CHAPTER FIVE

 

 

Her work done, Dawes stepped back from the rock face, content that detonation lines were now all laid and secured safety. With only the main connection interface to be aligned, the explosives could not be triggered accidentally and the authorisation for detonation could only be given from the comms box at the surface relay HQ, under the direction of the B2 team leader.

 

Grabbing breath, she leaned against a craggy rock face and momentarily closed her eyes, thankful that her shift was nearly over.  She had just spent 18 solid hours down here in this shaft and in almost unbearable heat, most of which was generated by the massive, portable machines as they extracted the highly sought after minerals and rock ore.

 

It was a ritual labour of extracting ore and minerals, moving machines back, blasting rock face, moving machines back in, extracting more ore and minerals, moving machines back, extracting … and so the turgid routine went on.  Two teams of three crew per team shared the dirty, heavy, exhausting task of performing these laborious operations but, since the expensive technology was not available here, or the skilled expensive specialists to operate such equipment – the old but true and tested physical manual system prevailed.  It took longer, was far more dangerous – don’t even ask what the death tolls were this month alone – but the Company made enormous profit and some of this was filtered down to those who were prepared to risk life and limb.  Enter B2 crew!

 

Janeway wiped the sweat away from her face, irritated as it stung her eyes and seeped into the facial gash that was not completely healed.  Normally, she would head straight for the communal showers to get the offending perspiration out of the sore wound, but since water was such a rare commodity, she’d have to wait four more days until the weekly showers were activated.  In the short-term, she’d have to make do with sloshing bottled water into the wound, and it irritated her that, before she could return to the sleeping Doss and crash in her ‘pit’, she’d have to go by Bella’s Bar, and purchase some of the expensive drinking water that always tasted as if it had been extracted from a stagnant pond. It made her homesick for Earth and the clean, beautiful tasting water that was there in abundance.

 

She could only imagine the trouble she might encounter entering the bar where it was quicker to knife somebody than ask to get past them!  Assuming she made it out of there alive, tonight she wouldn’t hear any of the other 29 occupants of the massive dormitory where she slept, she would be dead to the world – she was that exhausted.

 

Forty minutes later, she, Vit and Dolar stood at the work entrance ready to sign off.  That was until Seven, leader of B2, put in an appearance.

 

“There is a problem.” The unemotional, impassive, and aloof voice of the ex Borg carried efficiently over the humming of the ventilation pumps. “The maintenance portage team are a crewman short.  Boras has failed to turn up for his shift so I am looking for a volunteer to make up the crew and go back in.”

 

Without even having to think, Janeway immediately sensed that the ‘There is a problem’ was about to become hers. Instinctively, she knew that Seven was about to reassign her and send her back down to the rock face to help move the heavy extraction equipment back from the blast area.   Seven was so determined to physically break her, and force her to leave the planet. Like lightening, her intuition hit the target.

 

“Dawes, get kitted up, you will be the replacement.”   If this wasn’t so awful, it would be funny, Janeway thought.  This had to be her fourth extra job in as many days!  And after the incident during the ion storm, I thought things might improve!

 

Ice blue eyes locked onto Dawes in almost triumphant gaze, but Janeway was having none of it.

 

“We’ve just pulled an 18 hour shift down there ….”  Despite knowing why she was being volunteered, Janeway couldn’t keep the exasperation out of her voice.

 

With a voice flat and hard, “This is not a request, Dawes.” 

 

Didn’t think it was!

 

With all the warmth generated by the polar ice cap, the ex drone merely stared at Janeway as if she was evaluating something unpleasant in a specimen tube, “If you are unable to handle the work of this crew, you can easily be returned to your last unit.”

 

We’ve been here before. Janeway tilted her head challengingly as she eyeballed Seven and stood her ground. “I can handle the work,” she spat with restraint, her teeth grinding to curb her mounting anger.   Sometimes, Seven, you make it very difficult to be ‘lovable’.

 

Unexpectedly, Seven stepped right up close to Janeway and bending down whispered in her ear, “I’m the leader now and I’m going to make you wish you’d never been born.”

 

Janeway took a step back, her face completely deadpan, staring back at Seven. “I’m way ahead of you there,” she remarked ruefully. How she held onto that thin thread of control when Seven openly smirked and responded, “Good,” she didn’t know but was at once thankful for her Starfleet training.  She just bit her lip, forced herself to turn and went to collect the necessary equipment for her next most unwelcome shift.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

 

Fifteen Hours Later

 

Marshall, who was placing the final bit of machinery down, safely away from the blast area, turned to the woman at his side.

 

“The leader doesn’t like you, Dawes.”

 

“You reckon?”  Janeway actually smiled at the amazingly understated words of the gentle giant with the strength of a legion.  Narrowing her eyes, “Oh, she likes me, Marsh. We’re just having a little trouble communicating.”    I hope.

 

“Is that what you call it?”  He reached into his work satchel and produced a slab of something that looked like bread but was heavier in composition, which he immediately broke in two and gave half to the exhausted woman who was now leaning tiredly over a recently moved and redeposited machine.

 

“I’ve known Seven since she first came here and I have never seen her treat anyone with such .. disrespect and open hostility.  She’s always worked well in this team, been fair minded, but since you arrived ..”  He took a bite of his food, “You’re sure she likes you?”

 

Janeway politely ignored some of the bread he spat at her as he talked, and waved her hand casually in the air, “She just needs reminding, that’s all.”

 

“I hope she remembers soon … before she kills you! You’re a dangerous person to be around.”  Janeway smiled.

 

Their work done, they began the short, uphill climb home.

 

Not for the first time, Janeway wondered what Marshall was doing on this planet.  He was too gentle and decent a man to be in a place like this.  She could understand his employment on B crew as his strength was nothing short of incredible.  He could move bits of equipment totally unaided, which would otherwise take 3 others to shift. Which was just as well, because ‘Powwaa’, or however you pronounced the name of the Alusian, had limped off back to base after dropping a particularly nasty piece of metal roding on his foot.

 

Almost as if sensing her thoughts, Marshall spoke.  “I want to get enough money to buy some farm land on Erchlon 6.  It’s where my family grew up and it’s got the richest land, most fertile soil I’ve ever seen in all my travels. I will grow good crops.”  His face took on a proud, almost excited trance-like quality, “And when I’ve got my land, I’m going to build the prettiest farm house this side of Asleb … and once I’ve done that, I’m never going to leave it!”  He turned and smiled such a warm smile at Janeway.   She really liked Marshall.

 

“Then I’m going to find a good woman to settle down with.”  Marshall continued, “I don’t suppose you’d be interested?  You’re pretty and smart, and I bet you’d breed well.”

 

Marshall obviously liked her, too!

 

Janeway nearly swallowed her tongue and had to bite her lip in an attempt to stop from laughing out loud.  Then, with a nonchalance and diplomatic ease borne of years in Starfleet, “Marsh, thanks but I’ve got other plans.  Kind of you to ask though.”

The icing on a particularly wretched day, Janeway just wanted her bed now .. alone!

 

“Those plans have anything to do with the leader?”

 

Surprised, Janeway cocked a narrowed eye at him, then flicked a finger at him from left to right, “For me to know and you to surmise!”

 

He raised his hands in front of him in a good natured gesture of backing off.  Walking on a bit, he spoke again.

 

“Are you a good judge of character, Dawes?”

 

“I like to think so.  Why do ask?”  Janeway was at his side.

 

“Your assessment of the leader .. I think you’re wrong. She harbours much hatred for you.”

 

Janeway stopped walking, so did Marshall.  The light banter between them gone now, the woman turned serious.

 

“Why do you say that, Marsh?”  Had Vesila been wrong?  The old woman had given her hope which in turn gave her strength to just keep going. She couldn’t deny that Seven’s personal ‘fitness regime’ for her was slowly beginning to make its mark – a body could only take so much.  She almost didn’t want to hear Marshall’s answer.

 

“Your presence aggravates her and each job she gives you, gets worse, gets harder. She knows you are unwell and yet does not relent. These jobs become more increasingly dangerous and I fear that soon you will make a mistake that will cost your life.  I think she knows this but I wonder if you do?”  He paused.  “I would not like an accident to befall you, Dawes, but the laws of probability should never be ignored.  I value your friendship.”

 

Janeway gently tapped Marshall on the arm in friendship.  “She’s not aggravated with me, she’s angry with me, and when you’re angry you don’t always see straight, but I think in time ….”

 

Marshall suddenly raised his hand to stop her and tilted his head, concentrating on listening, “You hear something?”

 

Janeway listened.  A cold shiver ran down her spine and she could actually feel the blood draining from her body as she looked at Marshall and saw the same fear registering on his face.

 

 “The detonation block’s been primed!”  There was a quiet humming in the background that was slowly building in pitch and resonance as they spoke.

 

Marshall wasted no time in grabbing Janeway and thrusting her towards the exit points. “They’re going to blow the face with us in here! We’ve got to get out fast.”

 

“We could pull the lines, stop the detonation …”

 

Experienced, Marshall shook his head, “Too late, it’ll blow before we get back there. Run!”

 

They both ran as fast as they could, the heat hampering their breathing and slowing their pace.  Despite her newly acquired level of fitness, Janeway could feel her heart pounding uncomfortably in her chest, her body screaming at her to stop, that it couldn’t take this level of activity … not in this heat, not in her exhausted condition, but pure adrenalin spurred her on with unnatural forcefulness and vigour.  And Marsh was right there at her side, sticking with her with equal ability.  Strange what the body can give you when necessity stirs. 

 

Then, with a blinding flash of light and a simultaneous ‘boom’, the rock face blew and a split second later, she and Marsh were lifted up by the force of the chasing explosion, as air pressure increased around them, throwing them into the ground as rock spewed its way under, above, around and past them.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Kathryn Janeway could just make out the light of the entrance through the thick dust, and almost on hands and knees, staggered towards it. She’d tried to look for Marshall but was hampered by the dust which was as thick as a Mayan class nebula, and also her own sorry condition, fighting for oxygen which the blast seemed to have savagely stolen away.  All she could do was struggle towards the light of the entrance.

 

A few feet from the bright aperture, two pairs of hands grabbed her and pulled her out into the red haze one called light, and she immediately snatched at the welcome cool air, sucking it deep into her lungs as she finally slumped to the ground on all fours, her head bowed as if ready for beheading. Rubbing dust from her eyes, she saw two of the stand-down crew looking at her, concern etched on their faces.

 

She coughed and pushed their hands away, indicating with a gesture that she was okay. Turning round, she saw others dragging Marshall’s body out, which was a strange shape of acute angles.  He didn’t move and seconds later, she heard one of the team declare him dead. 

 

Their words saturated through every living tissue in her body and the pain they left was unbearable.  Marshall was dead?  She’d only been talking to him minutes ago – talking to a larger than life, warm blooded, huge bear of a man with the strength of an ox and yet now he was dead?  She should have known that. Years of experience in Starfleet and then the Delta Quadrant had left her with an almost innate instinct for recognising when a still body was actually dead. God, you only had to look at him, for Marshall’s body was ripped to pieces and his blood seemed to be seeping from everywhere.  Limbs that had once been legs were set at unnatural angles and bent back on themselves.  Of course he was dead!   Janeway felt sick to her stomach.  Marsh!

 

At first it seemed to her that everything was in slow motion.  She watched team members hanging over Marshall’s body, searching for life signs and then their declaration of his death.  Shock resonated through her body, dulling her senses, making her shake uncontrollably even there on all fours, but then the anger came, flooding through her at speed as her command brain kicked into action again and the ramifications became crystal clear as to what had just happened.  Someone had activated the detonation block with them still in there.  Who ever did that would have known they were still in there because they had not signed off.  There were very tight safety procedures about that – possibly the only safety procedures on this damned planet!  That clearly meant that someone had deliberately tried to kill them!  And regrettably, for poor Marshall, they had been one hundred percent successful. 

 

Who the hell would do this?  Who would want to do this when only Marshall and she were down there?  No one could access the priming device except one person and that person was …  Seven?

 

Still not thinking straight, still emotionally wrecked over poor Marshall, whose body lay crumpled and broken at her side, all she could hear were incoherent words stumbling through her thoughts, begging to be heard again.  Come back and I’ll kill you! 

 

Seven’s harsh, threatening words reverberating around Janeway’s mind.  Those angry words had been spoken with such emotional intensity and hatred.  Marshall himself, a simple man, had picked up on the dangerous levels of animosity levelled at her by Seven, ‘The leader doesn’t like you … before she kills you … you’re a dangerous person to be around.’

 

Still grasping for breath, her chest still heaving from exertion, her body still contemplating on whether to be sick or not, Janeway was almost afraid to face what ultimately might be.  Ice cold fear ran through her veins.  Would Seven have done this, could she have done such a thing?  Had the barman been right, that everyone who came to this place was changed forever?  God, no! 

 

But Janeway had been shocked at how much Seven had changed but had she changed that much?  Enough that she would really want to kill her?  No! Seven couldn’t do that.  But then a little voice deep inside Janeway asked if the ‘old’ Seven would ever have treated Janeway like she was now being treated?  The answer to that question was a resounding ‘No’.  Had Seven changed, and Janeway, like some love struck fool, couldn’t see the danger she was in?  They say love makes you blind.  Was it also likely to kill her?  Her tired, weakened state knew only confusion. 

 

It was then she felt a strong pair of hands grab her arms and looking to them saw the unmistakeable Borg enhanced fingertips gripping her arms as if they would never let her go.  Spirits help her, but Janeway couldn’t help it as she looked up into paler than usual, petrified features that were Seven of Nine, couldn’t hide her own wild, unprocessed feelings.  For in that moment of doubt, she knew her own face registered such anger, her eyes dancing with fury, and all were focused on Seven.

 

“Are you alright?  Are you damaged?”  Seven’s voice cracked as emotions betrayed her.

 

Was this an act or genuine concern?  Janeway’s recent treatment at the hands of Seven failed to allow her to recognise the more logical option.

 

“Marshall’s dead!” Janeway spat at the kneeling woman, pushing herself away from Seven and struggling to stand.  Seven moved with her and again reached out a hand to assist but Janeway’s mood was dominated by feelings of rancour and hostility, her mind still shocked and incoherent, unable to make sense of all of this.

 

“I can manage,” she growled.

 

The ‘leader’ stepped back, strangely unsure of herself. “Let me take you back to base camp.”  Her face was ashen and desperate.

 

Rubbing the bridge of her nose where a rock had hit her during the explosion, Janeway turned on Seven, emotions too close to the surface, her anger too strong to conceal.  With unsuppressed and intensely cold vehemence, she spoke quietly but with force, “I can make my own way back.” 

 

She turned and took one more look at Marshall’s broken, battered body, the bile rising in her throat, before she faced Seven again.  Her eyes were unable to hide the disgust and revulsion she felt.  She wanted to challenge Seven, to ask her if this was her handiwork but something .. something sensible .. controlled and unemotional, rightly made her hold back, saying instead,  “Just make sure he gets a civil burial ..  I’ll pick up the cost.” 

 

Usually the dead were just packed into body bags and thrown over a cliff to rot, which never took long in this heat.  However, if you had credit put aside and left instructions, or someone bothered about you enough, there was a small cemetery on the boundaries of the township where you could be laid to rest.  Usually, it was reserved for members of the Company or their families.

 

Seven again moved as though to touch Janeway but the older woman was having none of it as she deliberately, blatantly turned and walked away, leaving Seven to just stand and watch.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

 

That same evening, Seven paced the floor of her own living space.  Back and forth, back and forth. She was consumed with a myriad of thoughts, through which confusion abounded and breed.  Someone had accessed the detonation device, had short circuited a supposedly fail safe system and blown the cave wall.  Who ever that had been, had wanted to kill the crew down there.  Who?  Why?

 

Seven’s mind drew reference to Galdor’s and Gaarth’s untimely, accidental deaths.  Accident or deliberate treachery?  She suspected the latter but had no proof.  Carson, the leader before Galdor, had also had a terrifying demise, and then there had been K’oorth, Vewalk, Nimis, Chok’tar .. also unexplainable deaths.  What was going on?

 

Regardless of these important issues, they were secondary concerns.  Paramount in her thoughts was the look Janeway had given her outside the mines.  Janeway hadn’t said anything but Seven knew what the other woman was thinking, she had seen it in her eyes. It was that look which so many others had given her, on Voyager, on Earth, the look that accused her of being a murderer .. of being Borg.  Janeway thought Seven had activated the explosives!  After all, everyone knew only she, as leader, had code access to the priming device, and hadn’t she warned Janeway that she would kill her?

 

Seven stopped pacing, her eyes closed as if in concentration.  All she could see in her mind, so painfully accurately due to her eidetic memory, were Janeway’s eyes looking at her, at first full of incredulity and then a gradual dawning recognition of some attempted assassination – eyes that were loaded with contempt and abhorrence.

 

Seven’s eyes watered as she contemplated that Kathryn Janeway might now hate her.  But wasn’t that what she had wanted to do?  To force the woman to leave her alone and depart this place?  Suddenly faced with the possible success of her actions, Seven couldn’t stand the outcome.  Janeway hating her?  Anything but that!  Seven breathed deeply and she stared at her hands that were now .. shaking?  She was Borg .. and Borg hands didn’t shake.  She had done so much to push Janeway away but something deep inside her, which she didn’t yet understand .. something indefinable, had been so quietly and spiritually lifted when the woman had resurfaced as Dawes, professing that she wasn’t going to leave Seven, no matter what.

 

‘No matter what.’ Seven thought on the words as she stood rigid, thrusting her hands down at her sides, towards the floor.  Her own words, both vicious and vitriolic in attack towards her former Captain came back to haunt her, “I will kill you.” 

 

She had meant only to threaten and intimidate the woman, to make her leave, to break any connection between the two of them.  Seven had been so emotionally hurt since her return to the Alpha Quadrant, it had seemed that everyone had either rejected, despised or forgotten her, the crew busy with their own re-emersion into their old lives.  And like a wounded animal, especially after her break-up with Chakotay, she had wanted to hit out at someone.  Janeway had presented the perfect ‘target’ and it had made her feel better to hit out and hurt the one person who had meant so much to her.  Who, she now realised, still meant so much to her!

 

For all her recent behaviour and venomous outbursts, Seven would die before she ever did anything to knowingly harm Janeway .. really harm her.  But Janeway did not believe that – not any longer, her eyes had said so much.

 

What have I done?

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

The following 24 hours, Seven saw nothing of ‘Dawes’ as it was the latter’s off duty period and, despite looking for her in those off-duty areas, the woman was nowhere to be found.  So Seven used the time to compose and collect herself, something she had been unable to do in the initial hours after the blast.

 

When she next had occasion to meet her ex captain, Seven was fully in control again, her emotions held down like sails rigged for a violent storm.

 

She briefed the oncoming shift, to which Janeway belonged, earnestly making eye contact with all the crew to assuage any fears they might have regarding the death of Marshall – and she saw plenty of fear in their eyes. 

 

Seven attempted to allay their concerns by ensuring them that the recent accident had been just that, an unfortunate accident.  Why worry them, she thought, with the truth that there was someone, or some group, out there that seemed intent on killing members of B2?

 

So she referred to the incident as an accident and part told the truth by informing them that she had placed extra safety devices on the priming mechanisms to ensure such a terrible incident would not happen again.

 

Janeway’s were the only eyes Seven did not make contact with, not through any lack of effort on her part but more because the other woman deliberately and resolutely kept her eyes on the back of the man standing in front of her, never once looking up or changing direction.  And eventually, when orders were issued, Janeway swiftly grabbed the equipment she needed and disappeared to her work station.

 

This upset Seven and left her feeling .. uncomfortable.  She had wanted to see at least some recognition from this woman but she was afforded none. She wanted to know how the woman now felt about her, now they had both had some ‘down time’ away from each other, time to perhaps calm down.

 

In truth, Seven had half expected Janeway to give up on her and leave the planet. Why would the Admiral stay if she now had reason to hate Seven?  For hate her, she must – everything pointed towards her setting off the detonation, and even Seven’s own scrupulous inspection of the equipment afterwards had provided her with no clues as to who had been responsible for this sabotage.  Who ever had done this was very skilled, very clever.

 

Her clarity of thought completely wrecked, and mindlessly torn, the ex drone wanted Janeway to both leave and stay.  Leave, because Seven didn’t want anything bad to befall the woman that she now had to admit she cared for too much. There were sinister things going on around B2, things that were entirely dangerous and out of her control.  Stay?  Simple really.  Seven needed Janeway, and the longer Janeway was around, the stronger Seven’s need grew but any chance of reconciliation, if indeed that was what Seven really wanted, was over, surely?

 

In that rare moment of realising that she had missed Janeway and needed her, Seven felt her heart fragment into a thousand pieces.  How could all this have happened to her?  What had she done that was so wrong to have brought her to a place like this and to now have earned the hatred of the ex Captain of Voyager?  Seven didn’t know herself anymore, didn’t know what was up or down, didn’t trust herself.  Maybe Janeway ought to go because of the crazy way Seven felt, she might just end up killing her … and she didn’t want to!

 

Alone in her room, Seven let herself sink to the floor and sat with her back against the wall, her legs bent in front of her, her arms lying still at her side.  Maybe she was actually going insane. That supposition had merit and would answer everything that had been happening to her.  She considered the value of her stunning hypothesis  – from the age of 6 years, her mind had been through so much.  Assimilation into the Borg collective where her brain patterns were considerably altered, then re-assimilation back into humanity where she had had to overcome the very physical shock of that alteration.  Then having to come to terms with what she had done and lost in her drone years, and how that impacted on her future human existence .. and how others felt about her, their reactions.  Even with her own growing bodily awareness, she’d had to have a fail-safe device in her cortical node removed by the doctor so she could pursue emotional, intimate relationships. Everything about her was corrupt in some way.

 

And then what had happened to her?  Seven fought to keep her thoughts directed, together, but they kept straying. This was so unlike her.  Another piece of evidence to substantiate her theory of madness?  Oh yes, Chakotay!  Her relationship with him and his disaffection with her after a while, and how she had fled him. Her broken relationship with Captain Janeway .. no, no .. Admiral Janeway.  She was losing the detail now.  Was she losing her mind?

 

Totally saturated in her own abject desolation and sorrow, Seven wondered what the future held for her.  The future.  Any future.  Did she have a future now and if so, where?  The law of probability dictated that wherever she went, she would be treated the same as she had on Earth, and humans were supposed to be one of the most tolerant and sympathetic races in the universe. Perhaps it was only here on this planet she would ever be accepted?

 

She sank her head into her hands, feeling so alone.  How much more of this could she take?

 

And in that same moment, Seven came to realise that she would probably never leave this planet.  She would have to be content to stay here and wait until she became just another statistic on some report that went to some unknown corporate manager, reporting deaths in a given month.

 

Seven sighed, probably the best solution really.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

A strange reddish light shone through the dirty, broken skylight, casting a surreal, almost dreamlike feel inside the small, sanitary and empty bare room that housed only the remnants of Marshall’s broken body.

 

Kathryn Janeway wasn’t sure why she was there but she had felt impelled to come visit and say ‘goodbye’ to him, to make peace with the dead man’s spirit, if anything like that really existed – she didn’t know.  Anyway she was there now, stood looking down at his large, unmoving frame laid out on a stone slab. 

 

His body was a maze of scratches, deep cuts and lacerations, and it was evident that more than a few bones had been broken.  Was it only a few days ago that this gentle man, living and breathing, had told her of his dreams of buying land and farming it? Had he been toying harmlessly with her that day when he’d asked her to be his mate? Or had he really meant it?  Either way, Janeway couldn’t stop the lump from catching at the back of her throat forcing her to swallow hard and fight to contain her emotions. He had been her friend, or at least they had both started to cement a very genuine fondness towards each other.

 

She contemplated, not for the first time in her forty something years, how unpredictable life was, and how it could be changed in the passing of a second.  Both of them had been almost side by side in that cave passageway and yet she had lived, with hardly a scratch, and he had been ripped to shreds, broken almost beyond recognition.  So many times in the Delta Quadrant, she had gambled with her life and should have died, but hadn’t.  She was just lucky she guessed.  But was her pot of luck about to run out here?

 

Shaking her thoughts out of their morose turn, the Admiral glanced down at Marshall’s large, once powerful hands, the blood now dried on them, and it was then she noticed it.

 

One of Marshall’s fingers was missing!  He had not been missing a finger before, but now he was and it wasn’t as a result of the explosion.  Further, the finger had been clean cut by something very sharp and had obviously been done sometime after the man’s death because of the lack of blood coagulation around the incision.

 

Shocked out of her trancelike state back into reality and hauled back into reality, Janeway wondered what the hell was going on?  Who would do this?  Who would mutilate a man’s body after death?  And why?

 

This flagrant act of abuse, this heinous act inflicted on Marshall’s dead body reignited her anger, her emotions riding so close to the surface, her self control pushed to the limits.  Was nothing sacred here?  How she loathed this planet and everything it represented.  She picked up the hand and studied the incision again.  Whoever had done this had been fairly skilled and very composed, as if they had done it before, because the cut had not been hesitant but confident, with one clean, heavy slice, straight through the flesh and bone. 

 

Damn them!

 

The Admiral turned to leave the room and just as she walked through the door she collided with Seven, who leaped back as if she’d been stung, saying nothing.

 

Janeway looked at her, her own face empty and dispassionate.  Feeling oddly surreal and detached from the scene, as if it wasn’t really her that was there, she didn’t attempt to communicate with Seven, nor she her, and for a while they just stared at each other before both continuing on their separate ways.

 

Sometimes there were simply no words.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Seven queued for food in the noisy, packed canteen-like mess hall. This was the last place she wanted to be, surrounded by the cacophony of sound, the swarming of life-forms, but she needed sustenance.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had consumed nutritional intake. 

 

Despite the rowdy, boisterous hum of the large room, her Borg enhanced hearing latched onto voices she knew and recognised, making out the broken conversation of several nearby and already seated B crew.  She did not like what she heard, neither could she explain the icy sensation that forged through her body like some insidious, creeping paralysis – the result of hearing those words.

 

“Marshall’s death .. she’s angry .. say she got that scar on her face in a fight to the death … Vlox says she’s got a score to settle .. bad blood .. going to get even .. wouldn’t want to be the Borg .. no accident .. don’t want to be around her .. there’ll be trouble.”

 

Seven stood immobile.  Something about those words affected her, and she consciously had to force the air into her lungs, afraid that if she didn’t, she wouldn’t breathe.  Janeway was staying to seek revenge?  She was going to avenge Marshall’s death and Seven was the target?  Seven’s heart was thumping in her chest .. was this sensation what humans called panic?  Whatever it was, she didn’t like the feeling and she stepped back and gave up her place in the long queue. To expect her to eat now, after what she had just heard, was not possible.

 

Janeway … her Captain Janeway, would think her possible of such treachery and deception?  Of course she would because Seven herself had gone out of her way to make life entirely uncomfortable for the woman.  It went a long way to explain Janeway’s inhibited and reserved behaviour yesterday when Seven had collided with her outside the morgue where Marshall’s body was.  Seven had wanted to say something to the other exhausted looking woman but had been stopped dead in her tracks when she’d seen the other’s eyes – hard and unforgiving.  Seven couldn’t eradicate the look of those eyes and had been unable to either sleep or regenerate last night.

 

She stood immobile in the busiest section of the mess hall, as people jostled around her in a bid to grab a place in the queue.  Janeway clearly believed she had attempted to actually kill her, and all was impacted by the fact that Seven had sworn she would!  But the truth was, she could never do that.  Never.  Sane or insane.

 

I have to clarify this.  I must explain to her that I would never do her actual harm .. must make her understand that I only want .. wanted .. her to leave this place .. leave me alone with my Borg curse.

 

Spotting Janeway sat over at a far table with others, Seven immediately crossed over to join her.  When she got to the table, Janeway’s eating companions instantly stood, food left uneaten, chairs scraping the floor as they quickly vacated the area.  They sensed trouble and wanted no part of it.  Janeway, however, remained seated, apparently oblivious to all the fuss.  She did not look up to acknowledge who it was who’d just approached the table and brought about such a frenzied response.

 

Hesitant, Seven froze, suddenly unsure of whether she had chosen the right time and place to clarify her position with this woman who sat so calmly at the table.  The entire mess hall had gone silent.  You could have heard a pin drop, that was until the silence was broken as the seated woman spoke.

 

“You should sit down. They’re expecting us to kill each other.” 

 

The husky, deep voice was quiet, betrayed no emotional, and its owner never lifted her face to Seven.  Seven glanced around furtively and indeed, saw all eyes on her.  Outwardly calm but internally nervous, she slowly pulled back a chair and sat opposite the woman who had just finished her meal and was now taking a leisurely sip of water. 

 

Seven had seen Janeway like this before on Voyager – always at her most dangerous when most calm.  Knowing this just made Seven more nervous.

 

Only when Janeway raised the glass to her lips and tilted her head back to drink, did she look at the younger woman before her.  Lowering the glass, “What do you want?”  Janeway’s face was hard, expressionless and the eyes were cold, slate grey orbs.  If Seven had had any more blood to drain anywhere, it would have. Instead, she breathed in deeply, slowly and began to try and sort things out. This was her opportunity to do so.

 

“I wish to talk about .. what happened .. at the mine, about Marshall.”  The ex Borg was experiencing a sense of irregularity, of malfunction, although she was not ill and she was functioning within normal parameters.  Unusually, she did not seem confident in her manner which disturbed her and, as a consequence, made her even more nervous and lacking in self assurance.

 

“Ah, you’ve come to talk about .. the accident.”  There was a brittle, caustic quality in the smaller woman’s tone.

 

“I did not detonate the explosives.”   There!  Seven had said it and now everything would be .. acceptable again.  But it wasn’t.

 

Janeway didn’t instantly respond but merely stood, casually taking her time, wiping a few isolated crumbs off her work-stained overalls.  She then moved behind her chair and with graceful composure, replaced it neatly back against the table.  As she started to walk away, Seven repeated her statement a little bolder, a little louder.

 

“I said .. I did not detonate the explosives!”

 

Janeway stopped and turned, “I heard you the first time.”  The atmosphere was now decidedly icy.

 

“I .. wanted you to know,” Seven added, locking wide open cornflower blue eyes on the ex Captain’s, as if trying to use telepathy to convey her sincerity.

 

Janeway didn’t acknowledge Seven’s statement, choosing only to stand and stare and place a customary hand on a hip. Time passed. Seven had always warmed to Janeway in that pose, finding something essentially reassuring and comforting in it but now, she found it intimidating and the shock of that made Seven swallow awkwardly.  “It is said that .. there is bad blood between us.”

 

Now Janeway slowly walked the short distance back to the table and stood in front of the still seated younger woman. 

 

“Why would there be bad blood between us, Seven?” the voice oozed sarcasm.

 

There was no mistaking the muted, controlled anger in the whispering voice even though the woman’s face was expressionless. Seven couldn’t answer, only thinking that Janeway had every reason to hate her.  Seven had gone out of her way to physically break the smaller woman in an attempt to try to get her to leave the planet.  It hadn’t worked, so the ex Borg had simply escalated her vehemence and the hardship on Janeway.  The last attempt had nearly killed the Starfleet officer.

 

“Having difficulty answering that?” Janeway prompted, then leaned forward towards Seven, placing her arms on the table in front of the blonde.  She took a slow breath, her entire body posture rigid, menacing. Janeway spoke again and her voice held a quality to it which Seven was entirely unfamiliar with but knew she did not like.

 

“Does it matter to you what I think?”  Janeway paused for effect.  “You’ve been very up front in your attempts to convince me that you don’t care for me and that you don’t want me here.  And I have received your message, loud and clear.”  She paused. “I find it interesting, if not a little downright strange, that with all of your recent behaviour towards me, you still care enough to want me to believe that you had no hand in .. the accident.”  

 

Then, speaking to Seven as if she was castigating some junior Ensign, “Could it be that you’ve lost direction of your initial objectives and that your shield is slipping?  Do I see a weakness in your armour?”

 

Seven instantly recognised what she perceived as a challenge and realised that she was in danger of revealing the face behind the mask she had worked so hard to portray.  The issue was no longer that of this woman being here to save her.  There had been too many accidents sustained by B crew of late.  If the Admiral did not leave now, might she become the next victim?

 

This must not, could not, happen!

 

Once more defensive, Seven resurrected her arrogant stance.

 

“I merely wanted to set the record straight.” The eyebrow arched in characteristic, superior fashion.

 

Standing erect, Janeway now looked down at the younger woman.  “You know, if you’re ever going to cut it as a leader and survive this place, you’re going to have to learn not to wear your heart on your sleeve.”  The implied censure was deliberately targeted to hurt the other, and its flight was successful.

 

The edge of criticism stung Seven.  On Voyager, Janeway had always supported her, and even when she had failed miserably, the resilient Captain had never put Seven down, only chose to explain her mistakes and advise on how not to make them again.  So this show of disapproval hurt Seven deeply.

 

Seven realised here, at the moment of this confrontation, that her feelings towards Janeway were shifting, seriously.  Right now, she no longer felt the angry, betrayed young drone, rejected by her own race.  She felt sick and hurt, like someone injured , looking for the love and affection of one who had always been there and delivered … at least whilst in the Delta Quadrant.  How she longed for those times again on the Voyager. Everything had fallen to pieces for her since returning ‘home’.  Seven could feel her sense of equilibrium becoming more disturbed and out of balance, as if she was losing control, like grains of sand slipping between her fingers.

 

For the first time, since she had built the steel wall around her heart, she felt vulnerable once more, like she had done when first torn from the Borg collective – and again in this woman’s presence.  And she knew, as Janeway stared her down, that her weaknesses were clearly evident to the other woman who now just turned and walked out of the room.

 

As if an iron hand had gripped her heart, she wondered if she had finally done what she had so foolishly set out to do – driven Kathryn Janeway from her?   And in that moment of revelation and fear, Seven was inconsolable.

 

 

*****

 

 

Kathryn Janeway walked out of the mess hall into the cooling night air, walked up and along the main street and then stopped, looking up at the stars.  She felt wretched.

 

She had just played the last card in the pack. 

 

For five months, she’d tried without success to break down Seven’s personal fortifications and she had failed miserably. Up till now, the ex Borg would not even talk to her, would not enter into discussion of any description and had simply concentrated her retribution on the Starfleet officer by throwing her every rotten job that came along.

 

The death of Marshall had been appalling but now the shock of the event was over and Janeway had had time to sleep and think, she knew Seven had not been part of what was clearly no accident.

 

However, the fateful sabotage had given Admiral Janeway an unexpected, if unfortunate, edge.  Seven had been genuinely shocked by the event and rocked to her foundations.  Kathryn had seen the real fear and concern in the young woman’s eyes that day of the accident.

 

But Janeway’s behaviour towards Seven at the mine entrance, when Marshall’s body had been pulled out, had been entirely real.  For a split second, she had truly contemplated the possibility that Seven might had armed the explosives in some barbed attempt to kill her.  Seven had witnessed that doubt in the Admiral’s eyes and somehow, it had jolted an entire plethora of emotions to rise up in the young woman.  Now suddenly, Seven was opening up and wanted to talk .. maybe reach out?  This had been what Janeway had been trying unsuccessfully to do up to this point.

 

Janeway knew that there was no way Seven would ever have done anything like that, it simply wasn’t in her nature.  All those years of studying the young woman maturing into a beautiful human being gave Janeway this insight.  No matter what life might throw at the ex Borg, Janeway knew that, deep down, Seven could never change and alter that much.  Janeway’s momentary weakness into thinking so badly of Seven had been brought about by shock, pain, her poor condition and a phenomenal lack of sleep and proper nutrition.

 

This evening, in the mess, Janeway had deliberately allowed Seven to continue to believe that her ex Captain no longer trusted her.  She wanted to rock Seven’s emotional base. It was the only avenue left that the Admiral could see of connecting with Seven.  She had to push Seven to the edge, just far enough to make her question her own actions and behaviour … but not let her fall.

 

Kathryn knew she was playing a potentially dangerous card.  If she played it badly, then Seven was probably lost to her for ever.  She closed her eyes tight at that thought.  Life without Seven?

 

But if she succeeded?  Then she would never let Seven down again and she would stand by this woman in whatever relationship she ended up being in with her.  In her own heart, she held close to her dreams, dreams of places she wanted to take Seven, places that mattered to her, that she wanted to share with the young woman.  If Seven would only let her into her life again.  This time Janeway would get it right.

 

Asking no one in particular, she whispered up at the stars, “Give me a chance.”

 

Now all Janeway could do was wait and see how Seven reacted.  Passing time was something she never handled well, but it was all she had.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Seven entered Bella’s Bar, looking for refreshment.  It was packed with people, a discord of intermingling species, many the worse for drink and all encompassed in a setting of dull lighting and raucous noise levels.

 

Bella’s Bar was not a place you frequented as a haven for tranquil reflection.   These customers, all of them, worked hard and played hard, often to extremes and often with volatile results.  This venue was equally as hazardous a place to be as any mining facility on the planet. More so, when you had two full crews merging on an off-watch period like tonight, all tired and irritable, all hiding their personal secrets and vendettas, and all just waiting for an excuse to fight, maim or kill.   

 

There was no gentleness, peace or solitude to be found in any place on this wretched planet, and whilst Seven had always hated the sound of silence, she longed for some refuge to simply get away from everything – somewhere where she could be alone with her own thoughts and not have to struggle to hear them.

 

But tonight was different, for she was different. 

 

The incident in the mess hall two days ago had left an indelible impression on her that she could not shake.  She felt that her entire existence had no meaning and in her current state of misery, she couldn’t mentally identify any family or friends, any one who cared whether she lived or died.  People only seemed to want to take from her, not allow her to be a part of some essential existence.

 

Chakotay.  She thought he had loved her, though she was only just beginning to realise that it had been his attraction to her that had, in turn, attracted her to him. It had been such a new, exciting sensation to have someone appear to love her, a drone!

 

And what of Chakotay’s feelings for her?  On Voyager, he’d wooed her, had seemed truly attracted to her.  Had it been her difference, her adult innocence, her contrasting vulnerability and intellectual strength? She’d thought so at the time. The mutual physical attraction had lasted when they returned to the Alpha Quadrant, where he had continued to show her immense affection, stating that he wanted to look after her, protect her.  But now she questioned if his feelings for her had been honourable or if, as she now felt, he had treated her like a prized belonging, enjoying the attention their partnership attracted. Had he been that shallow? Whatever, she had misread him and had allowed her inexperienced and sensitive heart to over-ride her intellect.

 

When they had returned to his home planet and it had become obvious that the majority of his people were unable to accept or trust her, to see beyond her Borg appendages, his affections towards her had started to change.  Eventually, he had confessed that their relationship was not working and that he felt it would be best if she returned to Earth.  Of course, he assured her that he would set her up with a small apartment on Earth and give her every assistance in settling in and gaining employment, but Seven had refused his charity and had just run. 

 

Why had she ever trusted him?  Why had she allowed herself, willingly, to be seduced by him?  Had he not been one of her greatest adversaries in the early days of her time on Voyager, not trusting her, avoiding her, making no effort to understand her?  Perhaps that, in part, had been the attraction for her – winning over someone who had been so vehemently opposed to her.

 

Only now did she also understand that her love for him had not been genuine but like a first crush - she had been in love with ‘being in love’.  So exciting, so new, so passionate.  What a fool she had been.

 

Her family.  They had feared her!  But they had tried to ‘love’ her.  However, aside from her aunt, their fear had been unconquerable, and who could blame them?  Every time they looked at her, they saw only the face of a heinous enemy, the automatons and perpetrators of the savage attack on Wolf 359.   Regardless of her physical attractiveness, so like her mother, you could never detract from the fact that she was still part Borg.  Every morning when she looked in the mirror and brushed her long human hair, she was still Borg.  How could she expect people – good, loving, honest people – to welcome and trust her, let alone love her?  Could she blame them?  No.

 

Starfleet.  She had not known how to interact with them.  Similar uniforms to those she had known on Voyager, and yet so different in their approach to her.  Suspicious. Hesitant.  How she missed Voyager.  It had been her home and her family.  Why did they have to return?  She had been happy.  Only now did she really understand that word. What was the Earth saying? You didn’t know what you had until you no longer had it? 

 

Chakotay had offered to take her away from all things Federation, saying he understood her apprehension and uneasiness.  She had so willingly accepted his offer, trusted him so completely, only to be later rejected.  Hadn’t he realised that she had feelings too?  Hadn’t any of them?

 

Strangely, she had known three months of .. not happiness, but acceptance when she had fallen into the hands of a ‘Madam’ who had run a high class brothel on Risa IV, a small planet she’d stopped off at on her way back to Earth, after leaving Chakotay.

 

Madam Fenor had seemed to understand her torment and isolation.  The high class prostitute had at first simply offered her refuge and kindness.  Later, Seven sought to pay her back the only way she could, allowing her body to be used by paying customers.  Fenor had genuinely resisted Seven’s offer at first, sensing that the ex Borg had suffered too much, and though immensely beautiful, should not have to sink to such depths. 

 

But eventually, at Seven’s insistence, Fenor had acquiesced and Seven had thrown herself into her new employment with as much energy and enthusiasm as she could muster, which wasn’t impressive.  But she kept the customers satisfied and established a list of regulars and for once, all seemed content with their side of the bargain.

 

As time passed in the brothel, Seven had discovered that she preferred copulating with women.  Even though they too, like the men, were paying for her services, there was often an unexpected gentleness to their love making. Many of them did not want to just take, but sought to give Seven pleasure too. These experiences had had a profound effect on Seven who now found that she looked at females in a different light, finding them an attractive contrast to the male species.

 

Which brought her back to Janeway!  This observation and discovery had led her to reassess certain relationships in her short life as a human, and one relationship in particular.  Always, Seven had felt an undefined pull towards the smaller woman, something she had once thought had to do with respect, gratitude .. friendship.  The draw, in the course of time on Voyager had become stronger but she had thought little of its importance.  However, the absence of Janeway in her life, once Seven had returned to Earth, had both irritated and agitated her but again, at that time, she hadn’t appreciated why.  But now, with her experiences on Risa IV, so much made sense.  Seven now understood that she harboured an increasing physical attraction towards her ex mentor but knowing this, it only fuelled her anger all the more as she contemplated the older woman’s rejection of her since returning home.

 

What Seven did not understand was why the Admiral had rebuffed her, and so abruptly when they’d returned to Earth.  Had Seven done something to hurt her? She couldn’t identify anything. Had Seven said something?  Nothing was evident on scrutiny.  Seven had sent all manner of messages to the woman whilst she had been with Chakotay, not wanting her friend to feel that she was no longer cared for.  Messages inviting her to come and stay with her and Chakotay, to dine with them when they were both in San Francisco, to visit Seven and meet her family – all had been ignored.

 

Later, when everything had gone so wrong with Chakotay, she had sent so many messages to the Admiral seeking her advice, her help, but none – none – had been answered.  And Seven knew all had been delivered.  Why had her friend, the woman who had done so much for her on the Voyager, who had been at her side at every occasion, suddenly abandoned her?

 

More confusingly, why was Janeway here now?  Had the woman suddenly felt guilt and considered herself responsible for Seven, given she had rescued her from the Borg?  Seven found these thoughts distasteful. She wanted no one’s attentions because of responsibility!  She so wanted there to be another reason.

 

But surely this was all irrelevant now, for Seven feared that she had ultimately driven the woman away from her.   She had finally been successful in breaking that special bond that had obviously still existed between them. Seven’s eyes stung and she saw her worthless life laid out in front of her, a life destined to merely exist and to take no pleasure in the living.   She had lost everything now, her life no longer had direction. Had it ever? 

 

It was then that she spotted Janeway sat on a tall stool up at the bar, a small empty bottle in front of her, waiting to be served.  Seven stood for a while and simply drank in the sight of the other woman, studiously scrutinizing her.  The woman looked anything but an Admiral in the services of Starfleet.  She looked tired and you sensed that the woman was tense, on alert status, ready to defend herself if a fight broke out.  This place made you like that.  Relax just once and you were dead.

 

Seven gave in to a slight smile cutting across her face and she momentarily let it rest there.  Until recently, Janeway had always had this effect on her.  Whether she liked it or not, the woman was under her skin, had been a long time, and doubtless would continue to be.  Not for the first time, Seven wondered how different things might have been if she had only recognised that her affection for Chakotay had been just that, affection not love.  If only things had turned out differently.  If only she had been mature enough to see that she and Chakotay never had a real future, they were each too different, each having different needs – and neither of them could fulfil the other’s.  If all of that had been avoided, would Seven have been brave enough to have courted the erstwhile Captain Janeway?  How she wished she had.  How she wished she could turn back time and relive it differently.

 

Now she understood, but too late.  The only consistent human being, the one to show Seven any measure of understanding right from the start of her rebirth into humanity, had been Kathryn.  Even now, after everything that Seven had accused her of, the woman was still here, quietly supportive, trying desperately to reach out and help, despite everything that Seven threw back at her.

 

But Seven couldn’t quite accept Janeway back into her life, wasn’t ready to open her heart again, for fear of being rejected and hurt once more.  Hadn’t Janeway cast her away as well?  Hadn’t she ignored Seven’s desperate messages for help, never once returning any of them?  She so wanted to believe, but couldn’t.  Not yet.

 

And now?  They were both so different.  Time in the Alpha Quadrant had affected both of them, and not for the good.  Both women were hurting, both were in pain and both were terribly lost.

 

Seven edged over to Janeway, not nervous any longer for she sensed she had nothing to lose.  She moved to the woman’s side, “May I buy you a drink?”

 

Janeway looked up, apparently shocked to see Seven standing there. Whilst a week ago, she would have been deliriously happy with this sudden level of familiarity, for some stupid reason she couldn’t quite resist a barbed comment.

 

“Your little friend is over there.” Janeway lifted her chin, pointing towards a tall, black haired, strikingly good looking, silver skinned woman that Seven had apparently found so sexually attractive the last time they’d both been in the bar together.  Seven had openly flirted with the woman in front of Janeway, in an obvious attempt to upset her.  The Starfleet officer remembered far too well that Seven’s little ruse had been fairly successful. “Wouldn’t you rather share a drink with her?”

 

Seven didn’t even bother to look, neither did she respond to the cutting remark which was way below Janeway’s dignity.  Instead, “What would you like to drink?”

 

Janeway raised her eyebrows and then tapped the empty bottle in front of her, “Another one of these, please.”

 

Seven ordered.

 

“Thank you,” Janeway murmured quietly.

 

“May I join you?”  Seven didn’t look at Janeway as she spoke and therefore didn’t see the continuing registration of amazement on the smaller woman’s face.  Janeway just nodded and muttered, “If you want.”  

 

So the two remained in place, one seated, the other standing.  There was an uncomfortable silence between them but neither tried to fill it, nor did either try to extricate themselves from the other’s company.  Sometimes words weren’t right and both knew enough not to say anything that might suddenly inflame the still volatile relationship that lay between them.  They’d both wait until the right words came, and in the meantime, cautiously enjoy the other’s company.

 

Eventually, Seven tapped Janeway’s shoulder, “There’s a vacant table over there.  Follow me!”  Seven didn’t even wait for Janeway’s response but moved off quickly to procure the table.

 

Janeway raised her eyes as she followed.  Nothing changed really.  Seven was still issuing orders, like she had done on Voyager.  Captain, report to Astrometrics now.  Well, at least the familiarity was strangely comforting.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Perhaps it was the alcohol dulling each of the other’s over-sensitivity to one another but Seven and Kathryn Janeway were still sat together, in the bar, at the table, some forty minutes later.  Both of them seemed easier in the other’s company and neither was keen to leave.

 

“I thought you couldn’t handle alcohol?” Janeway enquired, sticking to safe, neutral  topics.

 

“When the doctor extracted the fail safe device in my cortical node, I discovered that, not only could I experience a full range of emotions, but I could also tolerate alcohol .. in very small amounts.” 

 

The smaller woman nodded.  End of that topic.  Now what?

 

The communication was far from comfortable and still awkward but there was an obvious cessation of hostilities, some temporary abandonment of wanting to hurt each other – a truce.

 

It was the Admiral who recognised the truce first and took its opportunistic moment.

“I want to put something to you.  Want to hear it?” Janeway focused on Seven’s eyes, trying to read the woman.

 

Apprehensively, Seven nodded.

 

“Our duty tour finishes in two days and we both have some time off.”  Pause. Deep breath.  “There are some ruins over the other side of the Tira Mountain range .. old temples .. the ..”

 

“Temples of Dethlena .. and the Spires of Mal’cotha,” Seven interrupted.

 

“Right,” Janeway said slowly. “Well, maybe you and I could take a terra hover and go find them and .. it’s cooler over the other side of the mountain range .. and maybe ..”  She hesitated, looking for signs of rejection in the other’s face but so far, nothing negative registered.  “Maybe we could spend time in the township there, get a decent bath, some fresh clothes and discover the …”

 

Suddenly, a large mountain of a man with Klingon-like features was flung against the wall next to where they sat, ending up in a crumpled heap on the floor.  Then, an even bigger man, whose ancestry was closer to a Gibraltarian rock ape, strode forward, grabbed the downed man by the neck, and with one hand lifted him back onto his feet, where he then proceeded to punch him to the ground again.  Finally, the aggressor grabbed the now completely dazed and drunk Klingon and started pulling him towards the exit.

 

Janeway, with all the suave, sophisticated manner of one conducting a diplomatic negotiation, continued as if nothing had happened.  “As I was saying, we could discover some of the quieter, more peaceful bars that this planet has to offer. If indeed, any actually exist.”  She closed her eyes as she rubbed her temples.

 

“Why would you want to do that with someone who you believe tried to kill you?”  Seven’s face was neutral, the tone subdued. Then, almost as a whisper, “I didn’t.”

 

Janeway opened her eyes and studied the other woman’s face closely, then quite calmly, “I know.”

 

In that precise moment, Seven’s façade of invincibility dropped completely and Janeway saw nothing but a vulnerable, entirely exposed, isolated human being who was just surviving on the edge.  And there, lodged in the eyes was just a hint of something very small, of innocence that had been abused but might just be willing to trust again?

 

Previously caged hope slowly seeped into Janeway’s heart, filling her once more with optimism that her venture into reclaiming Seven’s trust wasn’t completely impossible.  Maybe Vesila had been right.  “So, will you at least consider my offer?”  Don’t push her too fast.

 

Seven’s eyes never left Janeway’s as she moved to speak, but then didn’t.

 

Janeway, afraid that Seven was suddenly going to extract herself from this briefly successful attempt at bonding, ploughed in again with a not so subtle challenge.

 

“You’re not afraid of me, are you?”  The Admiral raised an eyebrow. 

 

Seven glanced down at her hands, a picture of sadness and loss, and then stood to leave, answering quietly, “I will consider the offer.”

 

She left Janeway sat there, none the wiser.  This particular game was taking a long time to play.  After a few minutes alone, Janeway finished her drink and as she walked away from the bar, she realised she felt better than she had done in a very long time. Things seemed to have gone better between her and Seven?  At least they were talking, or at least beginning to.  Maybe she would sleep tonight, her mind more at peace with developments, her heart less heavy.

 

As she returned to her dormitory, she passed Powwaa, the tall Alusian who clearly didn’t see her and continued on his way.

 

Kathryn Janeway walked on a little way and then stopped dead in her tracks.  Something was wrong.

 

Powwaa wasn’t limping … and he should have been.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Not much remained of the once mighty Temples of Dethlana and the Spires of Mal’cotha, but the impressive ancient ruins still bore witness to what had, once, been a powerful civilisation. 

 

The massive Doric pillars still stood as tribute and testament to their architects abilities, lining the fragmented ancient foot-worn streets of marbled stone where this dead civilisation had once walked. 

 

Set high on the side of the Tira mountain range, what would once have been a magnificent view of the valley below, once fertile land with abundant lush growth, was now nothing but a hardened scorched land thirsting for water.  Rarely, an odd breeze rose up out of nowhere, giving respite for the weary worker turned temporary tourist as they gazed over a hot, arid dustbowl set in sweltering heat.

 

Here in this lifeless place, one sensed the loss of a highly civilised culture.  The graceful ruins held expressions of the opulent lifestyle of its people, the beautiful artistic designs still visible and carved into the stone masonry.

 

Both women, alone in the ruins, having driven out in the noisy terra hover vehicle, knew they were quiet witnesses to a people long gone.  Not much was known about the previous inhabitants except that they had been highly advanced but with territorial instincts.  They had played with power beyond their understanding and, during a planet-based war, had unleashed destructive power they had been unable to harness. 

 

It was said that, during the unleashing of their worst weapons, the planet’s axis had been shifted, causing such environmental havoc that this world had become unable to sustain life.  These intelligent life forms had, in effect, destroyed themselves and their home world.  Earth had nearly done the same just a few centuries earlier with its nuclear wars.

 

Janeway pondered on how fascinating it would be to excavate this area, to see what artefacts might still be present, now covered in sand and hidden by rock falls over the centuries.  But the planet’s more recent history had not been conducive to the desires of the archaeologist.  It had favoured instead the ruthless, tyrannical, disadvantageous behaviour of the Cardassians.   How sad, Janeway thought, that a planet once so magnificent and culturally blessed, should have fallen to such a sorry state.

 

“It is impressive.”  Seven’s voice held a rare tone of awe and broke Janeway’s thoughts.

 

“Yes it is.”  Janeway was equally deferent and respectful.  “It reminds me of Herculaneum, one of Italy’s most evocative archaeological sites.  It has the same …” she stared up at the pillars, “majestic appeal and a scent of something once great but gone forever.”

 

The Admiral turned to see Seven watching her, the ex Borg’s hands behind her back, reminiscent of that other Seven so long ago on Voyager.  Had it been so long ago? Janeway’s heart sank a little as she drew comparisons on how far apart the two of them now were.  For here they were, treating each other like cordial strangers, not quite knowing the other well enough to ever fully relax, or to give that implicit trust they had once shared so easily.

 

Aching to fill the silence that now existed between them, Janeway pushed at conversation, any conversation to keep the bare thread of contact alive.

 

“Did you know you can wash yourself with sand in the absence of water?”

 

Seven’s eyebrow arched in surprise at the sudden twist of discussion.

 

“I did not, but that thought does not exactly attract me.”

 

“Doesn’t do much for me either!” Janeway playfully responded.

 

 The retort made both women smile a little and you could almost hear the rigid bearing of both of them relaxing, allowing some nervous tension to dissipate.  Like their surroundings, though they stood in ruins, both hoped that there was still something left of their past, their friendship, that might yet be redeemed?

 

Without hostility or the usual sharpness that Janeway had come to recognise in Seven, the taller woman spoke.

 

“How can you be here and not in Starfleet?  Have you left its employment?”

 

A-ha.  At last, some interest in me.  The auburn haired woman leaned against the massive base of what once would have supported a Doric pillar, long since turned to dust and rubble.  Her thoughts turned to other, distant places and when she spoke, there was an unusual remoteness in the cadence and timbre of the husky voice.

 

“When we got home, I never got around to taking all that leave I was owed.”  She smiled that half smile of hers, the one Seven recognised when the woman was low in spirit and just a little depressed.   “There were the constant debriefings, fighting all those corners to make sure none of the Marquis crew, or you, suffered from our return.  It seemed every high ranking officer in headquarters wanted a personal briefing from me, always from a different angle, a different undercurrent.”

 

Janeway raised her eyes to the heavens. “And then, there was the media attention which was not going to go away.  I took a week off to go stay with my mother but the press followed me.  It was pandemonium.  There were journalists behind every blade of grass.  It seemed like every time I sneezed, someone took a photo!  So in the end, I went back to work, dug my heels in and just got on with the job, answering all the questions both for Starfleet and the public.  Somewhere in between, I never got around to taking anymore leave.”

 

She sighed a little, and glancing down at her feet.  “Then … I just suddenly needed leave, so I asked for what I was owed plus a year’s sabbatical.” 

 

Evasive, Seven considered.  She is hiding something.  Still looking at the slightly absorbed expression on the older woman’s face, “Starfleet willingly gave you that?”   Seven couldn’t quite reconcile herself with the fact that Starfleet would just give up one of its most prized officers for an entire year plus.

 

“I said I’d resign if they didn’t.” The husky voice had turned sharp, business like and with tones of ruthlessness.   Wanting to qualify her cutting statement, Janeway looked over at the ruins but one knew she didn’t see them, her mind lost in thought.

 

“I … was having a few problems.” 

 

Janeway glanced over to see Seven now glaring at her intensely, a deep frown cut into the young woman’s forehead.  At once, and instinctively understanding that Seven was wrongly surmising that Janeway saw her as the problem, Janeway shook her head.

 

Other problems, Seven.”  She swallowed with difficulty.  “I .. wasn’t coping too well … with things.  I had wanted to take a break for a long time but ..”  The voice became quieter, smaller.  “Well, anyway, in the end Starfleet were actually encouraging me to take some time off .. and there was you … the time seemed right. So, here I am.”

 

“Just like that,” Seven said flatly.

 

“Just like that,” Janeway responded unemotionally, strangely empty eyes unfocused on the other’s. 

 

Janeway didn’t want to talk about this anymore.  There were so many issues which still haunted the woman, issues which she didn’t have the energy to face now, like arguing with her mother, the corresponding unpleasantness with her sister, the guilt she continually felt for all those lost sons and daughters placed in her care, under her command, but who never returned to Earth. 

 

She also didn’t want to think about the distressed mother who at the last reunion, had thrown her drink at her and slapped Janeway across the face in a room full of colleagues and friends.  She’d had nightmares about that ever since.  If ever she was in need of a good counsellor, well, now seemed like an appropriate time, except now wasn’t the time.  She had other more important issues to deal with, like Seven .. and the relationship she had, or didn’t, with the woman.

 

She’d try and sort everything out in due course but right now, Seven was her objective and whether Seven knew it or not, the woman needed her … at least she needed someone’s help. Janeway’s problems?  They’d just have to wait until she had more time.  Story of her life, really. 

 

“So, what are you going to do with all this credit you’re earning?”  Janeway mentally calculated that Seven must have amassed a little fortune during the time she’d been here, working for the most danger-challenged team going and now, being the leader of that disparate group. 

 

“I don’t know.  I haven’t considered my options yet.”   The reply was flat.

 

“Don’t you have any dreams, Seven? Things you want to do, places you want to see, people you want to be with?”  Don’t I figure in any of them? Janeway’s own unspoken dreams forced themselves to the surface once more.

 

“I do not dream.” A granite-like quality etched itself into the younger woman’s voice.  “Dreams are for fools who think the world can give them what their heart aspires to.  It does not.” 

 

The cynicism affronting Janeway cut her to the quick. This was all so wrong!  Wasn’t it she, Admiral Janeway, who was destined to become empty, bitter and cynical, not Seven?  How ironic and incongruous that both of them now stood here, fated to become that pitiful caricature presented by the future Janeway.  For all her cotton wool treatment of her own vulnerable psyche, she could feel herself slipping into that ill met role with no hope of restoration.  Her miserable abandonment of Seven as a protective ploy had not worked, and worse, her actions had helped to drag Seven down with her.  They truly were destined to be together in one way or another!

 

“What’s made you this bitter, Seven? I can understand your anger with me, but there has to be something more .. what happened, what went wrong?” The request was soft but the deep blue eyes that fixed on the younger woman were intense, probing, demanding. 

 

Surprisingly, Seven realised that she now wanted to share with this woman all the woes that had befallen her.  She wanted her Captain, her once considered friend, to hear what had gone wrong, how everywhere she had turned, people turned away from her, and how that had made her feel.   Watching the woman before her, she had a momentary vision of that other Janeway, the Captain, the one who had oozed compassion and whom she had trusted with every Borg infested fibre of her body.  Something deep, interminably indefinable, but resonantly warm, made Seven dare to trust this woman once again and to share everything with her.

 

So she began.  “Do you know what it is liked to be shunned, resented, hated and treated like a leper everywhere you go?”  She started talking of her biological family and how some had tried hard to accept her but, in their faces, she could see they didn’t. “I saw the pity in their eyes, as if I was something less than I am.  I did not want their pity, I couldn’t hide and live my life cocooned within that environment. They needed to accept me for what I was, what I could have been .. with their support .. but they would not give it.”

 

‘What I could have been’. Why the past tense, Seven?

 

Seven recounted how some in her family almost blamed her for the death of her parents.  After all, wasn’t she a Borg?  Hadn’t it been the Borg who had destroyed her mother, her father?  She shook her head in bewilderment as she spoke, “I was only a child. Why couldn’t they see I was a victim, too?  It was the Borg who defiled my body and made me into one of them but the family didn’t see that, didn’t want to understand.  All any of them see is this!”  She thrust her left hand out in front of her and then pointed to the facial implants.

 

She turned the conversation to Starfleet, explaining how keen they had been to employ her.  No, utilise me.’   She qualified her words.  The subtle difference was not wasted on Janeway who could do little but watch the increasingly agitated woman continue.  She so desperately wanted to grab Seven and fling her arms around her protectively but she wasn’t sure she could.  Hadn’t she lost Seven, and wasn’t her own heart so bloody fragile, it might rip at the seams?

 

“They offered me diverse employment in a wide variety of different departments, areas ranging from exobiology to astrophysics, operations and security through to intelligence.  The only department not interested in me, was Personnel and Welfare.”  Janeway would have laughed if it hadn’t been so sad.

 

“I believe I was given those jobs because you had rallied to my cause, and they offered me the work out of respect to you and your position ..”

 

“Not so.”  Janeway interrupted, frowning but Seven continued relentlessly.

 

“They gave me trial periods in departments and allowed me to work on safe, pre chosen projects. But all the time, I felt they were watching me, afraid to capitalise on my uniqueness as if considering me to still be a threat, a danger to them.  They only saw me as predominantly Borg despite the experience and credibility I had built whilst on Voyager. I worked for a while within the scientific department, researching areas concerning biomechanics and exobiology but my colleagues were frightened of me ..”  She frowned as a look of bewilderment and confusion cut across her face, “and they were never able to relax in my company. I tried hard to break down their pre-assumptions of me and applied all the doctor’s training in ‘social banter’, but they feared and distrusted me.”  Blue eyes watered. 

 

Seven breathed deeply before continuing, “I would walk into the mess hall and people would stop talking.  They would watch me as if they expected me to suddenly jump up and assimilate the person sitting at the next table … not that anyone stayed in my vicinity.  They moved the moment I sat down.”

 

Janeway cringed as she thought of the effect that ostracizing behaviour would have had on Seven.

 

An edge of superiority and conceit reasserted itself in Seven’s demeanour, almost as utilised as a barrier against her own fragile vulnerability. Janeway recognised this behaviour.  Years ago on Voyager, in the early days, Seven had hid her fear behind this arrogance and condescension, afraid beyond belief to show weakness.  Frighteningly alert to pain Seven was suffering and the chilling way she spoke in past tenses, all the Admiral could do was watch and listen as the ethereal woman continued.

 

“I was never allowed to fully utilise my superior intellect because they kept any security classification low, and limited my access to necessary materials.  I became bored.”

 

Janeway, now fully open to the displeasures of hindsight, was mentally kicking herself.  In her demented obsession with avoiding both Chakotay and Seven, she had thought that Chakotay would know how to tend to Seven’s real needs.  He’d clearly had no problem tending to her physical ones, she’d seen enough evidence of that on their return!  But what of her desperate and continuing need to simply be accepted?  How alone Seven must have felt and who had been there to support her during these vital first few months on Earth?  Not me.

 

Why hadn’t Chakotay asked her for help in this matter?  But Janeway already knew why.  Her First Officer had tried to become everything to Seven, such had been his enthusiasm. There had also been a pleasant conversation with the man, but with strange undertones, where he had asked Janeway to back off a little, saying he wanted to step in now and take over.  He had been marking his territory, and on reflection, Janeway could now see he envied her the closeness the two women had shared, and perhaps had seen it as a threat of some sort?  And what the hell! Janeway had willingly let him take over since it helped her to distance herself from Seven!  What a foolish idiot she’d been.  And the irony of it all was that Janeway knew that if she’d been around to mentor Seven or simply be her friend, she could have explained to Seven that Starfleet’s behaviour was entirely understandable, if temporary.

 

Starfleet would have been biding their time, assessing and evaluating the young woman, seeing if she really did measure up to the glowing account that her last boss had painted of her!  Of course they weren’t going to jump in and give her instant access to the highest security classifications.  But they would have done if only Seven had hung around long enough.  Janeway knew things would have worked out …. still could.  If only she had been there to advise Seven.

 

Chakotay should have shown more sense too, instead of ‘rescuing her’ and whisking her away from everyone she knew, taking her to some isolated part of the quadrant to be introduced to a people that valued the old ways and native traditions, and were nervous of technology.  B’Elanna and Tom had been particularly incensed when Chakotay had revealed his intentions, not just Harry Kim.

 

As for the ‘fear’ factor of her new colleagues?  Hadn’t Voyager’s crew avoided Seven like the plague in those early days? But eventually, the fear has turned to curiosity, then respect, and sometime after that, Seven had suddenly been promoted to ‘valued colleague’ and eventually, friend.  Damn it!  The only thing these people, and Seven, had really needed was time.

 

Seven’s voice cracked with emotion as she talked of Chakotay and how she had thought they had shared a genuine love for each other but how she could now see the relationship for what it was – passion, lust, and his attraction to notoriety as the one who had captured the Borg’s heart.

 

Janeway didn’t believe the last comment.  Chakotay was many things and had handled this whole relationship very badly, but attracted to fame?  No. What was it Seska had said to her once, long before Voyager had discovered it harboured a Cardassian spy? 

 

‘Chakotay has never held onto relationships. He is the eternal drifter in matters of the heart, a nomad who is unable to deal with the small, intense details of life – one who must always strive for the big challenges.’   

 

How right Seska had been.  Poor Chakotay was doomed to fail with the one-to-one relationship that he and Seven had been faced with.  And when it blew, he hadn’t known what to do.  Maybe he’d tried to contact her, too?

 

Seven explained how Chakotay had happily whisked her away to his home planet, removing her from the uncomfortable presence of her family and Starfleet.  Then she talked of how the passion eventually gave way to unhappiness.  Chakotay ceased wanting to be her lover, and slowly grew distant, even though he tried not to.  She in turn, felt discarded, rejected and came to realise that her ‘love’ had rapidly diminished also.  

 

By now, Chakotay was having to justify Seven’s existence on his native world, answering questions of why he had brought her there.  He was continually fighting for her acceptance with his people who treated her with distrust, pity, revolt, even though some tried hard to hide it .. like her family.  They did not want her there, and in time, neither did Chakotay, although he never said anything.  Eventually, she had left him.

 

“I ended up on Risa IV, thinking then to return to Earth and decided I wanted to stay there for awhile but I had little credit and had to search for work.”  An air of arrogance crept into the tone.  “I found work in a brothel, cleaning rooms and replacing bedding.  You can imagine that bedding was changed regularly so I had good employment.”  Caustic sarcasm.

 

Janeway’s eyes must have narrowed as she cringed, thinking of Seven in such a place.

 

Seven saw the Admiral’s grimace.

 

“Do not be too disappointed in me, Admiral.”  The derision was strong and the intonation superior and proud.  “It is a superior establishment that accepts only the highest paying customer.” Continuing as if to hurt the other woman, “I will spare you the torrid detail but I managed to improve my circumstances greatly and became a well paid employee.”

 

Seven paused, openly challenging Janeway to say something negative, her entire body stance now defensive.  The anger was seeping out of the young woman, and Janeway recognised it had been locked away too long.  It needed to come out.

 

“In such a place, I found the warmth of acceptance.  Management, my ‘work colleagues’, and the customers, they never seemed the slightest bit bothered about who I was or what had befallen me.  I learned quickly and acquired many skills, and as long as I could deliver what the customer required, I was an asset.  I stayed there for four months before arriving here.  The rest, as they say, is history.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Seven.”  Janeway, who still leaned against the plinth, could barely speak.

 

“You sound as if you care.”  Challenge and contempt littered Seven’s words.

 

“I care,” Janeway said simply, trying desperately to convey the truth of the words in her eyes. Whilst she’d been nursing her wounds, this had been happening to the woman she claimed to love.  No wonder Seven had threatened to kill her!

 

“Why are you here, Admiral?” Seven’s trembling voice made the other woman jerk her head up.

 

“I’ve missed you.” Barely adequate words but the truth.  And I’m not sure I can live without you.

 

“I wish I could believe that.” A dull, wooden response.

 

“I’m sorry you don’t, Seven, but I promise you its true.”

 

Janeway felt her hands shaking, the stone plinth supporting her weight. Never had she wanted to hold somebody so badly in her entire life!  Was she so vulnerable, she couldn’t even show Seven basic compassion anymore? 

 

“I don’t believe you, Admiral.”

 

Janeway hated Seven using her new rank.  They’d never been close since she had assumed this position.

 

Quieter now, Seven spoke again.

 

“Through all of this, I wanted to turn to you, but you weren’t there.  I needed you but you never answered the messages I left – you never returned my calls.”  She paused.  “And now you’re here, in this place. Why? Why can’t I make you leave me?”  She stared at the auburn haired woman. “I don’t understand you.  On Voyager, you were the one constant in my life, almost my shadow.  On Earth, you divorced yourself from me, completely cutting me off, and now you are here again .. and I do not know why.”

 

Now almost begging, “Please .. make me understand because .. your presence hurts me!”  She raised a hand to wipe tears before they fell.  “Why didn’t you return my messages?” she pleaded.

 

“I .. ”  Janeway couldn’t answer the question and her miserable effort just hung in the air like the wasted breath it was.

 

Seven suddenly choked, holding back a sob, unable to say more.

 

Enough!  Janeway sprang from where she was and engulfed Seven in her arms, who now clung to her like a drowning person clings to floating wood, the body shaking.  Janeway felt their bodies mould together as if it was the most natural of physical unions, and for a brief moment, she allowed herself to be consumed in the joy of just holding this woman she craved the love of so deeply. 

 

She let her hands wander across the tall woman’s back, feeling the heat transfer from that body into her suddenly oversensitive fingertips.  The smell of Seven, unique in every way, filled her senses and as she breathed her in, she could feel that breath saturating through her body, awakening her, and for one golden and blessed moment she was truly alive!  Like an enormous weight falling from her, Kathryn Janeway felt her own sanity slowly slipping away as she tried desperately to pull Seven closer to her.  Her head turning, she felt her own lips make contact with the soft, gently perspiring skin of Seven’s neck and she sensed the other woman reacting, turning into her.

 

But the warning bells were never far away and cruelly taunted her with the consequences of these actions.  Like a blow across the face, her mental sagacity came back on line, warning her that this action could mean nothing but rejection.  Yes, Seven was rid of Chakotay but that didn’t mean she was free to love her.  Had this young woman ever indicated any affection beyond friendship?  No.  Hadn’t all of her initial love forages been towards men?  Yes.  Pursue this, Kathryn, and your life will be like these ruins.  Destroyed, broken and with nothing left, only a façade of something that had once been.  Reality hitting Kathryn hard, she knew that to give in to this moment of weakness would mean living an eternity in pain.  She had to end this now.

 

Seven sensed Janeway’s tension before the smaller woman pulled away. Momentarily stunned, the ex drone staggered back, away from the other woman as if a painful electric charge had just passed between them.  She stared, open eyed at her one time mentor whose face was now downcast, the eyes closed and the body posture sagging.  Sickened, it all made sense now to Seven!  How could she not have seen this?  Her face grew like thunder and the anger imploded within her.

 

“You are just like all the others, just like Chakotay!  Now we’re home, my Borg physiology and uniqueness is too much for you.  Everything was acceptable whilst we where in the Delta Quadrant but now, I’m an embarrassment and you cannot bear to even touch me, can you?”

 

Jolted back to reality, and Seven’s mis-interpretation of her withdrawal, “Seven, no, you don’t understand!”  Janeway tried to move closer to the woman but she stepped away.  “Stay away from me, don’t touch me!”  Seven’s hair now gently moved in the brief fleeting breeze that surrounded them both.  “You dare tell me that you care?  You don’t care for me, Admiral Janeway.”  Open, hostile rancour flooded back into Seven as she prowled around the Starfleet officer like prey surveying its next meal.  “I believe I know why you’re here!”

 

Oh bring it on, Seven, because I don’t think you’ve got a clue!    

 

“You’re here because of obligation. You were the one who rescued me from the Borg and this gives you a sense of misguided responsibility for my well-being.”

 

“Really?  Brilliant deduction, Seven, but it doesn’t hold ...”  Janeway felt a tinge of anger that Seven could think this.

 

Seven interrupted the woman before she could continue. “Don’t worry about me. I’ve survived all of this without you or anyone else, and I can make my own future without you.”  

 

“Forgive me if I’m not too impressed on where you’ve got to so far. I didn’t rescue you from the Borg to see you self destruct in a place like this!”

 

Seven stoically ignored the caustic comment.  “I’ll make it easier for you.  I absolve you of any responsibility you may feel you have for me.  You will no doubt see all of this as some personal failure on your part and of lost opportunities for the Federation but I want you to leave and let me get on with my life!”

 

Lost opportunities for the Federation?  “Have you finished?”  Janeway was getting rattled, with herself and Seven.  “Am I supposed to find this all reassuring, that you’ve grown up and flown the nest?”  Janeway wiped a trickle of sweat pouring down her face as the sun rested over their heads, as she felt every ounce of her old command presence flooding back into her.

 

“Seven, understand this.  I am not leaving you here, so if you’re not leaving, neither am I!”

 

“You will regret that.”  Low. Threatening.

 

“So you keep threatening.”  Higher. Challenging.

 

Janeway sensed the menacing aura that was emanating from Seven the woman might lash out at her again?  But Seven was restrained, controlled.  “We are leaving.  I will return to base camp tomorrow and resume my duties.  You would be wise to remain in town and return to Earth on the next available flight.”  Seven turned and walked back down the mountain side to where the terra vehicle was. 

 

That’s it? End of conversation? Brilliant.  Absolutely, bloody brilliant.  But then, where would this conversation go?  There really wasn’t much that the Admiral felt able to say .. except that Seven had put two and two together and made forty nine! Janeway groaned loudly as she trudged down the rock pathway, following Seven.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Seven slammed the hotel door behind her and then fell against it for support, feeling the cold of the metal door give sharp relief to the heat and humidity of the late afternoon.   Her entire body felt utterly drained of its superior, Borg enhanced energy and Seven contemplated for just a fraction of a millisecond, how strange it was that her apparent loss of strength was not due to physical exertion but the result of emotions.  It was another inexplicable mystery of being human.

 

She was so exhausted, and for a while she didn’t move or think but remained perfectly still as if frozen in time, her eyes set unfocused on some unimportant area of the dull, grubby hotel wall opposite, her face expressionless.

 

She let herself watch the fading light outside for a long time until she simply gave in to what her heart had wanted her to do for a very long while .. she allowed herself to cry.   At first, the sounds she made were gentle, quiet whimperings but they grew stronger, eventually giving way to deep, wrenching sobs that could no longer be contained. 

 

When ‘Dawes’ had appeared, part of her, a secret part of her hidden so deep inside, had so wanted the Captain to be here, to rescue her like she had always done.  How many countless times had Captain Janeway faced up to some unvanquished and unconquerable foe and proved the victor, and how many times had those battles been for her sake only?  

 

But everything had changed when they had returned to the Alpha Quadrant.  The Captain was now gone too, and in her place some replicated duplicate known as Admiral but who Seven didn’t know or trust anymore.  Why had things changed?  What had happened that had so altered the comfortable resonance between the two women? 

 

Janeway’s obvious rejection of her on the mountain side had been an unexpected and cruel blow.  All Seven had wanted was the protective embrace of the woman she had once felt so bonded to.  Stood there in the blazing sun and sweltering heat, held in the arms of that woman, she had actually begun to feel herself repairing, her own drone body so alarmingly responsive around this human.  Did Janeway have any idea of the power she held over her?

 

Time passed and the shadows in the unlit room grew longer as Seven’s body grew less rigid and eased a little as her sobbing gave way to fatigue.  Still leaning against the closed hotel door, Seven’s mind began to wander involuntarily, gone for the moment the rigid discipline of the Borg mind.  Like a bee, hopping from flower to flower, so Seven thought of her differing connections and growing relationships with the one human called Kathryn Janeway.

 

At first, she had seen the woman as her enemy, the one who had taken her from the Collective and had held her captive.  But very quickly, those feelings of hatred had vanished and given way to the relationship of mentor and pupil.  This had been a monumental learning time for Seven, connecting once more with her long lost human composition and allowing her Borg-ness to dissipate correspondingly.

 

This time had also seen her learn to appreciate and value the individual known as Captain.  As is true in any mentoring relationship, if the venture is to prove successful then the mentor has to give much of themselves, share their own foibles, weaknesses, fears, in order to fully appraise the young apprentice of all that needs to be understood.  And Janeway had not shirked her duty.

 

Seven had come to understand that she liked the woman who was her mentor, and better still, it was apparent that the mentor genuinely liked the pupil. Thus was born the friendship.  And that friendship had grown exponentially and remained true until they had returned to the Alpha Quadrant when the former Captain had simply distanced herself from the once strong relationship. Contemplating, Seven wondered if that distance hadn’t started a few months earlier on the Voyager?

 

Regardless, Seven’s appreciation of the woman had remained, unable to believe that the standoffishness of the relationship could harbour serious undertones.

 

Then trouble had beset Seven in the form of family, employment and her first intimate relationship.  She had eventually run and found temporary sanctuary on Risa IV where, during her respite as a prostitute, she had made a series of most interesting self discoveries – she preferred the comfort of female customers.

 

Madam Fenor acknowledged this personal discovery and began to tailor Seven’s customers accordingly, and Seven found she began to enjoy bringing pleasure to these women who sometimes, unexpectedly, gave her pleasure back. But there was a hidden pain behind this discovery and one which had made her recent personal anguish all the more unbearable.

 

Whilst at the brothel, initially during her time off, Seven started thinking much of Captain Janeway and their relationship.  The woman had probably been on Seven’s mind because she had not responded to any of her messages, but Janeway was never more than a thought away from Seven’s consciousness and she found herself considering if anything beyond friendship might have been possible between the two of them.  They had been exceptionally close and on reflection, far closer than she had ever, could ever have been, with Voyager’s First Officer.  Her internal observations fascinated her and she continued to allow her thoughts free reign as she contemplated and hypothesized a changing relationship.

 

Then, whilst providing services to female customers, Seven had started to day dream and imagine the women she was making love to were Janeway.  Her performance had improved dramatically and had met with enormous customer satisfaction!  She too, had experienced highs of personal fulfilment and pleasure.

 

But this revelation was two sided.  The joy of knowing what she secretly desired was ripped to shreds by realising it was something unobtainable.  Her love was not returned and worse, gone was even the hand of friendship.

 

Why then, had Janeway turned up on this planet, with no acceptable explanation?  A tiny little part of Seven, deep inside but well protected against future hurts, had hoped that there was something redeemable between the two of them, in whatever guise but the visit to the temples had ripped her hopes aside and scattered them, like dust in the wind.

 

Seven remained standing, leaning against the hotel door, completely alone and so afraid of what her future held.

 

 

 

 

*****