DISCLAIMER: See Chapter 1

The Traveler
By H.W.

Chapter 17

The next day on Empress Shadeen's ship.

"We are dropping out of trans-warp in thirty minutes, my love."

Shadeen leaned forward to quickly steal a small kiss. "I know. And...?"

"And..." Zerisan repeated. "I was wondering what we are going to do about B'Elanna and Seven. I see them as our friends, and you know, if friends visit us, I want them to stay in our home."

Shadeen hummed her agreement, "Mmhmm, I know. And you know I want the same. We have a lot of acquaintances. But because of our positions as Empress and Lady of the Empire, we only have a few people who do not constantly treat us as their rulers when we are in their presence. I still consider myself incredibly lucky with the fact that Carizon is capable of treating us as his equals when he enters our home. It is rare for an Emperor or Empress to have such good friends as you, my love, and Carizon to also be his or her advisers."

Zerisan shifted slightly in her favorite seat, her lover's lap, to look over to the man the Empress was talking about. She smiled when she saw how he was looking very interested at the screen in front of them, pretending that he didn't hear what the two women were talking about. "I'm glad too that he is able to do so. Now, the reason I brought this up is because of their command structure. If we invite B'Elanna and Seven into our home, then we also have to invite pretty much the entire senior staff. And that is not something I want. I want to spend time at home, with my friends. Not play the hostess to a diplomatic party."

Shadeen understood only too well what Zerisan was saying. She herself also wasn't looking forward to constantly being 'Empress' Shadeen while she was at her own home. "Don't worry about it, love. I already thought of a solution. Of course the top of the command structure will stay in the suites of the ambassador building. The lower levels of command however will stay in the suites of normal hotels, only the best, of course. And since B'Elanna and Seven will not be staying in the ambassador building we might just as well invite them to stay with us. Don't you think?"

Zerisan leaned forward and took her time sharing a long kiss with her wife. "How cunning. I like..."

But before she could say more, Carizon cleared his throat to get their intention. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but a Borg Armada just dropped out of trans-warp in the Peledine system.

Zerisan stood up from her wife's lap and both she and the Empress were immediately all business. "How many ships are we talking about?" Shadeen asked while she was bringing up the information display on her throne.

"Thirty-four cubes, nineteen tactical cubes, and eleven spheres."

It was quiet for a couple of minutes while all of them watched the monitors, trying to figure out what the Borg were up to. Finally the Borg ships started splitting up into a classic formation well known to the Followers. "Textbook mass assimilation formation," Shadeen said softly, letting her mind drift over countless options and counter reactions to whatever the Borg might do. "But why? And why now? The Borg knew of the existence of the Suridigen for decades. And they always left them alone because they were 'unworthy of assimilation.' So why suddenly start assimilating them now, and especially with such urgency."

The others knew that Shadeen was talking out loud for their benefits. So that they could give their suggestions and thoughts on the things that the Empress was thinking about. "Well," Zerisan started. "The Suridigen do have certain qualities. It's just that the Borg already have, or don't usually appreciate, those qualities and they wouldn't bring anything new to the collective. I mean they are strong and extremely resilient, up to the point that they can survive extremes like outer space for a limited amount of time. But each race is capable of that after they are assimilated. The Suridigen reproduce at an incredible rate. An average female is capable of producing up to ten offspring each year. Children reach adulthood in five years. But the Borg are not usually interested in that because they prefer the controlled and precise science of maturation chambers. The Suridigen really aren't the smartest race around. They were only capable of colonizing the other planets in their system because they enslaved the people who were unlucky enough to use the Suridigen planet for shore leave on their space journey."

Shadeen nodded her head in agreement. "Right, all in all certainly not the first choice for assimilation. So why take them?"

Carizon stepped away from his console and joined the two women at the throne. "Maybe the fact that they are not first choice material is exactly what makes them fit what ever the Borg are planning. Maybe the Borg are planning something in which they know they will lose a lot of drones. So instead of using their 'good quality' drones they use the Suridigen because they are expendable. If all of them get killed, the Borg still lose nothing except the effort it took to assimilate twenty-one billion drones. And on top of that, the rate of reproduction of the Suridigen might actually be something the Borg can use this time. Drop twenty-one billion Suridigen drones somewhere with their possibility of reproducing ten offspring per year for each female and you have a force in which you have to kill more than three hundred million each day before their numbers start to decline. Not many races or even alliances of races are able to do that or have the amount of weapons needed to do that. The Suridigen are perfect for a 'drop and forget' assault. Simply drop out of trans-warp in the middle of whatever the Borg want to take over, and have the Suridigen's rate of reproduction and their resilience work for them while the rest of the Borg collective does the things they would normally be doing. The Borg won't have to worry about keeping their lines of provision intact. No need to send reinforcements. The Suridigen drones would produce their own reinforcements, and simply build their own spaceships from the resources they get from the planet they were dropped on, and each planet they overrun after that. And when the Suridigen drones have overrun everything Borg simply destroy the neural transmitters of the Suridigen drones, killing them off very effectively."

Shadeen nodded her head in agreement. "That could indeed work. But it is nothing like the usual Borg behavior."

"I think that Carizon might be right," Zerisan said in a way that indicated that she couldn't think of any other reason either. "And the Borg, or to be more precise the Borg Queen, has been acting strangely on occasion for some time now. Take for instance the efforts she undertook to get Seven of Nine back. Seven may be an interesting individual now and she may have worked in Unimatrix 01 once. But still Seven was never anything more than a human drone who happened to get assigned to Unimatrix 01 for the simple reason that they happened to need a drone at the same time that Seven was available. Or to use a different example, when they established a foothold in the Zanduri sector. It is in the middle of extremely hostile territory, for the Borg at least. Their base gets bombarded and almost destroyed each and every day. The drones on the planet are continuously rebuilding their base so that it is still there the next day to get bombarded once again. The few people they actually manage to assimilate are needed to replace the drones that were lost in the bombardments. Yet for whatever reason, the Queen does not send reinforcements. Instead we find an entire Armada of ships arriving in the Peledine systems for the purpose of quickly assimilating a race of people that couldn't even defend themselves against one single Borg cube."

"Maybe that is where they want to use the Suridigen for. Have them overrun the Zanduri sector," Carizon guessed.

Shadeen folded her monitored away, back into the throne. "Well, they just started their assimilation."

Knowing the Empress only too well, Zerisan knew that her wife had made her decision. "Your orders, my Empress? Do you want us to intervene?"

"No, this doesn't concern us... yet. The Suridigen conquered and enslaved the people who landed on their planet. After that they used their ships to colonize the other planets in the system. Once again conquering and enslaving, this time, the original inhabitants of those planets. This is a simple matter of one predator being overpowered by another. Now the Suridigen are being conquered and enslaved. Tell our scout ship not to reveal itself and continue course to its original destination."

"Yes Empress, it will be done."

"Dropping out of trans-warp now," A third operative said just after Zerisan was finished talking, and thereby bringing their attention back to the matter at hand. "Powering down tractor beam... tractor beam disengaged. We are ready to start traveling at warp five, waiting for Voyager to continue to our Homeworld under its own power."

Just after the third operative was finished talking yet another operative spoke up. "A shuttle just lunched from Voyager, tractor-beam ready."

Shadeen lifted her hand to indicate that they had to wait with the tractor-beam for a moment. "Who is on board the shuttle?"

"Commander Chakotay and Seven of Nine." The operative answered just as the door opened and Danzoc stormed in.

*He sure can be glad I gave him permanent permission to enter the secondary bridge, for this journey, or else he would have been dead ten times over by now,* Shadeen thought before speaking up. "My Eminence, I assume that something urgent happened? Something like, for instance, the start of the second test of the Chosen?"

"Um, Yes, Empress, please forgive my sudden interruption, but I figured that you wanted to know as soon as possible."

"And you assumed right." Then to the operative; "Let them go, we can not interfere with this. However, Voyager did launch a shuttle without permission. Beam Eminence Danzoc, Carizon, Zerisan, and myself over to the bridge of Voyager, now."


A little bit earlier on board Voyager.

Seven looked up from her screen in Astrometrics when the door opened, hoping to see B'Elanna, who had said that she would try to come by for a minute or so before Shadeen's battle cruiser, with Voyager in its tractor beam, would drop out of trans-warp. B'Elanna had said that she would TRY to come by because, once the tractor beam would be disengaged and Voyager would travel on its own power again, B'Elanna would have to concentrate on her role as chief engineer. But apparently the Klingon couldn't find the time to come by and therefore Seven was greatly disappointed when she saw Commander Chakotay walk through the door. "Commander."

"Seven, I, umm, I wondered if I could have a word with you?" Chakotay opened in an insecure voice, coming close to actually dragging his feet while he came closer. "It occurred to me that we are now actually the only two people who have nothing to do really while we drop out of trans-warp and I figured that we could use the time to talk a little, clear the air so to speak."

Seven entered another set of coordinates into the computer before answering. She really did not want to talk to Chakotay and the idea of simply not answering the man did cross her mind for a tempting moment. But, unfortunately, he was still her commanding officer. "I do not believe that we have much to talk about."

Chakotay came closer until he was standing on the opposite side of the console Seven was working on. "Look, Seven. I'll admit that I never really trusted you, I still don't. But that is because I could see the potential threat of you returning to the Borg. Kathryn never saw that. Even when you almost got us all assimilated in the beginning she saw that as nothing more than a little bump on the road to your integration into the Voyager family. I saw the potential threat you could have been to Voyager, and I still see that threat."

"Then why are you here talking to me? Why try to get along with a potential threat like me?"

Chakotay smiled at that question. "Because of the Followers. Things have changed now. Soon we will be home again and then it will be up to the Federation to decide what they will do with you. Basically, my job of protecting Voyager is over."

Seven thought about that and could see the truth in that, but Chakotay's explanation still lacked logic. "Even if your 'job' of protecting Voyager is over, it still does not change the fact that you do not like or trust me. So trying to correct your previous behavior regarding me with a quick conversation does not make sense. It would be more logical for you to simply avoid me as much as possible until we reach Federation space. And the possibility of myself being a threat to Voyager has not lessened. In fact, I would concur that it has increased with myself becoming the Followers Chosen. Now I have an even greater chance of handing Voyager over to the Borg, as you seem so afraid I would do."

Once again Chakotay smiled. "You are right. That possibility did cross my mind. But I discovered something that eased that fear. Here, let me show you." Chakotay came around the console until he was standing beside Seven and started entering information into the console. Soon one of the screens was showing the Delta Flyer in the shuttle-bay.

Seven looked at the data that Chakotay was calling up and quickly realized that is were the specs of the Delta Flyer. "I do not understand. How can the Delta Flyer reassure you that I will not be able to influence Empress Shadeen?" Seven asked while looking from the screen back to Chakotay. The only answer she got was the sound of a hypo-spray being emptied against her neck.

Chakotay quickly stepped out of Seven's reach and then looked at the blonde fighting the inevitable for a few seconds and eventually crash to the deck of Astrometrics. "The Delta Flyer will help me by getting you off Voyager. I'm sorry, Seven. I wish there was a different way, but you simply are too much of a threat to the Federation." Chakotay entered the command into the console that would beam him and Seven straight onto the Flyer. If he had planned it right, and he knew he had, he would be long gone with Seven before anyone could miss them.


B'Elanna looked at the monitors with a wishful expression on her face, realizing once again that the advanced Federation wasn't that advanced at all. She looked at the ease with what the Followers did things that the Federation thought impossible. Simply because the Federation could not do things they thought it was impossible. And here was Voyager dropping out of trans-warp speed captured in a tractor beam. A tractor beam that was so strong that it had protected Voyager from the incredible tearing forces of trans-warp. Forces that were impossible to overcome, according to the Federation. But than again, that tractor beam was emitted by a ship that was capable of traveling at speeds up to and over warp thirty. The Followers had strict rules limiting higher warp speeds. The faster a ship wanted to travel, the more criteria had to be met to allow this. B'Elanna knew by now that warp thirty was no theory for the Followers. But there were numerous criteria for speeds higher than warp twenty-four that these speeds were seldom used. However, experimental ships had reached speeds of warp forty-six. Crossing the entire galaxy in mere minutes. *Goes to show you once again that there is no real way to measure advancement,* B'Elanna thought. *However limited a civilization is, it will always think that it is the most advanced force in the world, galaxy, or universe. The Federation thinks it is better and more advanced than anything in the galaxy. They can handle everything that exists. And yet, here Voyager is being towed by an Imperial battle cruiser. A ship so powerful it could take on an entire fleet of Federation Sovereign class ships. The pride and joy of the Federation, it's flagship the Enterprise E, would be torn apart by this ship before Captain Picard could say 'attack.'*

Suddenly B'Elanna had to hold onto the console in front of her to keep herself standing. It felt as if someone had punched her violently in the stomach and a sickening feeling settled over her. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. There was just one thought going through the Klingon's mind; *Seven.* Somehow she managed to get some control back and immediately reached for her communicator. "Seven... B'Elanna to Seven. Answer me, Mesh!"

She waited for a couple of seconds but there was no answer. Frustrated she slapped the communicator and activated it once more. "B'Elanna to Seven... Annika, please baby answer me, it's really important!" But once again there was no answer.

"Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

{Seven of Nine is not aboard Voyager.}

"NO! She is on board; I can feel that she is near. Computer, scan for her bio-signs."

{Scan in progress... Bio-sign scan completed. Seven of Nine is not aboard Voyager.}

"Damn, this is not happening! Computer, do a deck by deck level one Bio-sign scan."

{Scan in progress... estimated duration of scan... six minutes.}

"Damn it!!" The Klingon shouted while slamming her fist into the console in front of her. She never felt the breaking panel cutting her fingers. Something else filled her mind, she needed help. The Klingon inside of her stepped aside willingly and let the human beg for help. Seven was in danger, B'Elanna could feel it. The Klingon inside of her would have begged for help herself if that would have been needed. Seven, her sole reason for living, needed her help. "Torres to Janeway. Something is wrong. I need your help. Something's wrong with S..."

{Whatever it is, B'Elanna, it has to wait. We just got company on the bridge. Janeway out.}

"Damn, damn, damn!!" Not knowing what else to do, B'Elanna kept slamming her fist over and over back into the console, the sound of breaking bones clearly audible to the other people standing in Engineering.

Carey was finally the one, brave and stupid enough, soul to come closer to stop the Klingon from hurting herself any more. He grabbed B'Elanna's arm to stop her from once again slamming her fist into the console, and the next thing he knew was that he was laying on the deck with blood running down his face from his definitely broken nose.

The realization of what she had just done was enough to get through B'Elanna's enraged daze and to make her think clearly again. She saw the disbelief clearly in Carey's eyes. "I'm sorry, Joe. I'll make it up to you, I swear. But now I have to go. Computer, site-to-site transport, beam me directly onto the bridge. Authorization Torres Seven one." And with that B'Elanna was gone.


Meanwhile on the bridge.

Tuvok looked up from the screen and answered Janeway, "Procedure complete, Captain. We are now traveling at warp four. All systems secure."

Tuvok was just finished talking when B'Elanna's voice came over the comm.. system, {Torres to Janeway. Something is wrong. I need your help. Something's wrong with S...}

But before B'Elanna was finished talking, the bridge was lit up by the purple light from the Follower's transporter beams, so Janeway had to interrupt the Klingon. "Whatever it is, B'Elanna, it has to wait. We just got company on the bridge. Janeway out." Janeway concentrated her attention on Empress Shadeen, who didn't look too happy. "Empress, to what do we owe this unexpected visit?"

Shadeen stepped closer to Janeway, but spoke to Tuvok when she heard his movement. "Don't even think about it. Pull that phaser and you will die."

"Stand down, Tuvok," Janeway said before speaking to the Empress. "Care to tell me what this is about?"

"You violated our agreement. A shuttle just departed from your ship."

Janeway looked at Shadeen disbelievingly before answering. "Impossible. I didn't give any such order, and all our shuttles are accounted for."

Once again, the bridge was lit up by the light of a transporter beam, this time B'Elanna was the one brought to the bridge. "Captain, listen, something is wrong with Seven. She hasn't answered any of my hails and the computer says that she is not on board the ship."

"B'Elanna..." Janeway started to say, but she was interrupted by Empress Shadeen.

"Seven of Nine was one of the two people on board the shuttle that just left your ship."

Zerisan saw the blood dripping from B'Elanna's hand and stepped closer. "You are hurt. Let me look at your hand." Zerisan took hold of B'Elanna's hand and started to examine it.

B'Elanna tried to break the grip Zerisan had on her arm by pulling her arm back. But to her surprise her arm almost didn't move, a testimony to just how powerful the Follower was. "Forget about my damn hand, Chakotay has Seven. We must stop him, now!"

Zerisan used her second hand to turn B'Elanna towards her. "Your body is yours to do with whatever you choose. If you don't want me to treat your wounds, so be it. But don't you think that you will able to help Seven better if you can use both hands while doing so? And B'Elanna... Calm down. You will not be able to help Seven by running around like a headless padicida bug."

For a moment the Klingon looked as if she wanted to argue, but then she nodded her head in agreement and loosened her arm muscles enough for Zerisan to examine the wounded hand.

Janeway turned away from the Empress and towards B'Elanna when she heard the Klingon accuse Chakotay. "What proof do you have that Chakotay has anything to do with this?"

"I just know it, Captain. Who else would have a reason to abduct Seven? He is the only paranoid idiot we have on board."

Janeway shot B'Elanna a force ten glare at that answer. "You are on thin ice here, Lieutenant. Accusing and insulting a commanding officer is something I don't take lightly." Janeway activated the communicator, hoping to quickly sort out what had to be a misunderstanding. It just had to be. "Janeway to Chakotay... Commander, answer me."

"Um," Shadeen spoke up. "Commander Chakotay was the second person on board the shuttle."

Harry punched a couple of buttons on his console and brought up the information on the shuttle bay. "Sensors say that all shuttles still are in the shuttle bay."

Just then the computer, knowing that B'Elanna was on the bridge, made itself known. {Bio-sign scan completed. Seven of Nine is not aboard Voyager.}

"Tuvok, send someone to the shuttle bay to visually account for all of the shuttles, and send someone to Astrometrics to take a look there," Janeway said before turning back to Shadeen. "I don't know what is going on here, but I can assure you that I will find out."

Shadeen looked at Janeway in a way that made her believe the Empress's next words without a doubt. "Captain, I do believe that you did indeed know nothing of this departure from your ship. Therefore I will hold back on my order to destroy Voyager and give you the opportunity to correct this... misunderstanding."

"You would have killed us all without a second thought just because we would have launched a shuttle?" Tom asked disbelievingly.

Carizon stepped closer to the pilot and grabbed a fist full of Tom's tunic to pull him a little out of his seat. "Don't you ever again assume that our Empress does something without giving it the proper amount of thought. If Seven of Nine would have still been on board Voyager, she would have been killed also, we would have lost our Chosen. Empress Shadeen would have lost a couple of friends. Lady Zerisan would have lost her friends too. And the Empress would have broken her word to Ensign X that Voyager would be brought to the Alpha Quadrant. The Empress never acts without thinking. Remember that."

"You have to understand," Zerisan added while switching the setting on the small medical device that she had taken out of the equipment belt on her uniform from bone-knitting to dermal-regenerating. "We would have lost friends that are very dear to us." Zerisan looked B'Elanna straight in the eyes for a moment to make clear just who she was talking about and then continued, "And Empress Shadeen would have broken her word. But, by launching that shuttle, if you had been responsible, you would have disregarded a direct order from the Empress. That is unacceptable. No one disregards an order from the Empress; her word is law."

"Damn it, we are wasting precious time here! We have to go get Seven," B'Elanna shouted almost hysterically, while Zerisan finished healing the Klingon's hand and put the medical device away.

Zerisan once again looked B'Elanna straight in the eyes, getting the Klingon's attention. "B'Elanna, listen to me. He wouldn't have taken her with him if he wanted to do nothing more than harm her. You are right; time IS important here. But we do have time to think before we act."


"B'Elanna, concentrate. You are a warrior. Think before you act. You have to win this, losing is NOT an option. Now, are you going to let a creature like him get away with taking what is yours? Calm down and think about how you can turn this around. He took what is yours, are you going to let him get away with that? What ARE you going to do, B'Elanna? Are you going to prove to Seven that you really would do everything for her? Are you going to prove her right when she thinks that her wife-to-be, her warrior, is going to save her? Or are you going to stand here and shame her by acting like a little child that lost her favorite stuffed animal? Are you going to act like the warrior she knows you are, the warrior she loves? Or should I go get you your stuffed Targ, Toby, to hold onto while crying?"

Zerisan's words had the desired effect and B'Elanna noticeably calmed down quite a bit. "You are right. He will not get away with this. But time IS being wasted."

Just then Ensign X reported in from the shuttle bay. {Captain, someone must have fooled around with the sensors. The sensors say that all shuttles are accounted for, and the shuttle bay is secure. But I'm looking in through the hallway door window right now and I can see that the Delta flayer is gone, and the shuttle bay door into space is still open.}

"Thank you, Ensign. Report back to your station. Janeway out."

Before Janeway could say anything else, Ensign Rebecka Witt who was sent to check out Astrometrics reported in. {Captain, I'm not really sure what I'm looking for here but there is nobody here but me. However, there is a data crystal lying here that has no business being here.}

"Are you sure the data crystal isn't suppose to be there?" Janeway asked, without really thinking about it. But as soon as she had asked the question, she could predict the answer.

{Um, Captain, I DO work in Astrometrics sixteen hours a week. The data-crystal does not belong here.}

"Put the crystal into the main console, Ensign. Janeway out. Harry, patch that through to the view screen."

"Working on it, Captain, message loading."

After a moment, Chakotay appeared on the screen. "Kathryn, I'm sorry it had to be this way, but you didn't leave me any choice. Seven has always been a treat to Voyager, but luckily a containable one. But this time it's different. With the Followers seeing her as their Chosen, Seven is too powerful. Too much of a threat not only to Voyager, but also to the entire Federation. What if she decides to go back to the Borg? Can you imagine the Follower's Chosen being a Borg drone? Or what if Seven were to go to the Federation? How would the Followers react to their Chosen being arrested and confined to prison? Or let's say even that doesn't happen. What if somewhere down the line Seven has enough of the 'inefficient' Federation? If Seven has enough of the Federation, does that mean that the Federation should be destroyed? Would the Followers interpret this as such?" Now Chakotay looked down for a moment, and then back up with a small smile on his face. "I know, Kathryn, now would be the time where you would lecture me about not punishing someone for a crime before that crime has actually been committed. But this time the risk is just too great. I hope I will meet you again someday." With that Chakotay disappeared from the screen.

Even though B'Elanna had calmed down considerably, seeing and hearing what Chakotay had said started her blood boiling again. "I'm going to kill that bastard! Captain, we have sat here long enough, doing nothing. We have to go after him, now."

"This is still a Federation ship, Lieutenant. I would suggest you keep your threats to yourself. And just a warning, if you do harm Chakotay in any other way than self-defense, I will personally see to it that you will be charged with whatever it is you did when we get back to the Federation. Do you understand me?" Janeway knew B'Elanna well enough to know that the short nod the Klingon gave as answer after a moment of hesitation was all the assurance Janeway needed. "Very well, but you are right. We are wasting time. Harry, scan for the Delta Flyer."

A couple of moments went by before Harry finally spoke up. "Nothing Captain. He sure did a job on the scanners, there is no way the Flyer could already be out of sensor range."

Shadeen sighed softly before activating her communicator to contact her ship, her patience was obviously wearing thin. "Shadeen to Kirdaq, is the Federation shuttle still inside Voyager's sensor range?"

{Yes, My Empress. Do you want the precise location?}

"No, Shadeen out." She then looked to Janeway. "I suggest you start working on your problem a little more seriously. Even though I don't hold you responsible for the problem, there IS a Federation shuttle in Imperial space, without my permission."

Before Janeway could react, Tom spoke up, while he went to work on the console in front of him, "I have an idea. As B'Elanna can tell you, I recently made some modifications to the Flyer. I also asked Seven if she could give me some suggestions." He stopped working for a moment and quickly smiled to B'Elanna before he continued working, and also continued with his explanation. "You know Seven, the next day she gave me a list of three hundred Seventy-five suggestions. I actually ended up using thirty-six of her suggestions. Little things, that didn't really matter, but overall did improve the Flyer quite a bit."

"And your point is...?" Janeway asked.

"My point is... this," Tom answered while he finished what he was doing. With a final push of a button, the view screen changed to the image of space with something that resembled falling snow, except for a very obvious clear path in the middle. "There, the trail of the Flyer."

"What is that?" Harry asked.

Tom, proud of his achievements, started to explain enthusiastically. "Muon particles. As you of course know, Muon particles float naturally in space and are dangerous to a spaceship. A buildup of too many Muon particles in the warp core can result in the core exploding. And as B'Elanna can tell you, since her department has to check for such a buildup regularly, a buildup of Muon particles is hard to detect if you're not specifically looking for it. So when I saw Seven's suggestion on them I immediately used it. Thanks to a small change in the shield harmonics, the Muon particles are repelled by the shields. Therefore no more buildup during warp travel. And as you can see, a nice side affect of this repelling is that the Flyer leaves a trail of space behind without the particles in it. My guess is that it will be hours before the space would be filled with wandering particles and the trail disappears completely."

"Good job, Tom," Janeway said before sitting down in her chair. "Set a course after the Flyer." Janeway was determined to get Seven and Chakotay back.

But before Tom could set a course, Shadeen spoke up. "I'm afraid that I can not allow that. Voyager will not leave the course that we set out."

B'Elanna stormed up to Shadeen, giving the Empress a firsthand view of what an enraged Klingon could look like. "What?! You must be joking! I'm going to get Seven back right now. If you get in my way, I swear I'll kill you."

Usually a threat like that would have meant the death of the person who would dare to address the Empress like that. But Zerisan reacted quicker than Danzoc or Carizon and saved B'Elanna's life. B'Elanna felt her neck being griped with so much force that she was just a fraction away from having her neck broken. Then she was forced down until she was kneeling at Shadeen's feet with her head bent deeply down forward. "Apologize!" Zerisan said in an angry voice. Then, when B'Elanna didn't speak quick enough Zerisan leaned down herself and whispered in the Klingon's ear. "Apologize right now or die. Is that what you want, B'Elanna? To make Seven a widow before you are even married?"

B'Elanna almost couldn't think from the sheer pain in her neck and upper body. But Zerisan's words did manage to somehow reach her mind. "I'm sorry," The Klingon grunted out through her teeth. She wasn't clenching her teeth because she was so angry, but because the pain was too much. Zerisan wasn't just using a lot of power, she was using her training as Imperial guard to inflict the most possible amount of pain that she could without causing permanent damage. Suddenly the pressure and pain disappeared, but B'Elanna could still feel Zerisan's hand holding her down.

Once again Zerisan whispered something into B'Elanna's ear. "Say that it will never happen again. And B'Elanna, before you do say it, make sure you mean it. Next time, I might not be around to save your life."

B'Elanna knew that Zerisan was right. Speaking her mind to Janeway was one thing, but speaking like that to an Empress, the ruler over not just a starship, but an entire Empire, was very stupid. She knew that she truly was fortunate to still be alive. If she had addressed the Klingon Chancellor like that she would have been gutted where she stood. "I'm sorry, Empress. I acted without thinking. It will never happen again, I give you my word."

"Very well, since you give me your word I will forgive you, this time. Stand up."

While B'Elanna stood up she saw how Danzoc and Carizon were putting away their weapons and she realized that her behavior had almost been the reason for a weapon fight between the Voyager crew and the Followers. Then she looked Shadeen in the eyes and forgot about what almost happened on the bridge when she saw the disappointment in the Followers' eyes. Not because of what B'Elanna had said to the Empress, but because the Klingon's behavior had not been worthy of a warrior. "I AM sorry Empress... Shadeen." B'Elanna deliberately switched to calling Shadeen her name instead of her title to indicate just how sincere her words were. "And I do promise you that it will not happen again. It's just that... I'm at the end of my rope here. He has Seven and we are just standing here talking, and talking, and talking. And now you forbid us to go after him. I don't know what to do anymore."

Shadeen put her hand on B'Elanna's shoulder to give her next words more meaning. "It is alright. As Empress I have forgiven you, and as a friend to both Seven and you I can certainly understand you. But you have to give me the respect my title requires, I can only be lenient for so long." She glanced at Janeway quickly before turning back to B'Elanna as she continued to talk. "And as for talking, I'm afraid there has to be a little bit more of that, I never forbid you to go after them. I forbid Voyager to change course. Tell me, is this Delta Flyer the only shuttle you got? But we do have a little time. Because something else is going on here. We told you yesterday that there would be a second test for the Chosen. This is that second test." Shadeen stepped away from B'Elanna and closer to Janeway. "And before you ask, I can't tell you what the second test is about."

"Are you trying to tell me that your Traveler is behind this? That he made Chakotay do this? After all, he has already proven that he can influence our minds very easily."

It was his Eminence Danzoc who answered that question. "No, Captain Janeway. I know that you would love to believe that Commander Chakotay is not acting under his own free will, but unfortunately, he is. It is just that The Traveler knew this was going to happen and therefore decided to use it as his second test."

"And just how are you so certain your Traveler isn't responsible for this? I don't think that this divine entity comes and tells you exactly what he is doing." Janeway just couldn't believe that Chakotay would act like this without a real reason.

Danzoc was not offended by Janeway's harsh words. He understood that the Captain was under a lot of pressure, and he was used to the skepticism of non-Followers. "In a way you could say he told me. You have to understand, just as the Empress holds a certain position within our race, so do I. It's true that the Traveler does not usually communicate with me in... normal ways, I have only seen him once shortly after I became Eminence, but the Traveler does need a person to interpret his wishes to others, or to explain to people why The Traveler does some of the things he does. And to do so I sometimes get visions of things happening. This could be happening next door, or on the edge of the Galaxy. And sometimes I just know things beyond certainty. That knowledge is given to me by the Traveler. In this situation, I know that this is the second test of the Chosen, that this is something that The Traveler uses for that test, but he didn't create the situation. And I know that Commander Chakotay is doing this without being influenced by the Traveler. Now, WHY Commander Chakotay is doing this... I do not know."

"I spent some time with Commander Chakotay when I had to convince everyone that I hated the Chosen," Carizon said, speaking up for the first time since arriving on the bridge. "And I think that he is acting out of misguided convictions. After all, the examples he gave ARE worth thinking about. But he doesn't realize that his cure might just be more disastrous than the potential threat that our Chosen posts. That, and his dislike for her, combine in the fact that he can't give Seven of Nine the trust she deserves."

"The cure more disastrous than the threat?" Janeway asked.

"If our Chosen would be killed by a Federation officer like this, in this early stage of getting to know one another, what do you think might be one of our possible reactions?" Shadeen asked before adding, "Think along the way of the suggestions the Commander just made."

*Powerful friends are great,* Janeway thought. *Until you piss them off. Chakotay, you might just have done the most stupidest thing in Federation history.* Out loud she said, "Well, as B'Elanna did rightfully mention, we are wasting time." Then she looked at Shadeen and asked, "We are allowed to take one of the shuttles out and go after them?"

A little nod was all the answer Shadeen gave, but it was enough.

"Tuvok, you're with me," Janeway looked thoughtfully over to B'Elanna. "With the way you just acted here I should leave you on the ship. But I won't do that to you. But you promise me, B'Elanna. Promise me that you won't hurt Chakotay. Even if he has hurt Seven."

B'Elanna shook her head at the question. "I'm sorry Captain, I can't promise that. All I can promise is that I will try very hard. Just have a phaser ready, and set on stun, if I see that he has hurt her. Just to be sure."

"Now I should really leave you behind," Janeway said and then sighed before saying, "B'Elanna, you're with me too."

When Janeway turned around to leave the bridge, Tom spoke up. "Captain, it might come down to us having to actually take on the Delta Flyer with a standard Federation shuttle. At that point, you will need the best pilot you have if you want to outmaneuver the Flyer."

"I appreciate the concern, Tom. But you are needed here on the ship."

"For what? To look at the computer flying Voyager to the Followers' Homeworld?" Then Tom opted for clear honesty. "Captain, Seven is one of my best friends. Did you know that it was her who brought Jennifer and me together? Seven was the one who made me see past the reputation, the totally unfounded reputation I might add, that Jenni has. Seven made me see Jenni for the person she really is. I can't just sit here; I have to come along."

Janeway shook her head and decided that she was really getting soft. "Alright, Tom, let's go."

But Janeway had only made a few steps before Zerisan spoke up, addressing Shadeen. "Umm, my Empress. I don't think it would be such a good idea to let them travel in our space unsupervised. I could go along as a supervisor."

"You are really stretching this, Zerisan." Shadeen said, showing that she really didn't care too much for the weak excuse her wife just offered.

"I know, my Empress."

"Be careful, Zeri." Then Shadeen looked to Janeway once again. "Captain Janeway?"

"Of course," Janeway said. Knowing full well that she really was not in a position to deny the Empress this. And, she had to be honest with herself, she didn't mind having the Follower along. At the very least Zerisan could handle B'Elanna if that would be needed. Janeway had only allowed B'Elanna to come along because she knew that otherwise the Klingon would have taken a different shuttle and would have gone out on her own without Janeway being able to keep an eye on her.

The other Followers decided to accompany the group of Janeway, B'Elanna, Tuvok, Tom, and Zerisan to the shuttle bay. They were just about to get into the Turbolift when Harry spoke up. "Um, Captain, I..."

Knowing full and well what Harry was about to say, Janeway cut him off. "I appreciate your concern, Lieutenant, and I know that Seven is a friend of yours. But I do need some people to stay on the ship. The shuttle is going to be cramped enough as it is with the five of us going."

"Aye Captain," Harry agreed reluctantly.


Janeway let out a sigh of relief when they finally reached the shuttle bay. Apparently the word had spread quickly that a shuttle trip was needed to rescue Seven. By the time they reached the shuttle bay, seventeen people had managed to find the group and offer their help. Most didn't know what was going on, of course. All they knew was that Seven was in trouble. But that was all they needed to know. Seven was in trouble, and they wanted to help.

The group of Janeway, Tuvok, B'Elanna, Tom, and Zerisan were about to enter one of the shuttles when Danzoc stopped them to give them some final information. "I think I should inform you all that the Chosen has just passed the second test." Then he looked at Janeway for a moment. "That also shows that the Traveler used a situation to conduct the test that was going to happen anyway. Because the situation still has to be dealt with, while the test is already over."

"Then can you now tell us what the second test was?" Janeway asked.

"Indeed I can." Danzoc said before starting to explain. "As you know, the first test was to see if Seven of Nine was the kind of person who would put the good of others before her own good. The second test was to see if she was also the kind of person who triggered that kind of behavior towards her. In other words, if others would place the good of Seven of Nine above their own good. As your crew has just proven, she is such a person."

"All of that test nonsense was to see if Seven makes a good Musketeer?" Tom asked disbelievingly. "One for all, and all for one?"

Zerisan moved a little closer to the shuttle before speaking, "I'm glad to hear that, thank you for telling us this, my Eminence." Then she reacted to Tom's statement. "If we had time, I would tell you a little bit more about the advantages of being adopted into our race, advantages that Seven of Nine can now enjoy. But just know that the first rule of our constitution reads, 'we protect our own.'"

"Constitution?" Tom asked surprised.

The questionable tone in his voice made Zerisan stop just as she was to enter the shuttle. "Yes, constitution. Why do you ask?"

"Well, it's just that it sound like a contradiction to me. You have an Empress and also a constitution. Constitution sounds like someone wrote some rules and everyone agreed to those."

"Yes, and what is the contradiction?" Zerisan asked, not really knowing what Tom meant. "Our constitution was written sixty thousand years ago by the first Empress. We have a vast Empire, it is impossible for one person to rule that completely by herself. You could compare our ruling system to the monarchies from your history. We have an elected government that takes care of daily governing, we have elections for those every six years. And once every fifty years we even have an election in which the people get the opportunity to chose if they are still satisfied with the Imperial family. And just like those monarchies we have a constitution. Everyone has rights and obligations. The difference is that in that system the rule of the Queen or King is only ceremonial, with us it is not. Empress Shadeen's word is law. She can make new rules just by saying something is now a law. She can decide to ignore existing rules. Our race is governed by a government, that government is ruled by Empress Shadeen. She makes the important decisions, decisions that influence the life of millions, billions. She rules our race, while the government governs the day to day things."

"Can we PLEASE get moving here?" B'Elanna asked with obvious annoyance. "Chakotay already has a forty-five minute head start, 'thanks' to all the talking." She didn't wait for any reaction and moved passed Zerisan into the shuttle. Zerisan knew that B'Elanna had a point and followed the Klingon into the shuttle.

"So the test is over," Janeway said. "That means that all we have to do is get Seven back. Should be easy."

"I wish you hadn't said that," Tom sighed while entering the shuttle. "Murphy's law clearly says that most often the easiest things prove the most difficult to complete."

"Who is Murphy?" Janeway wondered out loud before entering the shuttle.

Chapter 18

Chakotay had squeezed the button on the phaser with difficulty and pushed the now limp Seven of Nine off of him. He had to hand it to the Borg and all of their enhancements. The sleeping agent that he had administered to Seven's neck should have knocked her out for hours. And yet she had almost overpowered him just shortly after leaving Voyager. He bent down to check Seven's pulse, finding it with ease and beating strong, even after hitting the Borg with the highest stun level possible without killing her. Of course, Chakotay assumed that this was thanks to the Borg enhancements.

He had no way of knowing that in her struggle to get back to Voyager, Seven wasn't relying on her Borg strength. She was relying on something even bigger. She was relying on her love for B'Elanna. No way was she going to let a narrow-minded cretin like Chakotay take her away from her reason for living without fighting it with all that she was. The phaser had left Seven immobile, but it hadn't made her lose consciousness. She could feel Chakotay touching her neck to find her pulse, and was appalled by the idea of him touching her. Touching the very same spot that B'Elanna had kissed so tenderly mere hours ago... B'Elanna, Seven knew that she had to fight it. She had to get back to B'Elanna. But even her body had limitations. First she had to flight off a strong sleeping agent, and then the effects of a high level stun beam. All she could do was feel how Chakotay checked her pulse, and after doing so, watch as he stepped back and erected a forcefield, trapping Seven behind it, away from him and the controls of the Flyer.

Chakotay sat back at the helm of the Flyer to set a course that would bring him further away from Voyager. During his planning on board Voyager, a lot of time had went to the decision of what to do once he was off the ship. It had dawned on him that he was in a solar system filled with a hostile force that would possibly do everything to get their Chosen back once they realized she was gone. During his planning he had made one calculated gamble. He had hoped that the Followers wouldn't immediately react to his departure because they didn't expect a shuttle to leave Voyager, and until now his gamble had paid off. But he knew that his luck wouldn't last. Even with the Flyer he couldn't match Voyager's speed, so it would take him at least fifteen years just to get out of the Followers' territory. Now that he had laid in a course and the computer was flying the shuttle, he scanned the solar system, knowing that it would only confirm what he already knew. But one couldn't go over a plan often enough.

The scans showed that there were sixteen planets in the Followers' solar system, but it was the fifth and sixth planet, which caught his attention. What he saw was physically impossible, but there it was in plain sight. Both planets were sharing the same orbit around the sun. One on each side of the sun in what seemed to be a balancing act of interstellar proportions. He looked at the scan a little closer and found the one major difference he knew was there. One plant was populated with nine billion humanoids. Followers, according to the scan. And the other planet was uninhabited. Chakotay remembered the story Carizon had told him about the Traveler's home planet and what a dangerous place it was. He knew that this was his chance. Of course, as with every civilization, stories got bigger and bolder with every telling. Chakotay knew that this had to be the same for the Followers. He didn't doubt that it was indeed a dangerous planet, but he was sure that a person like him, with his survival skills, would certainly survive. However, the stories and the importance of the planet were bound to keep the Followers at bay. He was certain of that.

He looked back at the still immobile Seven and realized that this meant that he would have to spend the rest of his life with her. But on the planet, she wouldn't be a threat anymore and he was certain that once she had accepted the fact that they both would never leave the planet again, they would get along just fine. A funny thought struck him and he laughed softly as he wondered just how well they would eventually get along. After all, they would be the only two people on the planet. While he set course to the uninhabited planet, images started to form in his head. How he would come back home from the hunt and Seven would be waiting for him, dinner ready. They would share a long kiss while he rubbed her belly to say hello to the child growing inside.

He once again laughed while he said out loud, "No way. I'm pretty sure she would kill me before that ever happened." And he knew it to be the truth. But still, that didn't mean that he couldn't let his mind wonder about just what would happen when they would be living on the planet for a long period of time. While he started his descent into the atmosphere, his mind was so filled with images of him, his wife, and their son, that he didn't notice the Sensor's warning signals before it was too late and an electrical charge knocked out half of the Flyer's systems. The next thing he knew they were going down way too fast and he put all his effort into at least making it a crash landing they could walk away from.


The shuttle came to a complete stop just short of entering the planet's atmosphere and all eyes turned to Zerisan, wondering why she had told Tom to stop. "That is the Traveler's home planet. Going down there just might be suicide. But even if we were able to survive on the planet, chances of ever leaving again are slim to none. There is an electronic charge in the upper levels of the atmosphere that disables pretty much all electronics passing through it. That is also the reason why the two races that eventually produced the Followers didn't just leave the planet after they crash landed on it. The layer also prevents communication off the planet. It took the society that started to grow on this planet three hundred years to find a way to travel through the electronically charged layer without it affecting their systems. I highly doubt that your systems would be immune to the charge."

"The Delta Flyer might be," Tom said brightly. "With all the tinkering I have done on it recently, and the suggestions that Seven gave me which I used, it might just have withstood the charge." Then he realized just what he was suggesting. "Of course that means that we would have to go down there in this shuttle, most probably crash land, and after that, try to find the Flyer without help of electronics like the tricorder since all of that will probably be destroyed by the electronic charge we first have to pass through."

Janeway smiled at Tom's description. Put like that, it sounded crazy to even try. Good thing she sometimes liked doing crazy things. But it was a big decision and not one to make lightly so she turned to Zerisan to get more information. "Could Tom's changes to the Flyer have been enough to not be affected by the electronic charge? And what about beaming down?"

"And why might it be suicide to be on the planet?" Tuvok added, thinking that Janeway was disregarding that little mentioning a little too easily.

"That electronic charge is quite unique in the universe. We assume that the Traveler himself put it there. We have never encountered it anywhere else. Even to this day, it is impossible for us to use a transporter beam to penetrate the layer and beam down. We only found the means to penetrate the layer when our, at that point in time, young society was ready to once again go into space. So does your modified shuttle stand a chance? I don't know. But if it does, I would say it's only the smallest of a chance. However, a standard Federation shuttle like the one we are in will definitely be affected. And to answer your question, Lt. Commander, it might just be suicide because of the wildlife on the planet. When we left this planet to settle on its twin and create our Homeworld there, we left a vacuum on the top of the food chain, so to speak. One of the predatory cats on the planet then evolved to become the top of the food chain. Far surpassing any of the other predators that also still exist on the planet and who are also quite deadly."

"Cats?" Janeway asked. Wondering why the Follower was wasting time with talking about the kind of predatory cats that usually existed in some kind or form on each planet they had encountered. "Shouldn't our phasers be enough protection against them?"

"Cats with an average shoulder height of about... this high," Zerisan indicated just how high she meant by lifting her hand to what would be approximately chest level for Janeway. "And razor sharp claws. Not just on their feet, but all along their legs and body. Each and every one of them individually extendable and retractable. The whole point of this is that when they attack a prey and the attack is not completely on target, they still kill or injure their prey by brushing past it and slicing it open with the claws on their body. Oh, and trying to run is no use. The top speed of a Tertra cat is about two hundred kilometers per hour (125 Mph)." Zerisan could see that Janeway was beginning to understand now, but she had the feeling that the Captain still didn't understand well enough. She decided to give a little more information. "Captain, think of the dinosaurs back in Earth's history and imagine that they never became extinct. Imagine that the humans did not live on Earth anymore for the last sixty thousand years and only observed the planet and its wildlife from far away.  Do you think, at this very moment, humans could go down to a planet Earth that was populated with dinosaurs and survive living there?"

"Actually, with the right a..." Janeway spoke up. But she was interrupted as Zerisan continued.

"Now, imagine that those dinosaurs used those sixty thousand years to go from being relatively big, but simple minded animals to being highly intelligent beings. Intelligent beings that, if they come across something they can't handle on their own, work together as a group of as many as needed to succeed. Also remember that you will only have the most basic equipment. You see Captain, that is the situation down there. And I don't know how effective your phasers will be since we never did try to find out just what is needed to stop a Tertra cat. After all, they evolved after we left the planet. All we know is what we have observed from outer space observation. We usually do not go down onto the planet."

"Why are we once again wasting time talking?" B'Elanna finally spoke up. "We have to get Seven. Especially after what you just told us, Zerisan. But it sounds to me as if you're trying to stop us from going."

"I'm just giving you the honest facts so that you can make your own decision. Because, you WILL be risking your lives. I see it as my duty to give you that information. But nobody asked me what I actually wanted. I want to go down there, save a friend of mine, and once again unite her with her wife to be. That is what I want. But unless a miracle happens the chances of us surviving and leaving the planet again is about a million to one."

Janeway, having made her decision, turned her chair around to face forward while strapping in. "I'm not abandoning this when there still is a chance of saving Seven. And, to be honest, I'm also not quite through with Chakotay just yet. Tom, take us down."

"Aye, Captain."

For a moment Janeway thought that Zerisan had been mistaken or exaggerating because the descent through the atmosphere was proving to be one of the smoothest she could ever remember. But in the short time they knew the Followers, Janeway had noticed a tendency of theirs to simply state the facts. Not exaggerating or playing anything down. Simply tell things as they are. And at the precise moment when Janeway was thinking this, Zerisan was proven right once again.

"Systems are starting to malfunction." Tom said with difficulty while he was trying to keep the suddenly violently shaking shuttle under control. "We're going down! There's no way I will be able to land this thing. I suggest that we beam down as soon as we are past this layer and we are able to do so."

Janeway, who was sitting in the copilot seat, could see that already 70 percent of all systems were down. The shields, which kept them from being burned to ashes, were down to only six percent and the engines had shut down completely. "Do it, as soon as possible."

"I'm sure glad that on modern-day spaceships and shuttles the transporters were much more reliable than they had been in the old days," Tom said nervously, more to himself than the others. It was clear that he was trying to break his tension. "At least nowadays they are designed as a last safety device. Even if everything else fails, the transporters should keep working so that we can beam to safety, once we're through this of course. Right, B'Elanna?"

But as soon as Tom had said that last word the transporter showed that even it had its limits. When a particularly strong electronic current hit some of the fuses blew, showering the inside of the shuttle with blue and white sparks.

"I'm on it!" B'Elanna shouted while opening the safety straps and getting out of her chair. She was thrown to the floor twice by the violent shaking before she reached the transporter fuse box. B'Elanna worked as fast as she could while the others could only watch through the window, seeing the ground coming closer with every second.

After what seemed like hours, but had in reality been less than thirty seconds the experienced Klingon had replaced the blown fuses. But while she was shouting 'ready!' the shuttle hit one final current. That last pocket of turbulence hit the shuttle right before it finally passed through the electronic layer and started its straight but deadly decent to the planet's surface. The violent shaking and the suddenly steep angle of the shuttle was enough to sent B'Elanna flying across the floor and crashing headfirst into console between Tom and Janeway. Only a second later Tom managed to activate the transporters and all of them disappeared in a sparkle of light from the doomed shuttle. Something that went unnoticed by the unconscious Klingon.


They materialized in a forest clearing and while Tom and Zerisan started to check the condition of B'Elanna, Janeway and Tuvok looked at the tree-line surrounding them to make sure that they wouldn't be surprised by one of the predators that Zerisan had talked about. Janeway couldn't help but admire the beauty of the surrounding forest. This was something no holodeck could really recreate. The smell of nature, of real fresh air. And a forest that one would want to leisurely stroll through for hours on end. Just enjoying what nature had created.

"Thank God for that thick Klingon head of hers," Tom finally said. "From what I can see, without the aid of a medical tricorder, I would say that she's just knocked out."

Zerisan nodded her head in agreement while opening one of the pockets on her equipment belt. "I agree. Let me wake her up. I..." Suddenly the Follower stopped talking and looked at a specific spot in the tree line. "Our arrival didn't go unnoticed." Zerisan slowly stood up and stepped away from B'Elanna. Clearly posing herself as another separate target for whatever was coming.

It took a moment before the others started hearing the soft sounds that the Follower's sensitive hearing had already picked up a moment before. Finally, an animal came walking into the clearing as if it didn't have a care in the world. From the description that Zerisan had given them, Janeway knew that this had to be one of those Tertra cats. But hearing a description and actually seeing it was something totally different. Now Janeway understood why Zerisan had seen it as her duty to warn them. The cat was about as big as one of the grizzly bears Janeway knew from Earth. Except that instead of looking bulky, the animal had the sleek look always accociated with predatory cats. Janeway thought that except for the much bigger size, the cat bore a certain resemblance with a black panther. The cat had a shiny dark black fur that sometimes looked a little bit blue if the sunlight reflected off of it just right. Janeway couldn't see the claws that Zerisan had talked about and assumed that they were usually retracted under the skin, except when needed.

"Spread out a little bit," Zerisan whispered. "Make it seem as if we are with a bigger group then we really are. If it isn't hungry, it might just decide not to bother, and move on. But don't make any sudden moves."

The others did as Zerisan had suggested and spread out a little bit around the still unconscious B'Elanna. The Tertra cat looked at them individually every time one of them moved. At one point, the cat looked Janeway straight in the eyes and the Captain could see a calculating soul shining in those black eyes. "Intelligent?" Janeway asked.

"Highly intelligent," Zerisan answered before she saw the Captain take a step back. The Follower took another step away from the group so that the cat looked back at her before saying, "Don't move back! If you move back, you give the impression that you're fleeing. You will make yourself a prey on the run. Only move sideways or forward. But don't... move... back."

The cat kept coming closer and by now it was obvious that it was heading for B'Elanna. Janeway assumed that nature was the same everywhere in the universe. Always go for the weakest prey. In this case, the one lying on the ground, not moving.

Because the group had spread out, Tom was the only one left standing between the cat and B'Elanna. The cat came closer until it was just an arm's length away from a, by now severely sweating Tom. Because the cat was so large it looked to the frightened Tom as if the cat's head was at the same level as his. The animal looked at him for a moment with frighteningly intelligent eyes before it suddenly let out a loud roar and extended all of its body claws.

Janeway saw how suddenly the claws appeared through that beautiful black fur. All of them about a human hand apart, and also just as long. All of them pointing forward in a deathly intent. Now Janeway understood what Zerisan had meant by 'razor-sharp'. The claws didn't just have a sharp point; the entire inside of the moon shaped claws had a flat, sharp edge to it. And all of those deadly claws were now aimed at the petrified Tom. Janeway slowly pulled her phaser and pointed it at the big cat. She aimed carefully and squeezed the fire button. But nothing happened. And Janeway realized her mistake. The phasers were also electronic equipment, so of course the electronic layer also had affected them.

Zerisan saw that Janeway's phaser had not worked, and once again moved a little bit away, presenting herself as a clear and easy target. She took out her warrior knife, knowing only too well that she didn't have a chance. But at least she would die fighting.

Tom knew that he had to move, but he couldn't. His legs didn't want to obey him. All he could do was look at death standing before him. He saw how the cat looked at Zerisan and then apparently didn't find her interesting enough, because the cat once again looked back at him. Suddenly, so fast that Tom didn't even realize it, the cat lifted one of its paws and batted the pilot aside as if he weighed nothing. For a moment, Tom thought that he was going to die. But then he realized that the cat hadn't really harmed him; it had batted him aside without using its claws.

Not knowing what else to do the group watched as the big cat walked to B'Elanna. There the cat softly pushed against B'Elanna body a couple of times with its head. And then... laid down at the Klingon's side, obviously guarding the still unconscious Klingon.

All eyes went to Zerisan, but no question was asked. They could see that the Follower was just as surprised with that behavior as the rest of them. Tom, still being the closest to B'Elanna, tried to move closer to the Klingon but as soon as he came too close for the cat's liking, the animal made a hissing sound and looked the pilot straight in the eyes. Tom could swear that the expression on the animal's face had changed. He had thought that he was going to die before, but now there was no question that the animal meant business. Tom knew that if he would try to get any closer he was going to die. For real, this time.

"Umm," Janeway just said, not really knowing what to do with the situation.

Zerisan put her warrior knife away and stepped closer. "I don't know, Captain Janeway. This is NOT normal behavior. We all should be dead by now. While Tertra cats are among the most intelligent animals we have ever encountered, if not THE most intelligent animals we have ever encountered, they are not a higher evolved life, like humanoids. This is undocumented behavior."

Zerisan tried to get closer to B'Elanna and got the same treatment from the cat as Tom had a moment before. "Umm, Captain Janeway, I suggest we simply wait for B'Elanna to wake up. I don't think that will be much longer anyway."

"Sounds like a good idea. Let's get comfortable, everyone."

Almost half an hour later B'Elanna finally started to move. First small movements, but soon she tried to sit up suddenly, only to quickly lie down again. She brought her hand to her head in a futile attempt to stop the splitting headache she had. Yet, above the pounding, she heard the whispering voice of Janeway. "B'Elanna, move over to me, slowly."

Despite her splitting headache the Klingon opened her eyes to see where Janeway was, and why she was whispering. Immediately she saw something big and black lying at her left side. Not realizing that this was not a dream, B'Elanna reacted like she always did in her dreams. She rolled over until she was lying partially on top of the big cat and put her arms around the animal's muscular neck in a tight embrace. "Hi, Toby! Boy am I glad to see you!"

It was then that B'Elanna realized that something was different. She never had a headache in one of her dreams before. And despite the fact that her dreams had always seemed real, she now could feel little things she never felt before. Toby's soft fur tickling her face, an ant walking over her hand, the grass she was still partially lying in. Suddenly, she realized that this was not a dream. This time it was real.

She looked around and saw the others standing a little bit away from her. All, except Tuvok, were looking at her in total disbelief. She realized that they were staring at her because of the way she was acting with this very deadly animal. She knew that the others without a doubt thought that she had to get away from the cat, but she didn't care. She once again buried her face in the soft fur of the animal's neck, enjoying the first little bit of comfort she felt since she had realized that something was wrong with Seven.

After a few minutes, Zerisan once again tried to get closer to B'Elanna but wisely stopped when the cat started growling softly. "Umm, B'Elanna Torres... I... um..." Not really knowing how to handle this situation, the Follower decided to fall back to one of the basic Imperial Guard's training rules: 'If you get into a situation that you are unfamiliar with, always accept that situation for what it is and work from there. Do not waste time trying to find explanations for things you do not understand.' Of course the second part of that lesson stated: 'Once the situation is secure, you will have time enough to research whatever you did not understand.' So Zerisan concentrated on the first priority at hand, to get B'Elanna mobile again so that the group could start moving, and find Seven. "B'Elanna Torres, I have something which will cure that headache you most probably have. But it seems that you found yourself a guardian that does not want me to get close to you."

"Right," B'Elanna said, knowing that she had wasted enough time already. She had her soul-mate to save... and Chakotay to kill. Or at least severely hurt him. Maybe she could sic Toby on him. No, that would be too quick and clean. "Okay, now, Toby, these are all friends of mine. It's okay to let them close." B'Elanna took the animal's head between her hands and looked it straight in the eyes. "So, be nice... to them."

The cat let out a soft growl that sounded as if it was disappointed that it had to behave. It laid its head back down onto its paws and looked back up at B'Elanna with pleading eyes.

"You know that trick doesn't work on me so you might just as well stop it. Now, why don't you go and run around some while I try and think about how I'm going to answer the questions of my friends. I'm sure that they are dying to find out how the heck I know you."

But the cat didn't budge. Instead, it started to rub its head against B'Elanna's.

"Yes, I love you too," B'Elanna mumbled into the black fur. "Okay, okay, I see that you don't want to go. Then at least move a little so that my friends can come closer too." While the cat did as B'Elanna had asked, the Klingon looked up at Zerisan with a little smile. "Sorry about that. It's okay now. Umm, you said that you have something for this pounding headache?"

Zerisan looked over to the cat and saw that the animal really hadn't moved that much. It was now lying a little more than a body length away from the Klingon and was looking at them with, what seemed like, nothing more than mild interest. But Zerisan knew a lot more about these animals than she had said in her brief description. She knew that in reality everyone was standing within striking distance. That peaceful looking cat with its powerful muscles could jump up from its lying position and take down even Tuvok, standing ten meters (thirty feet) away.

Zerisan came slowly closer to B'Elanna, all the while looking at the cat who kept looking straight back at her. The Follower opened a pocket of her equipment belt and took out a small battlefield injector. "Um, B'Elanna Torres, Imperial Guards are all trained in battlefield medicine. That is why I have this equipment with me in the first place."

"And?" B'Elanna asked, wondering why the tall woman was explaining this.

"And... to prevent us from carrying too much equipment around, most of the equipment we do have is multifunctional. As is the medicine I'm going to give you. It would cure a lot of different things, including what must be a skull splitting headache. But because it is so multifunctional it is actually quite painful the first few seconds after injection." Now Zerisan looked over to the cat that was still looking at what she was doing. "I would greatly appreciate it if you could NOT give your friend over there the impression that I'm hurting you."

B'Elanna looked over to the cat, understanding Zerisan all too well. In her dreams, the Klingon had seen some of the things these cats were capable of, including taking down prey ten times bigger then themselves. "Right, I see what you mean. Okay, let me take care of that problem first. Toby, come here for a moment." B'Elanna patted the earth softly and the cat immediately reacted. It trotted over and laid down again, putting its head in B'Elanna's lap. The Klingon started to run her fingers absently through the soft fur. "Touch him. Scratch his skull softly like I'm doing now. He loves that; don't worry, he won't hurt you."

After some hesitation, Zerisan did as B'Elanna had suggested. Zerisan was a seasoned warrior. Because of her position as aide to the Empress, an Empress who had the tendency to get involved in battles physically on occasion, she herself was a veteran of several battles. She was certainly not new to the feeling of excitement that danger could bring. But to be touching such a deadly animal, and to have that animal obviously enjoy that touch, it was one of the most thrilling things she could remember ever doing.

After a few moments, B'Elanna once again took over softly scratching the cat's skull. "Okay, now here is the real test to see if you are accepted as 'one of the pack,' Zerisan." Zerisan definitely didn't like the small smile the Klingon had on her lips. "Put your hand in front of his mouth and see what happens."

"B'Elanna Torres..."

"Don't worry, if he wanted to be chewing on your hand, he would already be doing so by now. You know it's true."

Zerisan moved her hand slowly in front of the cat's mouth. She knew that B'Elanna was right, but still was very relieved when the only thing that the cat did was start licking her hand.

"There, you are accepted. Now, could you please give me that damn injection before I pass out again?"

Zerisan only nodded her head in an affirmative manner and gave B'Elanna the injection.

Tom looked at the picture of B'Elanna with the head of 'Toby' still in her lap and suddenly realized something. "You told me about this place. On the night we agreed to our divorce, you told me about a reoccurring dream you had. About you being on a beautiful planet with the love of your life, and big deadly cats playing with you both. While in the evening, they share their body heat with you both while you enjoy the sunset in a cool ocean breeze."

"Gee, Tom, thank you for blurting that out," B'Elanna said while a soft tingling feeling started to spread through her body, a soft tingling feeling that started to hurt more and more. "I told you that in private, you know. And... Damn, THIS HURTS!

Part 19

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