CHAPTER THREE

 

 

The mines were like a vast mechanised subterranean city buzzing with purposeful activity, with a myriad of workers scurrying about their business.  Everywhere was organised chaos, as small teams worked often over 24 hour shifts to feed queues of terra vehicles which collected the various precious commodities extracted from the rich seams.

 

Not a good industrial image, there were monstrous machines, called caterpillar diggers, eating into the rock, like some hideously hungry alien life forms, filling the air with dust and heat, and bombarding the area with deafening noise and causing the surrounding terrain to vibrate.  No one could hear themselves think, let alone shout to be heard.  You needed to know exactly what your duties were before you proceeded underground because there was little chance of getting instructions once you arrived at the drill face.

 

These were the dangerous times, as the machinery ate into the rock, or explosives were used to speed up excavation.  Seams would collapse, killer gases might be exposed, large chunks of mineral rock often fell from the cavern ceilings, all placing any of the workers, not just the drillers, in dire peril.

 

Dependent on what you were mining for, the site was usually full of drillers and their assistants.  There would also be squads of ‘gatherers’, whose job it was to take the large chunks of newly extracted rock and haul it onto massive conveyor belts that then sent all into a gigantic crushing machine which pulverised everything into more manageable loads for eventual export.

 

Not so long ago, the place had been worked by slaves of the Cardassians, who forced dissidents, enemies of the state, and captured war prisoners to do exactly what the current labour force did now.  At least this workforce got paid, although the death rates were not so dissimilar, still unacceptably high as exhausted workers lost attention and found themselves pulled into mechanised conveyor belts or fell into the giant crushers.  You never knew quite what was going to end up in the transport vehicles.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Everyday was the same, physically hard and brutally arduous.  At the end of your shift, you were so tired, all you could do was drop into your sleeping space exhausted and with no energy left to think or contemplate. 

 

Which was exactly what Seven wanted.

 

The work, the fatigue, gave her anonymity from life itself. She had nothing left to give and better, if she was exhausted even with her Borg defined inheritance, then so were her co-workers.  Thus, no one here had the energy to get to know her or cared what happened to her.  No one made demands on her beyond the realms of the working environment.

 

She rarely spoke to anyone, and if anyone dared to strike up a conversation with her, she was blunt and abrasive in response, leaving them in no doubt that their attentions were an intrusion and not welcome.  She needed no one and no one needed her. 

 

Seven had become numb, hardened to any feelings which, overtime, became less intrusive as memories and the pain, hurt and rejection faded.  All she lived for was work, being a member of the elite B2 Division.  And when her shift was over and the routine 4-month tours completed, instead of taking the 10 days off, she instantly volunteered for more work.  Nobody ever questioned her desire for more employment – the work was always there, and volunteers, the really crazy ones, were always welcome.  

 

Besides, this was the ‘Place of Perdition’, as some inhabitants called it.  Too few labourers had any other place to be, this hell-hole was their sanctuary, their own escape into a living purgatory, which ultimately as far as they were concerned, was preferable to what they had known before, what they had left behind.

 

Yes, it was a place for the crazy ones, the mad, and she fit in very efficiently, for she was one of the ‘crazies’. 

 

Seven volunteered for more and more work.  The more she toiled physically, feeling the effects on her body, the less she thought.  Acceptable.  So she sought out not just more work, but the more demanding, dangerous missions – the ones which were always given to B2 crew. It was all so cathartic, as if by trying to destroy and break herself into little pieces and staring danger almost daily in the face, she was somehow purging herself of all those deaths she was responsible for – those life forms she had sentenced to an interminable and perpetual existence as a drone.

 

And those who worked with her considered her mad as her reputation grew for taking on the most dangerous employment.  At first, because these jobs paid the highest credits, she would find others volunteering to work with her in their hungry search for profit.  But lately, workers avoided her tasks since they considered her on a death mission, not caring if she lived or died … and consequently not concerned what happened to them either.  Although this wasn’t true, she would never risk another’s life because of her non existent concern for her own, no one recognised that and as a result, she now found herself on most missions alone.

 

Work then was her salvation, with little in the margins to balance it.

 

Occasionally, she would go to one of the many bars and indulge in alcohol.  She had learned to tolerate the liquid amber and enjoyed the temporary release it granted her.  It was at these times that she would also indulge in the pleasures of the flesh, giving herself to some other soulless individual who showed an interest, not in her as a person, but with what she could offer them sexually for a night.  

 

And when she wanted to copulate, there was never a lack of debauched courtesans waiting to service her, who wanted nothing more than hard, fast, sweaty sex often with a sadomasochistic dehumanized leaning – the type of brutal sex which is all physical, lacking in intimacy, and degrading.   It suited her.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Katrim Galdor listened to the steel door of the terra vehicle hiss and close behind him in preparation of transporting him and twelve members of his forty man team to Sector 27 of the mining complex.

 

He was the leader of B2 Division, the most ruthless, experienced and highly paid team out of the total of four other B sub-divisions. It was his team that took on the most dangerous mining work, over on Sectors 25 through to 29, and his elite little division that had the highest turnover due to death, with work related accidents.   His crew died like Vesperian flies at the end of their breeding season and he was forever having to recruit and replenish his workforce.  Yes, they earned high credit, but more often or not, all it bought them was a cloth body bag.

 

Vorton by birth, he was extremely thin and tall in stature, over seven feet tall, with a long gaunt face, thin colourless lips and a high brow.  A look of concentrated sternness always on his middle-aged features, his natural complexion leaned towards white, which set against his pale cream hair and apparently frail build always made him look like a bit of a weakling.  But he was anything but.  He could crush a man to death with a twist of a hand, and had done many times, which was one of the reasons he was the leader of this group and why no one ever messed with him.

 

A man of pedigree where war was concerned, he had a solid military background and had fled to this planet after a particularly vicious civil war on his own, where he was now wanted for crimes of genocide and with a heavy price on his head.  He’d lost count of the people he had murdered, they numbered in the millions but that fact never gave him sleepless nights as they had all been expendable low-life, responsible for all manner of problems on his home. 

 

His side, the right side, had tried to exterminate these degenerates, who over the centuries had wormed their way in the top echelons of power within the financial and business sectors on his world.  For too long, these wasters had been allowed to sponge off his people, creaming the best of everything in society and eventually, a civil war had broken out.   But as is the way, the usual well-intentioned idiots who did not understand the ways of the world nor the values and morals at stake in the war, had foolishly sided with these lesser classes and proved the victors.  

 

Galdor was waiting patiently for the day when that tenuous grip on power would slip and his people would once more rise. But until that time came, he was faced with this motley and diverse bunch that was his crew.

 

They were a disparate group of hard workers; a volatile mix of murderers, criminals past and present, those who were running, those who were hiding, tyrants of past wars who had escaped the long arm of some law-biding regime, those who were lost and those who simple never wanted to be found.  All of them had chosen now to hide in this deity forgotten place, all with secrets and all of them united by the fact they were considered the dregs of the universe.

 

He studied some of the crew sat in the vehicle, strapped in before him.

 

Gaarth was his recently promoted second in command and who had replaced Zindor who had mysteriously died in his sleep a few nights ago.  The man was built like a solar eclipse, with a physique as hard as granite.  Galdor had almost given this position to another on his team, a female half human, half Borg but since Gaarth had been with him longer and he rewarded loyalty, the post had gone to him.  There was also the fact that he didn’t know how long the Borg would last for she took risks, and although carefully calculated, he felt sooner rather than later, she would slip and end up as dust in an ion storm.

 

As for Gaarth’s background?  You didn’t ask!  This was the golden rule, one of the very few – you never asked anyone who they were or where they were from.  Do that and you were likely to find yourself sharing your company with a serial killer or some medic who had created – and tested – a virulent virus that had killed millions – if you were lucky.  If you weren’t, you ended up with a knife between your shoulder blades and your own personal body bag.

 

Then there was Velim, a weasely built little rat of a man, with the worst body odour imaginable and that was after the weekly shower, if you could get him to take it.  But he was an exceptionally skilled driller and although possessed of an obnoxious desire to bed any being that was willing, male or female, you could count on him to get his part of the work schedule done.

 

There was the Alusian called Powwaa, who hung around a lot with Boras.  Galdor didn’t know where Boras was from, but the two of them had appeared together and had been on the team for over twelve months now.  They were inseparable, always took their leave together and seem to place a lot of trust in the other, clearly working on the principle that you were safer if you moved as two.  Made sense really.

 

One of Galdor’s biggest problems in the early days of his leadership, had been acquiring key bits of kit.  Despite being the Company’s front division, they were never supplied with the right materials and that meant a lot of deaths.  That is until Fingle was recruited.  Galdor still didn’t know how the Ferengi did it, but if anything was wanted by B2, Fingle got it.  It was also worth mentioning that if anyone in B2 possessed anything remotely valuable, Fingle got that too!  Galdor had managed to convince the ugly hound to go rob the other divisions and leave B2 alone.  To some extent, Fingle had accepted these boundaries.

 

Vesila was an Obasian woman with the blackest eyes he’d ever seen and skin like dried parchment paper.  They said she was over 100 years old and that some drunken aliens had murdered her mate many years ago.  It was also said that she had hunted them down one by one, and that when she had caught up with them, she had peeled the skin off them … alive.

 

Oxos.  Never, ever be alone with Oxos.  He had once been an academic in some university, and was clearly a well read and learned scholar.  Regrettably, he was also a psychopath who could turn from literary indulgence to homicidal lunatic with the flick of a bat’s wing.

 

Finally, the latest member of his crew, Dawes.  A trim, fairly short, human woman with short reddish brown hair and an impressive fresh scar that started on her forehead and which then luckily skipped the eye but continued on her left cheekbone.  It seemed to bother the human because she kept rubbing at the temple near it.  Dawes had apparently acquired the gash when some man had made a pass at her in a bar, she had said no and he hadn’t listened.  A fight had ensued and the man had come off worse, but the fight had left its mark on her face.  Pity. 

 

She was very quiet, seldom spoke and kept herself to herself but was resilient, dependable and a hard worker.  She’d been with B2 now for two months, having transferred across from another division.  He’d had her working in Sector 25 as a temporary assistant driller.  Filthy work, long hours and very hot, but she had shown she could handle the work.  Galdor had also discovered that Dawes was clever when it came to mixing volatile chemicals that were used throughout the mining facilities and he was now transferring her to Sector 27, where the main team worked, to utilise these abilities.  Perhaps she’d been a scientist once?

 

Beyond that, Galdor knew nothing about Dawes, except she’d really wanted to join B2 crew. He knew she could always be counted upon to volunteer immediately for another shift when her own was finished, never wanting time off.  She also didn’t care a toss about the danger level of the tasking, she’d take any job.  Galdor found this appealing, which was why he had hired her. He needed people to do overtime and the really dangerous work.

 

He knew her type so well, he could smell them.  They were here only for the credit.  Dawes would work hard, take every tasking she could, forego any leave and just keep totting up the credit.  Then when she had enough, she’d just disappear overnight and never be seen again.

 

He didn’t really like credit hunters. 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Two weeks later, Galdor was bent over a broken phase converter, trying to fathom out why it had burned out, making it totally useless now.  He doubted he could repair it.

 

Seven approached him and taking just one look at the mass of blackened adapters he held in his hands, “The circuitry is deficient, it is not repairable.”

 

“I think I’ve worked that out for myself!” Galdor spat back.  “The Company gives us inferior materials and still expects us to keep up with the quotas.  If I thought any other team had better equipment, I’d get that damned Ferengi out on the job, see if he could steal us better stuff.”

 

“He would fail.  More efficient equipment is not on this planet.”

 

“I know, but it doesn’t stop me wishing.”  Galdor sighed, “Now I’ll have to bring up a drill assistant to physically operate the transformer or find someone else equally capable.  What a waste of good manpower!” It would cut their production targets.

 

“Who did you have in mind?” 

 

Galdor continued studying the broken equipment in his hands, “I need someone smart, who won’t lose attention and who can understand the sequencing and readjust the equipment if necessary.”  He pondered for a moment then nodded, “Dawes.”

 

“Dawes?”  Seven’s face grew thunderous.

 

“She’s quick and smart.”

 

“I do not like her!” Galdor looked up at Seven, straight into a pair of cold, ice blue eyes.

 

“Yeah, I know. What’s your problem with her?”

 

Seven uncharacteristically stumbled over her words, “I .. find her inadequate and I doubt her motivation. She is older, too small and weak. We have very little experience of her and you yourself have said she is a credit seeker. You need someone you can trust on B2.  In my opinion she should not have been hired, she is too big a risk.  B2 can do better.”

 

“I hired her!  Age? She’s younger than me and Vesila,” he sneered, “and I’ll wager she’s only twelve or thirteen years older than you! Are you questioning my judgement .. because if you are .. don’t!” There was a clear warning and Seven did not pursue the issue.

 

Galdor continued to tinker with the wiring. “What’s she done to you? I’ve never known you to instantly dislike someone .. and so much. So she seeks credit. I can think of plenty of others that fall into that category and you’ve never complained before.”  Galdor suddenly flung the broken piece to the ground at the side of him and again studied Seven, who stood with quiet composure in front of him.  “Dawes may be small but she cuts the work, better than some of the others. Are you worried that she’s going to usurp your position by going for all the high paying jobs, going to prove competition?  You getting worried she’s going to bump you off your top spot?  Getting jealous, Seven?”

 

“I am not jealous of her!” Seven spoke with distain.

 

“Then quit whining and get on with your job, and I’ll get on with mine. I say she’s suitable.  Anything else you want to say?” he challenged.

 

“No.” Seven stalked away.

 

As she crossed the dusty foreground and moved towards the maintenance huts, she saw the slight figure of Dawes coming out.  Only a few metres apart, their eyes met and for a while the two women just looked at each other, neither giving anything away in their expression.

 

Seven looked arrogantly at the smaller worker, “Galdor wants to see you.”

 

The other just nodded, said nothing as Seven walked away.  But though Dawes walked on too, she turned her head and watched the disappearing figure of the ex drone disappear into a building. A faraway, indecipherable look lodged itself on the small woman’s features.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Deep below the ground, as the hive of activity continued in the main mining chambers, somewhere quieter in one of the many Pump Stations, deft slim fingers worked alone on a set of complicated and intricate wiring.  The fingers confidently rewired a section here and cut some wiring there, never hesitating in their objective.

 

A sound came from the corridor behind and the fingers stopped.  They waited until the sound of voices passed and then became more distant.  Alone again with just the hum of the pump in action, the furtive fingers continued their task. Though the lighting was not good, the fingers worked almost by feel, their owner knowing well what had to be done.  These fingers could have done the job in the dark, such was their experience.

 

Eventually, the fingers closed the box casing that surrounded the wiring and proceeded slowly, gathering up the few tools that had been needed, and slipped quietly back out into the main concourse where they and their owner could continue on without observation.

 

Hours later, the Pump House in Sector 29 blew, killing ten crew from B1 and B2.

 

No one could explain what had happened and why the pump house had blown.  Despite a preliminary investigation by an inadequately resourced engineering team, the reason for the explosion remained a mystery.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Gaarth stood in front of a large group of B2 division who had just finished a long shift and were looking forward to returning to their doss-houses, places where they slept, usually thirty or more to a room.  The term ‘sleep’ was a paradox since you never really slept in those places.  There were always workers either returning from an ‘off’ shift, or those leaving to go on one – the continual movement of workers always meant a disturbed night’s sleep.

 

He knew they were exhausted and tired, but he didn’t care much.  There was one more task that had to be done before this work rotation could be closed down entirely.

 

“I need another volunteer to help drive a container-cutter out to the Meridiani quarries and dump the chemical waste products from this cycle’s operations.  I don’t need to remind you it’s dangerous work and it pays real well!”

 

He stood looking expectantly into the faces of the team, hoping earnestly that someone would step forward.  Not unusually, Seven had already volunteered but he didn’t want her to do this job alone, but he also didn’t want to have to order someone to accompany her either.  The job was one of the worst, the most dangerous.

 

It involved ferrying volatile, explosive waste to the old quarry, due west of the compound, over exceptionally rough and rocky terrain.  The waste was a mixture of sealed, unstable microbiotic gases, and a cocktail of chemical excess.  One small bump and the whole lot could, and often did, explode.  He’d lost count of the workers who’d died on these perilous tours.  However, the drone seemed to have a knack for it and had successfully completed two runs in the past, but not before frightening to death some of the more fearless members of the division who had accompanied her.

 

“Who’s the other volunteer?”  Oxos bayed out from the back of the group.  He knew this kind of detail and the work wasn’t too heavy on the manual front, it just needed careful, very careful, handling and plenty of attention to detail.  He could handle that.

 

“Seven,” Gaarth grunted.

 

“Forget it!”  Oxos returned and lowered his head, not wishing to be detailed off.

 

Gaarth waited but no one else stepped forward.

 

“Come on, people.  This is a four hour job that pays four days work!  Where’s your spirit?”   Credit was such a motivator here.

 

“As far away from the drone as possible!” Vit murmured from the front of the team.

 

Gaarth didn’t like the tone that Vit used towards Seven, there was little respect in it and of all people in B2, Seven deserved respect.  She more than pulled her weight here and he wouldn’t see her mistreated – even if she didn’t appear to care.

 

Seven, who had been stood quietly behind Gaarth and was already kitted up in heavy protective equipment and with protective breathing helmet in hand, moved forwards into the centre of the division and glanced disdainfully at her colleagues.

 

“Then I will go alone.”  Her voice unemotional and yet still capable of dispersing tones of arrogance.

 

Although Gaarth didn’t like this option, he was ready to accept the fait accompli when a gentler, mildly huskier voice spoke up and Dawes stepped forward.

 

“I’ll go.”

 

Aha, the credit collector!  The uncomplimentary thought had already darted across Gaarth’s thinking processes before he realised he was actually grateful to hear her volunteer.

 

Seven, however, seemed far from pleased and stood staring coldly at Dawes.

 

Not for the first time, Gaarth found himself witnessing genuine enmity positively seeping out of the taller woman towards Dawes.  This interplay quietly fascinated him.  He didn’t dislike the newcomer, but unfortunately, and for whatever reason, Seven did.  He found it strange that the two women, both human, both essentially decent, did not get on. It was a mystery to him, but then most species of women confused him!

 

Seven had been downright petulant at the beginning when Dawes had first appeared, about not wanting to work with her, and had then tried to sabotage and tamper with the other’s work to make it look as though Dawes was incompetent and not thorough and attentive.  Seven had also tried to pull in every favour owed to her – and there were many – to try and get Dawes posted to another sector where she wouldn’t have to deal with the woman on a day to day basis.

 

Gaarth had had to pull Seven aside and caution her to cut back on her aggressive behaviour and learn to get along with her new team mate.  Not that that had really worked.  Seven now treated Dawes like primeval slime, barely communicating with her and only when absolutely necessary.  However, despite these limitations between the two, Gaarth would rather Seven and Dawes took the job together than Seven handle it alone.  She was too good to lose.

 

“I do not need your help.”  Seven spat quietly at Dawes.

 

“I’m not offering to help you personally, the Company needs this job doing and I work for the Company.” Dawes responded casually, clearly not fazed by the blonde’s attitude.

 

“You didn’t want this run when Marshall did it last week.” Seven cross examined.

 

“Didn’t feel like it last week, wasn’t in the mood.”  Dawes burred.

 

Gaarth had had enough.  “You will take Dawes, Seven.”

 

Seven didn’t argue but simply continued to stare down at Dawes, who appeared to take not the slightest notice, but Gaarth could sense the well hidden tension in her.

 

“Get kitted up. I leave in 5 minutes, with or without you,” Seven barked as she turned and walked towards the compound where the large cutter transportation was waiting.

 

Gaarth leaned into Dawes, “What is it with you two?”

 

Dawes gazed up at him and Gaarth noticed for the first time, not the ugly gash across the face but how blue the woman’s eyes were.

 

“I guess she’s just jealous of my skill base. You know, the competitive thing.”  There was sarcasm in the voice.

 

“Yeah,” Gaarth muttered unbelievingly.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

As the container-cutter moved across the flat plains towards the base of the high mountain ranges where the main quarries were located in the foreground, the temperature in the sealed cabin space got hotter.  Once the air conditioner on the vehicle had worked but not now, so both women were drenched in their own sweat, further exacerbated by the extra layers of protective clothing they were wearing.

 

At least they wouldn’t need the helmets until they were at the quarry and outside, ready to unload their hazardous and explosive cargo.  The quarries were like a fog of moving gases which, if inhaled, would usually kill the unfortunate person within seconds, such was the toxic level.  About a year ago, some members of another division had been sent up here to unload waste material and one of them had been issued with a defective helmet.  He’d ended up breathing a whole cocktail of gases that had slowly burned him from the inside out. His death had not been pleasant.

 

There was also the problem of the area itself which was like walking through a World War One battleground, the trenches of Passchendaele or the Somme.  Chemical slurry was everywhere looking like blackened swill and held in land depressions of varying sizes, some of which were so deep and with sides so high that if you fell in, there was no way to get you out and you eventually drowned in the vile slop. 

 

Other pits and craters merely contained areas of stagnant rainwater but equally unpleasant to fall into.  Hence the reason you always prayed to your Spirit Gods that they would not desert you at times like these and that they granted you a good set of protective clothing!

 

Seven drove the vehicle over the undulations and crevasses of the terrain, trying to avoid the bumps and troughs that littered their way towards the destination. Though she steered carefully with heightened concentration and efficiency levels, Seven was aware that her attention wasn’t entirely focused on the path before her but was competitively drawn to Dawes who sat to the side of her.

 

She took a good look at Dawes.  Dawes was no stranger to her, although she did not make this fact known to anyone.  The woman had cut her hair short since the last time she’d seen her, and had certainly dropped a good amount of weight, all of which made her look different, younger.  And although there was now an alarmingly impressive and painful looking red gash across her face, there was no mistaking the cut of Kathryn Janeway.

 

Damn her.  She thought she’d made herself clear the last time she had seen the Admiral but apparently the woman had not listened to her and had obviously remained on the planet for all those months since, slowly, arduously working her way through the system, eventually proving herself worthy of working for the elite B2 crew.  She wondered what the Admiral had done to get recognised and recruited so quickly.

 

“What are you doing here?” she eventually asked Janeway, a look of fire in her eyes.

 

“I’m calling your bluff, Seven,” the other woman replied casually, giving that statement time to sink in before she continued.  “I figured I’d give you the golden opportunity to kill me. The quarry will be a perfect place for a perfect murder, don’t you think?  If you try, then I’m a goner because I can’t stand up to you in this heat.  If you don’t, then I guess I’m in with a chance.”  Janeway wore her poker face.

 

“A chance?”

 

“To knock some sense into your Borg head and get you to come back with me.”

 

At first Seven didn’t answer and Janeway thought she wouldn’t, but then in harsh confrontational tones, “I told you to leave!”

 

Janeway sucked at her top lip.  “And I heard you the first time but then I don’t react well to threats, plus you threw me a challenge .. and I do so like challenges, Seven.  So you’re stuck with me.  Get used to it.”  Again, Janeway fired back the responses in a low key, non melodramatic fashion which irritated Seven even more.  So much for Seven’s resolve to distance herself from emotion.

 

“You do not think that I will kill you?”  Defiant tones were thrown back at Dawes.

 

“You keep saying you will but I’m still here!  So either get on and do it or settle down to the fact that I’m not budging and am going to be here for a whole lot longer.”

 

For one pulse of a nano second, Seven lost concentration on her driving and hit a bump which threw the vehicle into the air and came down with an almighty thud.  Both women stared at each other and waited for the anticipated explosion that never came, but Seven noticed that Janeway’s face had gone as white as chalk.

 

“I have to be honest, Seven,” Janeway whispered, “if you are going to kill me, can we at least have some dramatic showdown, something a little more personal please.”  The auburn haired woman wiped an errant bead of sweat that trickled down her face.

 

Seven regarded the other with cautious apprehension.  Janeway had dug her heels in and would not be easy to be rid of.  On far too many occasions, she had seen the woman at her lethal best as both worthy opponent and irritating adversary.  Seven was going to have to up the stakes and start pushing Janeway, make her leave this place – and push her she would.  She had been Borg and Janeway was a physically inferior human.  Seven would prevail, at Janeway’s cost!  

 

For the remainder of the journey to the quarry, Seven rode in complete silence, her body language defiant and daring the ex Captain of Voyager to engage her in non essential dialogue. But Janeway didn’t. Her ego was still stinging from the way Seven had thrown her to the floor when she’d first come to the planet.  She was no fool and knew that Seven was in a dangerous frame of mind and needed time to get acclimatised to having Janeway back around her, in her circle of activity .. even if she wasn’t wanted and undoubtedly loathed.  But Janeway thought she could change that.  She prayed she could change that, and that it wasn’t already too late.

 

Too late.  Too late? 

 

She thought back to a conversation she’d had with a barman in one of the rough ale houses back at the compound when she’d first arrived and was trying to find Seven.

The barman had been like any other barman Janeway had come across in the galaxy.  Hang around long enough, let him get used to your presence, buy him a few drinks and then catch him when things were quieter – you could usually soak him for any information you wanted.

 

Janeway had flirted with him outrageously in an attempt to get an early lead and she’d been successful.  A bit of luck in starting in the right Sector, plus Seven’s unique style and appearance had made her someone who everyone remembered.  Her Borg appendages plus her inimitable beauty made her stand out like a carnation amidst thistles.

 

That conversation had been surreal and had sinister undertones which had left Janeway feeling disturbed and uneasy.  She had asked the man how one went about finding someone, a friend.

 

“You don’t,” he had replied candidly. “You turn around and go back the way you came and you forget you ever knew them.”

 

“I can’t do that,” Janeway had said.

 

“Yes, you can. You think you still know this person?  You don’t.  You think you can change them?  You can’t.  Not any more.  By the time they even get here, they’ve become someone else, someone you’ll no longer recognise.  They’ve become the lost, and they’ll already have traded their past, their souls, for what little pitiful existence they can dredge out of this place.”

 

The barman had paused and then continued, “I know, because I’m one of them and I see it, here in this place, day in and day out.”

 

“I don’t believe that … I can’t,” Janeway had insisted.

 

“Fine.  It’s your life.  But be careful.”  The barman had warned.

 

“Careful?” she quizzed.

 

“That you don’t discover you’re one of the lost too and that’s why you’re really here.  This place draws people like us to it, like magnets.”

 

People like us.

 

Janeway hadn’t been able to get the man’s words out of her head since.  They had chilled her to the bone and set the hair up on the back of her neck.  Was she really one of the lost?  Perhaps she was.  She certainly hadn’t been able to move on with her life since returning to Earth, since losing Seven.  It had been the way the barman had looked at her.  Almost as if he knew everything about her, recognised something in her that she didn’t yet recognise in herself?  Had he been giving her some prophetic, visionary warning?  How the hell was she going to help Seven if she was losing herself?

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

On arrival at the quarry, the two women had silently, efficiently proceeded to disembark from the transport and then, container by container, unload and dump the vaporous and poisonous chemicals.

 

Treacherous under foot, both of them had slipped and slid their way around the site, mindful that one careless move might either detonate the lethal combination they carried or worse still, deposit them in some pit they couldn’t climb out of.  Janeway wasn’t too keen to test her theory that Seven was all bluff where the death threat had been concerned.

 

The last piece of cargo dumped, they were making their way back to the transportation and now sufficiently far enough away from the deadly gaseous fog that pervaded the area and hung over the quarry like morning mist on a damp meadow in summer, both of them removed their breathing helmets.

 

The relief was wonderful!  Janeway sucked in a large amount of warm, humid air that after the heat inside the helmet, was amazingly refreshing.  She could see Seven ahead of her who was clearly doing exactly the same and the Admiral found herself smiling, it was good to see the younger woman enjoying something, even if it was just this small moment of incidental nothingness.

 

But Janeway’s simple moment of enjoyment, her first since setting foot on the planet, was short lived when she suddenly saw Seven seemingly lean backwards and slide, almost in slow motion, into a pit behind her, her arms waving about her as she desperately tried to regain her footing.

 

Janeway immediately propelled herself into action, running towards Seven only to find that she, too, lost her footing in the mud and fell face first into a pit of rank, foul smelling and putrid water.  Struggling in the reeking, filthy pool, she fought to stand upright and drag herself back to the side of the pit, the cumbersome weight of the protective clothing hampering her every move.  More by luck than design, she grabbed hold of the side of the pit and pulled herself into a semi standing position, coughing up the stagnant water she had inadvertently swallowed.

 

Still struggling to sight Seven, she spotted the woman back on the rim of the pit, part of her clothing covered in the mud from the side of the crater, apparently unhurt and having managed somehow to stop her fall before she hit the water.  Seven was watching her, an unreadable expression on her face.

 

Janeway managed to claw her way out of the hole, still spluttering.  At no time did Seven show the slightest movement towards helping her.  This obvious show of severance sent a chill through Janeway and perhaps it showed on her face, for Seven spoke with an ominously detached tone.

 

“You are wondering if I would have let you die.”  It wasn’t a question but Janeway treated it as such.

 

“No, I’m not.  You wouldn’t.”  She forced herself to sound assured and confident in her response.

 

Seven, with a dispassionate look on her face merely arched an eyebrow, and turning towards the transport, said, “Your irrational belief in trust is only surpassed by your arrogance.”

 

My arrogance?  Janeway grabbed her muddy helmet, spat some more of the foul liquid out of her mouth and followed Seven to the cutter.  Right now I’d have sex with Velim if he offered me a hydro shower after!

 

When they got back to the base, they discovered that there had been a tragic, unexplained accident involving both Galdor and Gaarth, who were now dead.

 

The Company informed Seven shortly afterwards, that she was now the leader of B2, and that’s when Janeway’s troubles really started.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Two days later, ‘Dawes’ found herself a patron of Bella’s Bar, sat tucked away in a corner, consuming some of the bottled water the establishment sold for exorbitant prices.  She’d been to the mess hall a few hours ago and had consumed some of its ‘haute cuisine’, which was basically something highly unrecognisable and very unappetising, and which had made her stomach churn.   The quality of the food here made Neelix look like a gourmet chef!

 

She’d had occasion to speak once to Gorshimba, the hairy looking alien that called himself ‘Head Chef’ and she’d asked him what he did before he became a chef?  ‘Gor’ had replied that he had been a Mud Engineer for C Division, before an accident had left him unable to continue those duties.

 

Why had that not surprised Janeway?

 

She thought if she drank enough water, it might remove the unpleasant after-taste in her mouth and quell the unsettling indigestion she was currently suffering from, plus the incredible thirst.  She’d already consumed about three litres of water when she noticed Seven walk into the bar.

 

The blonde strode confidently over to the barman and ordered. Watching, Janeway considered that the woman seemed to be handling her new responsibility well and certainly others in the room now treated her differently, with more deference, given the power of her position.

 

The ex drone stood alone for a while at the bar and consumed whatever it was she had just purchased when a strikingly good looking, tall, slim and jet black haired woman with almost silver skin approached the flaxen haired Seven and came to a halt, temptingly within the other woman’s personal space.

 

Nearly choking on a swig of water, Janeway studied this woman who was of an alien race unknown to her.  The tall beauty wore extremely scant clothing and what she did wear, did very little at covering the rather attractive assets she had so endearingly been born with.  You didn’t need imagination when you were face to face with this one.

 

Impossibly long, lean legs stretched up the woman’s body and into a small framed pair of hips that jutted provocatively forward, towards Seven.  There was then an equally long, trim unclothed stomach set beneath a buxom set of breasts that were clothed only in a lacy bra.

 

Trying to swallow and control her body thermostat, Janeway noticed that most of the patrons in the bar were now healthily eyeing this woman who suddenly seemed to be all over Seven.  Silver, as Janeway took to calling her, had moved and enticingly wrapped one of her long, lean legs around Seven’s, and was now leaning further into her, her hands beginning to roam all over the ex Borg.

 

Seven for her part, was leaning into Silver and moving her head around the woman’s neck, bestowing kisses as she went.

 

It occurred to Janeway that now might be a good time to leave before things got any hotter but something bolted her to her seat and she was completely unable to move.  She didn’t want to be seen by Seven and considered at least taking her eyes off the two women .. but she couldn’t!  Instead, she watched Seven’s own hands move across the back of the other woman’s shoulders, slowly move down either side of her torso, her thumbs running skilfully over Silver’s nipples, which instantly responded by hardening and becoming pert.  Not much use that bra!     

 

And then the two women kissed, totally oblivious to their surroundings and the fact they were surrounded by a room full of drunk, besotted men – most of whom were now having difficulty walking – who played voyeurs and wished it was one of them in either of the two good-looking women’s places, as did any number of women!

 

Then one of Seven’s hands roamed towards the juncture of Silver’s sex and enticingly pushed itself hard against the insufficient piece of clothing.  The black haired woman thrust her head back in excitement, barely able to control herself, whilst Seven again pushed her face against the other’s neck, moving her tongue against the skin of the other, turning her around where they stood.  Sweaty bodies entwined, glistening in the light of the bar.

 

It was then that Janeway found herself caught in the blue eyes of Seven’s, who, whilst she was erotically fondling this woman pushed up against her tightly, was watching Janeway over the shoulder of Silver.  A chill went down the Admiral.  She had been found an unwilling voyeur of this little spectacle, but also and worst, somehow she just knew that this spectacle had been enhanced for her benefit – of that she had no doubt.  You had only to see the smug look of superiority and conceit on Seven’s lean face.

 

What was going on in that head of Seven’s? Was she trying to make Janeway ashamed of her .. pushing what she’d done on Risa IV, flaunting this behaviour in front of her?  It was almost like watching an adolescent child pushing a parent to the limits .. except Janeway wasn’t feeling much like a parent right now.

 

Anger was flaming through her, plus a sense of enormous humiliation which she wasn’t too sure stemmed from where.  Humiliation at her behaviour or Seven’s?  For Kathryn Janeway was only too aware that she was now fully aroused.  Damn Seven for this!

 

Seven’s self-satisfied gaze on Janeway moved away almost as quickly as it had landed, only to be replaced by some whispering in the other woman’s ear before both of them moved to leave the bar, clearly going to indulge in some, not so clandestine, sex.

 

Janeway’s early sense of indigestion had now given way to an overwhelming sense of nausea.  A woman who had always been able to control her temper, she was aware that she was bordering on the loss of it, absolutely seething with anger and rage, not helped by the fact she was full to brimming with pent up sexual energy that had no where to go! 

 

She frustratingly picked up her bottle of water and headed for the gymnasium where she did the workout of her life.

 

 

*****