A Fine Line

A Star Trek Voyager Story

By Enginerd


Chapter 12 - Simple Subjects

Captain Ba'Re stepped off the Tribute's transporter pad and nodded to the executive officer, CDR Ga'let. "Please follow me, Captain," he said politely to their guest and walked down the long corridor to the Captain's office.

"Captain Errgess, Captain Ba'Re has arrived," CDR Ga'let stood erect as he formally introduced her.

She looked around his dark office, unimpressed with the many awards and decorations on his walls.

"Leave us," Errgess said and stood from his desk. "So Karryn, what did you want to see me about, as if I didn't know," he said condescendingly, eyeing the smaller woman with distaste. She was always on verge of being disciplined for being disrespectful to the Council, yet for some unfathomable reason, managed to avoid it with her quick thinking and flowery words. They may be fooled, but he knew her for what she really was - trouble.

"You must see continuing Taghra's honor quest as foolish," she argued reasonably, hoping the latest loss would tarnish the alluring glow of Honor and avoid more loss.

He snorted. "You know, Karryn. I'm still amazed you're a Captain. Your father's sacrifice could not have possibly been great enough for the Guard to continue to tolerate your insubordination," he said, unable to avoid the familiar insult.

"So I guess you don't see this as foolish," she said with a sigh, used to the many barbs and snide comments from the other Captains. However annoying it was, their lack of professionalism towards her proved useful, for she knew where her allies were, and Captain Errgess was not an ally by any stretch of the imagination.

"I think we should try another boarding attempt," he said, ignoring her comment.

"Brilliant idea, Errgess. We've certainly had success with that approach so far," she said sarcastically to her senior officer.

"After a few days of quiet, their guard will be down and we'll be successful," he argued.

"And why would we suddenly be successful?" She said wearily, compelled to ask.

"We've been too narrow in our focus, making it difficult to execute the plan. But instead of targeting the Captain, we will take the ship with ten times the boarders!" he said with a grin and continued "Taking a ship like that - just think of what we could learn about their technology." He was obviously pleased with his own cleverness.

"The Council only agreed to Taghra's right to go after the Captain. They did not agree with stealing the ship!" Captain Ba'Re snapped, knowing he just wanted a trophy. If Granarians had really wanted to exchange technology and ideas, they would not have agreed to let Captain Taghra's ego dictate their policy and they wouldn't be in this stupid situation to begin with, she thought with angry frustration.

"She has killed our people!" He growled.

"After we attacked her! How many more must die to satisfy Taghra's honor quest?" She countered angrily. "Surely you have studied enough from our encounters to know of their superior defenses and weapons!"

Easing his hand over his sidearm, he seethed "As senior officer in this battle group, I decide what we do. Tell me now if you can not carry out my orders."

"I have always and will always do my duty, Captain," she spat out evenly.

"When I return back to the council with Voyager in tow, they will agree it was a good plan," he said, considering one day she was going to cross the line. He hoped he would be there when she did.

"I'll be waiting for your signal," she said curtly and abruptly stormed out without asking for leave.

***

Kathryn emerged from her long shower and quickly dried off her chilled body with a towel. She growled with irritation that a cold shower was not as helpful as she had hoped. She shook her head as she donned her robe and entered her bedroom. She sucked in a startled breath to find Seven was standing in her room.

"I did not mean to frighten you," Seven said "but you did not hear my requests for entrance."

"W. . .What's wrong?" Kathryn asked, trying to compose herself as she fumbled with her robe's sash.

"I wish to discuss Jerran with you," Seven said.

Kathryn exhaled heavily. "You never do pick simple subjects, do you?" Kathryn muttered, shaking her head as she walked towards her bed.

Seven's eyes instinctively dropped, taking in the Captain's robe-clad form with interest. While in the Collective, she had thought beauty was irrelevant. However, as an individual, she was learning to appreciate the full complexity of the idea. Beauty was not just superficial appearance, it was all encompassing. It was not surprising the Collective dismissed the concept as irrelevant. The factors that were important to describing beauty were as variable as the quantification of those factors. The Collective could not possibly accept a concept that the definition of beauty depended on the individual.

Even as an individual, Seven did not know how to define what was beautiful to her. However, given intelligence, personality, character, as well as appearance, Kathryn Janeway was by far the most beautiful person she had ever met.

"It's rather late, can we discuss this tomorrow?" Janeway said with a heavy sigh, startling Seven from her distracting thoughts.

"I think now would be better," Seven said firmly.

"All right," Janeway answered wearily. "What about Jerran do you want to discuss?" She said and sat on the edge of her bed, rubbing the back of her neck.

"Have you considered the ramifications to Jerran, should you succeed in breaking her dependence upon this bond?"

"Of course I have," Kathryn countered defensively, suddenly standing up as an unexpected surge of arousal coursed through her. Being alone with Seven in her bedroom suddenly didn't seem like such a good idea at the moment. Not that it ever really was a good idea, she thought uneasily.

Kathryn started to pace, wondering with concern if this bond was going to cause her to feel intense arousal anytime she found someone remotely attractive. Not that Seven was remotely anything. She was completely . . . everything.

"Then you must know she does not seek the freedom you are determined to obtain for her," Seven asked, noticing the Captain's agitation with this difficult discussion, well aware the Captain did not like being wrong.

For God's Sake, Janeway wondered, why did Seven's outfit have to be so tight?!? Perhaps she should order Seven to wear different clothes . . . like a big, baggy smock. Sandy brown or some color that didn't bring out the blue in those incredible eyes, like that silver outfit she was wearing now . . . God! Was the thermostat now broken too, she thought with irritation, making a mental note to complain to B'Elanna first thing tomorrow, as she wiped the sweat off her brow with the back of her uneasy hand.

"Kathryn?"

The curious voice startled Janeway, who looked at her uncomfortably, struggling to recall their conversation. "Uh . . . ." They were discussing Jerran, she finally recalled with mild relief. "Jerran's just afraid. She'll see that freedom is a precious gift," Kathryn said, continuing her pacing.

"She is not of that opinion now. You are forcing your desires upon her," Seven said bluntly.

Kathryn suddenly stopped and looked at Seven incredulously. It was all she could do to NOT subject Jerran, or current company for that matter, to her GODDAMN desires! With a pained grimace, she turned and paced again.

"You feel desire now," Seven softly stated with a hint of accusation, suddenly understanding the physical signals and source of the Captain's agitation. She fought to suppress her illogical and disturbing emotions. Kathryn needed her friendship now, not a former Borg wrestling with jealousy.

With a deep breath to try and help settle her inflamed nerves, Kathryn ignored the statement and said "I'm just trying to give Jerran her freedom, Seven. If you'll recall, that was something you were afraid of, but eventually appreciated."

"True. However, I was not a Taak," Seven argued, eyeing the Captain, who avoided looking at her directly as she normally did during a discussion.

"No, you were Borg," Kathryn countered firmly. "And now you're free from them."

"Not entirely, Kathryn," Seven countered, raising her ocular implant which underscored that fact.

Janeway frowned.

"And Jerran was not assimilated against her will into her current state," Seven added.

"But she wasn't born into it, Seven. You heard her. She said they are first bonded when they mature, they are not born into it," Kathryn argued.

"Being a Taak is a biological condition. Puberty causes the need for the bond, a bond which is required for her to survive. Is it not possible she was never meant to be free from it? Does not the Prime Directive state . . . ?" Seven said.

"For God's sake, Seven," Kathryn interrupted angrily. "What am I supposed to do? Just "keep" her?!? It's slave . . . !" Kathryn said, interrupted with another surge of arousal that almost buckled her knees. "Oh God."

"Kathryn?" Seven stepped towards the older woman with concern.

"Don't!" Kathryn snapped harshly, holding her hand up. The surprised blond reluctantly stopped her advance.

"Do you need the Doctor?"

"His sedatives don't seem to work . . . for this," Kathryn growled, looking anywhere but at the beautiful woman, who was very close to being jumped by a Starfleet Captain. Oh God, Janeway silently prayed for strength.

Seven considered the logical alternatives. With great reluctance, she offered "Perhaps you should seek relief from Jerran."

"What?!?" Kathryn gasped, surprised and hurt by the thought. "No!" She snapped, shaking her head as tears sprung up in her eyes and a sense of utter helplessness engulfed her. Angrily, she wiped her eyes with a trembling hand and fixed her gaze on a star cluster out her window. "That's not . . . what I want."

"You would prefer a male for copulation," Seven concluded.

"That's not what I meant! I am not going to be coerced into having sex with ANYONE!"

"There is the holodeck or you could mastu . . ," Seven quickly offered alternatives, relieved by the Captain's refusal to seek someone.

"SEVEN! Don't help," Kathryn growled, pressing her palms and head against the window. So much energy with no place to spend it, she thought miserably, clenching her hands into fists against the glass.

"Kathryn, it will be unhealthy for you to continue like this," Seven said with concern.

"I know," Kathryn hissed into the window. Suddenly, with every ounce of strength she could muster, she forced a deep breath and stood taller. "I've got to do something about Jerran. She is the catalyst for these . . . feelings. It seems she has the control here," Kathryn said, barely holding back her emotions. "And I thought she was supposed to be the Taak," Kathryn joked miserably.

Seven was torn between wanting to express her anger to Jerran and her need to remain calm to help Kathryn. But Kathryn won. Kathryn would always win, she acknowledged.

"I know she's scared of being free, Seven. But I've got to tell you, I can't live like this," Kathryn said, her hand rubbing the back of her neck. Her back was still to Seven . . . out of necessity.

Seven agreed, knowing Kathryn would be miserable, as would Jerran. Then curiously, she watched as the burden seemed to slowly melt away as Kathryn's shoulders started to relax with an exhale of relief.

After a few moments of silence, Seven spoke. "We will find a solution, Kathryn," Seven promised softly, fighting an instinctual desire to embrace the older woman. But she knew Captain Janeway would not welcome anyone's physical comfort at the moment.

Kathryn nodded silently, clinging to the promise, wanting to believe. Wrapping her arms around herself tightly, she continued to stare at the stars. After another, silent moment, Seven turned and started to leave the Captain's bedroom but stopped and turned towards the older woman.

"Would you like me to sing you to sleep tonight?" Seven offered, hearing a surprising, soft chuckle as Kathryn recalled the last song fondly, even if she did end up with an odd craving for beer.

"I appreciate the offer. But I don't think I could fully enjoy it tonight. I don't want anything to ruin that. Do you understand?" Kathryn asked uneasily, still staring out her window, afraid to tempt herself with the sight of the Astrometrics Officer.

"I believe so," Seven said. "When the situation allows, I will sing you another song, Kathryn," Seven promised, then started to leave.

"Seven," Kathryn suddenly said, anxiousness coloring her tone as she dared to face Seven.

Seven stopped, and looked at the uneasy woman curiously.

"Thank you . . . for giving me something to look forward to," Janeway said tightly.

"You are welcome, Kathryn. Good night."

***

Seven entered the living room quietly and found Jerran laying down on the sofa with her eyes shut. She studied her a curious moment before concluding the Granarian was not asleep.

"She does not appreciate the feelings you provoke within her," Seven said softly but clearly, sitting across from Jerran. "Nor do I. Stop your manipulations or I will stop them for you."

Jerran's eyes opened and she sat up slowly with a frown, looking at the irritated blond. "But I thought . . . the Captain confuses me," Jerran admitted miserably, surprising the former Borg, who was ready to lash out at the Taak for her thoughtless manipulation of the Captain. However, it appeared to be, like most things involving the Captain, more complicated than she had anticipated.

"She is not like any Oben I've had. She does not seek anything for herself. Even when it involves pleasure with someone I know she . . . ," she said, then looked at Seven uncomfortably, falling silent with a frown. Seven's optical implant rose curiously. "I only wish to please her," Jerran offered.

"You can start by not toying with her," Seven said tersely.

"I was not toying with her. But everything I think she wants, she refuses!" Jerran exhaled with frustration.

"She does not want what is not freely given."

"But it is," Jerran objected with annoyance.

"The Captain does not see it that way."

"I just want to serve her, anyway I can," Jerran moaned.

"What you offer, your unconditional subservience, is something she does not want."

"Her crew is subservient. . . ." Jerran countered with confusion.

"They follow her, by choice," Seven replied. "You were bonded with her. You have no choice."

"I do have a choice. I could leave," Jerran said defiantly.

"And you would die."

"That would be my choice," Jerran countered, getting an impatient sigh from the tall blond. "Perhaps that is what Oben wants," she said thoughtfully.

"The Captain would not want you to end your life. Your death could never please her, it would hurt her," Seven said firmly.

Jerran frowned. "I do not wish to hurt her."

Seven eyed the Granarian, for the first time believing Jerran meant no harm. "Perhaps we can determine the next step together. You must tell me everything you know about Obens and Taaks."

Jerran looked at her with surprise and something she was afraid to feel - hope. "If you tell me about Kathryn Janeway," Jerran countered.

Seven eyed her, surprised at the Taak's persistence to please an Oben who did not wish to be pleased. Though it was logical. A solution to the problem could take a long time, she considered.

"Agreed."


Chapter 13 - Searching for Freedom

Days passed with very slow progress on finding a medical solution. Once again, Janeway and Seven were in sickbay with the Doctor, working on the finding a treatment that would give Jerran her freedom.

"What are those?" Jerran asked curiously, looking over the Doctor's shoulder at the computer screen.

"Those are the nanoprobes we've been talking about. The key element to a possible treatment," the Doctor said, glancing over his shoulder at his patient. "They are tools we will try to adapt to sever your bond with the Captain."

Jerran looked at him with a frown. "But they are so small and the bond is very strong," she warned skeptically, making Kathryn smile.

"Small, but determined little buggers," he added with amusement.

Seven sighed at the Doctor's non answer. "We are attempting to program them to seek out and neutralize the bonding substance in Captain Janeway's system at the cellular level," she explained to the confused Granarian.

"Then we will not be bonded?" Jerran asked with surprise.

"I'm afraid it's a bit more complicated than that. Even if we're successful with the nanoprobes, we have not figured a way to treat you," Kathryn said with a sigh, looking up from Jerran's physiological profile on her computer.

"And I would die," Jerran said, quickly understanding the complication.

"Yes. My simulations have predicted your death within 3.66 hours after eradication of the chemical from the Captain's system," Seven said.

"Just as if the Captain was far away or had died," Jerran said and solemnly offered. "I understand. It is sufficient time to prepare for the final peace with the Great Provider."

"Jerran, I told you, the goal was to free you, not kill you," Kathryn said with exasperation.

Seven looked at Jerran, seeing a depressed slouch in her shoulders. It seemed whatever solution they found, someone was going to be hurt. It was a most frustrating problem, she considered.

"Yes, Oben," Jerran said, bowing her head in deference to the Captain, who sighed heavily and shook her head in frustration.

"We are looking at ways to neutralize the effects of your gland when it senses no Oben. Unfortunately, we can't just remove it. Your physiology requires the gland for some basic functions for life," the Doctor relayed.

"I already knew this," Jerran said, surprised the Doctor was just realizing this. "The Ke' Cha, is the source of my strength and life."

"Your brain, heart, and muscles may have a bit of an argument with you on that," the Doctor said with amusement, returning his gaze to the screen.

Jerran eyed him with disappointment. He did not understand. No one understood.

"Jerran, why don't we take a break and get something to eat?" Kathryn said, seeing the somber mood of the Granarian.

"Yes, Oben," Jerran said.

"Kathryn," Janeway corrected softly.

Jerran looked at her Oben with surprise, seeing a warm smile. She glanced to Seven, whose eyes dropped but not before she caught a flicker of hurt.

"I, I am hungry, Captain," Jerran offered uncomfortably. She knew her Oben would never intentionally want to hurt Seven.

"Well, let's go then," Janeway said enthusiastically.

***

"Have you thought any more about what you might what to do with your life once you are freed from the bond?" Kathryn asked Jerran, who sat across the table in the mess hall.

Seven sipped her nutritional supplement, concerned with Kathryn's endless supply of optimism. If this situation does not work out as hoped, Kathryn would be deeply hurt.

"What do you think I am suited for?" Jerran asked curiously. Seven sighed, knowing Jerran was only seeking a way to please her Oben, not truly wanting anything else.

"Well that's a good question. You seem knowledgeable about the transphotomodular pulse. Perhaps physics?" Kathryn said.

"Physics, then," Jerran said firmly with a smile, thinking it would please her Oben.

"Jerran, you won't be happy if you jump into something because it's what you think I want. Perhaps you can take a few tests to see where your interests lie?" Janeway offered.

Jerran's smile faded.

"I will be tested, then," Jerran said in resignation. She had been an asset to her last Oben. He appreciated her physical attentions as well as all the information she collected about the senior Council members, which he shrewdly used to boost his status. She also knew she could be a valuable asset to Captain Janeway - if only Captain Janeway would just let her, she considered with frustration.

Kathryn sighed. Jerran didn't seem to be comprehending the concept of free will very well. She glanced to Seven, who had grasped that concept rather quickly. At times, Seven suffered from too much free will, bordering at times on insubordination, she mused. However, Kathryn knew Seven honestly struggled to balance her new-found independence with her attempts to fit in with her new "collective."

"What do you think, Seven?" Kathryn asked, hoping some of Seven's independence might rub off on Jerran. She eyed the former Borg, glancing between the two women, who were both strikingly beautiful with mesmerizing blue eyes. Each had an almost regal bearing. . . .

"Jerran seems to have many skills," Seven allowed, drawing Jerran's curious gaze.

. . . but where Seven's demeanor was crisp and exacting, Jerran's was more uninhibited as exemplified by her raven hair that flowed freely over her shoulders, unlike Seven's rigidly contained blond, Kathryn considered.

"Aptitude tests should help identify what she excels in," Seven said, oblivious to the Captain's distractions.

Dark and light, Kathryn mused, wondering what Seven's hair would look like freely flowing....

"I don't need a test to determine what I am most proficient in," Jerran taunted Seven with a grin and challenge in her eye.

. . . beautiful, of course, Kathryn thought with a sigh.

"Which is fortunate as Voyager's database does not contain any aptitude tests for copulation," Seven countered tersely, meeting the Granarian's amused gaze.

Copulation? Captain Janeway's brows furrowed as the words caught up with her. "Seven!"

"Was my search incomplete?" Seven challenged indignantly. A chuckle from Jerran surprised Kathryn, who looked between the two curiously.

"Not that I'm aware," Kathryn said uneasily, with a thin smile. However, she strongly suspected Mr. Paris' recreational programs might have something close. "I'll have to trust your findings."

"Curious. Why would you be searching for aptitude tests for copulation, Seven?" Jerran asked innocently. Perhaps her Oben will now recognize how much Seven wanted to please her, in everything, Jerran thought.

A most unpleasant feeling of embarrassment washed over Seven. Even her nanoprobes couldn't counter the flush that quickly rose.

Kathryn remained silent, feeling bad for the young woman, who was likely exploring that very natural aspect of humanity. It had to happen eventually, she thought with an odd sense of loss.

Recognizing neither woman appreciated the topic, Jerran quickly offered. "I will do my best on whatever test you give me, Oben."

Kathryn nodded, feeling a bit less optimistic about the whole situation.

"I'll get Mr. Tuvok to administer some aptitude tests, Jerran. There must be some topic that interests you," Kathryn said, knowing she was not going to influence the Granarian over night. Jerran nodded silently, strongly suspecting there were also no tests in the Voyager's data base for being a Taak.

"Ladies!" Nelix said with a smile that immediately turned into a frown. "None of you have tried my Elatian Jelly Roast."

"Oh Nelix, I'm pretty full," Kathryn said, making a show of patting her stomach with a grimace.

"Pishaw! There's always room for Elatian Jelly Roast. Let me get you some," Nelix said with a grin.

"Captain, are we not due back at the Doctor's soon?" Jerran quickly asked with urgency, interrupting Nelix's mission.

"Yes. Yes we are. Well, Nelix, I'm afraid we've got to go," Kathryn got up quickly. Immediately accompanied by Jerran and Seven, who recognized the efficiency of using an existing escape route.

"Oh," he said with a frown that was immediately replaced with big smile. "Why don't I save you some for tomorrow? It tastes even better when the blood congeals," he said eagerly.

"Ah . . . ," Kathryn blurted, unable to think of how to respond.

"Captain? The Doctor?" Jerran said impatiently, giving Janeway the needed out.

"Gotta go, Nelix," Kathryn said, quickly patting the Talaxian on the shoulder with a grimace before swiftly departing with her two companions.

***

As they entered the turbo lift, Jerran noticed the unhappy look on Captain Janeway's face. "What is wrong, Captain?"

"She is thinking of tomorrow and leftovers," Seven supplied. "Deck 5."

Kathryn's grimace deepened. "I hate to hurt his feelings, but did you see that jelly roast?"

"It had unique colors," Seven offered with amusement and added "I understand it tastes better with the blood congealed."

Janeway eyed Seven. "So I've heard."

"I will take care of it, Oben," Jerran said confidently, looking at the hypnotic lights flash by as the turbolift started to move.

"Jerran, I can't ask you to eat . . . it," Kathryn grimaced.

"Food tasting in not a new duty. However, I even I would not want to try that . . . roast."

"Then how . . . ?" Kathryn asked with concern.

"I will take care of it," Jerran said firmly, though not sure how. But she had faced and overcome harder tasks before.

"Jerran, Mr. Nelix is very sensitive," Seven warned, concerned with hurting the Talaxian.

"His feelings will not be hurt," Jerran assured, satisfying Kathryn, who smiled, making her even more determined to prove her worth to this woman who refused her service.

"What are you planning on doing?" Seven asked sternly, not so convinced.

"Now, Seven," Kathryn gently cautioned with a raised hand. "Sometimes it's better to trust others to work out the details," she said sagely with a small smile as the turbolift stopped at their deck. "Here we are," she said happily and exited, no longer worried about tomorrow's leftovers.

Seven eyed Jerran, who grinned with satisfaction. "Yes, Seven. Trust me with the details," she said and followed her Oben with a clear bounce in her step.

***

After another long day in Sickbay without much progress, the Captain sighed with disappointment. "I think I'm going to call it a night," she said, standing up. Jerran looked up from her computer screen and also stood.

"Good night, Doctor," Kathryn said, getting a smile and nod from the EMH. "See you tomorrow, Seven," she said with a small smile.

"Good night, Captain," Seven said, watching the Captain nod, then leave with Jerran. Though she knew Jerran was now sleeping in the VIP quarters next to the Captain's, she still experienced a twinge of jealously watching the two "retire" for the evening. Seven sighed, reminding herself the Captain needed a solution to the problem, not an emotionally preoccupied former Borg.

The Doctor came to her side with a big, irritating smile. "Perhaps if we. . . ."

"Computer, inactivate Emergency Medical Hologram," Seven said as she had done for the past few nights. Calling up her information on Jerran's physiology, Seven continued her studies to fine a satisfactory solution.

***

"Have a seat, Tuvok. Would you care for some tea?" Kathryn said, retrieving a cup for herself from the replicator.

"No thank you, Captain," he said as he sat on her sofa.

"So how's the bridge these days?" She asked with a small smile, sitting down next to him.

"I would think you've been keeping up to date with the Senior staff's reports," Tuvok said with a raised brow.

"There's only so much you can glean from a report, Tuvok."

"Agreed. Many of the senior staff do not understand why you stepped down, though they are not privy to all the . . . medical . . . details of the bond," he said.

"Yeah. It is more complex than I would have expected," Janeway said uncomfortably. "And even believing Jerran means no harm, I still don't know enough about the bond to be comfortable taking command back. . . ."

"A wise precaution, Captain."

"Soooo, I've read that the shielding modifications are operational."

"Yes, Captain."

"Too bad we haven't had a chance to test it."

"Do you think it may not work?" Tuvok asked curiously.

"Perhaps I'm just a bit gun shy. I'd feel better if we had proof it worked," she said wryly then sighed heavily. "I just don't know why they are waiting. I know they are still out there."

"It is curious. Much of their technology is rudimentary, yet they possess the advantage of stealth."

"I should have guessed there was a reason they were so cocky in our encounters," Kathryn said with a heavy sigh. "They knew we had superior shielding and firepower. But I didn't even consider they may have had an advantage," she said with frustration.

"I did not intend to sound critical," Tuvok said.

"And why not? My interactions with the Granarians have hardly been rousing diplomatic successes," she said with irritation. "Had I been more . . . even tempered in our first encounter, we might be in the process of learning about each other, perhaps even engaging in trade, instead of Voyager getting shot at while trespassing through their space with yours truly bonded to a Taak," she blurted, standing up to pace. "And you've read B'Elanna's report, we're in for more Elatian Jelly roasts," she added, shaking her head.

"Captain?"

"Our dilithium crystal supply is low, again, and you know the shielding modification will not help that situation any," she said wearily, rubbing the back of her neck.

"It does consume a great deal of energy," he noted.

"I just wish. . . ." she complained, then stopped her pacing. With a heavy exhale, she rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"That you could have done things differently?" Tuvok guessed.

"Ehh . . . I don't know," Kathryn said with a burdened exhale. "I know I wouldn't want to add 3.4216 years to our journey and you know there would have been hell to pay with Naomi had I agreed to give her mother away in a trade. Kids are funny that way," Kathryn offered with a weak laugh.

"Indeed," Tuvok noted. "I am compelled to point out that there was a high probability that the outcome of our initial encounter with Captain Taghra would not have been any more favorable with anyone else in command. His demands were illogical and nonnegotiable."

"Perhaps. But we are where we are, aren't we?" Kathryn said, sitting back down on the couch. "Unfortunately, I'm not the only one facing the consequences of my decisions. We may not be able to find a good solution for Jerran," she admitted sadly. "And I thought separating a drone from the collective was difficult," she weakly joked.

"Have you considered doing nothing?"

"Doing nothing? As in - keeping a slave?" Janeway asked incredulously.

"From what Jerran has told us, she is not a slave. She is a Taak."

"I fail to see the difference, Tuvok," Kathryn responded tersely. "And this bond . . . it's is a connection I wouldn't even want with someone I loved. Humans need privacy - both physically and emotionally."

"Yet Taaks need the bond," Tuvok countered.

"You sound like Seven," Kathryn complained, pinching the bridge of her nose, feeling another headache coming on.

"Did Seven suggest an alternative?" He asked curiously, expecting the former Borg would have some ideas.

"No. However, she did point out the same points you just did," she said with a thin smile.

"As you have said, there may not be a good answer to this problem. However, you have succeeded to solve complex problems in the past, Captain. I do not doubt you will again be successful," Tuvok said, causing a weak snort.

"I hope you're right and we find a good solution, Tuvok," she said tiredly.

"I should go. It is now your rest period," Tuvok said, standing.

As he walked with Janeway to her door, she looked at him curiously, recalling their unfinished conversation. "Tuvok?"

He tilted his head slightly, waiting for her to continue.

"Uh, never mind. Good night, Tuvok," Kathryn said instead with a weak smile, not really up for any more conversation.

"Good night, Captain," Tuvok said with a nod.

***

Jerran looked around her quarters, which were more luxurious than any she ever had. Being Captain Janeway's Taak had garnered her more privileges than with her past Obens, she considered as she walked around the spacious living room. She sat on the couch and sighed, knowing she would gladly trade in these fine accommodations for the chance to serve her Oben. The door chime tweeped and she jumped up to answer it.

"Come in," she said, disappointed to find it was Seven and not her Oben needing something. Even though Janeway had yet to ask her for something, Jerran still hoped to serve.

Seven entered with a small medical kit.

"Did you find something?" Jerran asked apprehensively.

"We will see. I believe I can increase the distance you can be away from Captain Janeway but we need to perform an experiment," she said.

"All right," Jerran said confidently, looking at Seven.

"If this experiment does not work, you may experience pain," Seven cautioned.

"Would it please my Oben to increase the distance between us?" She asked.

"Yes," Seven said with a sigh.

"Then I must try," Jerran said firmly.

Seven regarded her curiously. "Does the bond cause your desire to serve, or is it truly what you want?" Seven asked as she placed a vial in the hypo spray.

"I have always wanted to serve."

"You had not always been bonded. You said you were not bonded when you were prepubescent. Did you desire to serve then?" Seven asked.

Jerran thought how to answer that. "I knew I would serve," she said and shrugged.

Seven sighed, apparently not any closer to understanding.

"You are as confused about me, as I am about you," Jerran said, shaking her head sadly.

"Explain."

"You serve Captain Janeway, yet I am not allowed to."

"There is a significant distinction between the services. Your desired role is to serve one person, in every way, for their pleasure only. . . ."

"And you do not wish to provide her pleasure?" Jerran countered, knowing the answer.

"What I wish is irrelevant," Seven answered firmly, adding "What I do, is not. I serve as Astrometrics Officer onboard this ship, which aids not only the Captain, but the crew in their objective in going home. And aiding this crew is . . . satisfying."

"Would you wish to aid this crew, if it was not lead by Captain Janeway?" Jerran interrupted curiously.

Seven paused a moment, contemplating the question. "If not for Captain Janeway, I would not be here to aid the crew. She was the one who severed me from the collective," Seven replied.

"So you owe her your freedom?" Jerran said with interest.

"Yes."

"Did you want your freedom from the collective?"

"No," Seven said hesitantly, but added firmly. "But I am grateful now."

"Everyone thinks I will be like you and eventually appreciate the bond being broken," Jerran said wearily.

"Not everyone," Seven countered, surprising the Taak. "Captain Janeway gave me the opportunity to be what I was born to be - an individual human. But you are what you were born to be - a Taak. It is not clear you were ever meant to be anything else," Seven said.

"Then you disagree with your Captain's wish to sever my bond and "free" me??" Jerran asked with surprise.

"I believe her logic is flawed, influenced by her cultural upbringing which opposes any form of slavery," Seven said uneasily. "Including this biological bond."

Jerran smiled with sad understanding. "Yet you follow her."

Seven looked at Jerran uncomfortably. "We should proceed with the experiment."


Chapter 14 - Instinct

Kathryn returned to her bed after a relaxing hot shower. Thankfully, the need for frequent, teeth-chattering cold showers seemed to be a thing of the past. Slipping her robe off, she moved beneath the silky covers and sighed with pleasure. It was a relief to be able to just relax and not battle her libido at what seemed like every waking step. After that particularly difficult evening, with Seven dangerously close to being the recipient of conduct unbecoming of an officer, those disturbing influences stopped. She suspected Seven had something to do with that. However, she didn't want to ask, suspecting Seven's methods were something a Starfleet Captain couldn't condone, even if the woman benefiting from those methods greatly appreciated the result.

Kathryn lifted her arm and tucked it behind her head, the taut covers teasing her sensitive breasts. She thought about Seven, who she would have been lost without the past few difficult days. At times, it seemed as if Seven knew exactly what she needed. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, just not whom. Had Seven offered herself that stressful night, Kathryn knew she would have not had the strength to resist.

Of all the challenges in bringing a Borg drone onboard her ship, Kathryn never would have guessed her biggest one was controlling her desire for the captivating young woman.

***

"How are you feeling?" Seven asked once again as they entered Astrometrics, the furthest Jerran had been from Kathryn since the bonding. Seven looked over the medical tricorder, noting no obvious signs of physiological distress.

"I am fine. You are even more annoying than the Doctor. An accomplishment I would not take pride in," Jerran said, then glanced around the room with great interest. She smiled looking at the projections of the local star systems on the large screen. It was not only useful for navigation, it was very beautiful, she considered.

"Seven," B'Elanna said as she entered Astrometrics.

"Do you need assistance, B'Elanna?" Seven said, looking up from her medical tricorder.

"No, just checking in with you. Haven't heard from you in a while. How's it going?" she said to Seven, who sighed heavily, not wanting another distraction from her task. "Hi. I'm B'Elanna," B'Elanna introduced herself with a smile for the attractive, dark haired Granarian.

"The one who shot my Oben," Jerran said neutrally. Seven looked at Jerran with mild amusement.

B'Elanna's eyes widened as she blurted "It was a mistake. Really."

"Which is fortunate," Jerran said with a thin smile.

"Yeah," B'Elanna responded and smiled uneasily. Turning her gaze to Seven, she said "Don't let me interrupt whatever your doing."

Seven looked at B'Elanna a moment with a raised ocular implant, then decided to continue with her work. It would provoke more questions if she attempted to get LT Torres to leave.

"Jerran, so far your responses to the serum are encouraging. I believe we should be able to further refine the serum to allow you significantly more mobility," Seven offered.

"And then what?" Jerran said tiredly. "Ohhhh," she suddenly exhaled with an odd whimper, grabbing the side of a console.

"Should I get the Doctor?" B'Elanna asked with concern.

"No," Seven said firmly, looking between her medical tricorder and her patient. "Your heart rate and respiration have suddenly increased. How do you feel?"

"You don't . . . want to know," Jerran said with difficulty.

"These indications are also consistent with arousal," Seven said pointedly.

B'Elanna looked at the two women with shock. "A byproduct of the serum?" she guessed, earning a glare from Seven.

"That would be a no?" B'Elanna responded, not sure why Seven was so annoyed.

"Ugggghhhhhhhhhhhh," Jerran grunted as the intense climax washed through her, provoking a frown on the former Borg's face. Seven had researched a great deal about sex and would have found this opportunity to observe the physical side effects fascinating - had she not known the source of Jerran's pleasure.

After a silent moment of scrutiny by the chief engineer and Astrometrics officer as she caught her breath, Jerran slowly stood straight and wiped her damp brow. "That was . . . unexpected," she offered with amazement, never having been affected like that before.

B'Elanna quickly glanced between the two taller women, dying to know what that was all about.

"Indeed," Seven said coldly as she scanned Jerran.

"Seven, your Captain and I are bonded," Jerran tried to explain.

B'Elanna looked at Jerran in confusion, not knowing what their bond had to do with . . . . "Kahless!" She suddenly thought.

"Obviously, it works both ways," Seven said. "You appear healthy," she added, shutting the medical tricorder lid with a crisp click.

"She only sought physical relief, Seven. Something she's been denying herself."

"Ehhh," B'Elanna groaned with a cringe, finally concluding there was such a thing as knowing too much. Too, too much....

"Apparently, until now," Seven replied with irritation.

"You know?!? I forgot something. Something that needs my immediate attention. Right now. Gotta go," B'Elanna blurted and fled.

Seven stared at her tricorder as she battled the many feelings that seemed to assault her.

"Please do not be angered with either of us," Jerran said to the blond, who looked at her and sighed heavily. "We both know I'm not the one she desires."

Seven eyed her with surprise at the clear implication, filling her with hope. However, she noted Jerran's disappointment, which piqued her interest. "You appear unhappy about that."

"I am a Taak. I am happy if my Oben is happy," Jerran said with frustration. "But she seems to avoid what will make her happy."

Seven eyed her. "She would rather forgo her happiness than take advantage of someone," Seven said, then realized that was true for more than just Jerran.

"How many times do I have to explain?" Jerran moaned with frustration.

"I believe I understand, Jerran. But I do not think Kathryn will. So, we must help her find her happiness," Seven offered softly, getting a relieved look from the Taak as she continued to discuss their medical solutions. "We have two options. The first is to determine if we can refine the serum sufficiently to increase your mobility to allow an infinite distance . . . ," Seven said with a grimace.

"You do not seem confident with that approach."

"I am not. Even if we were successful, which is unlikely, you would forever be dependent on the serum. Interruption of the treatment for even a short time, would result in great pain and likely your death."

"I do not fear death," Jerran said softly, noting an irritated look on the blond's face.

"The other option has a greater chance of success," Seven said, not responding to Jerran's apparent eagerness for "final peace."

"I have investigated the mechanism of the conveyance. I believe I am close to being able to induce the conveyance to another host," Seven offered, knowing that was going to upset both Captain Janeway and Jerran. "You would be able to serve as you were born to do and not be dependant on a serum."

"But Oben would not allow a conveyance. She wants me freed from the bond, not given away," Jerran said with concern. Seven knew Jerran was right. Kathryn was determined to free Jerran, not give her away like property.

"I believe I can accomplish the conveyance without your Oben present," Seven offered.

Jerran looked at her with alarm. "I . . . I can not give myself away without Oben's consent," she sputtered. "That would be dishonorable! I would rather die," the Granarian said firmly.

Seven sighed, concluding any more discussion on this now would be inefficient. "Then we must find another way. For now, we should focus on refining the serum for your mobility," she said, clearly not pleased with the many hurdles.

"If you have reservations about the serum, even if it was successful, you know Oben would as well," Jerran said, then offered "There is a third, simpler option."

Seven eyed her with interest.

"You could "discover" a serum which would allow my freedom and I would leave."

Seven immediately protested "You can not die, Jerran. That would be unacceptable."

"Consider this, Seven. You do not believe you can really free me from the bond with a serum. And I can not accept a conveyance to another without Oben's approval, which we both know she won't give. My death would be a small price to pay to solve this problem," Jerran offered with confidence.

"You would deceive your Oben, knowing your death would deeply hurt her?"

"My Oben is not happy now and will not be as long as she is bonded with me. There is only one way to really please my Oben, and that is not possible. I offer a solution. One where I can finally serve her. She would not need to know."

"I would know," Seven countered tersely.

"And how important is Kathryn's happiness to you?" Jerran challenged.

"I believe you already know the answer to that," Seven said coolly.

"Yes. You were already willing to go against her wishes and begin a conveyance because of her happiness, at the risk of your relationship with her," Jerran said. "But I'm asking you to let me be what I've always meant to be. Please allow me the final honor to serve her."

"But she would never know of your "final honor."

"I would know," Jerran repeated Seven's words.

After a silent, uncomfortable moment as blue eyes regarded blue, Seven responded. "You are stubborn."

"As are you," Jerran said with a sigh, disappointed with not extracting Seven's agreement. "As is our Captain," she added, seeing Seven's conflict clearly on her face and softly added. "Think about what I propose. The problem would be solved - I would finally be able to serve and make my Oben happy. And that is all we have ever wanted, isn't it?" Jerran asked, though knew it to be true.

After another silent moment of the two women regarding each other, Seven responded. "I will consider your proposal."

Jerran smiled slightly, pleased to have accomplished at least Seven's consideration. "Am I free to return to my quarters alone?" She asked, surprising Seven, who eyed her suspiciously. "I will not do anything that would disappoint my Oben on the way back," the Taak offered.

"Very well."

***

Seven wrapped her arms around herself as she stood on the familiar porch, looking over the Indiana farm. The colors that washed over the sky as the sun set, were truly beautiful.

"Seven! What an unexpected surprise!" Gretchen Janeway called from within the house. "Come inside and have a cup of cider. It'll chase the chill away," she said with a warm smile as she opened the door and motioned her inside the warm house that was filled with the pleasing scent of freshly baked goods.

"I do not req . . . ," she said, then looked down at the mug of spicy cider suddenly placed in her hands. "Thank you."

"Sit down and make yourself comfortable. We can chat while I make some pumpkin bread, all right?" The older woman said and patted a stool next to the kitchen counter, before efficiently extracting the needed ingredients from the pantry and kitchenware from the various cabinets around the kitchen.

Watching Kathryn's mother was like watching a force of nature, Seven considered, quickly concluding it was a genetic trait in all Janeways. She slowly took her seat and looked around the kitchen curiously.

"Wouldn't it be more efficient to replicate the pumpkin bread?" Seven asked curiously.

"Perhaps, if I had a replicator," Gretchen said, grinning at the surprised look on Seven's face. "I don't like them. A replicator can never provide the warmth and aroma of a real kitchen."

"You could program the environmental settings to provide the right temperature and aromas," Seven countered.

Gretchen chuckled. "I suppose I could. But I love cooking for my family and they love my cooking. It's one way I can show them I love them."

Seven pondered the older woman's words. She had not considered the task of cooking to be a way of showing one's love. However, even if his creations left much to be desired, she knew Mr. Nelix genuinely cared for the crew.

"That's how I caught my Edward - baked goods. He couldn't resist them. Just like his daughters," she added, looking at Seven with a grin. "Which just proves the saying - a way to someone's heart is through their stomach," Gretchen said with a chuckle.

"I have heard of that saying, though it was from a Klingon book of combat," Seven said.

The older woman laughed . . . just like Kathryn, Seven noted, pleased to have caused the melodious sound.

"Well, love can sometimes feel like combat," Gretchen allowed with amusement, prompting another curious look from Seven. "I don't suppose my busy daughter is coming for a visit anytime soon?" Gretchen asked with a smirk and continued "When she does find the time, it's amazing how it always seems to be when I'm baking."

"I . . . I do not know," Seven said uncomfortably.

Gretchen looked at the distressed woman. "Did she do something to upset you?"

"No! Not at all . . . I . . . I am concerned what I will do will upset her," Seven said, staring into her mug.

"What is it you plan to do that will upset her?" Gretchen asked gently, prompting a troubled look on the young woman's face.

"Solve a complex problem for her," Seven said vaguely, but with determination.

"In a manner in which she would not approve?" Gretchen guessed, getting a weak nod. "Ah. That is a problem."

"I have evaluated all the options and the most logical course of action would not be condoned by the Captain."

"Then why would you do it, Seven?" She asked, mixing the wet ingredients in a large red bowl.

"If nothing is done, she and another would be unhappy for the rest of their lives. That is no way to live."

"Is the other person you?" She asked with a small smile.

"I was not including myself. However, I could not be happy if she were unhappy," Seven said.

"Sounds like you made your mind up," Gretchen said softly, transferring the batter into a pan.

"I have."

"Well, when it comes to a difficult decision, you can look at all the data you want. But in the end, I find that it usually comes down to trusting your heart and having a good dose of faith," Gretchen said, slipping a pan of pumpkin bread into the oven.

The intent of the comment fell short of its goal. The former Borg was not comforted. Instead, she felt decidedly ill-prepared to rely on those vague aspects of humanity.

Sensing Seven's continued concern, Gretchen added with a warm smile "Seven, I'm glad you care so much about Kathryn. I'm sure it will work out."

Seven nodded, though unconvinced. "I must get back to work," she said as she stood and tucked the stool under the kitchen counter.

"I'm glad you came," Gretchen said, placing a comforting hand on her forearm. Just like Kathryn, Seven thought with a pang of sadness, wondering if Kathryn would ever want to do that again.

"You are welcome back anytime," Gretchen offered.

"Thank you, Mrs. Janeway," Seven said and returned to her research.

***

The next day, Seven wanted to place Jerran in stasis to stop her irritating pacing. The anxiousness that surrounded Jerran was not only distracting, it might cause Captain Janeway to start interrogating them on what was wrong, she worried.

"Well?" Jerran whispered to Seven, after Janeway went into the Doctor's office with a Padd.

"Well, what?" Seven asked.

"When are you going to make the breakthrough?" Jerran asked, greatly agitated.

"It would not be prudent to rush, Jerran. You are already acting out of character. If Captain Janeway starts asking what is going on, she will not stop until she finds out."

Jerran growled with frustration, knowing Seven was right.

"Everything all right, ladies?" Kathryn said as she joined the women and placed her Padd by Seven.

"Jerran is frustrated at our slow pace," Seven offered honestly, getting a nod from Jerran.

"Well, they say good things come to those who wait," Kathryn offered sagely.

"Obviously They were not the ones waiting," Jerran groused.

Kathryn chuckled. "You should be happy to hear the last simulation was very promising, Jerran. Seven and the Doctor have made some significant progress in breaking the bond. I know it won't be long now," she said with a confident smile.

Jerran looked at Seven whose brow rose.

"Seven was just telling me the same thing," Jerran allowed with a quick glare at the former Borg.

"You should listen to her," Kathryn said with amusement, glancing at the Seven fondly. "She tells it like it is, whether you want to hear it or not. Lunch?" She asked the two.

Jerran nodded.

"No thank you, Captain. I'll continue working here," Seven said in a tired voice.

"When was the last time you regenerated?" Captain Janeway asked, scrutinizing the former Borg, who actually looked unusually fatigued.

"I do not require regeneration for another . . . 4.6 hours," Seven said uneasily, considering she had about 4.6 hours until the onset of significant physical ramifications. It had been over 78 hours since a normal regeneration cycle, electing instead to regenerate in very short periods to delay the need. However, she couldn't delay it indefinitely.

"Jerran, could you give us some privacy?" Kathryn asked the Taak, who nodded and jointed the Doctor in his office.

"Captain, I am fine," Seven said, attempting to avoid a lecture.

"You look tired and for you, that's not normal. You've been pushing yourself too hard, Seven," Kathryn said firmly, holding up a hand to forestall any arguments. "I don't have to review your regeneration logs - I see it in your face. I truly appreciate how hard you've been working on this problem. But you're no good to me if you fall over from exhaustion," Kathryn said, then added "What about your supplement? When was the last time you had something to eat?"

"I . . . am overdue," Seven admitted reluctantly, getting a firm nod from the Captain.

"OK then. You are going to have lunch with us, then get some rest," Kathryn said, placing a hand on Seven's when she added softly. "All right?"

Seven looked down at their hands and nodded, unable to say no. "I will comply."

Kathryn smiled and squeezed her hand. "Come on," she said, pulling Seven from her seat.


Chapter 15 - Loose Ends

"I just hope, Nelix forgot about the jelly roast leftovers," Kathryn muttered as they entered the mess hall and took trays from the stack.

"It will not be a problem, Captain," Jerran proudly said with a smile, getting curious looks from Kathryn and Seven as they proceeded along the food line.

"When . . . ?" Kathryn asked, then thought better of it and held up her hand. "Never mind, I don't want to know."

"Ladies! You are just in time for some freshly made Elatian Jelly Roast!" Nelix said proudly to his new customers.

Jerran's smile faded as she eyed the large quantity of wiggly and colorful food at the center of the food choices.

"Freshly made?" Kathryn said with a weak smile, staring at the food.

"Of course! Someone snuck into the leftovers last night," he said in a hushed tone, leaning over the counter towards the Captain, as if revealing an important secret. "And there wasn't a crumb of jelly roast left!" He gushed, obviously pleased. "I just had to make more to please the masses," Nelix blurted happily and blopped a serving onto the Captain's plate.

Kathryn eyed her tray with the blob of roast, then glared pointedly at Jerran and her still empty tray. Jerran sighed heavily and held her tray out to Nelix, who happily served her some jelly roast.

"Seven?" Kathryn said with challenge in her eyes as she smiled and motioned towards the stack of trays.

"I will be having nutritional supplement number 4," Seven said firmly, getting a shrug from Nelix, who tended to other patrons in the line.

"Chicken," Kathryn muttered.

"While your roast does look foul, Captain, it does not appear to be chicken," Seven supplied helpfully and headed towards the replicator for her nutritional supplement.

"That wasn't funny," Kathryn muttered, knowing Seven could hear her.

***

Janeway and Jerran stared at their trays, each attempting to get enough nerve to taste the roast. Kathryn noted Jerran was to the point of poking at it for consistency, or possibly to see if it would cry out in pain . . . .

"B'Elanna, come join us," Captain Janeway called out, spotting the engineer, who cringed. B'Elanna hadn't gotten much sleep the night before and didn't want to dine with the reason.

"I uh . . . sure," B'Elanna said uncomfortably, sitting across from the Captain.

"How's everything in engineering?" Kathryn said with a smile, sipping her water.

"Good. We've got the shield modification in place. All systems are working within normal parameters with the occasional, expected spikes due to the norrinic gasses," she said, unable to look the Captain in the eye. Sure, she knew Janeway did IT - the woman was human after all. But B'Elanna really didn't need to know when the Captain actually DID it . . . ah Kahless!! She thought with a grimace.

"Shooter of my Oben, you do not have any jelly roast," Jerran observed, surprising Kathryn, who looked at B'Elanna with amusement at her new designation.

"Uh, no, it wasn't something that appealed to me," B'Elanna said, clearing her throat under the uncomfortable gaze of her Captain.

"And this did not upset Nelix?" Jerran asked with a frown wondering how B'Elanna succeeded where her Oben and she failed.

"He was more upset when I told him I'd have his liver as a side dish if he placed even a drop of that slop on my plate."

"B'Elanna!" Captain Janeway admonished. Jerran smirked, wishing she had been able to do that. But then, if Oben was sensitive to Nelix's feelings, she too needed to be.

"At least I was honest about it," the engineer said defensively, looking Kathryn directly in the eye for a moment, until she remembered Jerran's response the previous night. Too much information, too much information, B'Elanna thought repeatedly, trying to think of something other than her Captain in bed, in the throws of an . . . . Oh Kahless! B'Elanna grimaced.

"What's wrong?" Kathryn asked, curious at her odd reaction.

"I ah . . . I just remembered . . . I have lots of work to do on the scanner modifications Tuvok wanted."

"Any leads on detecting the cloaked ships?" Kathryn asked, recalling Tuvok's security report.

"Some ideas, but unfortunately, we haven't been able to make a lot of progress. Our first priority had been the shielding modifications. Now we're focusing on the scanners. . . ," B'Elanna said almost guiltily for not having more accomplished. "So far, we are just picking up a lot of background noise," B'Elanna said, irked.

Seven was irritated with herself for not keeping up-to-date on the senior staff reports, allowing her work to sever the bond to consume all her time. However, detecting the ships would prove useful, she considered.

"That is not surprising. We have never been able to produce a sensor to detect the cloak within the gas clouds," Jerran offered, gaining the interest of her Oben.

Glancing at Seven, the engineer wondered if she could convince her to help with the sensors. "I don't suppose you could spare a few. . . ." B'Elanna asked Seven, who looked interested in helping.

"No," Captain Janeway interrupted firmly. "Seven's immediate priority is getting some rest."

"Captain, perhaps. . . ." Seven countered.

"No. You promised," Kathryn said sternly, getting a sigh from Seven.

"Yes, Captain," she said, knowing she couldn't argue with the stubborn woman.

***

Stepping onto her alcove, Seven sighed as she shut her eyes. As the unit hummed, attempting to synchronize her brain waves, her mind's eye sorted through images and data from the past few days.

***

The Captain had decided she too needed a break from Sickbay. Not one to pass up a multi-tasking opportunity, she thought it was a perfect time to take Jerran on a tour and perhaps find something that interested the woman. The aptitude tests were not providing any revelations. They only reinforced what Captain Janeway already knew. Jerran was too intelligent for someone living her life as a slave.

"You know, you don't have to leave, Jerran. You could stay with us as long as you wish, even to Earth if you'd like, or until you find something better," Kathryn said as they entered Astrometrics.

Jerran looked at her with surprise. "I appreciate that, Captain. But no. If . . . when I am freed, I must move on."

"I thought you might say that," she said with an understanding nod.

***

Less than an hour after her regeneration began, Seven's eyes opened. The alcove computer announced "warning, regeneration cycle is incomplete."

Stepping down from the dais, Seven strode purposely to her computer console. "Computer, display Voyager's scanner schematics and LT Torres' analysis of enhancements to detect cloaked Granarian ships."

Time swiftly passed as Seven made several adjustments in the models. Completely engrossed in the work, she did not notice the cargo bay doors open and an angry engineer storming in.

"What the HELL are you trying to do?!?"

Startled, Seven looked up from her console as she quickly switched the data displayed to an unsuspicious alcove power consumption graph. "Explain."

"Did you, or did you not, promise the Captain you would be regenerating?!?"

"I have regenerated."

"Oh, come on! You know damn well cutting your cycle short is not going to fly with the Captain! And looking over my work??? Are you trying to get me in more hot water with her?!?"

Seven silently glanced at her console, realizing she would need to be more careful in the future. She could not afford any more careless mistakes.

"Well?? You have nothing to say for yourself?" B'Elanna stopped and placed her hands on her hips. Seven looked uncertain, causing the engineer's irritation to fade.

B'Elanna continued in a calmer tone. "Look, I appreciate you wanting to help with the sensors, but Kahless!! The Captain will think it was MY idea to interrupt your regeneration to help me with my analysis!" B'Elanna complained, then exhaled with a growl as she stopped and eyed Seven.

"Seven, if you keep sneaking around behind her back, you know she'll find out," B'Elanna said reasonably. "And when she does. . . ." B'Elanna said, finishing with a shudder. "Of course, she'll forgive you first and torture me for a while," she grumbled. "Go regenerate, before she finds out and we're in real trouble," she said and left.

Would Kathryn really forgive her? Seven wondered as a sick feeling grew in the pit of her stomach. Something told her the answer was no.

***

"This," Kathryn said grandly, motioning around the room "is Astrometrics. One of Seven's many contributions to Voyager."

"Seven has shown me this place," Jerran said with a smile, looking up at the star chart displayed and noted "Space is beautiful."

"It can be amaz . . ." Kathryn said in agreement, then looked at her curiously. "When were you here?"

Jerran tensed at her slip and forced a smile. "Last night," she said.

Janeway grew confused. "How is that possible? You can't be more than two decks away from me," she said, looking at Jerran with growing suspicion.

"We tested a serum allowing us more mobility. It worked. I was able to come here without you and without pain," Jerran said nervously.

"You performed an experiment . . . last night?" Kathryn asked tersely, stunned she wasn't informed. She personally reviewed the results of the many simulations. Why didn't Seven tell her? And for that matter, why the hell didn't the Doctor tell her?!?

Jerran was startled with the anger that welled up within her Oben.

"Oben, please. Do not be angered with us. I was fully informed of the risks, which were minimal, and I agreed," Jerran explained nervously. The admission of there being risks only fueled Kathryn's anger at being kept out of the loop. "Oben, I am tired of waiting and wondering what will happen to me. I can't live like this. I need this whole thing to be over with!" Jerran said with great distress, startling Kathryn, whose anger quickly transformed into great guilt.

"Oh Jerran, I wish this was easier for you," she said sadly.

"And I wish this was easier for you, Oben," Jerran's eyes dropped tiredly.

***

As they left Astrometrics, Jerran interrupted the preoccupied Captain's thoughts with a question "Do you think . . . I could become a navigator on a ship?" Jerran ventured softly, wanting to please her Oben.

Kathryn smiled, very pleased Jerran voiced an interest in something. "I believe, Jerran, you can be whatever you want to be," she said sincerely. "What about navigation interests you?" She asked, genuinely curious.

"I like to travel. I don't like to get lost."

Kathryn chuckled softly. "Of course."

***

"Seven of Nine, this is Jerran," the Taak contacted the former Borg as soon as she returned to her quarters. Thankfully, the Captain had not grilled her further on the experiments they had performed. She did not like withholding information from her Oben and wasn't sure how long she could.

"Go ahead, Jerran," Seven said curiously, looking up from her computer console in Cargo Bay 2.

"Captain Janeway knows we experimented on the serum last night."

The news startled the tall woman. "H. . . How?" Seven managed to ask as her heart pounded in panic.

"She took me to Astrometrics and I told her I had already been there. I was careless. She knew I shouldn't have been able to go without pain - I had to explain about the experiment," Jerran said worriedly. "She's on her way to Sickbay now to confront the Doctor. She thinks he was part of this. I am sorry, Seven."

Humans are error-prone when emotional, Seven reminded herself as she struggled to calm down. "I understand," she barely managed to respond.

"What do we do now?"

"Trust me with the details," Seven said tersely and abruptly cut the Com link. She took a deep, uneasy breath and quickly entered a complex string of data into the computer memory banks.

***

"Why didn't you tell me, Doctor?!?" Janeway asked, clearly annoyed as she marched into Sickbay.

The Doctor looked at her in confusion. "Captain?"

"Doctor! I want to know WHY you thought I didn't need to know about the mobility experiment," she snapped at him as she paced. "Was it so dangerous you thought I wouldn't approve? And if it was, WHAT were you thinking by performing such a dangerous experiment on her!" Janeway stopped pacing and glared at the hologram.

His mouth gaped open as his head shook with confusion, before he suddenly looked down. After an odd moment, he looked up with a frown. "It wasn't dangerous," he countered. "I'm sorry Captain, Seven and I thought it would be best not to get your hopes up."

"You didn't want to get my hopes up?!?" She asked with disbelief.

***

Janeway marched into her quarters, still angry with the Doctor and Seven. "How DARE they hide things from me! I'm the goddamn Captain!" She thought angrily.

Not wanting to get my hopes up, she thought of the Doctor's lame excuse with a growl. She exhaled heavily and sat at her computer console to download the data from the mobility experiment.

As she went through the information, she acknowledged the results were very promising and did provide the two more mobility than before. There was so much progress on this mobility path, she began to question whether the work on the severing the bond outright was the wrong approach. The real question was how much further that path could take them, she considered, wondering if they could be somehow "weaned" off of the bond.

Her door chimed, causing Janeway to look up from the screen. "Enter," Janeway said wearily.

Seven hesitantly entered the Captain's quarters, knowing she had to face the Captain and her anger or risk more unwanted probing into her work. Her uneasy stomach and throbbing in her head made her vaguely wonder if she could enhance her nanoprobes to better regulate these unpleasant and very distracting physical responses to stress. She needed to focus on solving the problem, not her human weaknesses, she considered.

"I was wondering when you'd show up," Kathryn said neutrally, standing up, and approached the former Borg.

Seven was surprised she could feel any more discomfort. However when the Captain's eyes bore into her, she felt her heart pound harder.

"Jerran told me you found out about the mobility experiment," Seven said, struggling to sound neutral.

Kathryn's brow rose, having expected as much. "Communication is a helpful thing. Don't you agree?" She asked tightly.

"Captain, I . . . . ," Seven started to reply, but was uncertain of what to say. She grew more uncomfortable each moment that passed under the demanding gaze of the woman standing before her, patiently waiting for the former Borg to continue. Seven eyes dropped to the floor. She was grateful she had not consumed any solid food recently.

"Of course you do," Kathryn finally answered for her, filling the painful silence. "A former Borg would understand better than anyone on this ship that it is more efficient to keep everyone informed," she said, surprising Seven. "I just reviewed the results of the experiment," Janeway offered. "The results are promising."

Seven nodded.

Janeway eyed Seven another long, silent moment. As the silence stretched, Seven grew more worried, wondering if she had adequately protected the rest of the data. Kathryn was a very resourceful woman.

"Captain?" Seven finally broke the unnerving silence.

"You didn't want to get my hopes up?" Kathryn finally asked skeptically, repeating the excuse the Doctor told her.

"No," Seven managed to reply

"I see," Captain Janeway said tightly and glanced to the floor a moment.

Seven almost wished Kathryn would yell at her. Seven had learned that when Kathryn grew cold and distant, she was at her angriest. After what seemed to the former Borg like an eternity, Captain Janeway looked up. Kathryn's eyes were hard and unyielding, making Seven ache for the warmth she usually saw reflected in them.

"I consider the omission of information the same as a lie. And I expect . . . demand honesty from my crew and especially my friends," Kathryn said evenly. "Is there anything else I should know about, Seven?" Janeway added, her eyes pinning the former Borg.

Seven blinked. Did she know? If she did, wouldn't she have said something else? After an agonizing moment of guessing and second guessing, Seven chose to not jeopardize her plan. She had to help Kathryn, in spite of her. Seven shook her head weakly and whispered "no."

"Very well. Dismissed," Janeway said briskly and returned to her computer console without further acknowledgment of the distressed woman.

Seven looked at the older woman, feeling lost and adrift with the emotional wall now between them. A wall her actions had created, Seven acknowledged despondently and turned. How would Kathryn react if she learned everything? Her sense of dread grew with each step she took away from the Captain's quarters . . . and Kathryn.

She sought refuge in Cargo Bay 2, where she could rest and collect herself. She couldn't afford any more mistakes from fatigue or emotion.

Stepping into her alcove with the confrontation with Kathryn replaying over in her mind, she absently wiped a tear from her eye with a trembling hand. As she took a ragged breath, she reminded herself she had a problem to solve for Kathryn and shut her eyes.


Chapter 16 - The Burden

Seven looked through the scanner at the blood sample with surprise and checked her data once again. She took a nervous breath, having confirmed the success of the conveyance simulation. Never before had success provoked such fear.

Standing, she quickly assembled a med kit with hypo sprays, vials, and a medial tricorder. "Computer, transport med kit to Cargo Bay 2 locker 3-B," she said and watched the kit dematerialize.

When it was gone, Seven turned to the medical console. With a deep breath, she rapidly tapped in a long string of data into the computer's memory banks, initiating the first of many events of a plan that had finally come together - a plan she knew could very well shatter her friendship with Kathryn, but a plan she was convinced had to be executed.

"Computer, activate the Emergency Medical Hologram."

The Doctor appeared in mid-stride, humming as he walked towards the computer console with a data chip in hand. He continued is humming as he placed the chip in the receptacle. Reviewing the data, his humming abruptly stopped. He rechecked the results. His eyebrows rose in surprise and he rechecked the results again. A big smile emerged.

"Seven! Look at this! I think I did it!" He said excitedly.

Seven looked over the screen, making a show of studying the data she was intimately familiar with. Turning to the Doctor, her brow rose. "From a cursory review, I believe you are correct, Doctor," she said as the Doctor smiled and tapped his com badge.

"Sickbay to Captain Janeway," he said excitedly.

"Go ahead, Doctor."

"I think you'll want to see this yourself," he said and grinned at Seven, who took an uneasy breath.

"We're on our way, Doctor."

***

"Progress?" Captain Janeway asked with a hopeful grin, entering Sickbay with Jerran in tow.

"I found a way to break the bond and not harm Jerran!" The Doctor announced proudly, causing excitement to light Kathryn's eyes - an excitement that caused Seven more unease.

"Let me see," Janeway said anxiously as the Doctor relinquished his seat in front of the console.

Seven stood pensively behind the Captain and offered "The data appears to support the Doctor's conclusion. However, I will require some time to validate his findings."

Janeway looked up at Seven with a knowing smile.

"What?? Are you questioning my conclusions?" The Doctor huffed.

"Doctor, it's not . . . ," Janeway, the diplomat, immediately jumped in.

"Why wait? He's a computer, isn't he?" Jerran interrupted with irritation, causing the Doctor to roll his eyes and march indignantly into his office.

"Jerran, Seven just wants to make sure we don't do anything that could harm either of us," Kathryn explained, and grimaced when she glanced at the Doctor in his office. He was brooding, reviewing his Padds in a very poor attempt at trying not to appear upset by the questioning of his work or being called a computer.

"Affirmative, Captain. However, the Doctor does not seem to agree with my caution," Seven glanced over her shoulder towards the EMH.

"I'll go try to smooth some ruffled feathers. Carry on, ladies," Janeway said with a smile for Seven as she got up.

The two glanced back, watching the Captain entering the Doctor's office. "Why are you doing this?" Jerran hissed with impatience.

"Do you not think something as significant as breaking a bond warrants additional caution? Captain Janeway would expect no less," Seven offered confidently, Jerran's eyes widened in understanding.

"Ah, this delay is to gain her confidence," Jerran said with appreciation. "I thought you might be having doubts."

"I will finish my review in a few hours. At that time, we will proceed to "break your bond" with Kathryn," Seven said. "After additional monitoring by the Doctor, he will confirm you are healthy. I would anticipate that by this time tomorrow, you will be free to leave."

"Thank you, Seven," Jerran said sincerely.

Seven eyed her and nodded curtly, attempting to control the nausea she felt.

***

"Well, that wasn't so bad, was it?" The Doctor said with a smile that Jerran didn't return. He returned the hypospray to the tray as she nervously swallowed, staring at the Sickbay ceiling. "Your pulse is elevated, but that is to be expected," he noted conversationally.

"How do you feel?" Kathryn asked with concern, laying in an adjacent bed.

"I'm not sure. How do you feel?" Jerran said curiously.

"I'm not sure either," Kathryn said honestly, looking at her hand for signs of trembling.

"It may take a while for the nanoprobes to locate and neutralize the chemical in your systems," the Doctor announced with authority.

Seven kept a close watch on the medical readings. "Seventy four percent of the chemical has been eradicated," Seven noted. The Doctor looked at the data and nodded at the progress.

"Do you have family, Captain?" Jerran asked, surprising the Captain.

"Yes. A mother and sister. What about you?"

"The closest a Taak has to family is their Oben," Jerran said softly.

"I'm sorry, Jerran," Kathryn said sadly.

The Taak looked at her Oben with a small reassuring smile. "You should not be sorry for wanting your freedom," Jerran said sincerely. "I do understand."

Kathryn took a breath to say something, but failed to find the words and instead nodded weakly.

Seven placed a comforting hand on Kathryn's shoulder.

***

As Seven had planned, Jerran was cleared by the Doctor to leave by the next day. Joining Kathryn, they met Jerran in the shuttle bay. She stood, visibly nervous, with a small satchel slung over her shoulder.

"You could still stay with us," Kathryn offered again, surprising both Seven and Jerran by hugging the Granarian.

"I appreciate the offer, O...Captain. But you know I can not stay here. I must find my own path."

"I understand," Kathryn said and watched the young Granarian enter the shuttle and sit in the pilot's seat. Janeway sighed and returned the awkward wave she received from the newly freed woman.

"It will work out, Kathryn," Seven said softly, getting an absent nod and weak smile from the older woman as they watched the shuttle leave.

***

When Kathryn left the shuttle bay for the bridge, Seven quickly returned to Cargo Bay 2 to retrieve the med kit from locker 3-B. With the kit in hand, she rapidly brought up the external sensors on her console and scanned the area. Downloading the needed coordinates, she tapped into the ship's shielding, knowing timing was of the essence.

With a deep breath, she initiated transport.

***

"Seven?" Jerran said with surprise as the former Borg materialized in the shuttle.

"We must hurry," Seven said, advancing on her with a hypospray without further explanation.

"What are you doing?" Jerran said, knocking Seven's hand away. Surprised by Jerran's rapid reflexes but undeterred, Seven grabbed onto Jerran's arm and attempted to inject her.

"NO!" Jerran cried out as she burst out of her seat and tackled the former Borg into the bulkhead.
Seven pushed her off and blurted with frustration "You must comply."

"What are you doing?!?" Jerran barked, assuming a defensive posture and warily eyeing they hypo.

"We have 4 seconds until transport," Seven said with frustration at the unexpected complication. "Comply!"

"Transport? Where?" Jerran asked with concern.

"Where you belong," Seven said, attempting to inject the troublesome Granarian as two ships decloaked. Jerran glanced between the ships and Seven with worry.

"NO! I can not give myself to another without Oben's blessing!" Jerran countered angrily as they struggled. She managed to peal Seven's arm from her neck and shove her back. "The ships are firing on Voyager!" Jerran announced with worry, her attention distracted by the fight outside the shuttle.

"Voyager will be all right, Jerran. The shields will prevent any damage," she said confidently, looking out the shuttle as she moved closer to the concerned Granarian. Just as they started to beam out of the shuttle, Seven placed the hypo at Jerran's neck and injected her.

***

"Captain!" LT Olan called out, withdrawing his sidearm and pointing at the two women, who materialized behind Captain Ba'Re's command chair. Ba'Re pulled out her sidearm and jumped out of her seat, smoothly rolling on the deck and jumping up to face the uninvited guests.

Jerran pushed Seven's hypo away with irritation, then looked around the bridge, more concerned by all the weapons pointed at them.

Seven sighed at the continued complications. She slowly lowered the hypo and said "We do not mean any ha. . . ." Her attempt at allaying fears was interrupted when Jerran shoved her hard into a console and took a blast in her chest. Jerran crumbled to the deck.

"Jerran!" Seven said, kneeling down and reaching out to the fallen Taak.

Olan shook, now pointing his weapon at Seven, who checked her friend for a pulse.

"Stand down!!" Ba'Re shouted at LT Olan, who looked up at her with surprise. "STAND DOWN NOW!!" The Captain roared, causing the nervous young Granarian to lower his weapon. "Everyone!" Ba'Re said, stared down all the crew on her bridge, prompting them to reluctantly lower their weapons.

"She's dead," Seven said hollowly. As a drone, she had participated in the deaths of millions without a single ounce of remorse. Now, she felt she was drowning in it. Her miscalculations had not only killed an innocent woman, but someone who she had come to consider a friend.

"Captain Ba'Re," Rath said, drawing the woman's attention away from the tragic death on her bridge.

"The Tribute . . . has taken Voyager," the executive officer said with amazement.

"Really??" Karryn couldn't hide her surprise.

"That's impossible," Seven said in disbelief. With dread, she stared at the view screen, recalling each and every step she took to get through Voyager's defenses undetected. Had her actions inadvertently and permanently disrupted the shielding modifications?? Not being able to concretely rule another horrible mistake, she grew ill. What had she done, she thought with dread. Oh Kathryn....

"Captain, Voyager is emitting an unusual power signature from the warp core. . . ."

"What?" Ba'Re quickly went to the operations station to see. "It's increasing exponentially. At that rate . . . " she said absently with curious surprise, then looked up with alarm. "She's gonna blow! Olan, get us out of here!" Ba'Re ordered. LT Olan nodded nervously as he quickly tapped the commands into his console.

"Eight seconds until detonation," CDR Rath announced anxiously, closely watching the power increase.

"Olan?!?" Ba'Re barked. "We need warp, NOW!"

"Yes, Captain!" Olan responded, rapidly tapping more commands into the helm.

Surely Captain Janeway and the crew of Voyager would find another way to defeat the Granarians, Seven thought with fleeting confidence, knowing Kathryn, if anything, was resourceful. Her eyes dropped in odd curiosity to her trembling hands.

The ship lurched as fast as Granarian technology could take them. "1/3 impulse, impulse, 2/3 impulse . . . ," Olan announced. The ship shook and emitted a disturbing groan as the engines were pushed to their limit.

Seven stood slowly, numbly watching as the rest on the bridge scrambled into their places. She glanced at the screen, focusing on Voyager, Kathryn's ship . . . and prayed. Not to some supreme deity, but to the painfully stubborn Kathryn, silently pleading her to overcome the threat.

Rath announced "Five seconds until detonation."

"Errgess's boarding party is starting to evacuate," Commander Rath said anxiously. "They are not going to make it," he added somberly.

Captain Ba'Re looked at Rath with sadness.

"Three, two. . . ." The executive officer continued to count.

"Warp One!" Olan announced with relief, knowing he would live to find Honor another day. The ship jumped to warp speed, away from Voyager.

"One . . . !" CDR Rath said winced, bracing himself for the impending shock wave, just like everyone else on the bridge, except Seven, whose eyes were fixed on the screen and Voyager.

After a surprisingly quiet moment, Seven exhaled as relief washed over her as she concluded Kathryn had been "bluffing." A small, proud smile slowly formed on her face as she considered how efficiently Kathryn had purged her ship of the boarders.

"What's going on?" Captain Ba'Re demanded, looking uneasy as Rath looked over his operations panel in confusion.

Of course Kathryn would never let anyone take her ship, Seven thought confidently as she looked around the bridge of bewildered Granarians, wondering with how many times opposing crews had felt that way with Kathryn's tactics. Her eyes returned fondly to the view screen and the ship that was her home - just as Voyager exploded, filling the screen with a spectacular shower of blindingly bright particles.

***

"Warning, regeneration cycle incomplete," the computer announced as Seven's eyes fluttered opened.

"Kathryn!" She cried in horror, stepping off the dias as a searing pain shot through her head.


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