DISCLAIMER: See Chapter 1
Janeway looked up to the sun, she took a guess and estimated that at least eight hours had passed since they had beamed onto the planet's surface and began their search for Chakotay and Seven. B'Elanna and Seven were taking a few minutes to discuss B'Elanna's theory and what happened in the time they were apart. But now Janeway thought it was time to bring up the truly difficult subjects.
"Alright," She said, gathering everyone's attention. "We have a few things to discuss. First of all, Chakotay is still inside that thing." She pointed to the remains of the Flyer to indicate what she meant with 'that thing.' "And although I'm sure some of you would prefer just to leave him in there, we are obligated to get him out and return him to Voyager. Which brings us to problem number two. We need to figure out how exactly we are going to get off this planet and back to Voyager."
"Right," B'Elanna agreed hesitantly with clenched teeth. "Problem number one; Chakotay. Since the emergency door has been bashed shut, I'll try to get the main door to open. It may take a few minutes though." B'Elanna stepped up to the Flyer and started to work. About ten minutes later, the door gave a hydraulic hiss of protest before opening up. But even before the door had opened completely, B'Elanna stormed into the Flyer, disappearing into the shuttle before anyone could react.
Tuvok was the first to move and quickly headed towards the shuttle's now open door. But before he could make it into the doorway, he had to take a step back in order to avoid a head-on collision with Chakotay's flying body. The Commander got to his feet again, this time outside the shuttle, only to be knocked down again by a powerful right hook from an enraged Klingon.
Before she could throw another punch, both Tuvok and Tom had a hold of B'Elanna and it took their combined strength to keep the Klingon from going after Chakotay again. Zerisan, on the other hand, held back. She knew what B'Elanna had gone through. She was fully prepared to stop the Klingon from doing permanent damage to the Commander, but she was not prepared to come between both as long as Chakotay could still defend himself. Chakotay got up again and moved away from B'Elanna, he was smart enough to move in a direction that was also away from Seven. He didn't have time to wonder about how B'Elanna and the others had gotten there, or how Seven could still be alive, he knew that right now he had to concentrate on calming B'Elanna down. "B'Elanna, let me explain, I'm sure you will understand if you would only listen."
"Oh, I understand alright, I understand that I'm going to kill you!" B'Elanna started to struggle even more and was able to get Tom to let go of her, but Tuvok's Vulcan strength was still enough to hold her back.
Janeway stepped in front of B'Elanna, "Settle down, Lieutenant. He will not get away with this unpunished."
"B'Elanna, be reasonable, let's talk about this." Chakotay was sad to see that Janeway, Tuvok, Tom, Zerisan, and B'Elanna were also stranded on the planet now; that was never his intention. But at least Seven would still not reach the Federation. "You both are together now, you can live your life together here on this planet." Chakotay certainly wasn't happy to see B'Elanna stop struggling and calm down completely. He knew B'Elanna; this meant nothing good.
"You know, Chakotay, I've really had enough of all your explanations and reasoning. Tuvok may be able to stop me from reaching you, but there is one thing he can't stop me from doing. Do me a favor and look over to your left, see that?"
Chakotay really didn't want to take his eyes off B'Elanna, but the human urge to look proved too strong. He quickly looked over to his left and was shocked to see two of those predatory cats sitting there, the one totally black, the other totally white. He realized that the white cat was the albino cat he had seen earlier that day. He looked back at B'Elanna and saw a cold smile on her face.
"You like to take Seven away from me and run? Well, I've got Seven back, but guess what, you can still run." Chakotay saw B'Elanna look past him to where the cats sat. He looked back also and heard B'Elanna speak, "Toby, play time. Go get."
"B'Elanna, call him back," Janeway said in a voice that made it clear that she meant business.
Chakotay saw how the black cat stood and started walking in his direction. He moved back a little bit and heard B'Elanna's mocking voice, "That's not going to help, you better start running."
Chakotay's decision was quickly made when he saw some kind of claws appear through the animal's fur. He turned around and started to run.
"God damn it, B'Elanna, you call that animal back right now, that's an order!" Janeway knew that the Klingon was pissed at Chakotay, but she could not believe that B'Elanna had gone so far.
Seven came closer and put her arms around B'Elanna. "Do not worry Captain, the Commander is perfectly safe, he just does not know it. B'Elanna told Toby that it was 'play time.' One of the games B'Elanna likes to play with Toby is 'tag.' She tries to get away from him and he follows her around. One of the 'rules' is that Toby must not hurt any living thing. I promise you that nothing will happen to the Commander. As a matter of fact..." Seven looked over to White and gave her a small signal. The cat looked over to where Toby and Chakotay had to be and then looked back to Seven before going from sitting to lying. "...It appears that the Commander is in luck, White does not feel like playing along. She rather stays here."
Janeway shook her head is disbelief, "I can't believe that you also wanted to sent that cat after Chakotay." Then she addressed B'Elanna once again, "I gave you an order, Lieutenant. Call him back."
"Don't you 'Kathryn' me. Are you going to make me repeat myself... again?"
That last question had been accompanied with a full force ten glare and B'Elanna knew that she had tested the Captain's patience to the limit. B'Elanna hated Chakotay. But Janeway still was her Captain. But not only that, Kathryn was a friend, the one who had taken care of her when nobody else would. She DID hate Chakotay, but he was not worth jeopardizing her friendship with Kathryn. "Yes, ma'am." She finally said before putting her fingers to her lips and letting out a loud whistle.
After B'Elanna's whistle a loud roar was head from somewhere between the trees. "Toby was not amused that he has to stop," Seven said with a small smile.
B'Elanna looked over to where Toby came from between the trees before addressing Janeway again. "I'm sorry, Captain. My temperament got away from me. But I want to press charges against him as soon as we are back on Voyager. I want him charged for..."
"Oh, believe me, B'Elanna. He will be charged for so many violations that it will take them a day at his court marshal just to read them all," Janeway said assured before softening her glare to a 'mere' force five before continuing. "But we serve Federation law, and he will face those charges under Federation law. And that means that people are not allowed to take the law into their own hands. B'Elanna, I don't what to see you sitting in a cell because of Chakotay's actions."
"Umm, how ARE we going to get back," Tom interrupted.
Janeway looked over to Zerisan, hoping that she could give the answer. "You said that your ships can pass through the atmosphere unharmed?"
"No, not all ships. We know how to pass through the electronic layer, and even though we never use them, we have a few ships that are specifically designed to do so. But, Captain, our communications no longer work. Therefore we can't call for help. It may be as long as a month or more before one of those ships is sent for us."
"But your people should be able to find us rather quick," Janeway stated.
"It is not a matter of finding us, I'm sure that my Empress already knows that we are here. But we are here for a reason. And I'm also sure that my Empress would first give us ample time to fulfill our quest of finding Commander Chakotay before she would send such a ship for us."
Seven and B'Elanna looked at each other for a moment before B'Elanna spoke up. "I certainly wouldn't mind living here for some time."
"And so you can," A voice suddenly said behind them.
B'Elanna and Seven turned around to the owner of that voice and Seven immediately recognized the man that had posed as a trader on Voyager. B'Elanna turned back to the others only to see that they were gone, just like the remains of the Delta Flyer were gone. The only one still there was Zerisan, who quickly dropped to her knees and lowered her head.
"They are back onboard the starship Voyager, just like the remains of both shuttles." The man saw Seven look to where Chakotay had to be somewhere. "He is back on the ship also. At this moment, Voyager's security forces are bringing him to the brig on orders of your Captain." He walked over to Zerisan and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Stand up, my child, you are still here for a reason. You are here to witness."
Zerisan did as she was told and walked over to Seven and B'Elanna a bit dazed, The Traveler had just touched her. The being who only showed himself to his people on the rarest of occasions had actually touched her!
B'Elanna realized that for all intents and purposes, she was now in the presence of a god. But he didn't act like it. Q always had an air of superiority about him. He stood above humans and was only too glad to show it. This man, however, didn't act like that at all. The only thing that hinted to there being something special about him was that he had appeared out of nowhere. That and the fact that just the trunk of a fallen tree had conveniently appeared out of nothing for him to sit on.
The man waited till Zerisan was standing with the other two women before starting to speak. "Your reasoning about your dreams was very true, B'Elanna. I have been bringing you both here ever since you both were little girls." He looked to Seven when she was about to speak. "Because you were part of the Borg collective I had to shield those memories, even from yourself. But every time you were here, you would remember all. Now it is time to give you back those memories for good."
Suddenly images started to flood Seven's mind. Now she could remember things like playing hide and seek with B'Elanna as children on the very same spot she was standing on now. A smile formed on her lips, she never knew there had been so many happy moments in her life.
The man saw Seven smile and he smiled himself before continuing his explanation. "And you, B'Elanna, you can understand that I had to hide the face of Seven in your dreams, it wouldn't do to know her as your friend and lover while you were still hostile with her in everyday life. Let me give you back the face of those memories."
For B'Elanna, her memories didn't really change, but they became so much more. Now she could remember looking Seven deep in her blue eyes when she, for the first time, told her that she loved her. It had been on that planet almost twenty years ago. They had just exhausted themselves with swimming in the sea and then playing on the beach. She had tackled Seven to the ground and had been lying on top of her. She had looked down to that beautiful face and couldn't stop herself from leaning down and kissing Seven. Moments later she had told her play friend that she loved her, and Seven had answered with the most beautiful words B'Elanna had ever heard, 'I love you too.'
The man gave B'Elanna a moment to enjoy her memories before continuing. "Also your reasoning as to why I did this is correct, B'Elanna. Since Seven is now a member of the Followers, and no, I do not have to ask her, I know she will say yes to being adopted into the Follower race, I gave her the same as all the other Followers."
Now the man turned to Zerisan, "Hear this and be witness, Zerisan. And tell Shadeen the first minute you see her. Seven of Nine is now a full member of the Follower race. With all the tasks and privileges that come with that. Remind your wife of the first rule in the constitution."
"I will tell her, Divine One."
"Good," Looking back to Seven and B'Elanna, the man continued. "In all the history of the Followers, the Chosen ones always had a true home where they came from, and where they wanted to live. You, Seven, are the first without a true place to call home, as is your wife. You both want to go back to the Federation, but you both know that it will never be your home. Both of you never had a true home, till now. This planet has been your and your wife's home in your dreams for years. Now it is also your home when you are awake. I know that you both are not yet ready to settle down, but from now on this planet is your home."
The man pointed into the trees to indicate a direction, "A short walk that way you will find the beach you already know so well. You will also find a house there, just the way you like it. It's on the same spot where the parents of the first Follower had their home more then sixty thousand years ago. You can have visitors, of course. They will be safe as long as they stay within one days walk from your house. And as long as either of you both is onboard the ship, it does not matter what kind of ship it is, it will be able to pass through the atmosphere undamaged."
Both Seven and B'Elanna knew that their home would always be where the other was, but it was a nice feeling to now have a place in the galaxy that they could call home, especially a place that they both loved so much as this planet. The man was right, they were not ready to settle down in one place yet. But that time was sure to come and when that day came the planet would be perfect. Sure, it was far away from the place where their friends would probably live, but with the Followers' Trans Warp capabilities it was the same as living on any other planet. In the Federation, with it's normal warp, people still lived often weeks away from friends and loved ones. With the Trans Warp capabilities of the Followers, Earth could be reached in days without special clearance, in hours if you did have the right clearance.
"Thank you," Seven simply said, knowing the man would know just how grateful she truly was.
"It is my pleasure. And now, let me bring you back to Voyager. I am sorry you both had to go through this, but as Danzoc already told you, B'Elanna, this situation is not my doing. I merely used it to conduct the necessary tests and I could not really intervene until it was resolved."
"Wait!" B'Elanna suddenly said. "I want to talk about that. What's up with those tests? They haven't shown us anything about Seven we didn't already know, and as far as tests go, they were pretty mild." Hearing her own words, B'Elanna was quick to add, "Not that I'm complaining, mind you."
Once again the man smiled, he had a nice smile, B'Elanna decided.
"That is because the tests really are more of a ritual than a real test. In every race, even among the Followers, there are doubters. If a person was allowed to be adopted into the Follower race without any kind of test, then those doubters would never accept this person as a true member of the race. That is also why there has to be a Chosen to begin with. If I were to just tell the Followers what I would like them to do, they would never do it. But having a Chosen turns things from me telling them what to do, into me guiding them along a certain way of development. By having the Chosen pass the tests, these doubters are shown that the Chosen has the same views and beliefs as them as far as protecting the race is concerned. These tests were not really to test Seven, after all, I already know what kind of person she is. No, these tests were to help Seven become accepted into the Follower race as one of them, and not as an outsider who is allowed to call herself a Follower." When the man stopped talking, he saw that B'Elanna understood now, so he left the explanation at that and instead asked, "Any other questions?"
Now it was Seven who spoke up, "Yes, one. Is there anything else we should be aware of? Any other tests?"
"There are several small things that you should know, like the fact that every Follower must be able to recite the entire constitution, you will have to learn that. But this will not be a problem for you. There is one more thing that will effect both you and your wife, but that is not something you will have to worry about. I can already tell you that when the time comes for you to find out, you take a while to get used to it but you will like what you find out. But now it is time for you to go. Be well, Chosen, we will meet again someday."
Suddenly the three women were standing on the bridge of Voyager. There was no flash of light, no sound, nothing to mark their arrival. One moment they were watching the Traveler, the next they were looking at Janeway and Shadeen standing at Harry's console. Having a task to fulfill, Zerisan walked over to Shadeen and told her the message that The Traveler had given her. Shadeen frowned her eyebrows at the message, but then nodded her head, knowing the Traveler, all would become clear eventually.
"What's going on?" B'Elanna asked Harry.
Harry started to explain with a face splitting grin, "While you were all gone, I asked Empress Shadeen if we could use the Follower's communication capabilities to send a message to Starfleet, telling them that we are coming home. She agreed, and as soon as the Captain came back two hours ago, a message was compiled and sent. Basically telling the Federation about what is going on. And we just got a signal to stand by for a priority one message from Starfleet headquarters."
"Two hours?" B'Elanna asked, thinking that Harry had misspoken. "We left twenty minutes after the rest, at most."
Janeway moved away from behind the console and stepped up to B'Elanna. "Except for sending that message we have been pretty much talking about Chakotay all this time, what we are supposed to do with him, maybe the Traveler wanted to spare you that conversation. We decided to let the Federation decide what to do with him. It's sad to think that of all the people we started this journey with, and the ones we took onboard during the journey, Chakotay is the one who's going to arrive in the Federation in a holding cell. And don't think that you are off the hook for that stunt you pulled down there."
"After what he did, he deserved a lot more than that..." Seeing Janeway open her mouth to speak, B'Elanna was quick to add, "...But now that we are back onboard Voyager I'm willing to face the consequences of what I did."
"You are damn lucky that we are going home, B'Elanna, I'm sure that this incident will get lost in all the excitement of getting home."
"Thank you," B'Elanna said, knowing only too well that the Captain was letting her off easy.
"Well, at least everything is over now," Janeway said just when Harry's console signaled an incoming message.
"Incoming message," Harry said a bit redundant, but his next information certainly wasn't redundant. "No live feed, it's a recorded message."
Harry did as he was told and seconds later the face of Admiral Nechayev filled the view screen. "Voyager, it is good to hear that you are coming home so quickly. As I speak the preparations for the heroes' welcome you so rightfully deserve are in full swing. But now that you are about to enter Federation space, I'm afraid that I have to order the arrest of that Borg drone, Seven of Nine. Only until we can be certain that she truly is no threat to us. After that, she will have to undergo surgery to remove her assimilation tubes to make sure she can't assimilate anyone anymore. But, once that is done, she will be free to leave Federation space. I look forward to seeing you all soon. Nechayev, out."
The bridge was filled with absolute silence while all stood watching the view screen in total disbelieve.
It was Seven who finally broke the silence. "Kyamo, it appears that we will be settling on the planet sooner than we thought."
"Do not do anything hasty," Shadeen said. "I am certain that this is just a case of miscommunication. We will arrive at our Homeworld soon, I suggest that we settle you all in for today and gather tomorrow to talk this through. Maybe by then this will all be straightened out.
"Seven, B'Elanna, someone will escort you to chambers inside the Palace, I took the liberty of assuming you both wouldn't mind being our guests during the shoreleave. But unfortunately Zerisan and I have things to attend to now, we will see you both tomorrow morning, and the rest of you tomorrow in the early afternoon. If you will excuse us now." Shadeen didn't wait for reactions on her suggestions; she had other things to take care of. "Shadeen to Kirdaq, four to beam over."
"I believe she was severely displeased," Seven said after Shadeen, Zerisan, Danzoc, and Carizon were gone.
"Uh hu," B'Elanna agreed, "I think displeased is an understatement. I would say Shadeen was pretty pissed."
An incoming signal made Harry speak up, "A Follower is requesting permission to beam onto the bridge, the message says that he is here to be our guide during the last leg to the Followers' Homeworld, and then he is going to show us where to spend the rest of the evening."
"Well, permission granted," Janeway said while she prepared to greet this new Follower.
Meanwhile on Empress Shadeen's ship.
Shadeen didn't waste time with giving orders, she, Zerisan, Danzoc and Carizon, had just materialized when she began. "Put all Imperial Guards on the highest alert, sent the message of potential conflict out to the Empire. Ready the first, the eighth, the tenth through eighteenth, the forty-sixth, and the seventy-fifth wing of battle cruisers, each battle cruiser is to take five thousand extra Imperial Guards onboard. Tell them to be ready for departure in one hour."
Zerisan did what her job required and she started to question her Empress, "Two hundred battle cruisers, two hundred and three, including the Imperial wing and an extra five thousand Guards on top of the already five thousand personnel that each cruiser carries? You want to take more than two million troops into the Federation? That won't be a battle, it will be a slaughter."
"They will not be there to slaughter, they will be there to occupy if those in charge of Starfleet are too stupid to listen to reason." They stepped into the turbo lift and Shadeen gave the destination of secondary bridge before continuing. "Zerisan, they gave the order to have our Chosen arrested, that comes pretty close to giving the order to have my Eminence Danzoc here arrested, or me for that matter."
Zerisan nodded her head in agreement. "That is true, and I could understand such a reaction if someone had ordered the arrest of our Chosen who actually knew what they were doing. But Starfleet does not know this, and they also do not know that Seven is our Chosen to begin with."
Now it was Shadeen's turn to nod. "That is true, but then we also have the fact that the Traveler himself said that Seven is now a member of our race. And he reminded us of the first rule of our constitution; 'We protect our own.' We will go there and talk to these people, this Nechayev person. And if they are smart and make the right choice then they will never know that there was an invasion force waiting on their doorsteps. But I give you my word right now, Zerisan, Seven of Nine will not spend a single minute in a Starfleet holding cell. Even if that means I have to occupy every single planet in the Federation and annihilate Starfleet to the point that they no longer have a holding cell left to put our Chosen in."
The turbolift stopped and they walked the short distance to the secondary bridge. Once inside, Zerisan continued. "Very well, Empress, I see your point, but please remember that only a few people in Starfleet are responsible for this."
"Of course, Zerisan, that is why we are taking so many troops along. Occupying and confining people takes a lot more personnel than killing them does. When this is over, the Federation will not be harmed, after all, we both have heard Seven and B'Elanna make plans on which places in the Federation they want to visit together. The Federation will, at the most, have to suffer through a temporary occupation of a force that lets them alone, almost completely free, most citizens will not even notice that they are under occupation. But I can't guarantee the same for the people commanding Starfleet." Shadeen looked to Carizon and asked, "Anything to add?"
"No, my Empress, Zerisan already voiced my concerns and the answers are to my liking. I will now go pass on the orders you gave."
Shadeen nodded her head in agreement and when Carizon left, Shadeen looked over to Danzoc. "My Eminence?"
"I'm sorry, my Empress. I can't be of help. The Traveler has given me absolutely nothing on this. Which is very telling on its own."
"Indeed it is," Shadeen agreed. "It seems that the change the Chosen will bring is at hand, and it involves Starfleet and the Federation. The question is whether there is going to be a relation between us and the Federation, or are we to occupy the Federation and annihilate Starfleet?"
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