The Journey Home

A Star Trek: Voyager Story (J/7)

By Enginerd


Chapter 9 - Broken

"Sheís in cardiac arrest," the Doctor said with alarm as he looked between the Captain and the tricorder.

Seven and BíElanna emerged from the observation room, clearly stunned.  Their numbness quickly faded as they watched with horror as the Captainís body start to twitch and jerk violently.

"Kahless," blurted BíElanna, realizing with disgust that this nightmare was not over yet.

"What is happening to her?!?" Seven demanded, looking at the EMH.

"The device is trying to save her," the Doctor said with amazed interest, reviewing his tricorder.

"Doctor?!?" Chakotay asked, feeling as helpless as the others as they watched their Captainís body continue to thrash in the chair.  The device didnít want to let its power source die.

Seven looked over to Tuvok pleadingly, slightly comforted to see him quietly approach the Captain.  He lifted up a hypo and injected her before the Doctor understood what he was doing.  A sudden jolt of energy crackled and shot towards Tuvok, sending him flying back into the wall.  He slumped down to the floor, unconscious, as a wisp of smoke rose from his charred uniform.

"Tuvok!" Seven said, immediately at his side, checking his vitals.  "He is alive," she announced with relief, looking at the Doctor, who was angry and frustrated as he read his medical tricorder.

"He injected her with a poison!  If we were trying to kill her, we could have done that a long time ago!" the Doctor snapped furiously.

The Captainís body suddenly stopped thrashing as odd sounds started to emanate from the device.  The tendrils that had been feeding off her, hissed and clicked, one-by-one, before falling away from the now-spoiled source.  The light in the room began to flicker then dim.

As Chakotay turned on emergency lighting, he asked.  "Doctor, can we move her?"

Seven didnít wait for an answer, swiftly passing him to take possession of the Captain and lift her from the vile chair.  Neither Chakotay nor the Doctor dared argue with the determined woman.

"Why ask me?" the Doctor muttered sarcastically, as he knelt by Tuvok and scanned him with a frown.

"Seven of Nine to Voyager.  This is a medical emergency.  Four to beam directly to Sickbay," Seven said evenly, promptly dematerializing with her precious cargo and the Doctor, with his Vulcan patient.

"BíElanna, we need to get the backup grid on line," Chakotay anxiously called out.  "We have no idea what the device might . . . ." Chakotay said, interrupted by ominous rumblings from within the computer center.  The deviceís now-free tendrils started to twitch and reach out blindly, thirsty for new energy sources.

"Watch out!" Chakotay yelled to BíElanna, who barely missed a flailing tendril as she tried to connect the backup power conduits.  The device seemed to shudder and groan.

"Commander Chakotay, this is Voyager," Ensign Kimís voice came over Chakotayís comm badge.  "We are picking up seismic activity, originating from the device."

"Are you picking up any increases in the energy signature?" Chakotay asked as the room shook again.

"Whoa!" BíElanna blurted with alarm, dodging another hungry tendril, and dove to the floor. She crawled to the connection and prayed their plan would work.

"No, sir," Harry responded, providing some comfort to the Executive Officer.

Completing the connection, there was an odd, high-pitched noise, as the device fought the foreign energy.

"I really think we ought to get out of here," BíElanna called out anxiously as she jumped away from another tentacle that desperately reached out for a biological source.

"Belay that, we are seeing an exponential . . . !" Harry amended urgently.

"Voyager! Beam us out!" Chakotay ordered.

***

When Chakotay and BíElanna returned to the bridge, Harry stood from the command chair and returned to Ops.

"Report," Chakotay said, taking command.

Tom looked down at his scanners as BíElanna went to her station. "The device is continuing to fight the alternate power grid," Tom said.

Chakotay looked worried. "LT Torres, what is the status of the power grid?"

"The dilithium crystals are still intact; they are withstanding the rapid power transients and the seismic tremors," BíElanna said with relief. "And the effects are starting to diminish," she noted with surprise. "I think . . . it worked," she said with cautious optimism, looking at Chakotay, who nodded absently.

"Harry, youíve got the Con. Iím going to sickbay."

"Aye, Sir."

As she watched Chakotay leave the bridge, BíElanna noticed Tom looking at her oddly.  "What?" she asked.

Tom smiled weakly.  "Must have been . . . exciting, down there," he said with a wince.

"A bit too exciting," she said, absently glancing at the turbo lift with concern for her Captain and her best friend.

***

"How are they?" Chakotay said anxiously as he entered Sickbay and approached the biobeds where his Captain and Chief of Security lay unconscious.  Seven stood, silently staring at her critically injured Captain.  He winced at the sight of the Captain, now under a medical dome which kept her alive.  From one device to another, he thought with a frown.

"As well as can be expected, I suppose," the Doctor said sarcastically.  "The poison to her system had accelerated deterioration of her brain functions.  Itís a wonder I could save her."

"Doctor, Iím not going to say Iím happy about being kept in the dark about this.  But I have to say, poisoning the Captain when Tuvok did may have been the only thing that could have freed her and saved her life."

The Doctor looked at him with a displeased face.  "It may have saved her life, but Iím not sure what kind of life that will be."

"Meaning what?" Chakotay asked with alarm.

"She may not respond and I may have to keep her on life support indefinitely. Or she may respond but have brain damage," the Doctor said bluntly.

"Are those the only options?" Chakotay said, startled. He looked at Kathryn with concern.

"No, they are not," Seven said tersely, finally gazing at them with an air of defiance.  "I am confident the Doctorís use of my nanoprobes will sufficiently counter the effects of the poison.  Kathryn is strong.  She will get through this," Seven said, daring them to argue.

Chakotay was glad she was on their side, certain no one would ever want to be an enemy of Seven of Nine.  And he was pleased by her unwavering loyalty to Kathryn, suspecting she was going to need every bit of Sevenís strength to recover.

"There is a chance," the Doctor allowed, not as confident.

Seven sighed angrily and focused on Kathryn with such intensity it seemed she was willing her nanoprobes to work more efficiently, Chakotay thought with a wince.

"How is Tuvok?" Chakotay asked the Doctor.

"With his robust Vulcan physiology, he should be up and around within a few hours.  But I might make him stay a few days . . . just to be sure," the Doctor said with a thin smile.

Chakotay frowned.  "Iím going to need him as soon as heís better," he said and quickly added.  "Notify me of any changes."

"Of course," the Doctor said with a heavy sigh.

***

Tom entered the mess hall, finding it buzzing with uneasy discussion about the condition of the Captain and fate of the Uttuskan Ambassador and her assistants.  Tom spotted BíElanna, sitting at a table.  Her shoulders were slumped and a pensive look etched on her face.  Something was definitely consuming her thoughts, he considered with a frown, knowing she was one to keep things inside until she exploded.  And that was never a good thing, he considered with a grimace.

"Hey, how are you . . . really?" Tom asked softly as he joined her at the table and sat down.

"Great," BíElanna said flatly, sipping her juice and staring out the windows at the stars.

Tom knew enough not to call an upset Klingon a liar and tried a different tactic.  "The Uttuskan people seem to be very happy about what you did . . . giving them independence from "the Provider."

BíElanna shrugged, picking up her fork and started poking her food.  "It was not my idea.  I would have let them rot," she said bluntly, then felt guilty, knowing that would not be what Captain Janeway would want, even after everything she went through.

"Yeah, well, you still helped them," he said, then smiled weakly.  "Even if they didnít deserve it," he offered, getting a grunt.  He took a deep breath and tried to engage her in conversation again. "I knew it was exciting down there but I didnít know how much - Chakotay said that device went after you," he said gently with a wince, knowing something was really bothering her.

"It missed," she sighed with a shrug, continuing to poke at her food with a fork.

"Thankfully," he said softly.

BíElanna looked up from her food and eyed Tom critically, searching for his sincerity.  Instead of his frequent joking or mirth, she saw a startlingly serious expression on his face. He really meant it, she concluded with surprise.

"Thatís not whatís bothering you, is it?" he said, eyeing her closely.

"Tom, weíve been played for fools and our Captain is in sickbay and may not make it.  And now, we are going out of our way to help them be independent, when Iíd rather unload a few dozen photon torpedoes on them for the hell she went through! Of course Iím bothered!"  She spat angrily bending the fork in her hand.

"BíElanna, we had no other options than to use the negative setting.  The Captain will understand," Tom said with surprising insightfulness, knowing she had been in the observation room and operated the switch.

She winced slightly before gruffly announcing "Iím going back to engineering," and left.

Tom sighed, looking at the bent fork on her tray.

***

The Doctor sighed, watching Seven continue to stare at Captain Janeway.  This was not helping either of them. "Seven, I recommend you regenerate.  Youíll need your energy when she finally does wake."

"If I need to rest, I will sleep here.  I will not leave her side," Seven vowed, looking at him with determined blue eyes.

"Well, thatís better than I had expected," the Doctor admitted begrudgingly with a sigh, still not convinced it the best solution.  "I happen to have a bed for you.  Thankfully, business has been slow lately.  Care to test out the accommodations now??"  He asked, eyeing her, knowing she could benefit from a nap.

Seven frowned.

***

"You have no idea what you have done!" Dre Gatta hissed at Tuvok as he escorted her with a firm hand on her arm.  Her two assistants trailed behind under the guard of two armed security officers.

"On the contrary; we are keenly aware of what we have done.  We did not give up as you had expected," Tuvok said as they approached the transporter.

"Youíve ruined everything.  Youíve ruined our lives!" She cried, squirming in his unrelenting grip.

"There is a large percentage of the Uttuskan population that disagrees.  They are celebrating their freedom from the Provider," he said, then nodded to the transporter chief, who began their transport

As they materialized on the planet surface, the former Ambassador grew more agitated.  "They are fools," she hissed with disgust as she saw four Uttuskan guards approach with the Prime Minister and Chakotay.  Tuvok nodded to the woman, whose shock of gray hair complemented her handsome face.

"Prime Minister, Commander," Tuvok said, nodding at each.

"Take them to confinement," the Prime Minister said dismissively, not bothering to acknowledge the resigned assistants or agitated former Ambassador.

"You have destroyed our heritage!" Dre Gatta cried out as she was taken away.

"What will happen to her?" Tuvok asked, watching the Ambassador and her guards disappear into a building.  He knew Captain Janeway would want to know eventually.

"She and her accomplices will face charges and likely spend their lives in confinement," the Prime Minister said and looked a Chakotay with great distress. "Once again, I must tell you how deeply sorry my people are for the actions of these individuals.  We knew we would need to change our ways but we had no idea that some had decided to break the law and use unwilling providers. I can not begin to express my horror at this whole situation."

Chakotay nodded and remained silent, not sure what else to say.  Although, he considered Kathryn would have said something fitting; she was a seasoned diplomat.

"We have never had off-worlders attend our legal proceedings; however, considering the injury to your Captain and your generosity to help us become independent in spite of those injuries, I would be honored if you bore witness," the Prime Minister said, looking at him with hopeful eyes.

"We are honored by the invitation, Prime Minister," Chakotay said uncomfortably.  "But we are anxious to return to our journey home," he added, not wanting to offend the leader.

"I understand," she said with slight disappointment.  "I hope when your Captain gets better, she knows not all Uttuskans are monsters," the older woman said with clear distress.

"We will extend your personal regrets to the Captain and ensure she understands your people have brought the individuals responsible for her injury to justice," Tuvok interjected to the relief of Chakotay, who nodded absently, hoping they actually got the chance.

***

With Voyager back on course for home, Chakotay noticed an improvement in ship morale.  However, he worried how long that would last as days continued to pass and their Captain remained in a coma.

At the senior staff meeting, Chakotay sat down in Kathrynís chair and sighed, preferring Kathryn to sit there.  It struck him as rather ironic that when he first agreed to become the Executive Officer to Captain Janeway, the former Maquis captain bristled at the notion of no longer being the one in charge.  Now, having been in the Delta quadrant for many years, he wondered why he would have ever wanted the job.  He had to acknowledge Janewayís insight into people and skill at diplomacy, not to mention an incredible steel will, brought them together and made them a successful crew.  He doubted he would have been able to accomplish what she did with the success she had.  He was suited for and enjoyed his second-in-command position to Captain Janeway.  But right now, he didnít have the luxury of working behind the scenes to make things run smoothly; the ship needed strong leadership right now - from him.

"According to BíElannaís report, our supply of dilithium crystals will be exhausted in one month," Chakotay said with a frown, looking at the staff.  Three seats were empty, his, the Doctorís, and Sevenís.  But he knew exactly where they had been for days.

"We can extend our supply to last a little over two, if we aggressively cut back on energy consumption now," BíElanna offered.

"Which, we should do," Chakotay agreed, getting nods from the staff.  "Harry, have you completed your scan for the potential dilithium crystal sites?"

Harry shifted uncomfortably as he looked around the room of expectant faces.  "Iím working on it."

Chakotay sighed with frustration.  "We need to get Seven back to work, donít we?"

"Commander, Iíll get it done by the end of the shift," Harry quickly said, not wanting to bother Seven.

"I will assist him," Tuvok volunteered.

Chakotay frowned.  It was odd how much they relied on the former Borg, who he had not wanted on the ship; another insight by Captain Janeway, who somehow knew how valuable Seven would become to them . . . and her.  He absently wondered how long Janeway had harbored romantic feelings for the tall blonde.

"Iíll speak with her," BíElanna quickly volunteered before Chakotay could say anything.  He eyed her and nodded with gratitude.  He really didnít feel like getting into a confrontation with an emotional Borg; especially one who didnít like him very much.

***

After the staff meeting, BíElanna went to sickbay, not exactly sure how to convince Seven to leave the Captainís side; she knew the former-Borg would deem work as "irrelevant" compared to the Captain.  Although, she had to admit that she also had difficulty focusing on work when the Captainís recovery was still questionable.  When she entered sickbay, she was surprised to find the lights dimmed and Seven reclining on a biobed. She froze, not wanting to disturb her.

"Was there something you needed, LT?" Seven asked, turning her head towards the Chief Engineer.

"Uh, sorry to wake you," BíElanna said with a wince.

"You did not.  I was merely lying down so the Doctor would stop bothering me," Seven stated, getting up.

"Ah.  But if you need to regenerate, youíll just sleep here, right?"

"Correct," Seven said. Her optical implant rose with curiosity. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, your alcove sucks up a lot of energy and we are cutting back," BíElanna said. "The Doctor is currently offline too?" she asked with interest, looking around sickbay.

"Yes," she answered hesitantly.

"Good. I guess everyone is getting the message to conserve energy," she said with a shrug, looking at the Captain. "That should help keep the Doctor out of your hair too," BíElanna suggested with a smirk, getting a frown from the blonde, who looked down at the Captain uneasily.

Seven did not like the idea of taking the Doctor offline for long periods to conserve energy.  She eyed BíElanna critically. "I received no such message. And our supply of dilithium crystals should be sufficient to last for over eight months," Seven challenged confidently.

"Not after we gave dilithium to the Uttuskans for their grid," BíElanna noted.

"I failed to calculate the impacts of our ... donation," Seven said with concern, her face hardening at her latest failure.

"Hey, we are all distracted and busy. And itís not like we are in extremis yet.  Weíve got about a month with aggressive conservation protocols.  Iím sure Harry will find some deposits somewhere before we run out," BíElanna said.

Seven frowned. "You should not have waited to inform me of this.  I will route the Astrometrics computer to the Doctorís office and assist with the search," Seven said surprising BíElanna, who didnít expect it to be that easy.

"Oh. Well, we werenít sure youíd want to be distracted," BíElanna said hesitantly.

"Lieutenant, I still am able and desire to assist the crew. However, I require to be near her," Seven said firmly, in a tone leaving no room for debate.

"I understand. Uh, Chakotay does too. Thanks, Seven," BíElanna said with a relieved smile that faltered when she glanced at the Captain.

 


Chapter 10 - Missing Pieces

"I donít know what you did, BíElanna, but within a day, Seven has found three potential sources for Dilithium crystals," Chakotay said as the Chief Engineer entered the ready room.

"She had incentive," BíElanna said vaguely. "So what did you want to talk to me about?"

"The reports from you and Seven on what happened," he said.

"What about them?" She asked, shifting uncomfortably.

"Well, Seven hasnít submitted one yet and yours is . . . not the usual detailed report I usually get," he said cautiously.

"Dammit, Chakotay, Iím an engineer, not a writer," BíElanna said with irritation.

"BíElanna, the report has a noticeable gap in it.  You donít even mention the negative setting.  Iím sure the nightmares Captain Janeway experienced are disturbing but you wouldnít want Starfleet to start poking around and wondering why the Chief Engineer had failed to include key information.  Fix it.  If you need help filling in the gaps, Tom is pretty ... creative," the former Maquis captain said vaguely, getting a surprised look from BíElanna.

"Just make sure your facts are in agreement with Sevenís.  Thatís all," he said, clearly dismissing her.

"Uh ...Understood," she said and left with a frown.  She really didnít want to write anything about that day.

***

The next day in sickbay, Seven sat next to the Captainís biobed and read aloud from the PADD in her hand.  From all indications, Kathryn was getting better.  She no longer required the medical dome to support her involuntary functions; however, she had yet to regain consciousness.

"Nelix reports, in a highly verbose manner which I will not subject you to, that crew morale has improved since your return to Voyager," Seven said to Kathryn, lowering the PADD to her lap.

"Although, the crew is still concerned about your recovery, Kathryn.  Should you wish to improve morale further, I am certain your waking would achieve an exponential increase," she offered, looking at the still unconscious woman a moment with growing frustration.  "Should you continue in this condition for an extended period, I will be reading his future reports to you verbatim," she challenged, her optical implant rising in challenge as she eyed the Captain, who showed no signs of reacting.

She sighed and reached out, compelled to touch the only person she had ever loved. Her fingers tenderly caressed her brow then cheek before she took a fortifying breath and continued her reporting.

"Engineering is reporting 96.2% efficiency in the warp core and collateral systems," Seven summarized the department report.  Raising her optical implant at that unimpressive percentage, she frowned. "I am certain BíElanna will improve that, now that her attentions are focused on Voyager and not the Uttuskans," Seven noted, then continued. "She reports the supply of Dilithium crystals will last 1.11 months with aggressive conservation protocols.  However, with the increase in efficiency I project, the duration of the supply can be extended for 1.32 months," Seven said, glancing at the Captain.

"The final report is the most concise, of course," Seven relayed, laying the unneeded PADD on her lap. "There are three candidate locations for Dilithium crystals.  I recommend the Balleto system which contains many crystal-rich asteroids.  It has the highest probability of satisfactory dilithium crystal density and the minimum extraction difficulty.  While it is furthest away from our present course to the Alpha quadrant, I believe it would be inefficient to select a closer location with a significantly higher probability of failure and risk wasting currently limited resources."

Seven paused, once again compelled to touch Kathryn.  She gently placed a hand on her head and wished there was some way to pull her out of the coma.  The Doctor said her talking helped the Captain and the medical cases on comas she had read all agreed with that assertion.  She found some comfort in knowing her overwhelming need to communicate with Kathryn was actually supported by medical science.  Taking a breath, she continued.

"In addition to asteroids of interest, the Balleto system contains two Class M planets with warp-capable species.  Mr. Nelix notes the Balleto system is also known for trade and commerce, which should keep him preoccupied for the duration of our stay.  This location also offers shore leave opportunities, which both Mr. Paris and Nelix assert is relevant," Seven noted with an arched brow. "I too, would deem it relevant if you joined me," she noted, placing her hand gently on Kathrynís, needing the tactile connection. "Please, Kathryn. Make shore leave relevant," Seven said in a quiet plea.

The neural activity readings on the biobed monitor fluctuated. "Doctor!" she called with surprise as she stood, glancing between the monitor and Kathrynís face.

The Doctor quickly emerged from his office.  Grabbing a medical tricorder on the way, he flipped it open and read it with a raised brow.  "Hmmm."

Seven anxiously awaited his observations.

"Sheís fighting to come back.  You should continue to talk to her," he recommended with a pleased smirk at the spark of excitement in her eyes.

Looking at her love, she said firmly but gently. "Kathryn, I require your presence. Wake up.  Please.  Come back to me."

At last, Kathryn Janewayís eyelids fluttered as her awareness of her surroundings slowly grew.

"You are safe, Kathryn," Seven said softly, squeezing her hand.  A smile bloomed on Sevenís face when Kathryn weakly squeezed back.

The Captainís eyes finally opened and found Seven.

"Kathryn, you are safe," Seven repeated, looking into her eyes as the groggy haze was replaced by a rush of panic when the horrific memories flooded back in a suffocating tidal wave.

"Emma!" Kathryn cried, her long, unused voice ragged and weak.

Seven looked at her uneasily, causing Kathryn to moan with soul-crushing despair.  She realized with dread that her hesitation had made Kathryn believe the worst.

"Kathryn," Seven quickly said, unable to get a response through the thick wall of grief.  "Kathryn!" she said again, placing her hands firmly on either side of Kathrynís face and forcing her to pay attention.  "Emma . . . Emma has not been harmed," Seven said firmly, then glanced uneasily to the Doctor, who nodded with agreement.

"Thatís right, Captain," he said with a smile and reviewed her medical readings.  Stress was certainly elevated.  No surprise there, he considered.

Kathryn looked into crystal blue eyes, unsure of what to believe. "Emma has not been harmed," Seven repeated slowly and confidently. Kathryn finally grasped onto that information desperately, exhaling with such relief that tears welled up and rolled down her cheeks.

Seven reached out and gently wiped away the tears with infinite tenderness. "Everything will be fine," she promised gently, causing the Doctor to glance at Seven with brief unease.  He hoped Seven understood the road ahead was going to be a long and bumpy one.

When her thumb gently stroked her cheek, Kathryn blinked at her in confusion, remembering another horrific event where she stood by and just watched, powerless to stop it. "You were . . . assimilated," Kathryn said haltingly, searching Sevenís face.

"I was not," Seven said, causing Kathryn to nod weakly at the evidence before her.  "I have not been a drone since you severed me from the collective," she added firmly.

An uneasy breath escaped as Kathrynís eyes frantically darted around sickbay, trying to gain her bearings. "The ship was . . . destroyed," Kathryn blurted, still disoriented, remembering her heart-wrenching destruction at Utopia Planitia.

"She was not," Seven said, causing hope to flood back and rejuvenate the broken Captain.

"Then we still have time - before they get here," Kathryn interrupted with a surprising burst of energy, struggling to sit up. She didnít know how it was possible, but she had her ship, she had Seven by her side, and Captain Janeway was damn well not going to waste a second chance to stop the Borg from attacking Earth and destroying her family. It was going to be different this time, she silently vowed with grim determination, struggling to sit up.

"There is nothing that canít wait, Captain," the Doctor said firmly.  "You need to rest," he said, swiftly injecting the weak patient with a sedative.

"Noooo! The Borg!" she cried out in panic, desperately battling against the drug and her heavy eyes.  She couldnít fail again!

"They are not attacking, Kathryn," Seven quickly offered the upset woman, getting one last confused glance before Kathrynís eyes stayed shut.

After a quiet moment of looking at the once again unconscious Captain, Seven glanced at the Doctor.

"Her neurological readings appear . . . normal," Seven stated uncomfortably, searching for something positive about Kathrynís condition.

"They are.  That is one hurdle sheís gotten over, Seven.  But you must realize, there will be many more ahead.  Her physical recovery will be the easy part.  Captain Janeway has been through a traumatic experience; it will take time for her to grasp and accept what has happened to her.  Then there is the emotional recovery," he said with a sympathetic wince. "It will take time."

Seven looked at him with concern, feeling woefully ill-equipped to help Kathryn recover from the emotional trauma she had been through. "How do I help her heal?" She asked, without her usual confidence.

"Be patient.  Until we understand what she is thinking and feeling, we can not begin to help.  And you know how difficult it is to get our Captain to talk about her feelings," the Doctor said, glancing at their patient with a sigh.

"I will research therapy techniques," Seven said firmly, needing something concrete to do.

The Doctor looked at her with a small smile of encouragement.  "Thatís a good place to start," he said kindly, getting a nod before she went to the computer to begin her research in earnest.

***

BíElanna sat at her desk in her quarters, staring at the computer screen. Unable to put what she saw down into words, she growled and got up to go for a walk. She found herself in sickbay.

She spotted Seven at the Doctorís desk, scanning something intently on his computer screen. "Seven?"

Seven looked up and stared at her, waiting.

"Uh, how is she doing?" BíElanna asked.

"She had regained consciousness a few hours ago," Seven said.

BíElanna smiled with relief.  "Thatís great!"  Seeing Seven not sharing her enthusiasm, she added cautiously "Isnít it?"

"She does not appear to be suffering from any neurological damage," Seven said, looking to the computer screen worriedly.

"But?" BíElanna asked guardedly, growing more concerned by Sevenís neutral tone.

"The Doctor says it will take time before she understands and accepts what has happened to her.  She woke thinking she had killed our daughter," she offered uncomfortably.

BíElanna winced and looked at the ground.  "Chakotay told me I need to expand my report to include the nightmares," she said uneasily, causing Seven to eye her curiously.

"You are reluctant. Why?" Seven asked softly.

"I donít think itís anyoneís damn business to know what the Captain did while under the influence of that . . . thing!  It wasnít real.  It was a goddamn nightmare!!" BíElanna spat angrily. "And what if some idiot at Starfleet reads about what she did and tries to hold that against her?"

"Do you think that is likely?" Seven asked with concern, not having considered that possibility.

"I . . . I donít know.  I just donít trust them.  And I donít think itís necessary to go into that detail and risk it."

"But Chakotay told you . . . ."

"He just doesnít want any obvious gaps or inconsistencies between our reports," BíElanna quickly offered, then added "He never asked for specifics...."

Seven looked at her a thoughtful moment, then glanced at the computer screen, where she had investigated the psychological sciences, focusing on clinical psychology and psychotherapy, which she found frustratingly . . . imprecise.

"We will mention the invasion and destruction of Earth and the assimilation of her mother and sister. That should be sufficient explanation of the resulting cardiac arrest," Seven said, getting a quick nod of agreement from BíElanna.

"What about Tuvok?" BíElanna suddenly said with alarm, having forgotten that his actions could have killed the Captain.

"He has already thoroughly documented his actions," Seven said. Seeing BíElanna wince, Seven added "and my report will reflect my participation."

"What??"

"I recognized that if we failed, I would not have the courage to end her . . . nightmare," Seven said with distress. "I had requested Tuvok make sure she did not remain trapped by the device.  He agreed."

"You had the courage to ask, Seven," BíElanna noted softly.

Sevenís eyes dropped, unconvinced of her courage.

***

Almost a day had passed before the sedative wore off and the Captain slowly woke from a dreamless sleep.  Her eyes fluttered open then quickly glanced around the familiar sickbay in confusion.  Seeing the Doctor, her eyes narrowed, recalling him sedating her.

"Where am I?" Kathryn asked evenly, looking at the Doctor as he held his medical tricorder over her.

"Voyagerís sickbay, Captain," the Doctor answered with a smile as Seven joined his side.  Kathryn focused on Seven, her guiding light though a stormy sea.  Seven took her hand, which she grasped tightly.

"Your vital signs are strong and . . . ," the Doctor continued but was interrupted by his anxious patient.

"Weíve already wasted valuable time, Doctor," she spat angrily.  "We canít waste another minute; weíve got stop the Borg," she declared anxiously.  Noting Sevenís brief, uncomfortable glance to the Doctor, Kathrynís eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"There is no Borg threat, Kathryn," Seven said, earning a sharp, disbelieving look.

"At least today anyway," the Doctor offered with a smirk.

Kathryn looked at Seven with an impatient glare.  "Show me," she growled and started to sit up.

"Captain, youíve been through a physical and emotional trauma.  You need to rest," the Doctor said, reaching for another hypospray.

"So help me, if you attempt to inject me one more time, I will charge you with treason and personally decompile your program," Captain Janeway said with such conviction the Doctor flinched.

Memories of her homeís devastating destruction as she helplessly stood by tormented her.  She pushed down the confusing ache of guilt, reminding herself she hadnít failed yet.  The ship was still intact, Seven was here, and Emma . . . was still at home, furious with her.  Which was far better than the alternative, she considered, vowing for all their sakes, not to let the alternative happen.  With steely resolve, she focused on Seven and demanded "If there is no Borg threat, prove it."

"Captain, weíve already told you," the EMH tried again. "Now you need medical ...."

"I need to know there is no Borg threat!" she snapped impatiently. "Telling me doesnít cut it! I need PROOF!!"

"Captain," the EMH sighed with frustration. "Please . . ."

Captain Janeway had had enough. "Computer, deactivate Emergency Medical Hologram. Authorization Janeway, Gamma One Nine Eight," she said abruptly.

An offended look appeared on the Doctorís face. Kathrynís eyes widened with angry disbelief; how could it be that Starfleet overlooked the need to activate the command protocols for the Captain they had assigned to stop the Borg attack?!?

Seven quickly intervened.  "Computer, deactivate Emergency Medical Hologram. Authorization Seven Lima Eight Eight Pi."

The EMHís offended look was now directed at Seven before he disappeared; the hypospray in his hand dropped onto the tray.

"Someone at Starfleet command is going to explain that to me later!" Janeway growled.  "But first we have a job to do - unless you can convince me otherwise," she challenged bluntly, now focusing on the uneasy former Borg.  "Show me," she demanded again.

"Very well," Seven said uneasily, getting a curt nod from Captain Janeway, who got off the biobed.  Her legs, unused to supporting her weight, buckled beneath her. A meshed hand quickly reached out, preventing her from falling.

"Thank you," Janeway said tightly, uncomfortable with being so weak; she would also pursue that Ďwhyí later.  But right now, she had a job to do.

"Computer, site-to-site transport to Astrometrics," Seven said, holding Kathryn firmly as they dematerialized.

***

Captain Janeway, clad in her dark blue patient tunic, leaned against the console for support as she watched Seven call up Voyagerís current location on the star chart.  The familiar clusters of stars that appeared were not those she had ever expected to see again.

"As you can see, there are no Borg vessels within sensor range, Kathryn," Seven said, knowing the Captainís original concern of the Borg threat was forgotten as Kathryn stared at the stars, shaking her head at what she saw.

Confusion, disbelief, then anger washed over Captain Janeway as she stared at the disturbing information.  "No...this isnít right. We are not in the Delta Quadrant!" she responded heatedly.

"We are.  I know this is confusing, Kathryn, but I will attempt to answer all . . . ." Seven said with concern, but was interrupted.

"We returned home fourteen years ago!" Kathryn argued vehemently.  "We got married over thirteen! We had Emma . . . ," she continued fiercely then suddenly, her breath was expelled as if punched in the stomach. ". . . twelve," she finished in a whisper as the memory of her daughterís final look consumed her thoughts.

It was a look of fear...of her.

Kathrynís eyes shut tightly as she clung to Sevenís words. Emma was not harmed.  Seven said she was OK, she silently repeated, desperately praying it was true.  Desperately praying she never pulled the trigger....

"Kathryn," Seven said firmly, getting Kathrynís eyes to open and look at her with a startling weariness.  She abhorred the idea of causing any more pain but knew Kathryn needed the truth.  "We did not return to the Alpha Quadrant," she informed her, then added gently  "We did not get married or have children."

Kathryn looked at Seven with a stormy mix of emotions.  What the hell was going on?  How could the woman with an eidetic memory not remember all those years together? How could she possibly forget?!?

"But we did!" Kathryn responded with frustration, grabbing Sevenís right hand as proof - only to find the gold band missing.  Her exasperation was suddenly strangled by her surprise.  They never took their rings off.  Kathryn released Sevenís hand and looked at her own, noting with a sinking feeling that her band was also gone.  "No," she uttered under her breath, unbelieving, as she shook her head.  They must have taken them off for some reason.  But they never took them off.  "No."

Seven reached out and firmly grabbed Kathrynís shoulders, looking into her uncertain eyes.

The Astrometrics doors whooshed open as a whistling Harry entered reading a PADD.  Spotting Seven with the Captain, he stopped dead in his tracks.  "Captain! Seven?"

Captain Janeway glanced over to Mr. Kim, startled by his appearance.  He only wore an Ensign pip, yet - he had become the Captain of Endeavor.  Her head dropped down as she struggled with the contradictions.  Everything was telling her that she was back in the Delta Quadrant . . . all those years ago.  But . . . how?  What of Emma?

"Seven, is she all right? Should I get the Doctor?" Harry said worriedly, glancing over his Captain still in her blue patient tunic, shaking her head, not wanting to accept what she was seeing.

"Mr. Kim, if the Captain requires assistance, I will ensure she gets it. Leave us now," Seven said evenly.

"Uh ... right. Welcome back, Captain," he said uneasily, then left.


Chapter 11 - Explanations

Materializing in the Captainís stateroom, Kathryn slowly looked up into concerned blue eyes.

"I will get you more suitable clothing," Seven offered softly, quickly glancing over her patient tunic.

"Time travel?" Kathryn guessed weakly.  "Did . . . Did we avoid the attack by going back?" she asked with a wince, desperate for an explanation.  Though there must have been a huge miscalculation.  Certainly she wouldnít have picked a time they were still stuck in the Delta Quadrant. Before Emma....

"No, it is not that simple," Seven said, taking her hand and leading her to her bedroom and bed.

"Time travel is never simple," Kathryn argued weakly, then eyed her suspiciously.  "Q?" Captain Janeway thought with growing anger, tired of his . . . .

"No. Not Q," Seven said and sighed.

Kathryn blinked, feeling lost.

"Sit. I will gather your clothes and you will change.  Then we will discuss what happened," Seven said and efficiently collected comfortable casual wear from the bureaus as Kathryn sluggishly nodded and sat, looking around the familiar bedroom she hadnít seen in over fourteen years, or so she had thought.

Glancing out her bedroom window, she frowned at the Hurio nebula.  Its beautiful purple and blue hues would have been far more beautiful if they were in the Alpha Quadrant, she considered.  Yet, they werenít.  It was a familiar Delta Quadrant nebula, meaning they were in the Delta Quadrant as the star chart and Seven had told her.  Seeing a young Ensign Kim placed them at a time before returning home all those years ago, but according to Seven, time travel was out.  And if she was in the past, before they went home, before she and Seven married then . . . what of Emma?  The ache in her heart grew suffocating as she stared out at that damned nebula.

Seven returned to see the quiet misery in Kathrynís eyes.  Silently, she placed the clothes on the bed.

"I didnít get us home, did I?" Kathryn asked, the old burden of getting her crew safely home returned, crashing down upon her with a vengeance.

"You will," Seven said with soft conviction, feeling the intense sadness radiating from the older woman, who glanced away, not so confident of anything anymore.  Everything she had lived through the past fourteen years . . . never happened?  Everything she had wanted and thought she had . . . was gone?  Kathryn took a shaky breath. Emma....

As Seven tried to unfasten the blue garment, Kathryn gently stopped her with an uneasy hand.  Her eyes briefly looked over Seven with uncertainly.  "Iíll, uh...take care of that," she said uncomfortably.  "Could you please get me a cup of coffee?" she added.

She eyed Kathryn a moment.  "I will return shortly," Seven finally said, standing up and leaving Kathryn to dress herself.

"Ah, Iíll meet you in the living room?" Kathryn countered awkwardly, unable to look Seven in the eyes.

Seven tilted her head curiously a moment, then concluded the independent Captain needed some control of the situation. "Very well."

***

In her most comfortable slacks and blouse, Kathryn finally emerged from her bedroom.  As she headed for the couch, she took stock of her old quarters, hoping to find something out of place, something that would reveal this was all a cruel trick.  But everything looked . . . disappointingly normal.

Seven silently watched her, noting the haunted look in her eyes as Kathryn searched the room for understanding.  She had read various studies on loss and trauma and the associated stages a person goes through emotionally.  Unfortunately, none of the studies offered a precise time line for when the stages would occur.  And even more frustratingly, the stages did not necessarily occur in sequential order, she recalled, wondering if the Science of Psychology would be more aptly named Chaos Theory.  Her frustration was also accompanied by a persistent doubt of her ability to help Kathryn through this emotional maze.  Taking a fortifying breath, the former Borg returned to Kathrynís side with a beverage in hand.

"Thanks," Kathryn said softly, receiving the cup as they sat on the couch.  Seven nodded.

"Uh," Kathryn said with a frown as she looked in the cup.  "I realize my memory is a bit unreliable at the moment, but this isnít coffee."

"Correct.  You have not ingested food nor drink in 15.3 days.  Nutritional supplement 33 will be easier on your stomach," Seven responded.

Kathryn looked at her, startled by how long it had been since she last ingested something.  Knowing Seven would eventually explain, she simply nodded and hesitantly sipped. Her eyes widened in surprise. "Chocolate?"

"Nutritional supplement 33 also contains a variety of important nutrients which your body needs," Seven offered, also knowing that chocolate was considered a comfort food.

"I had always thought nutritional supplements and bad taste were synonymous," Kathryn offered dryly and sipped the drink her stomach accepted without protest.

"Having come to the conclusion that taste is actually relevant, I have developed a number of nutritional supplements that are pleasing to my palate," Seven noted.

Kathryn nodded and finished her drink.  As she placed her cup down on the coffee table, she stared at the table and absently traced her fingers upon the surface, remembering how Seven had given it to her on their first real date.  She pulled back awkwardly, wondering if that even happened.

"I am uncertain as to the least upsetting way to explain what has happened to you," Seven said with her usual blunt honesty.

Kathryn glanced to Seven, her eyes dropping to her hands.  With all the confusing information swirling around her, contradicting everything she thought she knew, oddly enough, what preoccupied her most at the moment was the absence of her gold band.  Her eyes returned to the coffee table.

"I have researched therapy techniques to find the most suitable method to engage in discussion with you that factors in all the emotional stimuli you have experienced. Unfortunately, out of the eight hundred and twelve applying to humanoids, I have only been able to narrow down the field to twenty three and I am uncertain as to which one would be the most eff...." Seven rattled on nervously at her failure to know precisely how to proceed as Kathryn stared at the table, unlistening.

"Seven?" Kathryn interrupted hesitantly, touching her own bare ring finger as she stared at the table with a perplexed look.  "You stated we were never . . . married.  But did we, uh, ever, were we. . . ?" Kathryn said, her words tumbling out as she awkwardly motioned between the two of them.

Seven realized with great distress that she had failed to anticipate Kathrynís need to know where their relationship stood.  It was logical that Kathryn needed something concrete to rely on before she could move forward.  "We were in a physically intimate relationship for 10.34 months before this happened.  It commenced 2.12 days after your bond with Jerran was transferred to Captain BaíRe."

Kathryn silently nodded with some solace that she hadnít lost everything . . . .

"We have copulated on 139 separate occasions, averaging 3.7 org...." Seven continued.

"Well now," Kathryn quickly interjected uncomfortably.  "Uh . . . wow," she added with stunned amazement.  She had never heard of one of her relationships in terms of those "statistics" before.  But she didnít need exact numbers to know her past relationships were never that . . . active.  She was torn between feeling proud the olí gal still had it in her and worried the olí gal sounded rather... needy.

"Indeed; however, during many of those months you were unusually preoccupied with the KíTa delegation and then later the Renthren pirates.  Once you are fully recovered and without those distractions, I am certain we will improve upon the frequency of both copulation and orgasms," Seven said confidently, startling Kathryn a moment before she noted a familiar mirth in Sevenís eyes.

"Sounds like I will need to be fully recovered," Kathryn countered dryly.  Her amusement faded as guilt welled up. "I had to ask; I didnít want to presume," she offered with an apologetic wince.

"Kathryn," Seven said, taking the Captainís hand in hers. "There is much for you to understand and you will. It will be difficult to reconcile what did and did not happen, but you will. I will help you through this," Seven vowed.

Kathryn Janeway looked into crystal blue eyes. She blinked and nodded, wondering if she really deserved the love so clearly reflected in them.

"So . . . what happened?" Kathryn asked, looking at Seven uneasily.

"The Uttuskan Device happened," Seven said tightly.

"The device that got us home?" Kathryn easily countered; but as soon as she said it, she knew that couldnít be true.  She had seen the star chart.  She could see the damn Hurio nebula out her damn stateroom window.  "But it didnít," she amended with a heavy sigh.

"Their device used you as an energy source for their urban centers," Seven said, causing Kathryn to scoff at the idea.

"One person supplied all their energy?" Kathryn challenged the clearly unbelievable explanation.

"You do have a strong personality, Kathryn," Seven countered with a raised ocular implant, surprising Kathryn, who looked at her a moment, then frowned as Seven continued.

"We had not planned to alter course to Uttuska Prime, but our long-range scans detected a wormhole event.  As we approached the planet, the wormhole event appeared to be stable.  Once we arrived, you and the senior staff attended many meetings over many days with the Ambassador and her staff to negotiate use of their technology.  However, the Uttuskan delegation appeared reluctant to part with any of their technology.  Ambassador Gatta appeared to be sympathetic and found you . . . intriguing."

Kathryn looked at Seven uneasily as she vaguely recalled the discussion at those meetings but clearly remembered Dre Gattaís flattering attention.

"She extended a . . . personal invitation to you for a private dinner.  You accepted.  You thought you could convince her to help," Seven said tightly.

"I didnít go to that dinner," Kathryn quickly countered, shaking her head.  "I knew you were upset I had accepted.  I spent that night with you," she said confidently, vividly remembering that special evening.

Seven sighed, wishing that had been the case. "You did not.  We argued as you were getting dressed.  I was upset you had never told her about us.  You never told anyone, even after ten months as a couple," Seven said uncomfortably.

Kathryn cringed.  How could she have been so oblivious to Sevenís feelings?  And why didnít Seven ever say anything, she wondered helplessly - then wanted to kick herself; it was Sevenís first intimate relationship.  She was probably uncertain how to address things about their relationship that bothered her.  Good going, Katie, she thought derisively.

"I knew she wanted you; however, I had not anticipated in what capacity," Seven said with a scowl. "Had I been less jealous and more rational, I could have prevented...," Seven offered guiltily.

"Whoa, hold on," Kathryn interrupted.  "I may have more than a few jumbled memories up here," she said, tapping her temple.  "But the responsibility for my actions rest with me.  Iím not surprised you became upset.  Iím only surprised it took 10.34 months before it grew into an argument.  And I should have stopped to think of why you were so upset.  But I didnít. I remember . . . I was convinced I could get us home with this technology.  I wanted that so badly," Kathryn admitted softly, shaking her head with a heavy sigh.

Seven nodded, understanding how much Kathryn wanted to get her crew home; and that great yearning frightened her.

"I am supposedly a seasoned Starfleet officer, trained in the art of war and politics.  And yet I bought her story, hook, line, and sinker," Kathryn said derisively.

"The data and the Ambassador were quite convincing," Seven allowed.

"Not to you," Kathryn added.

"Unlike you and most of the crew, I did not want to trust them.  I did not . . . like Ambassador Gatta," Seven admitted.

"That, I do recall," Kathryn noted and frowned. "Iím sorry I dismissed your concerns as just jealousy."

"I was jealous," Seven confirmed uncomfortably.

Kathryn lifted her hand to Sevenís cheek and looked into her eyes with great regret. "Iím so sorry I hurt you."

"I know, Kathryn," Seven responded, turning to kiss her palm before taking Kathrynís hand in hers and resting it on her lap.  "You are tired.  Perhaps you should rest . . . ."

"No," Kathryn said firmly. "I canít rest until I know why the past fourteen years that I remember apparently never happened," she said tightly, part of her still not convinced it didnít.

Seven sighed and nodded before continuing. "The device induced a deep dream state, where your desires and wishes were fulfilled.  It sustained your body with nutrients, while in return, you provided it energy."

"How?" Kathryn asked with genuine curiosity.

Seven looked uncomfortable. "We know very little about the operation of the device.  Our scanners were unable to penetrate the protective plating and their databases contained no useful information on the design.  We also found that the Uttuskans who were operating it were not knowledgeable of the scientific principles, even though their society had been using it for over a millennia," Seven noted with clear disapproval.

"So theyíve been using people to supply their energy for over a millennia??"

"Yes. The Ambassador had informed Tuvok that a Uttuskan can produce energy for a year or two before they die.  You had been projected to provide them energy for six, maybe seven years before you were . . . exhausted," Seven said uncomfortably.

"So they prey on unsuspecting visitors?" Kathryn said with irritation as the memory of a dark room surfaced, causing her to blink.  There was a chair, with someone already in it . . . attached to it, she recalled and shuddered at the disturbing memory.

"Their practice of using off-worlders started only recently due to a sharp decrease in Uttuskan volunteers - even with the promise of their dreams being fulfilled," Seven noted. "However, the Uttuskan law forbids use of off-worlders without their consent.  But the Ambassador disregarded that law."

"What happened to her?" Kathryn asked hesitantly. She glanced at Seven uncomfortably as she tried to remember the details of her encounters with the woman who had played her so easily.

"The Uttuskan authorities took her and her staff into custody.  We received a transmission two days ago that they have sentenced them to life imprisonment," Seven said.

"Who is supplying the energy for their cities now?"

"No one," Seven answered.  "We have provided them with alternate power sources.  The device is no longer used.  Once you were removed and the defensive mechanisms became inactive, the Prime Minister had the device dismantled.  The majority of Uttuskans, including the Prime Minister, were highly receptive to our help to achieve energy independence.  We believe they were truly unaware that the Ambassador was using off-worlders without their consent."

Seven saw a pleased smile form on Kathrynís face. "I am proud of you."

Sevenís eyes dropped. "You should not be.  I was tempted to implement BíElannaís solution; however, I anticipated Voyager would need her photon torpedoes."

Kathrynís smile grew.  "That is why I am proud of you."

"It was a group effort," Seven said dismissively.  Kathryn nodded, sure it was.

"You said . . . they tried to recruit people with promises that their dreams would be fulfilled.  But I know no dream of mine would have the Borg destroy everything.  They lied about that too?"

Seven tensed. "No. There are different settings on the device.  The Uttuskan practice was to induce positive brain activity which would provide the subject in the chair with a positive dream experience; however, the device can also induce negative brain activity, resulting in nightmares.  We were . . . desperate," Seven said, her eyes dropping to the floor as she continued.  "The deviceís defensive mechanisms were designed to prevent disruption to the power source, either through tighter controls over the source, you, or injury to the intruder.  We were unable to scan it and attempts to gain control over the operating circuitry proved unsuccessful.  We spent eight days testing various theories.

"How long was I . . . in the device?" Kathryn asked with a wince.

"Approximately nine days.  I do not have an exact time since we were unsure when you were first attached," Seven said uncomfortably, getting a startled, then perplexed look from Kathryn.

"Fourteen years in nine days," Kathryn uttered softly with amazement, shaking her head unable to believe she could have lived so much in such a little time.

Seven did not know how to respond so she continued her explanation.

"We theorized that if you woke up on your own, you could free yourself.  Tuvok performed a bridging of minds between you and Chakotay, then between you and Harry," Seven said, getting an uneasy look from Kathryn.  "Both attempted to contact you and get you to wake up.  However, they found the deviceís connection to you and your thoughts too resistant to outside influence.  The away-team reports contain more detail of the experience," she said, noting Kathrynís preoccupied look, suspecting she was trying to recall those encounters.

"We believed we had exhausted our options until Mr. Paris had inadvertently found an observation room."

"Observation room?" Kathryn said with alarm, correctly guessing itís function.

"The Uttuskans would use the room to observe the energy sourceís dream life.  It is unclear what the exact purpose was, neither the attendants nor the Ambassador elaborated."

"W...What did Mr. Paris observe?" Kathryn asked with dread, wondering if someone had actually witnessed her ineptitude and final, monstrous act.

"He found you being intimate with my dream counterpart," Seven said.

A wave of relief washed over her, followed by one of embarrassment as Kathryn pinched the bridge of her nose and groaned "Oh God."

"BíElanna pulled him away and put a guard on the door," she offered, getting Kathryn to move her hands to her temples.

"Anyone else get an eye-full?" Kathryn asked uncomfortably, massaging her temples slowly as she looked at Seven.

"No one else saw anything they should not have, Kathryn," Seven said firmly, receiving a weak nod.

"Go on...."

"In the room we discovered a control that would not trigger the defensive mechanism.  It provoked negative thoughts," she continued, getting a surprised look from the Captain. "The only option we had left was to induce nightmares.  The hope was that we could get you to want to wake up on your own."

"Thatís when the Borg came . . . ." Kathryn said softly, staring across the room as she remembered the horror as they took everything she cared about and destroyed it - except for Emma. She had done that herself.

"Yes. Tuvok and I tried one last mind meld to wake you but it was no use.  Tuvok broke the meld just before I was to be assimilated on the Queenís ship."

"You were with me?" Kathryn asked with surprise that quickly turned to certainty "You were with me," she said with wonder, remembering feeling a difference.

"We were unsure of what would happen with the negative settings; I did not want you to be alone," Seven said uneasily, making Kathrynís heart clench at her thoughtfulness. "You were so happy before we interfered.  Then everything was destroyed."

Kathryn looked at Seven, whose eyes dropped guiltily.  "Seven, you made the right choice.  I promised to get this crew home and doing it in my dreams doesnít count."

"You will succeed," Seven offered softly.

***

The morning sky is dark.  The clouds of black smoke, billowing up from the decimated cities and towns, block the sun.  I want to kick and scream as my wife, once again a drone, roughly presents our struggling daughter to the Queen, who clearly savors her thorough victory against humanity . . . and me.  How could Seven not feel something? How could I just stand by and let this happen??

Somehow, Emma breaks free from the drone Sevenís grip and runs into the barn.  Misplaced hope fills my heart as I run after her and barricade us behind flimsy wood doors, no more able to protect us from the Borg than from a strong wind.  I realize I can do nothing to protect my daughter from a life of inhuman servitude.  With Earth destroyed, who will rescue her?

"Come now, Captain.  You know nothing will stop the Borg," the Queen says silkily as she eyes the barn door with amusement, enjoying the moment.

"Whatís that?" Emma asks, looking at the small box in my hands curiously.

She was always a curious child, like both her parents Iíd like to think.  I was always proud of her, certain she would surpass my accomplishments.  But it is not to be.  I look at her with immense sadness.  There would be no more family picnics, no more school concerts or science fairs, no more . . . just no more.  I can not even protect my own child.

"A phaser," I say softly, then take the safety off with frightening ease.  The Queen will not have my child too.

"Is it enough to stop them? Mom? Mom?!?  Why are you pointing it at . . . NO!  Iíd rather be a Drone than dead.  Donít kill me . . . please!!!" Emma cries out in fear as I coldly pull the trigger.

"No!!" Kathryn cried out from her troubled sleep for the third time that night.  Sitting up in a sweat, Kathryn anxiously looked around her dark bedroom.  Only the dim light from the nebula and stars provided illumination.

"Kathryn, it is another nightmare," Seven said softly, sitting up and gently rubbing Kathrynís back.

Kathryn took a long moment to gather her wits, forcing calming breaths.  With frustration, she threw her legs over the side of the bed and ran a trembling hand through her damp hair.  Her eyes drifted out her window to the goddamned Hurio nebula.

"Should I get a sedative?" Seven asked gently.

"NO!" Kathryn snapped, immediately recalling her helplessness when the Doctor injected her.  She sighed, knowing Seven was only trying to help.  "No," she repeated more softly. "No drugs," she said, standing up.  Her arms crossed protectively across her chest, which also helped stop her hands from trembling so much.

"I understand."

The words triggered incredible anger.  "Do you?!? Do you understand what itís like to take your childís life?!?" Kathryn challenged.

Seven stiffened at the attack.  Understanding that anger was one of the stages of grief was far different than experiencing it first hand.

"Iím sorry," Kathryn immediately blurted and shook her head.  "You donít deserve this," Kathryn added, pinching the bridge of her nose.  "But you should know what the person you are in bed with is capable of," she added coldly.  "I killed our daughter so the Queen would not get her.  I took away her chance for life."

"Kathryn, no.  It was a nightmare.  You did not kill our daughter," Seven argued vehemently, disturbed by the hard look on Kathrynís face.

Kathrynís eyes dropped to the ground.  "I guess it is hard to kill someone who never existed," she said as she pushed down the profound ache of loss.

"Precisely," Seven said, then realized her error with Kathrynís next comment.

"Well, Iím so relieved we straightened that out," she said tersely, continuing to pace, hugging her arms around herself more tightly.

"Kathryn, I did not intend to dismiss your feelings.  Your experiences were real to you and you have every right to be . . . ," Seven tried again, recalling several medical references stressing the importance of validating an individualís feelings.

"Do. Not. Patronize. Me," Kathryn snapped. "For all I know, this is the nightmare," she said angrily, waving her arm around the bedroom grandly. "How the hell am I supposed to tell what is real?!?" She asked heatedly.

"I ... I do not know," Seven whispered uneasily, taking the angry wind out of Kathrynís sails.

Kathrynís head dropped tiredly as she sat on the bed, her back to Seven.

"Iím sorry. You didnít deserve that either," Kathryn said softly, running her hand through her hair uneasily.

Seven moved closer.  When she reached out, Kathryn got up, leaving Sevenís hand to awkwardly grasp air.  She frowned and dropped her hand as Kathryn announced "I think Iíll take a long soak in the tub.  I donít think Iím going to get much more sleep this morning."  Kathryn quickly retreated to the ensuite, without glancing back at Seven.

***

Seven had already read the previous dayís logs and was now preparing breakfast while Kathryn continued her bath.  She keyed in the selection on the replicator then glanced back to the ensuite worriedly as two mugs materialized.  She expected Kathrynís nights would be fitful.  She also expected that Kathryn would become angry about her confusion.  And she expected Kathryn would need space to deal with her feelings.  But what she did not expect was how difficult it would be to watch Kathryn go through all the things she had expected.

When Kathryn emerged from her bedroom, Seven looked at her uncertainly, not wanting to say something that would further provoke the older woman, who seemed less edgy.

"Uh, Iím sorry for snapping at you earlier," Kathryn said uncomfortably as she approached.

"It will take time for you to reconcile what has happened, Kathryn.  You do not need to apologize for your frustration while you do," Seven said, setting two mugs on the table.

"Itís not fair to you.  I know recovery can be as hard for loved ones as it is for the . . . patient," Kathryn said awkwardly but was relieved to see a smile appear on Sevenís lovely face.

"Your loved one has breakfast prepared," Seven said and motioned to the mugs, prompting a small smile from the older woman.

She sat at the table and picked up the mug and inspected the unexpectedly colorful contents.  "What is it?" Kathryn asked, a bit dubious of any food that was turquoise.

"Nutritional supplement 47," Seven said and sat across from her.  "It will be easier on your stomach than coffee."

"When will you let me drink coffee again?" Kathryn asked with mild amusement, knowing Seven would ensure she had a proper diet, in spite of herself.

"Soon," Seven said as Kathryn hesitantly sipped her mug of turquoise liquid.  Her brows rose in pleasant surprise at the subtle vanilla.

"For someone who prides herself on being precise, thatís a bit vague," Kathryn said and eyed her.

"Indeed," she acknowledged without apology and changed the subject, causing Kathryn to smirk. "I have downloaded the relevant logs on the Uttuskans and our attempts to free you to the PADDs by your computer console.  They are in an order I think most efficient to relay what had happened."

Kathryn glanced over to the console and the stack of PADDs a moment.  "Thanks, that should keep me busy for a while.  Youíll be in Astrometrics while I read?"

Seven looked at her a surprised moment. "I . . . was going to stay here and run a diagnostic on the Astrometrics sensors from your console."

"Wouldnít it be more efficient to do that in Astrometrics?"

"It is not an urgent task requiring maximum efficiency," Seven countered easily.

"Oh," Kathryn said absently and sipped her drink.

Seven looked at her an uneasy moment, sensing disappointment. "You would prefer me not to be here," Seven guessed hesitantly.

Kathryn cringed guiltily and put her hand over Sevenís. "I really donít want you staring at me while I read," she said honestly.

"I would not be staring," Seven quickly countered, then reluctantly added "much."

Kathryn looked at Seven with a small smile and squeezed her hand before releasing it.

"You wish to deal with this alone," Seven concluded in a small voice.

"I just think I need some time to read and catch up at my own pace, Seven," Kathryn said gently. "Besides, reading is not a very good spectator sport," she joked gently.

"Watching you, in any endeavor, has always fascinated me," Seven admitted softly, making Kathryn drop her eyes with conflicted feelings; the predominant one at the moment was guilt. "But I will conduct the sensor diagnostic in Astrometrics," Seven offered, yielding to Kathrynís desire. "I do not wish to make things more difficult for you."

"Oh Seven," Kathryn said regretfully. "Just because I donít want you watching me read doesnít mean I donít need you," she explained, hoping Seven could understand. "Your love is the only thing keeping me sane," she admitted with a tense look on her face, not entirely convinced of her sanity.


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