease with

herself. Knowing what she was, knowing her capabilities, and knowing her limitations. The Klingon could not remember ever encountering that before. The Klingon race was always proving what tough warriors they were. Most often they were proving that to themselves instead of others. But B'Elanna suspected that Zerisan, or her race in general for that matter, didn't need to prove what they were. Everybody knew, including themselves.

Once again it was quiet for a moment while they moved out of the turbolift and down another corridor. When they reached the door that was at the end of the corridor, Zerisan once again turned to speak to the others. "We are about to enter what we call 'the secondary bridge'. This serves the dual purpose of being the reception hall where people traditionally meet the Empress in person for the first time, and it is also the command

center of the Empire if the Empress is away from home. After the first introduction is over we will move to a conference room. This first introduction is always done this way to make people truly realize that they are not just meeting a mere representative of our race; they are meeting the Empire itself for the Emperor or Empress IS the Empire."

Zerisan was about to step up to the sensor which would open the doors to the secondary bridge when B'Elanna's eyes fell on another wall-painting a little bit further down the corridor. She couldn't help herself and stepped closer to take another look. This was nothing like the other paintings they had seen. It depicted a group of Followers laughing cruelly while killing persons by using long blood-covered knives. Once again the others also came closer to take a look and now that they were standing in front of the painting the vision of exactly what was depicted was gruesomely obvious. The Followers in the painting were not just killing people, they were killing children of another race. Young children. And on the edge of the painting sat what had to be the parents begging and pleading. Four pairs of eyes went to Zerisan and she started to explain.

"As The Traveler said in that same speech about history; 'Never distort the facts. How can your children learn from your mistakes if you don't honestly tell them what those mistakes were?' We are proud of our past. We think we did well. But that doesn't mean that in the sixty thousand years that our race exists no mistakes were made. A little more than twenty thousand years ago we started to expand our Empire and we found that all the races we encountered were weak; incredibly weak. Therefore, we quickly became predators, robbing, and plundering whole words, using the inhabitants as our slaves. This continued and gradually became worse until eventually a new form of entertainment was created. We would capture people, kill, or torture their children in front of their eyes and broadcast the parent's reactions as entertainment throughout the Empire. We may have become an advanced race compared to others, but that doesn't mean that this

advancement was flawless. We made mistakes, and we learned from them."

The others were quiet for a moment. Never had they met a race so open about their past. B'Elanna thought about how different this was from Klingons. With Klingons, it was a well-known fact that history was always rewritten by the victor. This rewriting of the facts often happened even before the last battle was won. This race however obviously didn't believe in distorting their history. The Voyager crewmembers could see that the tall woman wasn't coloring even the most gruesome facts, or that she was making it sound as if it was unimportant. She was simply stating the facts about what was shown in the wall painting. "So, what happened to change... this?" Janeway finally asked, gesturing to the wall painting to indicate what she meant with 'this.'

"What happened is that the old Imperial family was overthrown and the Shadeen family was elected to take control of the empire. Ever since, an heir of the Shadeen family has ruled the throne. It was a difficult time in the beginning, especially for the first two Emperors. They had a hard time keeping the throne. Each Emperor brought about rigorous changes and the Empire had a hard time adjusting so quickly and willingly. But things changed. Within a hundred years we went from being the barbarian bullies to being people which one could do business with. Almost to the day those hundred years later, the planet we terrorized the most, willingly and freely became a member of the slowly growing Empire. And of course much came after that, but the Empress is waiting. If you would please follow me?" Zerisan once again stepped up to the door, but this time close enough so that it would open.

They walked into a square room of at least twenty by twenty meters (sixty by sixty feet) that was lined on both sides with batteries of workstations. But unlike the standard formation of consoles of Federation ships, the workstations were not facing the wall or even worked into the walls, instead they were placed in such a manner that the operators would be facing the room instead of the wall. Thereby, it gave them a clear view of what was happening in the room. The space between the workstations was big enough to give the operators easy access to the center of the room should it be needed. All in all it was very clear that these people also functioned as a guard for the Empress who was sitting in a rather modest throne, rather a comfortable looking chair, against the far back wall of the room. Zerisan led them closer to the Empress until she finally stopped several steps away from the throne.

Janeway's eyes quickly darted to the two men standing beside the Empress, one on each side, and then her eyes went back to the woman herself. Empress Shadeen sat back in the throne comfortably, looking at them as if she was studying them. Janeway was almost biting her tongue so that she wouldn't start talking. She was so used to opening conversations, telling everybody just exactly who she was. The stretching quietness was quickly getting on her nerves and she wanted to change that. But she knew that this time she was at the mercy of others, this time she had to wait until spoken to.

Finally the eyes of Empress Shadeen came to rest on Seven of Nine and after yet again a moment of continued silence, she suddenly stood up and started to walk towards Seven like a predator stalking its prey. Shadeen walked around Seven until she was standing so close behind the blonde that their bodies were almost touching. "I'm disappointed in you, Borg. No shaking, no almost fainting at the mere sight of me. So disappointing. It is always amusing to see emotional drones. They are so rare."

Seven turned around at the words and looked up into the eyes of the Empress. "I am over my initial reaction to you, triggered by nothing more than Borg memories. The Borg may fear you. But I am no longer Borg." Seven squared her shoulders and let her well-known cool defiance take over. "I am NOT afraid of you."

Janeway groaned inwardly at the words, here she thought she was making progress, and then Seven had to go and be, well, Seven. However, when she heard how the Empress started laughing she realized that for some strange reason normal diplomacy did not work on these people. *But then again,* She thought, being honest with herself. *I don't have the best track record when it comes to dealing with any kind of warrior race.*

Empress Shadeen strolled back to her throne but did not sit down. Instead she turned around and looked at Seven with her amusement clearly showing on her face. "Good. I like that attitude a lot more than the one I observed before. Contrary to what the Borg might believe; I don't enjoy people cowering in front of me." Suddenly Shadeen became serious and her tone of voice could be best described as deadly. "People know soon enough when they should fear me." Then she looked at Janeway and added, "But I do expect people to remember exactly what I represent. I am not to be spoken to as a Starfleet cadet reporting to their Captain. I AM the one in charge here. Remember that and we might actually get along."

Janeway slightly dipped her head indicating that she understood and acknowledged that. "I most certainly understand that. And I think I would have acknowledged this sooner. It's just that, well, as you probably already know from reading our files, most of the species we have dealt with only acknowledged me when I asserted myself as in charge. If you didn't act bigger and tougher than them, they tried to take advantage of you

if not out right kill you. To then meet a species such as yourself who doesn't tolerate being treated that way, who go so far as to question decisions I've made? Well it took me some time to adapt to that, but I think I have succeeded in doing so."

"Well, it sure sounds as if you found your diplomatic side again. However, I don't like diplomats very much. So if you just tone down your stubbornness you should be fine."

Janeway was about to react to that when she realized she almost proved Shadeen's point. Instead, she allowed a smile to form on her lips. "I will try to do that."

"Good, in that case, follow me and we can continue this conversation in the conference room."


Once in the conference room, Danzoc and Carizon were quickly introduced before talks began. For almost two hours they talked, getting to know each other better. And it was agreed upon that Voyager would be brought to the Followers Homeworld for a short shore leave while it would be decided if, how, and how much, the Followers would help the Voyager crew in getting home. It was the decision on exactly how to get

Voyager to the Follower's Homeworld that really brought to light signs that Shadeen and the others were looking for.

"No, Captain Janeway," Empress Shadeen disagreed. "Having you go to our Homeworld on your own is not really feasible. Our Homeworld is pretty much centered in the middle of the Empire, so it would take you at least ten years to get there. And also..." Now Shadeen smiled. "It would do exactly what we are trying to prevent. Give you ten years of opportunity to stick your noses into things that do not concern you."

"We have two simple options to resolve this," Carizon spoke up. "Either we take your spaceship in a tractor beam and tow it behind one of our ships while we travel at Trans warp, the tractor beam itself would then protect your ship from being destroyed by the forces of Trans warp travel. After all, it is designed that way. But if you, for

some reason, object to this we could get a cargo ship and transport your spaceship in one of its cargo bays. Whichever you prefer."

B'Elanna knew that Janeway's suggestion of having Voyager travel by itself was just done so that they wouldn't look too eager. After all, the Klingon could do the math. If the Homeworld was centered in the middle of their Empire it would also mean that it would be half of the journey through that Empire. So when the time came for Voyager to leave, the Followers would either have to bring Voyager back to its original position or closer to the Federation. And since the distance would then be pretty much the same, it

would be a small thing to bring them closer to the Federation. No, being invited to the Homeworld made it pretty much a certainty that they would at least help Voyager through the vast expanse of the Empire, if not the entire way home to the Alpha Quadrant. Unless of course they would do something stupid enough to get themselves killed. But the Chief Engineer found it her duty to remind the others of the problem they had been having for the last couple of months. "If a tractor beam was used, there would be a possibility that the viruses that have been plaguing us could travel down the tractor beam's carrier wave and infect your systems. So a cargo ship seems like the better option."

Shadeen brought up the results of the Voyager scan on the padd lying in front of her and quickly went over them once more. "Viruses? I assume you're talking about computer viruses? There are no indications of any kind of viruses on board your ship. Our scan would have picked that up."

Seven looked a bit uncomfortable while offering her suggestion on why the viruses may not have showed up. "Perhaps your scan did not find the viruses since they are hidden by Borg encryption codes. However, there are still several hundred viruses unaccounted for and also several hundred that we have found and bypassed to 'pacify' them. It is..." Suddenly, Seven stopped her explanation abruptly.

"What?" Janeway prompted when Seven didn't continue.

"Captain, I just realized. We did not have any more trouble with those viruses from the moment we encountered the Follower scout ship."

"Maybe their scan somehow neutralized the viruses?" Janeway offered.

The way Danzoc leaned forward upon hearing this indicated to Empress Shadeen that this subject needed more attention so she spoke up. "That is not possible. Our scanning system has been designed in a way to prevent such a thing from happening. We scan and download information. We don't want to change systems or programs running on said systems. Even if a program were designed in such a way to stop working when being scanned, our scan would then override this. In other words, except for information being downloaded, your systems would not react to our scan, even if they were designed to do so."

It was then that Danzoc spoke up for the first time after being introduced. "Tell us more about these viruses. Tell us about what they do, and how it came that your ship was infected with them."

And so Janeway started to explain about the strange circumstances that led up to their ship being infected like that. About how a traveler came on board Voyager for a short time and what happened after that. How it became obvious that this traveler had somehow been able to make them do things and believe things they normally never would. She stopped explaining when she saw how the four Followers were looking at each other.

"Please, describe this traveler for us in a little more detail. What did he look like?"

Not really knowing what Danzoc was getting at, Janeway started her description. "Well, he was tall, about the same height as you, Empress. Let's see, slender, his shoulder- width even less than mine. Reptile skin, green/bluish and scales. Crooked walk, more..."

"That is incorrect."

"Seven?" Janeway asked, surprised to be interrupted by the ex-drone.

Seven didn't understand why Janeway was giving a wrong description, but she did know Janeway well enough by now to know that she was not trying to deceive these people. She truly believed in her description. "Your description of this traveler is incorrect. Except for the height. But he did not have a narrow shoulder width, nor did he have reptile skin."

"No, Seven," B'Elanna disagreed. "He did look the way the Captain is describing him."

Tuvok, who had been pretty much quiet up to now, letting his Captain do the talking and only giving a suggestion here or there when he was asked for it or thought it prudent to mention something, was the one who brought up the most simplest of questions. Wondering why humans always wanted to disagree instead of finding out all angles. "Then please describe this individual the way you saw him."

"He looked like..." Suddenly Seven's eyes went wide and darted back and forth between the Followers. "I did not realize until this moment that the traveler shares characteristics with your race. Yet I do not believe he was of your race."

"No!" Carizon suddenly interrupted with a loud voice, only to be silenced by the Empress raising her hand slightly.

"Not of our race?" Danzoc asked.

"It is hard to explain. He looked similar; yet different... his features seemed smoother. One could say that he looked genetically less advanced..."

Danzoc nodded his head slightly. "As if we were descendents of his?"


"No!" Carizon once again interrupted.

"Carizon." Empress Shadeen quietly warned.

"No, my Empress. She is Borg. An enemy! I will not allow this!"

Empress Shadeen looked at Carizon quietly for several seconds and even the Voyager crew had no trouble understanding the look in her eyes. Finally she spoke. Quietly, deadly. "And 'I' will not allow a behavior like this. But, unlike you, I can do something about what is bothering me. Act in a way your function requires of you. Or... suffer the consequences."

The Voyager crew could easily see that Carizon realized that he had gone too far. He looked at Seven for a second with hatred clearly visible in his eyes before looking back to Empress Shadeen. "Of course, my Empress. I apologize. This will not happen again, I was just surprised by this turn of events."

"Very well. See that it indeed doesn't happen again. You are warned."

Then Shadeen ignored Carizon as if nothing had happened and spoke to Danzoc, however immediately making it very clear that this interruption was certainly not forgotten. "My Eminence. Even though my adviser chose his words rather poorly, is there anything else you would like to ask before we explain to our guests what this is all about?"

"As a matter-of-fact, there is." He then looked back across the table to the Voyager crew. "You have described to us just how much of a nuisance these viruses have been to the entire crew. But has any of the crew in some way benefited from these viruses? Or from any of the events they cost?"

Janeway was about to say 'no' when B'Elanna spoke up. "Seven has."

Janeway beat the Empress to what she was about to say, but only because at that moment the Captain did not have to bother with a polite 'please' before saying: "Explain."

B'Elanna had seen that Seven was not going to mention the incident with the alcove. And she wondered if that was because the ex-drone felt that she didn't deserve to be the only one benefiting from what others were suffering from, or because she didn't want to share her secret with the rest of the group. Probably both, the Klingon realized. Yet this was too important not to mention. "By freak chance, one of the viruses changed the programming of Seven's Borg alcove in such a way that now it is possible for her to dream while regenerating."

"And why was that not brought to my attention?" Janeway asked, clearly not enjoying that she was left in the dark about this.

"In the beginning, Seven told nobody because she was afraid that the alcove would get 'fixed' and she would no longer be able to dream. She didn't want to lose what she thought she could only have in her dreams." The small blush that the Klingon was sprouting was obvious enough and therefore nobody asked exactly what Seven had dreamt of in those dreams that she didn't want to lose. "And after she told me I checked the alcove myself. I checked it once or twice extra just to be certain..." Now a small much saying smile formed on B'Elanna's lips that made everybody understand that 'once or twice' was a gross understatement. "...but I found absolutely nothing wrong except for

the fact that the alcove somehow even worked better now than what we always assumed as peak efficiency. I wanted to tell you later, Captain, when I could also assure you that we did not have to change this, and that Seven really was safe. But with every thing that

happened next, I just... forgot about it."

"This, however, is not the only benefit I had from these viruses," Seven said hesitantly. "Looking back, B'Elanna nor I personally ever had any problems at all because of these viruses. From then on, we did however spend almost every minute of the day together repairing the damage done by the viruses, or the viruses themselves. One could say that we are now engaged purely because we got to know each other during the great amount of time we were together while taking care of the viruses."

"Yes, one could," B'Elanna agreed, not really liking what Seven was saying. "But one could also say that this was simply bound to happen and we would have ended up together anyhow."

Seven turned to B'Elanna and looked her in the eyes. She wanted her fiancée to understand. "I agree, Kyamo, that we were bound to be together. And eventually that would have happened. I am sure of that. But how many weeks, months, or even years would it have been before we realized this? How much longer would it have been before we acted upon our feelings? The first civil conversation we had several months ago, where you said it was possible I could be your friend, happened also while you were trying to repair something of which we discovered later was one of the viruses. I know you do not like this, Kyamo. But I truly think that we are together NOW because of those viruses. I... we both, have gained so much because of those viruses."

A sound from somewhere around the table made B'Elanna and Seven break their

eye contact and look once more at the people sitting around the table. B'Elanna wanted to apologize for what obviously had been a private moment that did not belong on a meeting like that, but it was Zerisan who spoke first while looking up from the padd in front of her. "Interesting. I have been going over the scan results one more time and there are indeed several hundred places where there are Borg encryption codes that serve no purpose whatsoever. It does look, however, as if they were indeed placed to hide something. But that 'something' has disappeared."

"Which fits perfectly." Danzoc agreed before explaining. "If our assumption is right then those viruses have now served their purpose and they disappeared to make it absolutely clear that this is not just coincidence. This is the Divine One leaving us a message." Then his Eminence went from explaining to asking the Voyager crew a question. "I have one more simple question for you. Could you tell me the name this person went by?"

There was a strange moment of silence while the Voyager crew looked at each other and even Tuvok seemed a bit uncomfortable, if that was possible for a Vulcan. "Um, it never occurred to us to ask." Janeway finally admitted. "It just seemed natural to call him 'the traveler' whenever we referred to him in third person. We still do as a matter-of-fact. We traded goods with him. So an obvious name would then be 'the trader' yet somehow we

kept calling him 'the traveler' even now. As if that was his name. The Traveler. Just like the person Zerisan here has already referred to on... several... occasions... and... Oh, boy. That would explain the earth coffee."

Chapter 14

After more talk, explanation, and negotiation, it was agreed that Voyager would be taken in a tractor beam and would travel like that for the duration of the five-day journey to the Followers' Homeworld. Janeway had opted for the tractor beam because the idea of having Voyager stored in the belly of a giant freighter ship as if they were nothing more than cargo didn't appeal to her at all. Both sides had agreed to a relatively slow journey that would take them five days, that way they had some time to interact and get know each other before arriving at the Homeworld. Of course this 'slow' journey still meant that Voyager would be crossing a distance in five days that would take them ten years to travel on their own.

During that time, people were free to visit back and forth between ships. Nobody was surprised to find out that beaming from ship to ship during trans warp was an everyday thing for the Followers. Only a few strategic places of the Imperial ships were off-limits to the Voyager crew. Usually when the Voyager crew was given 'free range' on a ship of a different race things like engineering, sickbay, and the research labs were still kept off limits. But this was not so with the Followers. The only things that were off limits for the Voyager crew were the primary and secondary bridge, as well as the private crew quarters. Everything else was freely accessible.

So almost everybody from the Voyager crew made sure to find some time to go over to one of the Imperial ships and take a look around. For most of them, it felt as if they were permitted to look into the future. They compared the every day technology the highly advanced Followers used to what they themselves were familiar with. B'Elanna Torres, for instance, had stood almost half an hour gaping with an open mouth at the engine of Empress Shadeen's ship. To B'Elanna, what she had seen was the stuff the Federation declared impossible. A single engine for warp as well as trans warp, capable of smoothly accelerating from taking over from the thrusters at light speed and then simply going on, and on, and on, well into the high trans warp ranges.

But it was equally interesting for both sides. More than one Follower could be found roaming through Voyager to look and see how people were capable of doing such extraordinary things and survive with such basic equipment.

They were on their second day of travel when the rumors started spreading on both sides. For the Followers, there was excitement. It was said that they possibly found the new Chosen One. Things were about to change, and what would the future bring them? On board Voyager, it was slightly different. Everybody was excited that once again their journey home had become a lot shorter. But they to had heard some of the Followers talking about how one of the Voyager crew was now the Followers' Chosen. And people started to wonder just what the price was for the help in getting home. Some people were even afraid that the person they had gotten to really know and like in the last couple of months would be leaving Voyager and staying behind at the Followers' Homeworld as payment for the offered help. In a way a lot of people on board Voyager thought it strange. A couple of months ago they sure wouldn't have minded if the person, which the Followers said she was their Chosen one, would have left the ship. But now they had gotten to know her for whom she truly was. And now nobody on board Voyager wanted to see Seven of Nine leave.

Well, almost nobody.

"Wait, wait, wait," Chakotay said while he was trying to make sure nothing spilled out of the mugs he was carrying back from the replicator to the table. Chakotay knew he was drunk. But his time in the Maquis had taught him several things, one of them being that information was often easier to gather over a strong drink. He settled the mugs full of strong blood wine on the table before sitting down. After that, he pushed one of the mugs to his companion and swallowed some of his own blood wine before continuing. "So let me see if I understand this correctly. Once in every several thousand years, one of the beings your race worships..."

"Not just one of them, The Traveler himself. Ruler of over all the lesser Divine Ones," Carizon interrupted and explained.

"... right, So once every several thousand years, this Divine One decides that is time for your Empire to change and he goes out to find a person that will bring forth that change..."

"Right." Carizon agreed after emptying his mug in one gulp.

Chakotay once again got up to get more blood wine from the replicator. But this time he only replicated one mug for Carizon. He knew that the drink on his side of the table would be the last for him. Even he couldn't hold four mugs of blood wine. And then to think that Carizon had just drained his eighth mug as if it was nothing. Chakotay handed the mug to Carizon and he was glad to see that the Follower simply put it down on the table instead of emptying it once more. *Time to get my information,* Chakotay thought before speaking up. "However, this Traveler doesn't simply say 'Here, this is your new Chosen'. You people must actually go out and find this Chosen..."

"Which we always do within a few months of a new Chosen being... well, chosen," Carizon said proudly before his face turned into a frown. "And look at what we found. If we weren't talking about the Traveler himself, I would be sure that this was a joke of one of the lesser Divine Ones."

Chakotay nodded his head in sympathy for the man sitting across from him. "But maybe you have the wrong person. Maybe you need somebody else instead of Seven. After all, what do we have that really proves that Seven of Nine is supposedly your Chosen? Just because she and B'Elanna needed to spend time together while getting rid of those viruses? That could mean that B'Elanna should be your Chosen because she has just as much advantage of that as Seven. Or what about Tom Paris? After he was almost sucked into space thanks to one of those viruses Jennifer Delaney realized that she couldn't wait forever. The man she wanted could die before we reach the Alpha Quadrant. Last thing I heard was that Tom and Jennifer are talking about moving in together. So he definitely had a positive thing happen to him thanks to the dealings of your Divine One." Chakotay deliberately forgot to mention that before that accident Tom was already married to somebody else. He was desperately looking for signs that somebody else could be the Chosen, Anyone else but Seven.

"No, no, no," Carizon disagreed. "Look, all of that is just extra. To make sure we find the person we are looking for. There is one thing however that proves that she is the one we are looking for. The Traveler showed himself to her in his true form. Only members of our race, and the Chosen Ones, are permitted to see the Traveler in his true form. It has always been that way ever since the first Follower was born. Well, except of course on the Traveler's home planet. There everybody can see him in his true form. But then again, anybody who is on the planet without being protected by the Traveler will be dead long before they ever get a chance to see The Divine One."

"Whata ye mean?" Hearing how he was slurring his words, Chakotay realized it was time to get his information while he at least could still think a little bit clear. And he mentally kicked himself for also drinking the strong blood wine instead of opting for something a little less strong.

Carizon was a little surprised by this change of direction in the conversation. And it showed in his answer. "Huh?" But then he realized what Chakotay meant. "Oh, nothing of importance really. You see our Homeworld is not same planet on which the first Follower was born. It is in the same star system, it is even a neighboring planet, but is not the same. At some point in our history we decided that we didn't want to expose such a beautiful planet as the Traveler's Homeworld to a continuously expanding society. Even if we kept the beauty of the planet in mind, the simple fact is that for houses you need space. Even if that space was once a beautiful forest or beach. So we settled on the neighboring planet leaving the Traveler's Homeworld to him solely. Over time, without us being on top of the food chain on the planet, other animals took that place. And now the Traveler's Homeworld is one of the most beautiful planets we know of, and also one of the most deadly."

"Ah," Chakotay only said, once again mentally kicking himself, this time for letting the conversation slip off target like that. "Well... so the fact that your Divine One showed himself to Seven in his true form proves that she is this Chosen One. So tell me, what does that actually mean?"

"But I told you already. The Chosen brings change for the Empire. We don't know upfront what that change is going to be, we just know that things ARE going to change."

Chakotay sipped a little bit more of his blood wine and then nodded his head in agreement. "Yes, I know. I know. But what I mean is how do things change? What do you want from Seven? For instance, does she get command over a part of your army? Can we see her being in command of a hundred of those battle cruisers out there?"

"Oh, no. No, not at all. Nothing like that." Carizon emptied his mug with a last big swallow. "No, if that was the case I would be a happy person now. No, the point is that we change nothing for the Chosen. We don't give the chosen any powers of that kind. We don't give her a position of power within our military. It's much worse than that. You see we act on what ever the Chosen does. We are going to protect her, whether she wants it or not. So... well it is like this. This Seven of Nine will still be working here on Voyager, but there will always, at the very least, be one battle cruiser following your ship around. And even though you and others you might meet on your journeys might never know that we are around since the battle cruiser would stay cloaked, we will interfere to protect Seven of Nine. For instance, some time ago the Borg Queen took her drone off of this ship. We would never allow that. We would attack the Borg and destroy them."

"Sounds pretty good for us." Chakotay was glad to hear that maybe there was a positive side to it after all.

Carizon shook his head slightly after hearing that. "Ah, but here comes the 'but' that you will not like. We would not allow the Borg to take Seven of Nine. But we would also not stop Seven of Nine going to the Borg if she wanted to. And there in lies the power of the Chosen. We react to what she does. What if she decides to go back to the Borg and stay there? I tell you what. There is a strong chance that soon a Borg/Follower alliance would be made. After all, if Seven of Nine wants to go back to the Borg, surely that must mean that the Traveler wanted us to work together with the Borg. Who knows what that alliance might lead to? At the very least the Borg would finally get some of our technology. But where would it stop? Followers becoming Borg drones? The Borg Queen becoming the new Empress of our Empire? Can you imagine that combination? The Borg always wanting to have, and our technology enabling them to take. The Borg would rule the galaxy."

Hearing that made Chakotay drain his own mug. Unlike the others he was not fooled by Seven's so-called integration into the Voyager community. He knew that the ex-drone was only waiting for the right time to put Voyager in a situation where the Borg could assimilate them all. After all, the fact that Seven was on board had already been the reason for several encounters with the Borg. Chakotay knew that when they would get closer to the Alpha Quadrant, a place where the former Borg drone would be imprisoned, at the very least. Seven would realize that being once again a member of the Borg collective was better for her. And he knew that when that time came Seven would take all of them with her. But after hearing what Carizon had said that vision paled in comparison with what he just heard. He knew that something had to be done or else, soon everybody in the Federation and beyond would be going by Borg designations. "But surely there must be a way to prevent this from happening."

Carizon sighed and slowly shook his head. "I don't see how. The Empress has already decided that as far as she is concerned, Seven of Nine is the Chosen. And we have to follow what ever the Empress says." Suddenly Carizon smiled a little bit, obviously trying to put himself in a better mood. "But, who knows. Maybe I'm wrong here. Maybe Seven of Nine will turn out to be an excellent Chosen. Maybe her dislike for what the Borg have done to her will even cause the opposite. Maybe we will finally be allowed to rid ourselves of the nuisance that is the Borg Empire."

*That is a big maybe.* Chakotay thought. *Too big, we cannot simply hope for that. Something has to be done. But what? But what?* Then, having the information he needed, he smiled at Carizon before saying; "Well, either way, I had way too much to drink. I'm going to sleep that off. Thanks for the company. See you around."

"The same to you." Carizon looked at how Chakotay slowly stood up and walked out of the mess hall. Then seeing Neelix walking by the brooding expression he had on his face during his conversation with the commander disappeared and he lifted his hands to get the Talaxian's attention. "Could I have another one of these? This blood wine tastes really good. I think I will download the replicator pattern later on."

"Um, sure," Neelix said hesitantly while slowly taking away the empty mug. But he saw it as his duty to inform Carizon of the dangers of blood wine. "Um, you do realize that this is quite potent stuff? And you already had quite a bit. Wouldn't you prefer something different? Something... less strong?" Neelix was surprised when the Follower started laughing and sat up a little straighter. This little shift in position, combined with a slightly different body language, changed the man's whole demeanor from a slumping and obviously intoxicated person to a person obviously aware of his surroundings and very in control of his body.

"Don't worry, Talaxian. This might be strong stuff for you and a lot of other races, like these humans here for instance. But we are not affected by alcohol. Do you want to know why I am going to download the replicator pattern? Because my two-year-old son is just leaving the donsing-sap stage and I'm pretty sure that he will love this stuff."

During this small conversation, Neelix had replicated the drink and giving it to Carizon. "But I thought... the way you were drinking here with the Commander... well, I, um, assumed that you were sharing some kind of drinking contest."

"I'm sure that he thought the same." Carizon looked at Neelix for a couple seconds before softly hitting the table with his open hand a couple of times, indicating that Neelix should sit down. "Join me for a few minutes. Let's talk about the crew. About what kind of people they are."

"Well, I don't know." Neelix stated while he was already slowly beginning to sit down. "I'm usually not want to gossip about the crew. They are my friends."

Carizon reached over and padded Neelix his shoulder. "Of course they are. Don't worry, I'm not looking for dirt here. I just want you to tell me about them, and what you think. That is all. Tell you what, I will make you a deal. I tell you something, you tell me something. How's that?"

Neelix liked this man, he was so different than how he seemed when the commander had been there. The way Carizon was acting now reminded Neelix a lot of the way he has seen Klingons act on the holodeck, when they were sitting around the table having fun. Looking around the mess hall, the Talaxian decided that he could spend a couple of minutes talking to this Follower. "Okay, you have a deal. But you begin."

"Good." Then Carizon made a show of inconspicuously looking around the mess hall before indicating that the Neelix should lean closer. "Well, since you are the keeper of this place, how about I tell you how to get a Follower drunk? If you want to get one of us drunk you just have to give us liquids with caffeine mixed with sugar. The combination of caffeine and sugar has the same effect on us as alcohol has on you."

Neelix couldn't believe his ears. "Wait. Are you trying to tell me that you get drunk from coffee?!"

"No, we get drunk from coffee with sugar. That's why I never touch the stuff."

"Coffee you mean?"

"Caffeine I mean."

"Ah. Soda?"

"Oeh, one of the strongest things around. Just the smell of it would make me pass out."

"Hmm, I never would have guessed."

"Well. Now it's your turn, Talaxian. I told you something about us. Tell me something about the crew of this ship."

"Okay, I did agreed to that. Let's see, where should I start?"

"Well, why don't you tell me why your commander doesn't like Seven of Nine," Carizon said and it was clear that he was a lot more serious now. He wasn't trying to fool Neelix, he wasn't hiding that he was truly interested in the answer. Neelix liked that, and so he started to explain.

"Well, you see..."


Meanwhile Carizon was not the only Follower onboard Voyager. Several decks below, Zerisan had just entered engineering and was about to ask where she could find B'Elanna when she heard the Chief Engineer shout.

"Get the fuck out of here before I throw you out!"

So instead of asking she only nodded to Carey and pointed to the office. Indicating why she was there.

"Good luck," The engineer mumbled before turning back to his work and pretending that he didn't hear the Klingon blowing a fuse.

"I am leaving, but only because I see that trying to communicate with you is an inefficient waste of time. Grasping a context as simple as advanced communication is beyond your narrow-minded capabilities. The only communication you are capable of is a useless show of basic emotions."


"Since reasoning is obviously beyond you, I will give my own recommendations to the Captain in the morning." The Borg said while leaving B'Elanna's office. When she came out, Zerisan saw a small smile playing on the ex-drone's lips and Zerisan assumed that it was because Seven had managed to get the last word in.

"Did I come at a bad time?" Zerisan asked the pacing Klingon while she entered the office.

"No, I'll be all right in a few moments," B'Elanna growled out through her teeth while she continued pacing. "It's just that that stupid Borg sometimes has the cunning ability to GET ON MY NERVES!" The Klingon shouted the last words, knowing that Seven would still be in main engineering downloading the information she needed and that the Borg would hear her.

"Ah, so this is standard behavior? Interesting. From our previous encounters, I had thought you two to be actually quite close to one another." Zerisan sat down without asking permission to, knowing that most none-Followers actually preferred it when she was sitting instead of standing and towering over them.

B'Elanna stopped her pacing at that observation and set down behind her desk. "We ARE very close. We are engaged to be married as a matter-of-fact, and I love that woman to death. But that doesn't mean that we agree on everything. Nowadays we usually talk about our differences of opinion and come out with a workable compromise. But I don't know what's wrong with her today, she's even more stubborn than she usually was before we got involved."

Zerisan's sensitive hearing registered the unique sound of Seven of Nine's walk leaving engineering. "I assume that you two usually fought a lot?"

The usually private Klingon's knee-jerk reaction was to tell Zerisan to mind her own business. But for some reason B'Elanna felt comfortable in the presence of the tall woman. *Maybe it is because she is also a warrior.* B'Elanna reasoned with herself. *Somehow I don't see us sharing a barrel of blood wine and telling ourselves strong stories, but I feel as if I can talk to her.* "Yeah," She finally said out loud. Before we got involved we always fought like cats and dogs... if you know what that means."

"We say 'like Broka and Deniri' but I understand what you mean. But now that you are involved, you don't fight anymore? Why not?"

"Because we are engaged to be married of course. We are supposed to get along."

"And who is talking about not getting along?" Zerisan asked, pulling the chair a bit closer to the desk. "My wife and I fight at least once every week, quite often more than that. But that doesn't mean that we don't get along. If there is a problem, or even a beginning of a problem, we talk about it. The fighting we only do over unimportant things."

"Then why fight at all?" B'Elanna wondered out loud.

"Because we enjoy the fights. We love to fight." Then Zerisan smiled a very satisfied smile. "And we also love to make up after the fights. Tell me," She then asked, getting serious again. "When you fought, before you got involved, did you enjoy the fights?"

"No, yes, sometimes." B'Elanna sighed deeply, trying to find the words that she wanted to say. "Look, I admit that I enjoyed fighting with her. But it didn't last, if you know what I mean. One of us would without a doubt say something that hurt the other and the other would then reply in kind."

"Then you are now in a perfect position to fight and enjoy it, are you not?"

"What do you mean?" The Klingon asked confused.

"If you truly love each other to death, as you say, then you are in the unique opportunity to have fights with each other and know deep down that the other person doesn't really mean what she says, and that the other person knows that you don't really mean your words. Yet after the fight, you still have a perfect reason to make up."

"I doubt that Seven would go along with that. After all, fighting is 'inefficient'."

"Fun usually is inefficient. Doesn't mean that an ex-drone can't have fun. I think she might just enjoy the fighting as much as you do. At least that would explain the smile on her face when she left your office."

"She was smiling?" B'Elanna asked surprised.

"Most definitely."

"Damn, I forgot. A couple of months ago, she actually told me she liked it when we fought." Suddenly B'Elanna thought about a conversation that she and Seven had a couple of days back.

'I agree that there are certain things about you that annoyed and irritated me,' Seven had said. 'but, B'Elanna, I do not want you to change on account of me. If you want to change then only do so if you would also have done the same if we were not involved.'

'Yeah but surely you could do without things like my short temper.'

'No I could not. I fell in love with the mix that is B'Elanna Torres. You are my perfection. Your short temper is a part of that perfection. Please, do not change my perfection unless it is on the simple bases of you being yourself.'

"You know what my biggest problem is?" B'Elanna suddenly asked, and Zerisan realized that the Klingon was really speaking more out loud to herself than to Zerisan. "I spend so much of my time trying to fit in that I simply can't believe that somebody would want me for what I am. The good with the bad. Every time Seven and I face something that other people usually couldn't accept, I don't simply believe that Seven CAN accept it. She always has to prove that to me. I mean, how often has she already told me that she accepts my Klingon side? Yet the day before yesterday she was the one who dragged me to the holodeck and initiated the training program that got me so worked up that I finally let go completely when she suddenly started to have her way with me."

"You mean having sex?" Zerisan deliberately interrupted, not because she didn't want to hear what B'Elanna had to say, but because she wanted to respect B'Elanna's privacy.

"What?" B'Elanna asked and looked at the tall woman. She then realized what she was talking about. "Yes, no, I'm talking about making love. Major difference. Kahless," B'Elanna said while she stood up and started pacing behind her desk. "I don't even know why I'm telling you this. I don't even know you."

Zerisan stood up and went to the door to close it. After she had done this and sat down again, she finally answered. "Maybe that's why you're telling me this. You don't really know me, I'm just a guest on this ship. After this conversation I will go back to my own ship, and soon we will part ways again. Then I will be taking whatever you told me with me and nobody on your ship will know about it. Furthermore, I'm a warrior like you. Talk to me, or don't, that is up to you. But I will give you my word that whatever you say will stay between you and I."

B'Elanna looked at Zerisan for a moment and then sat down with a sigh. "I hurt her, you know. We had to use the dermal regenerator for our bruises and I'm sure that the only reason why nothing was broken is because the Borg strengthened her skeleton and my bones are simply stronger than humans."

"Ah, you are talking about that 'famous' Klingon sex I read about."

"I prefer the word lovemaking and yes, that is what I'm talking about. Even though those stories are usually exaggerated."

"So you hurt her. So what? It isn't something my wife and I do very often, but on occasion we do enjoy playing a little bit rough. And on those occasions we don't mind a little pain. Because it's part of the game and then pain can feel surprisingly good. The important part is whether she enjoys it? Did she play along willingly or did she ask you to stop?"

"Oh yeah, she enjoyed it all right. She came immediately the first time I... eh, yeah she enjoyed it. And she doesn't have to ask me to stop. If she wants to stop, she can make me. You know how strong Borg drones are. She may be more human now but she still has most of her Borg enhanced strength. Look, the problem is that I promised her that I would never intentionally hurt her. Yet I did hurt her intentionally."

"No, you didn't," Zerisan stated with confidence. "I had a similar talk with my wife shortly before we got married. It is part of the marriage ritual that the day before you get married you spend talking with your future partner about any secrets or insecurities you might still have. The reason for this is so that you can enter the marriage without the problems that issues like that could eventually cause. We also talked about never intentionally hurting each other. But, B'Elanna Torres, at that moment, one is talking about hurting emotionally, not physically. Thinking about physical pain doesn't enter your mind at that moment because it is a non-issue. Why? Because physically hurting your partner would also hurt her emotionally. But that doesn't mean that you can never be rough with your partner, as long as your partner wants, condones, and enjoys that. To be absolutely honest with you, I thoroughly enjoy receiving, and giving, the occasional spanking."

"I'm talking about more than a spanking."

Zerisan rolled her eyes and sighed, starting to understand why one of the descriptions of Klingons was being very stubborn. "I know you are, my wife and I also do a lot more than that when the mood strikes us. I simply didn't think that you would want a detailed description. From what I heard you say, this wasn't a one-sided thing. You talk about your bruises, and your Klingon bones as well. So she also hurt you."

"Yeah, but I'm part Klingon. I relish a little bit of pain now and again."

"And who says that Seven of Nine doesn't?"

"Well uh..."

"B'Elanna Torres, do you want my uncensored and straightforward advice?"

"Sure... I guess."

"Get over yourself. Stop thinking about human, Klingon, or Borg. Start thinking about individuals. You are a person who has found a perfect match. Physically and emotionally. And you have the incredible luck that this perfect match also loves you and wants to be with you. What more do you want? Simply enjoy what you have and stop questioning yourself. Seven of Nine seems to me as a person who speaks her mind. If there was a problem in your relationship would she be quiet about it or tell you?"

Now it was B'Elanna who sighed, knowing that the tall woman was right. "Seven would tell me before it could even become a problem."

"Then stop worrying and enjoy what you have. B'Elanna Torres, you have found a woman who enjoys it when you let go completely, but she also likes to fight verbally with you. If she wasn't prepared for the consequences, she wouldn't do that," Now Zerisan smiled. "And I'm willing to bet that with all of this she also has a tender side we haven't even talked about."

"Oh yeah." B'Elanna agreed with a smile of her one. "You know, I'm supposed to be this tough warrior, yet when we sleep she always has her arms around me. As if she's protecting me. And you know what? It works. Since we're been sleeping together, I sleep better than ever before and she also k... she also keeps the nightmares away."

"Well then, what more do you want? You have it all, B'Elanna Torres. Enjoy it."

"As simple as that, huh?"

"As The Traveler once said; 'There is nothing wrong with having goals you want to achieve. Go and try to make them your reality. But inner peace is not found in what you do, or do not, have. Inner peace is found in having somebody accept you unconditionally'."

"A nice saying, not really fitting to either humans nor Klingons, but on this occasion it fits. Of course, I could simplify that by saying that I should be myself for that is the person Seven fell in love with."

"Also a nice saying, but that however doesn't really fit Followers."

"It doesn't?"

"No. In our race, the bond between partners starts at a very young age. Often, as in my and my wife's case, before the people involved can actually speak. Once the second stage of adulthood sets in, the love for our partner is for life. No matter what happens, the love will never lessen. Even if my wife would use the power that she has to do the terrible deeds we only know from our history, I couldn't love her any less. We have no choice in that. So you see, it doesn't matter what kind of person my wife is. I will always love her."

"Interesting. Do you have some more time? I would love to know more about that."

"Certainly. I don't like the dry negotiations your Captain is having with my wife anyhow. The padds will record all I need to know..."

"Wait a minute." B'Elanna interrupted. "The negotiations my Captain is having with your wife? Are you telling me that Empress Shadeen is your wife? Now, I would definitely like to know more about THAT."

Zerisan laughed at that. "That's right, you didn't know that. Well, you see..."

Chapter 15

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