Karen started at the sound of a data padd landing roughly on the table. She was sitting at a conference table along with B'Elanna, Seven, Ambassador Eldred, Councilor Raynor, and Kelem, a member of the judiciary. She knew that Mac was about to begin arguments for her release, but hadn't expected it to begin in quite this way. Mac had stood up, holding the data padd in her hand as she surveyed the various officials from Velnar. Without ceremony she flung the padd onto the table, where it slid for a moment before coming to rest before Ambassador Eldred.
"What's this?" Eldred asked, a smug look of superiority plastered on his face.
Mac smiled slightly and her brown eyes shone with a confident gleam. "That is a copy of the complaint I filed with the Federation's General Assembly outlining serious violations of the Federation Articles of Confederation." She paused for a moment to note that Eldred's mouth hung open in surprise. "The Federation does not look kindly on human rights violations on its member worlds."
"These charges are completely unfounded," Eldred countered, glancing down at the padd on the table, but not bothering to pick it up.
"Oh, I don't think so," Mac insisted as she walked toward Eldred. "But," she continued when she reached him, leaning down to look in his eye, "it doesn't matter what I think. All that matters is that the General Assembly has referred the case to the Judiciary branch and has assigned an attorney to investigate." Mac returned to her chair and took a seat. "And the first issue that he will take up is your province's practice of enticing minors into labor camps and keeping them imprisoned through fraudulent work contracts."
"We have done no such thing," Eldred blustered. "The workers at our compounds are there voluntarily and are happy with their work."
"The twenty-six statements we collected just yesterday indicate otherwise," Seven interjected. "Each individual testified that, once they began to work in the compound, their wages were taken, supposedly to pay for their provisions."
"Well, it does cost a good deal to feed and clothe the workers at the compound," Councilor Raynor stammered, clearly afraid of the consequences of the proceedings that Mac had initiated, and reaching out to pick up the data padd that Mac had deposited on the table.
"I doubt it could cost that much," B'Elanna countered. "And what happens to all the food that the compounds produce?"
"As I indicated before," Eldred ground out, " we sell the food in the markets in the Province. Granted, we do so at a discount because there are so many impoverished people, but we sell it, nonetheless."
Mac pulled another padd from her bag and slid it across the table to Eldred. "According to my research, Velnar has been selling its produce through a third party to other worlds in the sector. I can only imagine what the Federation will think of this practice of skimming profits from the forced labor of the citizens of a member world."
The room fell silent until Kelem cleared his throat. "What is it you want?"
"Well," Mac began calmly, "for starters, we would like all charges against Ms. Torres dropped and for her to be released immediately."
"And you will cease this investigation in return?" Kelem asked, holding his hand up to quiet the protest that was about to erupt from Eldred.
"I have no control over it at this point," Mac explained. "If the Federation finds merit in the case, the Judiciary will proceed. But it will certainly work against you to have imprisoned a minor Federation citizen for leaving a work camp with the clothes on her back."
"Would you please excuse us for a moment?" Kelem asked quietly.
Mac nodded and the women rose and exited into the hallway. Once outside, she smiled, feeling confident that she had rattled the men and backed them into a corner.
Taking in Mac's smile, Karen couldn't help but hope that her ordeal would soon end. "Do you think we have a chance?" she asked quietly.
"I think we have a chance," Mac responded. "Let's wait to see what they have to say. I've got a few more tricks up my sleeve, but I hope I won't have to use them."
"I don't know how to thank you enough," B'Elanna said, placing her hand on Mac's forearm. "I don't know what we'd have done without you."
"Perhaps we would have staged a prison break," Seven ventured with a smile.
"Seriously," B'Elanna said, shooting a look at Seven, "I can't imagine that anyone could have handled this better."
"We're not out of it yet," Mac cautioned them, just as the door to the conference room opened and Kelem ushered them back in to take their places at the table again.
Mac sat as Kelem regarded her closely, perhaps, she thought, in an effort to assess her seriousness in pursing the case against Velnar. She kept her expression impassive, not wanting to convey to him that there was any possibility that she would leave the room with anything less than Karen's immediate freedom. She had no plans to give in. Waiting for him to speak, she took a moment to observe Eldred's angry glare and Raynor's obvious discomfort.
"You will depart," Kelem announced, his gaze never leaving Mac's face.
"Excuse me?" Mac asked.
"You – all of you – will leave here. Immediately."
"All of us," Mac repeated.
"Yes, all of you. Take the young woman and leave Velnar. Now."
"With pleasure," B'Elanna muttered.
"Should Karen Torres set foot on Velnar again, she will be arrested and tried. You have one hour to depart," he concluded, stood abruptly and left the room, followed by Councillor Raynor.
Ambassador Eldred stood slowly and began to move toward the door of the conference room. As he passed Mac, he muttered, "This is not over."
Standing and speaking to his back as he exited, Mac replied, "Of that, you can be sure. And I don't think you'll be pleased with the outcome."
Just under one hour later, the four women were in the shuttle and on their way to Jalara, having deposited Karen's grateful friends Keil and Jarrod at the respective homes. Seven busied herself piloting the craft while B'Elanna contacted Ven to give him the good news. Mac and Karen relaxed in the rear section of the cabin, both clearly exhausted from the day's events.
Karen looked over at Mac. "That was awesome," she said finally. "Completely awesome."
Mac chucked and shook her head. "We got lucky," she insisted.
"Lucky nothing," Karen responded. "You were incredible and they were quaking in their boots. Completely awesome."
"Well," Mac conceded, "making opponents quake in their boots is what I do."
Karen became suddenly less animated and turned her gaze away from Mac. "Why?" she asked quietly.
Mac knit her eyebrows, unsure about the sudden change in Karen's affect. "I like what I do – I even do some good sometimes – and I like to do it well."
"No, I mean why me?" she asked shyly.
"What happened to you was wrong, Karen. No matter what they told you while they had you in custody."
"But you took time off from work and came all this way," Karen said incredulously.
"What they did to you was wrong," Mac reiterated. "And Seven was so upset that I had to come."
Karen frowned and looked away again.
"It's just that I wasn't very nice to her when we met and . . . ."
Mac leaned forward in her chair and Karen couldn't help but meet her gaze. "Two things I can say for certain about Seven is that she is extremely generous and forgiving and that she is fiercely loyal to those she cares about. She cares about you. That's all you need to know." She sat back, pleased to see Karen smiling and relaxed in response to her reassurance and beaming when B'Elanna joined them in rear of the shuttle.
"So," Karen chirped when B'Elanna sat down, "what are we going to do when we get to Jalara? Can I come to work with you guys or do I have to go to school? I mean, I'll do whatever you want me to, but I could help you out at work. . . ."
B'Elanna sighed and looked at Mac briefly before addressing Karen. "Listen, Karen, I just retrieved this message that was sent a few days ago and it concerns you."
"Me?" Karen gasped. "Don't tell me that they didn't really drop the charges against me! I can't go back there," she cried. "I won't."
"Calm down. It doesn't have anything to do with Velnar. You won't ever have to go back there," B'Elanna assured her.
"So what is it about?"
"It would probably be best if you just watched it," B'Elanna said, calling up the message on the nearby console.
Karen waited expectantly and squeezed her eyes shut when she saw an image of her parents on the screen.
"B'Elanna," John Torres began, "we received a message from the authorities on Velnar saying that Karen had been arrested and that you had taken her away."
"I can't believe that you got my daughter arrested," Elizabeth Torres exclaimed.
"Elizabeth, please," John interrupted and then addressed B'Elanna again. "Look, all we want is to have Karen home safely. We're on our way to Jalara and should be there in a few days."
"Great," Karen exhaled as the message flickered out. "Just great."
Seven climbed into bed having settled Mac at her house and made sure that Karen was comfortable in B'Elanna's spare room. Pulling B'Elanna into her arms, Seven nuzzled her lover's neck and inhaled the scent that she always found so deeply comforting and exhilarating at the same time. "You have been very quiet since receiving the message from your father and his wife, my love."
"There's not much to say," B'Elanna replied, settling into Seven's embrace. "They're coming and there's nothing I can do about it except try to make sure that whatever happens is in Karen's best interest."
"You are correct that there is nothing you can do about their impending arrival, but I am concerned about what you are feeling," Seven whispered.
B'Elanna turned in Seven's arms and kissed her softly. "Whenever I think it isn't possible to love you more, I find myself completely overwhelmed at reaching some new depth." She brought her lips to Seven's once more and felt her blood begin to roar at the sound of Seven's moan of pleasure.
"B'Elanna," Seven exhaled as she broke the kiss, suspecting that her lover was attempting to divert her attention. She brushed the hair back from B'Elanna's face and caressed her cheek. "I am frequently overcome as well by my love for you, but I believe that you are attempting to redirect the conversation." she finished smiling.
"Actually, I wasn't," B'Elanna laughed as she ran her hand down Seven's taut bicep. "What I'm feeling is lucky. It doesn't matter whether John Torres loves me as I would like him to or what Elizabeth Torres thinks of me. I have a family and a life and you're at the center of it. I couldn't be happier or more fortunate."
Seven pulled B'Elanna into a tight embrace, finding no words to convey her depth of feeling.
"We should get some sleep," B'Elanna finally said. "We're in for another tough day tomorrow."
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