CHAPTER FOUR

 

 

Marshall, Velim and ‘Dawes’ had been assigned by Seven, now the new leader, to work on the surface at Sub Station 10, just a short distance from the mine shafts at Sector 25.  Today, they had been given the highly unpleasant job of cleaning out the drill pipes in preparation of their use later in the week.  Although it was not the most arduous of tasks, it was definitely one of the top three jobs that most members of B team did their best to avoid.

 

Hence the reason Seven had reassigned Janeway to the task.  Seven was nothing if not consistent in giving the ex Captain of Voyager some of the most disgusting jobs going.  It was actually getting to the point where other B crew members were avoiding ‘Dawes’ in case they got associated with her and thereby sucked into the rotten jobs that increasingly fell her way.

 

The task was disagreeable and nasty, mainly because of the various chemicals that were used.  The chemicals, when mixed, formed an abrasive cleansing fluid, the consistency and colour of dark brown mud, which then had to be pumped down the drill pipes at high pressure to remove cuttings and muck from the drill bits.  The chemical mud was prone to splash over them, regardless of how careful they were, and given the high toxicity of the chemicals, unless the team were very careful, they were almost guaranteed to leave their long and arduous shift with some nasty burns.

 

And then there was the smell!

 

The chemicals produced a none too alluring smell of something similar to sewer material that had been left to vegetate and rot for far too long.  This unappealing little scent would attach itself to the ‘Mud Engineers’, as they were known, and hang on you for days on end, which meant you were extremely unpleasant to be around.  Co-workers would rather sit in a septic tank than be anywhere near you!

 

You also found that the sleeping dormitories banned you until the smell abated. The only positive advantages were that you always had a table to yourself when eating and amorous suitors tended not to hit on you for a while!

 

Just when you thought things couldn’t be worse, the one final little touch that put the proverbial icing on the whole wretched cake, was that all of the cleansing operation had to be conducted outside, to avoid the build up of dangerous and explosive vapours which might ignite.  Thus, the mud engineers, who would dress in as much protective equipment they could lay their hands on, usually a couple of pairs of overalls, gloves and the like, were subjected to the heat of the sun bearing down on them.

 

Hell of a way to lose weight and gain privacy, Janeway thought wryly.

 

However, right now, the impending offensiveness of the mammoth task before them wasn’t her biggest concern.

 

She stood, trying to balance and slip on a second set of protective overalls before the three of them commenced work, but she couldn’t seem to stop her hands from shaking, and found it impossible to pull the zipper up the body suit.  Janeway was horrified to discover that her entire body was increasingly becoming uncoordinated and she felt nauseous and mildly dizzy.

 

Half an hour ago she had seemed fine, but now she felt shivery and her entire body was trembling. She really was beginning to feel ill.

 

Hoping that no one else would notice, especially Seven who was looking for any opportunity to throw her off B team and by default, get her off the planet, she ran a sleeve across her forehead to remove the sweat.  As she did so, Velim skulked up to her in his usual slimy way.

 

“You’re sick!” he spat at her disdainfully, making his loathing for the human species very evident.   

 

Janeway ceased concentrating on the zip and stared at him contemptuously, well aware that the idle little man, who had turned being lazy into an art form, was seriously concerned that he might have to do some of her work as well as his own.

 

“Good morning, Velim, and thank you for your concern,” she chimed back, her voice laced with sarcasm and insincerity, “but actually, I’m fine.  Why don’t you start setting up and leave me to get on with things.”   She really couldn’t stand the greasy man whose beady little eyes were always all over you, eyeing you up with heaven knows what intentions. Velim always gave her the creeps.

 

A shadow fell over her and she turned to see Marshall at her side, who also seemed intent on looking her up and down.

 

What?” she said with emphasis, getting annoyed now. Velim she could stand but if both of her co-workers where going to turn her into a lab specimen?

 

Without warning, Marshall, a Devorian and an ox of a man with a large, dominant forehead, standing easily over 6’ 8” tall, unexpectedly heaved a great paw of a hand onto Janeway’s forehead, his soft brown eyes burning into her. 

 

“You have the fever, Dawes,” he growled.  Studying her more, “Have you been physically sick?”

 

Janeway stepped away from the uninvited intimacy and looked at him menacingly, her fingers still fumbling with the zip. She had absolutely no patience this morning and her ‘charm skills’ were running a little thin on the ground today.

 

“I don’t see …” she’d started to respond but Marshall cut in.

 

“Have you been sick .. vomited?”  His deep voice resounded around her head, increasing the alarming sensations of dizziness and nausea coursing through her body.

 

Oh, what’s the use?   Mildly embarrassed, “Yes.”

 

“Good. What colour is it?” he continued to probe, standing his ground.

 

Good?  “Oh, for heavens sake ..”  Now she was embarrassed.

 

“Colour!” he demanded.

 

“Black,” she unwillingly volunteered, catching a glimpse of Seven, who had stopped talking to another miner and was now keenly watching the interaction between the two of them.

 

The large man suddenly grabbed the front of Janeway’s overalls, picked her up by them as if to shake her into them, and then zipped her up in one quick, efficient movement. It had all happened so quickly, Janeway hadn’t had time to consider she might need to be alarmed.

 

“Marshall, do you mind?” Janeway pushed his hand away, clearly mortified and not just a little incensed at her own levels of weakness. Worse still, she could see Seven now walking over to them, moving like some wildebeest after its prey.

 

And I know who her prey is! Janeway thought miserably. Maybe Marshall might be an ally?  She certainly needed one right now.

 

“Marshall,” she spoke quickly, “I can’t afford to be thrown off B Team and that’s what she’s going to do if she thinks I’m sick!” Janeway’s eyes indicated Seven’s approach.

 

Marshall stepped in close to Janeway as he turned to face Seven but his hand went behind Janeway and, grabbing a large chunk of her overalls at her back, held her steady and stopped her swaying motion.

 

Seven eyed the small group and then focused a penetrating glare on Janeway.

 

Dawes,” she said sarcastically, “you seem unwell. Weakness can not be tolerated on this team.  If you are unable to function, you will leave and be replaced with someone more capable.”  The last two words dripped with mockery and derision.

 

Do we need to work on our relationship, or what? Janeway thought sardonically, as she took a deep breath and put on her most composed command face.   “I’m fine.  Don’t know what gives you the impression I can’t cut the work.” But Janeway could see her bluff wasn’t convincing Seven.

 

“You look deficient to me,” Seven said haughtily.

 

Deficient?   Working on the principle that the best form of defence was offence, Janeway decided to start offending.

 

“So would you if you hadn’t had much sleep last night, had pulled the worst job today, had to wear two sets of overalls, safety boots, glasses, a hard hat and stand out in this heat!  Now,” she paused for artistic timing, “do you want to stand here talking all day about how I feel, wasting Company time or can we get on with the job?”

 

Seven’s eyes narrowed as she continued to survey Janeway.  After a short time, the new leader spoke again.  “It occurs to me that you haven’t congratulated me on my promotion, Dawes.  I am now your superior.” 

 

Janeway just smiled, the smile she usually reserved for when she was being entirely insincere.  Don’t push it!   “I’d like to wish you well … but I can’t.”

 

Seven smiled back, almost having expected the words and then arrogantly stepped back to leave but couldn’t resist the opportunity to have the last word.  Arrogantly,

“Proceed with your work but I will be monitoring your progress closely.”  She moved off.

 

Velim waited until the new leader was out of ear shot before he turned on the increasingly sick woman, “Oh great!  Now we have ‘metal woman’ checking up on us all through the shift!”  He let Janeway know that he was angry and that he held her personally responsible for the inconvenience they would undoubtedly be afflicted with for the rest of the day.  But Marshall, still holding Janeway up like some sort of hand puppet, spat back at him, his voice powerful and in a tone that would not tolerate any opposition.

 

“Then Velim, you will have to do an honest day’s work for once!”  In a slightly more threatening voice, “If you think the leader checking up on us is disagreeable, I can make your life far more uncomfortable.”

 

The threat was clearly understood and made its mark, for the verminous little man backed off immediately, his hands waving in the air, “Alright, alright .. no need to get aggressive over this.  We’re a team, right?  We pull together, yeah?”

 

Velim slyly moved off towards the drill pipes, muttering under his breath and started moving kit around in a show of industriousness.

 

Marshall now refocused his attention once more on Dawes.  “Black vomit, fever, shivers, profuse sweating … you have the B’aack-tar, Dawes.”

 

“B’aack-tar?”  Janeway frowned.  Hell, if it wasn’t Seven pitting her might against her, then it was some nasty little germ.

 

“The water sickness,” Marshall clarified. 

 

Crushingly depressed, “This is the bit where you explain?”  She was almost swaying in his still vice-like clutch, her feet barely touching the ground.

 

“You drank the water,” Marshall replied calmly.  Never drink the water.  It’s contaminated and makes you very ill, but it will pass ... in time.”

 

“Literally.” Janeway smiled weakly trying to add humour to the occasion but right now, nothing seemed very funny, least of all her insides. 

 

Had she drunk the water?  Early advice when she’d first arrived, had been to avoid it and consume only the bottled stuff. That’s what she’d done, but then she remembered the quarry and how she’d fallen into the crater – she’d swallowed a barrel load of the stuff then, almost enough to drown in it.  Where was a good EMH when you wanted one?   Feeling a little vulnerable, still held by Marshall, she glanced down at her feet which were almost off the ground.

 

Marshall followed her gaze and immediately, surprisingly gently, relinquished his hold.

 

“Thank you,” Janeway said, immensely grateful, now standing on her own two feet and with what little dignity she could muster.

 

Still staring at her, Marshall thrust his hand into the satchel he always wore across his chest and eventually pulled out some little brown-black sticks which he passed to Janeway.

 

“Here, chew on these.  Eat two or three a day, they’ll help control the sickness.  It’s a fever that comes and goes, you’ll feel well for awhile but it’ll keep coming back.  It should pass in time but you’ll need to look after yourself.  It’s good that you vomit, there are some sicknesses where you don’t.”

 

“What happens then?”

 

“You die.”  Marshall spoke very matter-of-factly.

 

Charming.  “Lucky me then .. I guess.”  Janeway chewed on a stick and smiled, her face lighting up in surprise.  “They taste like liquorice!”

 

Marshall just smiled back at her.  “Velim and I will pump the drill pipes, you will mix the chemicals.  The vat’s in the shade so you will be better protected and it’s less arduous.” He indicated the large vat over by a smaller building partially covered.

 

Gratefully, Janeway nodded.  Perhaps she had just found an ally?

 

“Thanks  .. I owe you.”  She paused as if trying to assess if she could trust this man.  “I can’t begin to explain how important it is for me to be on B team, but trust me … it really is.”  

 

How else was she going to get access to Seven of Nine and use that opportunity to try and convince the stubborn, hurt and vulnerable woman to come home?   But it was like pushing a boulder up a hill with a feather, with Seven doing absolutely everything in her power to test and break Janeway, continually pushing the older woman to the extremes of her own physical endurance.  It was getting tougher and Janeway wasn’t getting any younger!

 

Still, as ridiculous as it sounded, being here on this planet with Seven, even under these tortuous conditions, Janeway hadn’t felt this content since her days with the woman on Voyager.  Boy, had she got it bad!

 

But bringing Seven around, to make her realise that she was still wanted, was still loved by people, that life still had a place for the emotionally sensitive woman .. that was going to be a challenge.  But it was one that Janeway was not going to walk away from.  She wouldn’t let Seven down again, even if it killed her .. and the mood Seven was in at the moment, that was a definite possibility.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Seven of Nine sat quietly outside the large covered enclosure, a sprawling structure that was linked to other smaller buildings, and which contained the mess halls, the bars, the communal showers and exercise facilities.  There were other ‘entertainment’ areas of a decidedly more seedy nature, and also the accommodation blocks.  Everything basic that the miners needed when not at work. 

 

Gazing up into the clear night, she looked at the stars.  In the background, she could hear the sound of off-watch crews in the bars, drinking themselves into states of oblivion; shouting, singing, fighting.  It was always the same. Except it wasn’t the same for Seven now.

 

The deaths of both Galdor and Gaarth meant she was the new leader of B2.  She’d had a meteoric rise ‘up through the ranks’ in the short time she’d been on the planet and now, she found herself responsible for the entire mining output of B2. That in itself didn’t bother her for she had superior intellect and was more than capable of organising and leading the crew.  Many of them respected her and those that didn’t, feared her, so she was not concerned in that quarter.  What did bother her was her increasing suspicion that many of the deaths in B2 were more than just unfortunate accidents.

 

Since she had been in this division, there had been a total of 21 deaths, most of them explainable and most of them due to the treacherous conditions under which the crew worked.  However, there were those fatalities that were suspicious, that should not have happened.  The deaths of Galdor and Gaarth were examples of this.  They had ‘accidentally’ been suffocated in a storage vault where vulnerable and delicate materials requiring pressurisation were stowed.   They had, apparently, keyed in the wrong sequence on the computer board which had then sealed them in the vault, sucking the air out of it.

 

How many times had the two of them both gone through the checking of those materials in that same vault?  Both of them could have keyed the correct computer sequence blindfold.   

 

Further, with nearly all of the unexplained fatalities, bodies had been mutilated after death - heads or hands would be missing, teeth removed or fingers.   Bizarre and unsettling.  Seven had just found out that Galdor’s head had been removed, leaving just the torso, and a large amount of Gaarth’s blood drained from his body whilst they waited for ‘disposal’.

 

Seven could not make any sense of it, for there seemed no logic, no motivation to what were, in her mind, murders.  Of course, there didn’t need to be logic in a place like this, for there were enough psychotic maniacs present around here who needed no reason to kill.   The tone of a voice, an ill favoured movement, a wrong word at the wrong time  – all could activate some lunatic into a frenzied killing machine.  Half of B2 alone fitted this description!

 

As B2’s new leader, she realised that she might be a suitable ‘next’ target, and frankly, that thought did not sit well with her.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

A few days later, Janeway was off-watch and stood the other side of the complex outside the depot that housed the giant supply generators.  Although it was daytime and the sun was at its zenith, she shivered as her body shook uncontrollably.  As she took a swig of water from the large bottle she held, some of it spilled onto the ground, her body unable to co-ordinate even the simplest commands.

 

How the hell could she be cold in this heat?  She had deliberately come outside to get away from the compound’s already inefficient air conditioning system in a vain attempt to warm up but she was still absolutely chilled to the core.  Blast this water fever!  This was just what she didn’t need right now.  Marshall had said she’d go through dormant, ‘quiet’ periods when the fever would temporarily abate.  She couldn’t wait!  She took another swig of the liquid, contemplating that she had never drunk so much water in her life but the fever produced a voracious, almost insatiable thirst in its victims, which was just as well because she certainly couldn’t eat anything, so at least the water filled the void.

 

Never one to feel sorry for herself, it really wasn’t in her nature, she did wonder how much longer she would have to play these games with Seven.  Surely to hell, the woman could see that what ever solace she was looking for in life, she wasn’t going to get it here.  Fine, so a lot of this mess was Janeway’s fault but what Seven needed to address was the issue of ….

 

Out of nowhere, a hand suddenly reached out from behind and gripped Janeway’s shoulder like a vice.  Janeway hadn’t heard the approach and leapt into the air, spinning around, ready to defend herself.

 

“Stand still, Human.”

 

Still the hand on her shoulder, a hard gravel-laden and rasping voice spoke as Janeway recognised the form that was Vesila.  

 

The woman looked like something arisen from the grave.  Old, well worn and weary but with surprising strength, her skin was dark brown as if she’d spent too much time in the sun and had a look about it like antique parchment paper.  Her big round black eyes positively bored into you and she seldom seemed to blink.  Janeway had always found the tall, overly thin woman unnerving, especially given the rumours of what she’d apparently done to her enemies.  Janeway baulked as she thought about what the hand on her shoulder had been responsible for.

 

Vesila never spoke much and her intimidating appearance tended to make others leave her well alone – which seemed to suit her entirely.  She observed the human studiously.  “You are frightened of me?” she asked Janeway unemotionally, noticing the other’s shaking.

 

“No, not frightened …just respectfully cautious,” the other responded honestly.

 

“You should be frightened of me,” Vesila smiled ominously, leaning into the Admiral.  “Do you know how long it takes to strip a human of their flesh?”  The woman knew what was said of her.

 

“Can’t say I’ve ever given it much thought,” Janeway replied, forcing ‘calm’ into her voice.  Interesting question though .. hope she isn’t going to give me a personal exhibition?   “.. but I’m sure you’re about to tell me!”  That was all Janeway needed now, an opportunity to become one of those unexplained death statistics within B2 division.  Water fever, now flesh stripping.  It just keeps getting better.

 

Vesila gave a half smile and nodded, “Best left for another meeting, perhaps.”

 

Remind me to have a full diary. Janeway legs were shaking uncontrollably now, as was her hand that held the water bottle.

 

Vesila breathed in deeply and then moved slightly away from the other woman and allowed the hand she’d placed on Janeway’s shoulder to slip back to her side.  It was only now that the starfleet officer realised she’d been holding her breath. Vesila certainly made her nervous, however one thing appeared to be in her favour and that was the lingering, unpleasant smell that still attached itself to her.  Her foray into drill pipe cleaning a few days ago seemed to be having an unexpected and welcome side effect ... even Vesila had to keep her distance!

 

The Obasian woman looked at the pale features of the woman before her, the signs of strain evident in the face.  “Your possessions have been ransacked,” the old woman said quietly, without affectation.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Your belongings in the Doss.  Boras has been through them,” the woman explained.  “I watched him.  He has stolen nothing but he searches for who you are .. Dawes .. and wants to know your secrets.” 

 

“I don’t have any secrets.” Janeway whispered back, now keenly aware that Vesila knew Dawes wasn’t her real name.   “Why are you telling me this?”

 

Vesila looked up at the sun as if worshipping it before casting her frightening gaze back on Janeway.  “Because you need to know this, because things happen here that shouldn’t.”

 

“Like?”  This was getting confusing.

 

“People die .. who shouldn’t, and not through work accidents or because they provoke the wrong person.   If you have secrets, beware.  Boras will find them and if they are the wrong sort of secret, beware the hand of death.”

 

Hand of death?  “Vesila, I don’t understand what you’re telling me!”  Janeway raised a hand to her damp temple, her headache getting worse. If Vesila had come to warn her of something, why didn’t she just come out with it?

 

“You don’t need to understand,” Vesila responded.

 

For crying out loud!

 

The old woman continued, “All you need to know is that you should take your mate and leave this place.”

 

“Mate?” Janeway repeated.

 

“Seven.  She is your mate.”

 

“No …” Janeway immediately blurted out and then hesitated, not quite sure what to say now, not wanting to give away any personal detail, especially to this woman who Janeway didn’t trust.

 

“Then the leader means nothing to you.”  A statement not a question but Janeway hesitated in response.  The black eyes bored into her, “It is written on your face, Dawes.  The two of you have met before and there is strong emotion between you, I have lived long enough to recognise love when I see it.”

 

Janeway gave nothing away, her face immobile.

 

“But she is annoyed with you, yes?” Vesila continued.

 

Understatement! She hates me, Janeway thought miserably. 

 

“You think she hates you?”

 

Great! I’m having a conversation with the only mind reader on the planet.

 

“Love, hate.  Hate, love.  They’re all the same,” Vesila said casually, “and so closely linked but both such strong emotions projected from one to another.  It is when they think nothing of you that you know there is no hope.  Positive or negative, these emotions play themselves out over time and often change, all one has to do is be patient with the other and wait.”  Vesila smiled again at Janeway but this time there was something genuine and warm about it, sufficiently enough to make the Admiral relax just a little.

 

“I have seen the way she looks at you, Dawes, when you are unaware.  She watches you.  Her eyes do not hold hate.  I hope you are a patient woman.”

 

Again Janeway didn’t answer, but she heard every word the old woman said and something latched on to them, seeking their message of hope. Janeway so desperately needed some sign that she wasn’t wasting her time, that Seven did still have something left to give her. Almost as soon as the encouraging words were spoken, Vesila had finished and was about to leave, leaving Janeway as she had found her.  Alone.  

 

“I merely wished you to know your belongings had been searched and that you should be cautious.”

 

“I will.” Almost as an after thought. “Thank you.”

 

Vesila was just about to depart when she suddenly turned again and faced Janeway, pointing a thin crooked finger with swollen joints at her, “You drank the water.  You shouldn’t have done.”  She then moved quickly away, leaving Janeway shivering in the heat, the sweat pouring off her brow.

 

I know.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Seven of Nine hurried along the main concourse, her long legs taking her quickly past the few paltry merchants who sold defective goods for exorbitant prices, and beyond the bars which were, as usual, full to capacity and loud.  Even set against the noise of bars, she could still make out the roofing structure rattling above her as the ion storm grew in its ferocity outside, the wind whipping up dust that blew even here in the safety of the massive, reinforced building, making the environment look semi misty with the dust, causing a person to cough.

 

Soon no one would be able to leave this block because the storm would be too violent. The high winds would make it impossible to cross the outer square to the other buildings on the north side of the compound, where most of the accommodation blocks where.  Even accessing her own pitiful room, which was this side of the square, would be dangerous enough since she had to leave this building and cut across a semi opened through-fare before accessing the building where she slept.  She would be temporarily open to the elements and to any piece of debris the storm might pick up and hurl at her, or worse, the lightening strikes.  These storms were lethal and many would die at the hands of this one before it eventually blew itself out, probably within the next 24 hours.

 

As she left the safety of the block to made her way precariously along the narrow, unprotected corridor, the brutal and hostile elements that were the storm, hit her full on, nearly lifting her off her feet and slamming her into a nearby wall.  The force took the wind from her lungs as small amounts of debris found its way into her eyes.  She coughed and brushed her face with a hand.  The storm hadn’t even hit its peak yet and was already one of the most treacherous she had ever been subjected to on this planet.

 

Sensing a momentary lull in the storm, ebbing slightly before the next onslaught, she pushed against the wall and repelled the storm’s force to stand again.  Bracing herself, Seven leaned into the storm, and protecting her eyes with an arm, pushed herself into its force and moved with difficulty towards her room.

 

It was as she pushed herself on, that she passed a small, low recess in one of the walls. Barely a metre in height from the ground and perhaps a metre wide, protected in small part by large bolted down containers, she saw a figure huddled inside it, clearly taking refuge from the storm and using the place as a hiding area from others. 

 

At first, she continued on her way and ignored the occupier.  She had learned that it was futile to show anyone any kindness on this planet for they were more likely to rob or murder you, than thank you.  Here, survival instincts quickly cut in and taught you to hold true to just one consuming objective – look after yourself first!  That way, you stood a better chance of continued existence.  Completely different ethics from what she had known on Voyager.

 

However, something made her stop and go back.  There had been something familiar about the crouched, bent figure in the small indentation of the wall, almost completely hidden from view.

 

Bending down and peering in at the figure, she recognised Janeway, who was apparently dozing, a large bottle of water clutched tightly to her. A myriad of thoughts and feelings swam over the ex drone, all confusing her, and for a moment, Seven hesitated and considered continuing on to her room.  But something wouldn’t let her.

 

Whatever was going on right now between her and this woman, there was no way she could just walk past and ignore her.  If nothing else, the woman she had once called Captain .. and friend .. would never have left her in trouble.  Although, her mind argued, the woman who had become Admiral, had.

 

Seven visibly shook her head to stop the angry thoughts that reeled throughout her mind.  Bending down further, she reached out and shook the sleeping woman who immediately braced herself as if for attack but on seeing who it was who intruded into her protective recess, instantly relaxed.

 

Keen blue, watery eyes focused on Seven who felt a familiar sense of attachment rush through her but who immediately pushed away any feelings of sentiment, and reminded herself how much this woman had betrayed her.

 

“What are you doing here?” Seven shouted above the storm, her face impassive and unemotional.  “You must return to your accommodation block before the storm gets worse  .. before it is too late.”  The tone of her voice sounded as if she were talking to a complete stranger.

 

The compact, compressed figure before her stretched out a little, coughing before she shouted back, “I can’t.  I’ve been kicked out of the dorm … something to do with the way I smell!” she stated wryly, suspecting Seven would take perverse pleasure from the fact.  But Seven didn’t.  Rather, a look of shock crossed the younger woman’s features.

 

“That was 3 days ago!” Seven shouted incredulously.  “Where have you been sleeping?” 

 

“Anywhere I can find that’s safe and quiet.” The woman continued to hang on to the bottle of water tightly as if it were a safety blanket.

 

For a moment, Seven couldn’t answer as she contemplated that Admiral Janeway had been sleeping rough for 3 nights?  Despite the heat and humidity, a chill went down the tall woman’s spine as she recognised the danger this woman would have been in, subjected to some of the less desired inhabitants of the area. It was a wonder she was still alive.

 

All of her Borg efficiency and restrained emotion couldn’t stop a sense of guilt surfacing in Seven.  She wasn’t quite ready to admit yet that she was beginning to not enjoy hurting Janeway.

 

“You can’t stay here, it isn’t safe .. not with the ion storm approaching.”

 

Janeway tiredly waved her hand, beginning to feel nauseous again, “I’ll manage.”

 

Seven leaned in even further to ensure her next words were heard against the increasing roar of the storm.  “You should leave this planet and go home. I do not want you here!”  Maybe now Janeway would listen?

 

For the first time, Janeway lifted her head, and leaned out slightly to answer Seven, who was immediately aware that all was not right with the Starfleet officer.  Even in the poorly lit corridor, she could make out that Janeway was pale and ashen, and there were pronounced dark rims under the woman’s glistening eyes.  Seven had not had much interaction with her since the day at Sub Station 10 where she’d assigned the woman to assist in the unpleasant and smelly job of drill cleansing.  She had known that Janeway was unwell then but the stubborn woman had denied it and had worked the full shift, as she had done each day since.

 

Seven had made a conscious effort to be seen to ignore Janeway during those days, but in truth, had watched her like a hawk in case the ‘water sickness’ had become worse.  Her unexplainable concern for the woman was eased a little knowing that Marshall, a very streetwise man, had taken the older woman under his protection.

 

Janeway shouted to be heard over the storm.  “Too bad if you don’t want me here because I have a contract with the Company and that means, in theory, I work for them, not you.”  She paused before continuing.  “Better get used to me, Seven, because I’m not leaving.”

 

Seven stood but didn’t move away.  This annoying, obstinate, stubborn, persistently aggravating woman was really beginning to irritate her!  A more violent gust of wind hit her in the face and without a second thought, she reached down and grabbed the semi reclined, semi seated woman with her Borg enhanced hand and pulled her easily onto her feet, leaving the other woman looking shocked by the action.

 

“You will come with me, now,” Seven ordered.

 

For a few seconds, Janeway’s body didn’t react and it was as if her body was made of wood, but slowly she felt the power start to surge back into her bones as the strength returned. Lately, with the fever, it took her body a few minutes to gear into action.

 

“I’m okay, Seven.  This place is safe and I’m fine.”

 

Seven considered how implausible it was that the Admiral would rather stay here in a place that was not safe, than come with her to somewhere better.  Janeway had just been lucky so far, and she knew it. 

 

“Your answer is weak and ill considered.  You will come with me.”  Seven then uncharacteristically hesitated.  “Do not worry, I will not kill you.”  There was almost an edge of humour in her words which made Janeway stop concentrating on trying to just stand without falling over.

 

Leaning back to take stock of the younger woman, Janeway frowned saying, “Is that supposed to be reassuring?”

 

Seven did not reply but merely tightened her grip on the shorter woman and started to haul her along the now dangerously gale ridden passageway.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Seven entered a code into the door lock and then, using her foot to kick the sticking door open, stood aside and allowed Janeway to enter first.  Seven rapidly followed her and slammed the door shut, pushing her shoulder against it.  She then activated the inadequate, poor lighting that initially flickered before surging to sufficient strength.

 

Janeway quickly assessed the surroundings.  There wasn’t much to the place, just a small, dark, rundown room with a double bed, an old torn fabric armchair, a poor imitation of a table complete with missing leg, and some hanging space.  Why anyone would want hanging space in this hell hole was questionable. One always assumed you hung clothing that demanded respect and care.  That sort of attire had no place on this planet. 

 

Would it have done when the Cardassians were here? This would probably have been the room of a prison supervisor. Janeway’s blood ran cold as she thought about the intolerable levels of pain and suffering that would have existed here at that time. Those prisoners would have known no respite from the cruelty they were subjected to and her own mind drifted back to the short time she had been held captive by the Cardassians.  Even now, the memories made her feel sick.

 

“You may stay here until the storm passes,” Seven growled at Janeway, making sure the woman knew she was not a welcome guest. “I am going to bathe.”

 

“You are?”  Janeway couldn’t hide her astonishment.  Due to the shortage of water on the planet, the workers only got to shower once a week in a large communal stall, and that was on Wednesdays.  Today was Monday.

 

Frostily, “It is a perk that comes with the position of leader, as is this room.  I am granted a small water allowance, sufficient for a daily shower.”

 

“Lucky you,” Janeway said dryly but then remembered her manners, “But thanks for putting me up.”

 

 Ignoring the comments and not caring to pass any more small talk with Janeway, Seven turned and walked into a smaller cubicle which was off the main room and might be termed ‘bathroom facilities’. The sound of the shower being activated filled the room.

 

The once immaculate and hygiene conscious ex Captain of the Star Ship Voyager, suddenly became very aware of how unpleasant she must smell, the accumulation of almost one week’s sweat and grime on her clothes and body, not to mention the chemical grunge of several days ago.  Despite her own miserable attempts to wash between shower days, they were woefully inadequate and with Seven’s heightened sense of smell, courtesy of the Borg .. well, Janeway wasn’t in the best of conditions to try winning back Seven’s friendship!

 

Away from Seven’s constant antagonistic presence, Janeway took the opportunity to study her surroundings in more detail.  Although the room was badly in need of maintenance and had an overwhelming ambiance of decay, Seven kept the room clean.  Almost bare to the point of clinical purity, there were only a few personal objects which betrayed the room as Seven’s. 

 

The former Captain walked around the bed to the other side of the room and looked at a holophoto that was propped up against a chipped mug, on what passed for a table.  The picture was of an elderly, maternal looking woman with a warm smile on her face, dressed in typical Earth clothing – surely this was Seven’s aunt?

 

Also on the table were a collection of old, dog-eared engineering manuals and text padds, a scattering of personal documentation, which Janeway studiously ignored, and a portable regenerator.  Well, that answered one of the questions that had intrigued Kathryn since she’d got here.  She’d always figured that Seven would still have required some form of regeneration but the opportunity to discuss this hadn’t really been opportunistic of late!

 

Turning back, she saw a book on the floor by the bedside.  Vaguely familiar, Janeway leant down and picked it up.  It was a well worn, well read, leather bound copy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Dumas.  It was a book she had given to Seven, one Christmas on Voyager.

 

Over the years on the ship, Seven had shown a developing and genuinely deep interest in reading the classic novels and when Janeway had lent her this one, it had quickly become an established favourite with the ex drone.  Something in its tale had rung a resonant bell with Seven as she drew parallels between her own past and that of the story of Edmond Dantès, the poor sailor who had spent 14 years, wrongly imprisoned in the dungeons of the Chäteau d’If.

 

The connection was wholly obvious.  Dantès had lost 14 years of his life in prison, and on escape, had learned that he had no close family left.  He had been known as ‘Prisoner 34’.  Seven had lost 18 years of her life to the Borg, had lost her immediate family too, and had been reduced to a number, ‘Seven of Nine’.

 

Janeway could still remember how close the two of them had been that particular Christmas and how Seven had read her certain passages from the book which had then led to many philosophical discussions primarily focusing on Dantès circumstances and what feelings he would have experienced.  Those had been good days and the thought of them now, under entirely different circumstances, brought a lump to Janeway’s throat.  It made her realise how much she stood to lose if she couldn’t penetrate the iron mask that Seven now wore.  She shivered.

 

Something else suddenly made the smaller woman catch her breath.  An old style photo fell from between the pages which Janeway only just caught before it touched the floor.  The photo was being used as a bookmark but Janeway recognised it immediately.

 

Voyager’s EMH had been experimenting with photography some years back and had taken this particular photo that Christmas, using an old style photographic development technique.  The photo was of Seven and the Captain, sat close together on one of the settees in the mess hall, both leaning forward. The Captain had been looking at the camera, smiling, but in that one brief moment of a camera’s click, Seven had been looking at Janeway with such a wistful look and just the slightest, most rarest of smiles on her face.  What had that look been conveying?

 

Kathryn Janeway was both excited and petrified that Seven seemed to cherish both this book and the photo.  She wanted to believe that Seven, poor Seven, still harboured thoughts of a relationship, of some form, between them.  This gave Janeway hope that if she stuck around long enough and ignored Seven’s negative behaviour, something good might still be redeemable. 

 

But she also saw another distinctly different reference.  Edmond Dantès had escaped his imprisonment and had then spent years despising those he had once called friends, and whom he blamed for his dire circumstances, to the point of dreadful retribution.  Was this why Seven kept the book at her side, with the photo?  To remind her of the one she had once trusted, called mentor and friend but who had let her down in her moment of need?

 

Before Janeway could ponder more on that line of thought, she heard the shower stop and quickly replaced the book, returning to the other side of the bed.

 

Seven re-entered the room, looking refreshed and clean .. very clean, her hair down and cascading over her shoulders.

 

Oh dear.  Sick or not, Janeway was very aware of how difficult it was going to be for her to spend the night so close to this woman.  Seven might not think much of her at this moment but Janeway’s head was full of thoughts and places she really didn’t want to go right now.  Seven was as stunning today as she had been on Voyager.  More so, with a soft tan that made her skin seem even more vibrant. 

 

So beautiful but so untouchable and so unassailable.

 

Seven, moving directly to a pile of clothing, neatly folded and stacked on the floor, selected and then threw a tee shirt and a pair of shorts at the increasingly self-conscious, dishevelled and grubby woman, the other side of the room.

 

“There is enough water left for you to bathe. Then you may wear these.”

 

Despite the existence of enmity towards Janeway, Seven was still gracious and magnanimous in hospitality.  Even if it is borne out of health reasons!  Janeway thought as she considered her ‘sewer rat’ appearance and smell. At least the smell was dissipating now.

 

“Thank you.”  With as much pride as Admiral Janeway could muster, she moved swiftly towards the shower.

 

 

*****

 

 

Kathryn Janeway stood in the shower, her eyes closed in almost sheer ecstasy as the water ran in rivulets over her body.  She then reached for Seven’s soap and rubbed it all over herself, feeling the casing of dirt and filth fall from her body.  Had a shower ever felt this good?  Yes, there had been times on Voyager, dire times, when the danger was finally over and she would at last afford herself the time for a rewarding, blissful soak in the bath or a real hydro shower.  But in contemplation, Janeway did consider that right now, this shower held the edge of being the winner.

 

Quickly cleansed, she put the soap back and then just leaned her hands against the tiled wall and stood there, allowing the water to cascade over her, lulling her into an almost hypnotic state.  She was in the throes of luxurious ecstasy!  With her head bowed, it was almost tempting enough to fall asleep like this for she was so tired.  Had she ever been this bone weary in her entire life?  Probably, but she couldn’t remember at this precise moment.

 

 

*****

 

Seven remained in the main room and quickly evaluated the contents of everything in it as if contemplating what Janeway would have seen.  She felt vulnerable somehow, knowing that Janeway had been alone for a short while in the room, seeing her private things, her space.  It was as if Janeway had been given the opportunity to see into the very heart of Seven, her own private domain which held her secrets. Seven was uncomfortable with these thoughts, even though there was little to see.

 

Practicality came upon her and she grabbed a spare towel and strode into the shower area to hand it to the woman.  However, before she could complete the action, she was brought to a complete standstill as she gazed at the naked woman in the uncurtained shower, who was completely unaware of Seven’s presence.

 

Janeway was stood with her hands against the wall, just leaning into it, as if asleep, for her head was bowed and eyes closed.

 

Seven allowed herself the opportunity to study the form intently.

 

The body in the shower made mockery of the true age of the woman.  Here was a lean and trim figure, no longer the slightly out of condition body of the woman who had first appeared here so many months ago.  That woman, the Admiral, had seemed sluggish and without energy, so unlike the Captain she remembered.  The transformation into ‘Dawes’ had been simply staggering.  The metamorphosis into the woman who now stood exhausted in Seven’s shower was impressive, even more so, knowing that she was still suffering from the water sickness.

 

Compared to how the Admiral had been when she had first appeared on the planet, this woman was alive and energetic, younger in appearance and with an athlete’s conditioned physique. The muscles across the abdomen were flat and taut, the buttocks and the breasts still firm, and there was a defined muscle definition to Janeway’s arms and legs.   ‘Dawes’ was the twin of Captain Janeway.  Seven found it intriguing to contemplate what might have befallen this woman to so reduce her to that pitiful Starfleet officer who had first sought her out here.

 

Not content with her mind betraying her and harbouring thoughts of positive consideration for the woman, Seven’s body now proved disloyal. Standing, looking at the attractive, naked woman, she couldn’t stop her body from reacting as she found herself experiencing signs of arousal flooding her body.  Bitterly angry with these reactions, she forced them down, refusing their desire to hold her hostage to such sensation.

 

But trying to continue to hate the woman wasn’t helped as she spied the small myriad of cuts and bruises over the agile body, and the still fresh scar across her forehead and face, the one she’d acquired whilst working for the other division.  There was also the question of Janeway’s illness, and despite Seven’s anger towards the woman, the strength of that emotion was ebbing, to be replaced by a gnawing concern for Janeway’s health.  The latter wasn’t being helped by the regime of hard, manual work which was taking additional toll on the woman, but to whose credit, she had risen above everything thrown at her and proved a hard worker.  But then, Janeway had always been a hard worker who led by example, but she was entirely unaccustomed to the extended and continuous physical nature of the mining work required here.

 

Seven experienced a slither of guilt as she thought of the recent assignments she had deliberately given Janeway.  All she wanted was for this woman to leave her alone, to leave this planet.  Constant physical hardship was perhaps the only way she was likely to get her point across to the stubborn woman.  The more hard-hearted she was, the quicker Janeway would get the message and leave her.

 

The Leader suddenly became aware that Janeway had turned the shower off and was now watching her, watching her!  The look on the ex Captain’s face was indecipherable.  But for her Borg enhancements, Seven would have blushed deep to her blonde roots.  However, she simply covered the situation with a curt, “You will require this,” as she threw the towel at the woman.

 

When Janeway stepped back into the main room, Seven was once more fully in control of her feelings.  She looked at the smaller woman who stood uncomfortably, not quite sure of what to do next.  Focusing on the dark shadows under the eyes of the freshly showered woman, she sensed how desperate Janeway must be for sleep, having only recently finished another particularly long and arduous shift.

 

“You are still ill?” Seven enquired but Janeway shook her head.

 

“I’m better now .. just the residue effects.”  Janeway played down her symptoms, feeling that Seven might use them to her own advantage.

 

“Do you require food?” Seven proffered, allowing a command from her heart to by-pass her mind’s desire to remain uncompromising. 

 

Janeway smiled slightly at the kind offer of hospitality, “I probably do but I’m afraid it doesn’t stay down for long. So if you don’t mind, I’ll stick with the water.”  She waved her bottle of water in the air.

 

“As you wish.” The unbending and obdurate mind was back in power again, the blunt response hitting the smaller, dark haired woman like ice cold water.

 

Not wanting to be seen to weaken, nor wanting to think on what had just occurred in the bathroom, Seven announced, “You will sleep in the chair.  Do you require a blanket?” There was no ignoring the brusque and offhand manner.

 

Janeway was so tired, she didn’t question the offer of the chair when a perfectly good, double bed existed where the two of them could sleep without disturbing the other.   She merely nodded at the offer of the blanket as she moved towards the particularly uncomfortable looking chair.

 

Seven spoke again, “Do not mistake my actions for kindness.  I can not afford to lose anymore workers, regardless of my contempt for some of them.”

 

One step forward, three back, Janeway thought. 

 

At face value, Janeway could argue that she wasn’t really getting on any better with Seven.  The antagonism was still there and raw.  But it had been Seven who had brought Janeway back here, and at least she was now physically closer, by location if not intimacy and that was just another subtle little bite towards Janeway’s goal, even if right now, she couldn’t appreciate the point scored.  She shivered and wrapped the offered blanket around herself.   Maybe a good night’s sleep would help.

 

The feel of the chair confirmed Janeway’s initial analysis.  It was damned uncomfortable. 

 

She closed her eyes and begged for sleep to come, and fast.  

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

Lying on her bed, facing the ceiling, Seven listened to the noise of miners running along the walkway outside her room, probably trying to make it to one of the bars in the complex before the storm achieved such power as to finally cut off all access. She occasionally heard the sound of metal storage drums being blown about by the wind and banging into obstacles met in their path.

 

She sighed.  How had she come to this place?

 

Her room was eerily lit with the green ambient haze of the street lights swinging wildly in the storm outside. The greenish hue of the light reminded her of Cargo Bay 2 and her regeneration alcove.  Perhaps a little wistfully, she considered that she was a million miles away from those now halcyon days. People had liked her then .. grown to like her .. adapted.  Why had that not happened on Earth or on Chakotay’s planet?  Why had everything gone wrong for her?  She had tried so hard to make people like her .. but they hadn’t.  And now she didn’t care.

 

The thread bare curtains which were hanging at the small window, blew vigorously as the storm from outside forced itself through little gaps in the crumbling window frame, the movement accompanied by mournful wailing sounds  - a miserable concert.   Seven never opened the curtains, preferring to keep out the hostilities that were the outside world. Their closure gave her a private area that was hers and hers alone.  A place to retreat to in these confines she called home. 

 

Seven turned again on her side and looked at the sleeping woman on her floor beside the bed.  When had Janeway moved there from the chair?  She didn’t know but evidently at some time during the night, the former Captain had given up on the uncomfortable chair and made the floor her bed.  Yet again, pangs of guilt surged through Seven.  She should have offered Janeway a share of her bed, such a little offering but it would have been a kindness gratefully received by the other in her poorly condition.

 

Seven studied Janeway and looked at the fingers on her hands.  Gone were the beautifully pedicured nails that the Voyager captain had always maintained with an almost obsessive addiction.  They were now broken and ripped, filth still beneath the nails despite the shower.  It was the sort of grime that went deep and would take many soakings to remove.

 

She also saw how Janeway had garnered the blanket around her and was curled up in a ball.  She had shivered earlier despite the fact that the night was humid and close.  For all her assurances, it was obvious that the woman was still not entirely recovered. Seven also realised that even as Janeway recovered now, it was likely the fever would return, for that was its mark, like a wave on the shore – return, recede, return, and recede.  This could go on for months and really some form of medication was required but that was impossible to find here.  Maybe the water sickness would force Janeway to leave the planet?  Good! 

 

Although Janeway was now silent and asleep, she hadn’t been a few hours ago, when she had clearly been in the throes of some nightmare and had briefly tossed and turned, muttering something undecipherable in her sleep before waking up with a shout, only to lie back again and almost immediately return to a deep sleep.  Seven wondered what it was that Janeway dreamed.

 

Alone with her thoughts, the ex Borg continued observing the sleeping woman’s face that was turned slightly towards her. 

 

The autonomous female, a powerful leader in Starfleet with the assigned rank of Rear Admiral, now slept like a child, completely oblivious to her surroundings.  The face was serene and tranquil …and it was beautiful.  Even the deep gash that ran across her forehead, gave the woman an attractive, rakish, roguish air.   Her hair, shorter than she’d usually worn it on Voyager, was tousled and .. pretty.   Inviting. 

 

Seven found her thoughts wandering to areas she didn’t want them to trespass.  Her time on the pleasure planet of Risa IV had unlocked some unaddressed feelings harboured for Janeway.  Damn her!

 

She turned yet again to lie flat on her bed, looking up at the shadows on the ceiling, instantly angry.  This was not how it was supposed to be.  This was not what she intended.  She wanted Janeway out of her life.  She did not need her, Seven needed no one.  Why then did this woman keep battering her with feelings and emotions she did not want to feel.  Why did her heart want to go in entirely the opposite direction to her head?  It incensed Seven that the woman she wanted so much to loathe, she also wanted so badly to be close to again. 

 

Unacceptable!

 

Her anger moved her towards a fresh commitment that as soon as Janeway was recovered, Seven would have to continue her assault on her, wear her down and force her to leave this place.   For Seven was just ever so slightly frightened now .. frightened because of what she knew existed in the depths of her heart.  Deep in that almost inaccessible area, Seven knew that the longer this woman stayed around her, the more she was in danger of losing herself to her. 

 

This must not happen!

 

When Seven awoke again later, just before dawn, Janeway had already left. 

 

 

 

 

 

*****