The Journey Home

A Star Trek: Voyager Story (J/7)

By Enginerd

Chapter 15 - Mining Operations

Over the years, Captain Janeway had many occasions where she had to wait and bide her time until action was needed.  Once again, she found herself waiting in her Captain’s chair. She never was particularly fond of waiting; it gave her time to be introspective, time to dwell on past mistakes, time to second-guess herself, which was never pleasant.  And these days, waiting was the last thing she wanted to do.

She had attempted to preoccupy herself with day-to-day ship’s business, hoping that would be enough.  But after the initial distraction, her thoughts would constantly drift back to those false memories of her years on Earth with her family.  She had hoped the separation from Seven would reduce the constant reminders of those times.  But she learned that was something else she had been terribly wrong about.

The only good thing accomplished by their separation was that Seven was no longer an easy target for her anger and frustration.  She desperately wanted to avoid hurting the young woman any more; but sadly, to avoid hurting her, she had to hurt her.  She could see it in Seven’s eyes every time she was forced to discuss ship’s business with her Captain; there was a brief flash of emotion before Seven tamped it down and projected her stoic Borg demeanor.  There was no good solution in this situation, Kathryn concluded miserably, only the lesser of two evils.

Seven had respected her decision without attempting to argue, which relieved Kathryn somewhat.  She wasn’t sure she had the energy to debate any of this.  At least she starting to get her anger under more control, she considered, owing that small progress to Tuvok’s meditation techniques . . . and perhaps a stiff Scotch or two.

"Captain, we are approaching the asteroid field," Mr. Kim announced.

Kathryn had been a bit surprised and not exactly pleased that Seven volunteered for the mining mission, fully expecting Tom to pilot the Delta Flyer for B’Elanna.  But when Chakotay informed her Seven was going, she held her tongue.  After all, Seven was perfectly qualified for the job.

Maybe Seven needed a diversion too, she considered guiltily.

"Captain?" Chakotay asked curiously.

"Hmm?" She responded, glancing at Chakotay.

"Mr. Kim reported that we are approaching the asteroid field," Chakotay said, eyeing her carefully.  She looked exhausted and . . . sad.

"Ah. Good. Good," she said with mild embarrassment and offered a weak smile.  Perhaps a bit of mining in a volatile asteroid field would keep her mind from drifting, Kathryn considered.

"Captain, the asteroid field it is full of dilithium crystals," Mr. Kim confirmed with a pleased grin.

"As Seven predicted," Kathryn said thoughtfully.

"Captain Proton, here I come," Tom said happily.

"Let’s not count our crystals before we collect them, gentleman," Captain Janeway said. "Mr. Paris, maintain station 100 kilometers from the edge of the field," she said with a frown, never feeling comfortable during dilithium mining operations, let alone the most volatile mining of all - in a moving asteroid field.

"Station keeping set at 100 kilometers, Captain," Tom responded, tapping his console.

"Mr. Kim, launch the shuttle," she said.

"Aye, aye Captain," Harry said with enthusiasm.


Seven and B’Elanna quietly worked in the shuttle as they began the extraction.  After an hour, the silence began to grate on B’Elanna’s nerves.

"Well, you were right about the density.  It’s 88.4% pure," she offered.  Work was something Seven usually could not help but comment on, B’Elanna considered.

"I had only predicted 88.364%," Seven said, compelled to correct her, but not to engage in discussion.  She preferred silence to probing small talk, which made her pause at the irony. She recalled how, when she was first severed from the collective, she would have welcomed even irrelevant small talk, her fear of the deafening silence.  But now, struggling with human emotion, she recognized the dangers of small talk, where a deceptively innocent comment could suddenly rip open an emotional wound.  And her wounds were still very fresh and deep.  Too bad her nanoprobes could not repair that sort of damage, she considered distantly.

B’Elanna rolled her eyes.  Seven had been more annoyingly Borg-like since she and Harry found her crying during regeneration the other night.  They agreed not tell Seven they had seen her tears, out of respect for her privacy.  Or in Harry’s case, fear.  But the Chief Engineer was not stupid.  She knew something had happened between the Captain and Seven.  And she suspected it had something to do with their sleeping arrangements.  Seven had told her she would rather sleep next to the Captain than regenerate, even though it was less efficient.  And since she found Seven regenerating in Cargo Bay 2, the Captain had apparently, for some reason, disagreed with that plan.  That rejection had to hurt the sensitive woman, she considered sympathetically.

"Well, it will at least take less time to stock up," B’Elanna offered with a shrug.

"Indeed. I am sure the 28.75 minutes we return earlier will be invaluable," Seven said evenly. "Perhaps we could use that time to solve the slipstream problem."

"You can be such a p’tak," B’Elanna said bluntly.

"You did not need to come, lieutenant. I am quite capable of operating the bi-harmonic extractor by myself."

"And you are aware of Starfleet regulations for hazardous operations," B’Elanna countered, growing more worried than annoyed by the former-Borg’s cold attitude.

"Which Commander Chakotay had already quoted to me unnecessarily.  However, repeatedly quoting regulations does not make them any more logical.  It would be far more efficient to minimize the crew requirement and only use expendable individuals to conduct dangerous missions," Seven said.

B’Elanna blinked and looked at her with surprise. "Do you really think you are expendable?"

"It would be foolish to think otherwise," Seven said tightly, her attention focused on her control panel.

"What?!? That’s ridiculous."

"Is it?" Seven challenged sharply, meeting the questioning gaze of the Klingon, who wasn’t sure if Seven was on the verge of coming to blows or tears.

"What happened?" B’Elanna asked gently.  Seven was normally unfailingly confident, to the point of arrogance.  The only person who could undermine this highly capable woman’s self-esteem was Captain Janeway.

Seven looked at the console again uncomfortably.  "It is logical to conclude that since I am . . . inadequate, I am expendable."

"What happened?" B’Elanna blurted again, astonished.

"The Captain terminated our relationship," Seven said evenly, feeling the horrible ache of failure which only paled to the loss of the most important person in her life.

"What?!?" B’Elanna said incredulously, interrupted by a violent shaking of the shuttle. "What the hell??" B’Elanna said as she scanned the area.

"Shields are up and holding," Seven said, tapping the control panel, thankful for the distraction.

"There are three ships in the asteroid field.  Two are firing on a third!" B’Elanna said anxiously.

"That is unwise."

"Kahless," B’Elanna muttered and tapped the comms switch, "Voyager, this is Delta Flyer. Are you picking up what’s happening out here?" She asked anxiously.


"Yes.  Get out of there now," Janeway barked as she stood up. "Tuvok, can we extend our shields to them?"

"Negative, Captain.  It will take 3.67 minutes for them to enter our maximum possible shield radius."

"Transporter?" She asked with frustration.

"Unwise.  The fluctuating radiation of the field may disrupt our lock on them at an inopportune time."

"Damnit," she hissed under her breath.  "Are the vessels taking any aggressive actions towards the Delta Flyer?"

"No Captain, they appear to be focused on their local battle.  The only risk to the Delta Flyer is a direct phaser blast or indirect shock wave hitting nearby dilithium crystal deposits and initiating a chain reaction," Tuvok informed her.

Captain Janeway silently nodded, well aware of the risks, having performed hundreds of mining operations since their arrival in the Delta Quadrant. "Yellow alert! We’re going in."

Tom exhaled with relief, also thinking 3.6 minutes was an eternity.

"Captain, I am compelled to remind you that Voyager’s shields are unlikely to withstand the full force of a chain reaction. And Voyager will be vulnerable to minor explosions when we drop the shields for the range adjustment and the shuttle’s approach," Tuvok noted, though certain that Captain Janeway would not be dissuaded from her rescue attempt.

"Then we’ll just need to make quick work of the recovery," she answered. "Lieutenant Paris, plot a course to intercept the Flyer. One quarter impulse power," she ordered, wanting to get there now but their maximum velocity was limited due to the possible dangerous interaction with the volatile Dilithium. Damn it.

"Aye, aye, Ma’am.  One quarter impulse," Mr. Paris said and tapped his console.

"Tuvok, don’t wait for my order, as soon as they are within range, extend the shields," Janeway blurted as she paced. "Mr. Kim, open up a channel to the ships."

"A channel is open, Captain."

"This is Captain Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager.  Your hostile actions are endangering all ships in the asteroid field, including my shuttle.  I strongly recommend you cease your hostilities," she said in a firm voice.

After a few seconds of silence, Ensign Kim noted unnecessarily "They’re not responding."

If she didn’t risk blowing everyone up, she might have ordered Tuvok to take out their phasers. Damn it.

"The ship being fired upon has damage to their communications array and propulsion systems," Tuvok noted.

"And the other two are not interested in listening," Captain Janeway said with a frown, not liking bullies.


"What kind of idiots attack each other in an asteroid field of dilithium crystals??" B’Elanna growled.

"Those who are not concerned with their own mortality," Seven answered.  "At current speed, we are 2.41 minutes away, correction 2.1 . . . Voyager is coming towards us," Seven said with surprise.  A warm feeling filled her heart knowing Kathryn was coming to get them. That warm feeling quickly turned into irritated concern. "Voyager could sustain significant damage. She should leave the area!"

"Right. Do you really think she’d leave us to these idiots??"

Seven frowned. No, she considered.  Captain Janeway had always come after her crew, even when it wasn’t prudent - like now.  She had always acted based on her fundamental belief - never leave a crew member behind, even when the risk was illogical or dangerous - like now. Seven recalled how remarkably illogical Kathryn was to battle the Borg Queen over just one crew member, who technically, wasn’t even a member of her crew.  But Captain Janeway was not logical.  She was the epitome of human emotion, acting with, at times, a flawed sense of nobility.

Seven blinked. With sudden clarity, she understood that Kathryn was flailing emotionally - just like a drowning person.  Yet the frustratingly stubborn Captain refused to grab onto her, or anyone, for help, afraid that seeking that help would cause them both to drown.  Seven sighed heavily, frustrated she had not recognized this before, having allowed her own insecurities and fear of inadequacy preoccupy her thoughts.  But now she understood - Kathryn’s hurtful actions were an attempt to protect her.

With a fortifying breath, Seven silently vowed that just as Kathryn could not abandon her to the Borg Queen, she could no more abandon Kathryn to drown in her emotional turmoil.  No matter how difficult, scary, or frustrating it was going to be, Seven was determined to take the initiative and help her . . . somehow.  But she would prevail, she firmly believed; they belonged together.

Another blast from an exploding dilithium asteroid rattled the shuttle as the battle continued with two vessels firing mercilessly upon a third.

"What the hell are you smiling about!" B’Elanna barked.

"Kathryn and I will be together," she declared with soft conviction, her smile growing, getting an incredulous look from the Chief Engineer.

"Not if we’re blasted in to a billion bits!  Our engines have just tripped off line!" B’Elanna snapped, causing Seven’s smile to fade into a thin line.  The Klingon had a point.

"I am rerouting power," Seven said, swiftly accomplishing the needed alignments.  "The engines are back on line."

"Thanks," B’Elanna said tersely.


"Shields down," Tuvok announced when the Delta Flyer was within range.  He quickly adjusted the shields as the bridge crew held their breath.  "The shields are extended and up, Captain," Tuvok announced, causing a joint sigh of relief.

"Mr. Paris, once they’ve landed, get us out of here," Captain Janeway said as a large explosion caused Voyager to shake and other nearby asteroids to detonate in a jolting staccato.

"Damage report!" Janeway said, having fallen back into her seat.  That was too close, Janeway considered.

"Shields are holding at 54%."

"Reroute auxiliary power to the starboard deflectors.  Harry, have they landed in the shuttle bay yet?!?"

"Yes, Captain," Harry reported with some relief.

"Tom, get us . . ." Janeway said urgently.

"Captain, we are getting a distress call," Harry interrupted.

"Damn it!" She hissed again. "Tuvok?" Janeway stood back up.

"There is only one ship left."

"Let me guess, one of the bullies," Captain Janeway said with a heavy sigh, knowing it didn’t matter; they would help whoever was in distress.

"No, it is not.  The damaged ship is sending out a distress signal."

"Mr. Paris, plot a course to the distressed ship. One quarter . . . ."

"Captain," Tuvok interrupted. "Their ship’s power signature is ramping up.  Their warp core is unstable and will explode in approximately 2 minutes."

"Harry, lock onto the life signs and beam them onboard," Janeway ordered.

"But the radiation field . . . ." Harry said with a wince at the possible consequences of a failed transport.

"Do it!" Janeway blurted tersely, well aware of the risks.  But there was no chance to save the people if they did nothing.

"Aye, Captain," Harry said, locking onto the signals and commencing transport.

"Tuvok, divert power to the aft shields.  Tom, as soon as we have them, get us the hell out of here!" Janeway ordered.

"We’ve got them . . . and they’re okay," Ensign Kim announced with relief.

"Power diverted," Tuvok reported just as the ship exploded and nearby asteroids blew up, cascading outward like deadly dominos, expanding rapidly.

"Tom...." Captain Janeway started anxiously.

"Getting the hell out of here, aye!" Tom quickly interrupted, punching in the warp command into the console.

Voyager jumped into warp speed, aiding in the asteroid belt’s self-destruction.  The violent shock wave chased after them but they outran it, escaping to safety.  After the danger of the shock wave had passed, there was a silent moment on the bridge as heart rates settled.

Kathryn pinched the bridge of her nose as her head started to throb.  That was too close, she considered.  With a heavy exhale, she looked at Chakotay. "You’ve got the conn," she said.

"Aye, Captain."

"Mr. Tuvok, please join me in greeting our guests," she said and headed to the turbo lift.


As Captain Janeway and Tuvok approached the transporter room, Kathryn felt oddly on edge, even before seeing the three visitors.  Entering, she smiled politely at her guests, who looked a bit shell-shocked.

A male Balletian, who she guessed was their pilot, stood tall, his clothing appeared to be civilian as it was simple, without any of the typical adornments indicating rank or specialty. The other two females, dressed in similar dark cloaks did not appear to be worse for the wear.  The young female, held the much older and apparently frail woman by the arm.  Of the three, the much older woman projected a very powerful, if not slightly unnerving presence.

"I am Captain Janeway, this is Lieutenant Commander Tuvok. Welcome to Voyager," she said with a warm smile.

"I am Deegan, this is Priestess Hellia and her attendant Fauna," the male Balletian responded, the women nodded. "We are greatly indebted to you, Captain," Deegan said with a respectful bow.

"I’m glad we could help," Kathryn answered, then grew concerned seeing the older woman sway and the young attendant struggle to support her.  "Do you need medical attention, Priestess?" Kathryn asked, feeling an odd surge of protectiveness for this woman. Unthinkingly, she immediately stepped up on the transporter dais to help support the older woman, making herself vulnerable to her guests, much to Tuvok’s chagrin.

The older woman looked at Janeway a brief moment as an odd assortment of emotions flickered across her face.  She quickly settled on a grin.

"I am old, Captain Janeway.  I doubt your Doctor can remedy that," the older woman said wryly. "And call me Hellia, I find the Priestess title a bit . . . stuffy."

Kathryn smiled with amusement. "Well, then, Hellia, why don’t we go someplace more comfortable instead?"

"That would be very much appreciated, Captain.  My feet are killing me," Hellia said with a wince.

"I’m certain our Doctor could help you with that," Kathryn said with a grin.

The older woman smiled. "Let us have a seat first, and then we’ll see if my feet require your doctor’s attention."

"Sounds like a plan. Right this way," Kathryn said, motioning to the door and nodding to the young security guard. As the visitors were escorted out of the transporter room, Kathryn glanced at Tuvok with a genuine smile before following after her guests.

His eyebrow rose curiously as he watched her leave.

Chapter 16 - The Believers

On the couch in Janeway’s ready room, Hellia sat by her attendant and Deegan.  Kathryn poured them some water as Tuvok watched quietly.  While the guests appeared not to be a security threat, he positioned a security detail just outside the door, just in case appearances were deceiving.

"We can not thank you enough, Captain.  We did not expect to survive the Latarian attack," Deegan said sincerely.

"If you don’t mind me asking, why were they firing upon you?" Captain Janeway asked carefully, looking between the Priestess and Deegan.

"Intolerance," Hellia said sadly.

"Religious differences, Captain," Deegan elaborated, looking over to the older women.  "I’m not sure how, but they learned of our pilgrimage with the Priestess . . . ."

"They wanted to kill you because of your religion?" Captain Janeway said with surprise.

"I am afraid so, Captain.  The Latarians are frightened by what they don’t understand," Hellia said.

"Rophayhe?" Kathryn asked.

"Ah, you’ve done your homework," the Priestess commended with a pleased smile, which Kathryn found oddly satisfying.

"Apparently not enough to understand what would warrant such an attack."

"It is often difficult to understand what provokes such violence from a people.  But I believe it is a response to their fear of the unknown.  Balletians are not immune to fear, but rarely do they resort to such extremes because they place their faith in Rophayhe, who is a source of peace and love."

"But why would anyone try to attack followers of a religion based on peace and love?  What threatens them?" Kathryn asked, though well aware intolerance could produce the most incomprehensible acts as Earth’s volatile history of intolerance demonstrated countless times.

"Tell me, Captain, have you ever had something happen to you that you could not explain?" Hellia asked simply.

Kathryn blinked.  "More times than I’d like," she responded uncomfortably.

"And how did that make you feel?" Hellia asked gently, eyeing the Captain with interest.

After a thoughtful moment, Kathryn responded.  "Curious, uncomfortable, sometimes . . . helpless."

Tuvok’s brow rose once again.  Captain Janeway’s comfort around this older woman was unexpected.

"Discomfort and helplessness are base responses that, if not coupled with an enlightened curiosity or simple faith, can lead to avoidance or violence," Hellia said, her soft, melodious voice possessing Kathryn’s full attention.  It was almost like . . . music, Janeway considered.

"Flight or fight," Kathryn offered softly.

Hellia nodded and continued.  "Those who are enlightened will instead try and gain an understanding - or at the very least, an acceptance that there are things greater than ourselves in the Universe at work," Hellia said sagely.  "The Latarians can not accept there are things that are indefinable."

"Such as Rophayhe’s miracles?" Kathryn asked, fascinated.

"Such as Rophayhe’s miracles," Hellia said warmly.  "A man is given his sight back and once again can provide for his family, a young girl with a deformity is suddenly healed and able to walk, a stillborn’s eyes open as she takes her first breath of life after a day of mourning, a crop of ponfree ripens months ahead of the normal harvest, feeding a starving village," Hellia offered a few examples with a small smile.  "To the believers, Rophayhe blesses those in need," she continued, then frowned.  "To the unbelievers, they are hoaxes to gain power and manipulate people - a mere political ploy," she offered with a sad sigh.

"Why would they chose to attack you? Are you able to perform miracles?" Tuvok continued, startling Captain Janeway, who forgot there were others in the room, having become so enthralled by the discussion with the elderly woman.

"I perform ceremonies and teach," Hellia offered.  "Though, one could say I’ve performed small miracles in getting the younger children to pay attention," she added with an amused chuckle.

Kathryn smiled.  "Do these miracles happen often?"

"Mine or Rophayhe’s?" Hellia teased.

Kathryn laughed. "Rophayhe’s."

"No, child," Hellia said gently.  "The true gift we get is by living a good life with peace and love every day.  If someone is so preoccupied with praying for Rophayhe’s favor and a rare miracle, one could waste a wonderful life away, not seeing what true wonders are all around you."

Kathryn looked at her thoughtfully.

"Do the Latarians attack you often?" Tuvok asked.

"No, thankfully," Deegan answered.  "They don’t venture to Balleto often."

"Was the intent of your pilgrimage to recruit young Latarian believers?" Tuvok persisted, making Captain Janeway uncomfortable.  Hellia had been nothing but straight-forward and pleasant.  Now Tuvok was grilling her, almost like a criminal.  Before she could interject her disapproval at his tactic, Hellia laughed.

"Oh no.  One does not recruit.  One either believes or not," Hellia said.  "It is that simple," she added.

"My experience would indicate that religion is rarely simple," Tuvok countered, getting a sharp look of warning from Janeway.

"I do teach and talk with people willing to discuss our Shepard.  But they are Balletians.  I do not actively go off-world to . . . recruit," Hellia said distastefully.

"We meant no disrespect," Kathryn said uncomfortably, noting the older woman’s slight irritation.  For some reason, it greatly bothered Kathryn to think they insulted her.

"My apologizes if my questions or comments have offended you, Priestess.  That was not my intent," Tuvok offered after a sharp glare from his captain.

"I understand the need for caution, Commander. No apologies are necessary," Hellia said to Tuvok then glanced at Kathryn with a reassuring smile.

Kathryn nodded, feeling marginally better.

The door chimed.  Before Janeway could say "come" the door whooshed open and Seven of Nine marched in.  Her gait hesitated when she noted the guests.

"I . . . apologize for disturbing you, Captain.  I did not realize you had guests," she said, feeling unusually uncomfortable.

"Apparently," Janeway said with a small smile.  "Well, now that you are here, come meet them.  Priestess Hellia, this is my Astrometrics officer, Seven of Nine," Kathryn said.

The older woman eyed the tall blonde a curiously long moment; a range of emotions flickered across her face before a warm smile emerged.

Seven nodded politely, feeling uncomfortable under the older woman’s scrutiny.

"Seven, this is Priestess Hellia, who prefers to be called Hellia, her pilot Deegan, and attendant, Fauna."

Seven nodded politely to the other two, receiving friendly smiles.

"How much dilithium did you manage to get before the little skirmish?" Captain Janeway asked, surprising Tuvok, who was surprised Captain Janeway would reveal such sensitive information to strangers.

"Ninety six percent of our stores were replenished.  More than sufficient to lift the conservation protocols and, as I am sure you will be relieved to hear, enable Mr. Paris to finish his Captain Proton chapter."

Kathryn looked at Seven with surprise.  Seeing the familiar sparkle in her eyes reminded her just how much she had missed it . . . and just how much she missed her.  Her eyes quickly dropped as a tense look crossed her face.

"You were on the mining shuttle," Hellia said with distress.

"I was," Seven answered, looking at the older woman curiously.

"I am so sorry we put you and your crew in danger.  I wish there was something we could do to repay you for your great kindness," Hellia said, looking between Seven and Kathryn.

"There is no need, Hellia," Captain Janeway responded easily.  "You couldn’t have known your ship would be the target of the attack or that our mining shuttle was nearby.  And we would respond to any ship in distress."

"Even the Latarians?" Deegan challenged with irritation.  Seven and Tuvok tensed, ready to counter any physical threat the Balletian pilot might pose.

"Yes," Kathryn said, looking him in the eye.  "Any ship in distress," she added firmly, making Hellia smile.

"As you should, Captain Janeway," the Priestess said approvingly, glancing to Deegan, who dropped his head and nodded.  "My child, who knows what bounty a simple gesture of kindness will produce," she said sagely to her pilot.

A surprising sense of peace settled around Kathryn, who looked at the older woman with a small smile.  She had only felt this comfort around her own family, she considered curiously, then blinked at that odd realization. How could she feel so comfortable around a stranger she had just met?

"Yes, Priestess," Deegan said meekly. "By the will of Rophayhe, we shall live in harmony," he chanted softly.

Seven and Tuvok glanced at each other a curious moment, then returned their attention to the Balletian visitors.

"Well, my people don’t like to burn any bridges either," Kathryn offered, feeling bad for the pilot.  She certainly understood the anger and frustration from being unfairly attacked.

"A similar, if not as eloquent, a philosophy," Hellia noted with amusement, prompting a small shrug and grin from Captain Janeway.  "I know you risked your crew to save us.  And for that I am humbled.  We are not a people of many possessions - but we can offer our hospitality.  We would be delighted to welcome you and your crew to our planet.  I suspect that they will enjoy its beauty and find it . . . rejuvenating," Hellia said, her wording causing Seven pause, though her next words were even more alarming.

"And Captain, I would also like you to be my personal guest to the Valley of the Shepard," Hellia added, prompting surprised looks from Deegan and Fauna.

Kathryn looked at the older woman curiously, feeling oddly honored by her offer.  And again, she felt a surprising familial affection for this older woman.

"I take it few outsiders are invited to the Valley," Tuvok noted, carefully scrutinizing the visitors’ responses.

"That is true.  It is a sacred place.  But I believe the Captain who rescued us is more than worthy of the invitation.  And being a Priestess, I do have some say in the matter," Hellia said warmly, causing Seven and Tuvok to stiffen with distrust.

Seven looked at Tuvok then Kathryn with alarm as Captain Janeway said "I think the crew would enjoy some time on Balleto.  And I’d love to see your Valley of the Shepard."

"Excellent," the elderly woman said with genuine pleasure, making Kathryn smile.  Noticing the looks exchanged between Seven and Tuvok, Hellia smirked.  "I suspect your Mr. Tuvok and Seven of Nine would like a private word with you," she said knowingly, causing Seven to frown and Tuvok’s pointed brow to rise.  Each found the old woman’s observations disturbing and the Captain’s response to her even more so.

Kathryn eyed the two and sighed.

"In the mean time, is there a cafeteria on this vessel?  Getting shot at has made me hungry," Hellia announced, getting up from the couch with the help of her assistant.

Kathryn grinned, admiring the spunk of this old woman.  "Of course.  And I have just the man to accompany you," she said with a smile and tapped her comm badge.  "Mr. Nelix, this is Captain Janeway.  Please report to my ready room."

"Will this Mr. Nelix be able to explain what a Captain Proton chapter is?" Deegan asked with interest.

Kathryn looked at him, wondering if it was a "male" thing, then smiled politely.  "I’m sure he’ll be pleased to show you."


After the visitors left for the mess hall, Kathryn sat at her desk.  She did not have long to wait for the voices of concern.

"It is unwise to trust these Balletians," Seven said firmly.

"I concur. We know very little about them," Tuvok said.

Kathryn nodded, looking down at her desk.  Their comments were logical.  But logic wasn’t what was guiding her now.  It was instinct, a feeling that Hellia was . . . good.  But should she trust her instinct?  She had made mistakes in the past.  Was this different? Her fingers went to the bridge of her nose as a headache returned.

"I will not allow . . . ," Seven started, then suddenly stopped as she realized her error when Kathryn’s hand dropped and gray eyes lifted to meet hers.  But Seven could not remain silent, her need to protect this woman was as powerful as ever.  "I do not think it would be wise to go to the Valley of the Shepard with the Priestess without a security detail," Seven amended.

Kathryn sighed and looked at Seven, knowing she was trying very hard not to provoke her. But how does one politely bring a security detail to a holy place without insulting the host?

"I concur, Captain.  Balleto generates a tri-polar magnometric flux which will prevent transporter operation.  Scanners and communications are also inhibited, save for short range," Tuvok noted, gaining a quick grateful glance from Seven.

"Mr. Tuvok, please step outside," Janeway said, causing Tuvok to pause at this eerily familiar situation that resulted in the unfortunate outcome with the Uttuskans.  "There are some personal matters I need to discuss with Seven," she added calmly, causing Tuvok to look at Seven questioningly.

Seven sighed.  "I plan to discuss this rationally," she announced, causing Tuvok to look between the two skeptically.  After Kathryn took a breath and nodded in agreement, he left, though still not convinced.

As Kathryn stood from her desk, not exactly sure of how to explain, Seven spoke first.

"Regardless of what has happened between us, I will always worry about your safety, Kathryn," Seven said honestly as Kathryn looked at her and nodded, accepting that simple truth that gave her a surprising amount of comfort.  A comfort she did not believe she deserved, but greedily accepted.

"I feel the same way, Seven," Kathryn offered softly, compelled to let her know that, for whatever it was worth.

Seven nodded with satisfaction then offered "We have already successfully conversed for 9.8 seconds without argument.  I believe Tuvok’s concern was unwarranted."

In spite of the tension, a small smile twitched upon Kathryn’s lips, encouraging Seven, who grew more confident that she could convince Kathryn to change her mind about going to the supposedly sacred valley alone and perhaps even about going at all.

"Ah, but our record before now would justify his concern," Kathryn countered, glancing at Seven.

"But we have both learned from the past, have we not, Kathryn?" Seven asked hopefully.

"God, I hope so," Kathryn said wearily, giving Seven even more hope.

Kathryn walked over to the seating area and stared out at the stars thoughtfully.

Seven quietly followed and stood a respectful distance beside her, though she longed to pull the older woman into her arms and comfort her.  She ached for the closeness they had once shared not so long ago, thought it felt like an eternity.  Seven knew that she had to be patient with Kathryn, who was still healing from her traumatic experience.  If she were too quick or overt in her actions to get closer, Kathryn would surely push her away even harder.

"When you were around Hellia, what did you feel?" Kathryn finally asked, glancing at her briefly before her gaze returned to the stars.

Seven thought a moment then offered "uneasy."

"Can you elaborate?" Kathryn asked curiously, finally sitting down.  She looked up to Seven, who still stood, looking out at the stars thoughtfully.

"I could feel her scrutiny. It was not intrusive, just . . . uncomfortable," Seven said as Kathryn nodded.  It was not uncommon to feel uncomfortable under the intense scrutiny during first contact.  Though, Hellia’s scrutiny did feel different, Kathryn acknowledged, unable to place her finger on it.  Oddly, it didn’t bother her.

"What did you feel?" Seven asked hesitantly.

Kathryn took a moment before answering, hoping Seven would understand. "Peace."

It was odd how powerful a single word could be, Seven considered.  How one softly spoken word could completely disarm all her arguments against Kathryn from going.

"I need to go," Kathryn admitted simply.

"I . . . understand" Seven said with difficulty, wanting to cry out in frustration.


That evening, Kathryn sipped her Scotch, curled up on her couch as she once again read Harry’s account of her wedding.  She paused at the section where Seven and she had said their vows.  Lowering the PADD, she recalled how happy she was.  If only there were PADDs recounting her joy with Emma . . . .

The door chimed, startling Kathryn from her thoughts.  With a deep breath, she placed the Scotch and PADD down on the coffee table.  "Come," Kathryn said as she stood to greet the visitor.  The doors opened to reveal the Priestess. "Hellia?"

"Captain, I hope it is not too late for a visit," Hellia said with a warm smile, leaning noticeably on a cane.

"Not at all. Please, come in," Kathryn said with an answering smile as she went to the door to help her older guest.

"Thank you," Hellia said as Kathryn firmly took her arm.

"Where’s your attendant?" Kathryn asked curiously, looking back at the door as if she might appear.

"I gave her the night off. She has discovered your holodeck.  Your gallant Mr. Paris was kind enough to escort her through his programs."

Kathryn rolled her eyes, predicting that boy was one day going to get himself pushed out of an air lock by an angry Klingon.  And sadly, he wouldn’t know why.

"The holodeck must be a useful tool with children onboard," she offered.

"Well, Mr. Paris can be immature at times."

"I meant Naomi," Hellia countered with a chuckle. "I was surprised you had a child onboard. I met Naomi and her mother in the cafeteria.  They sat with me for my meal and we had a very nice conversation.  Naomi is a very intelligent child and . . . curious."  Hellia smiled, recalling all the child’s questions.

"That she is. I hope she didn’t wear you out."

"On the contrary, I find the energy of children contagious.  I also find myself happier when they are around," Hellia said, then sensed a curious discomfort from the Captain.

"I know what you mean.  So . . . how are your feet?" Kathryn asked as they headed to the couch.

"Ugh," Hellia said in relief as she sat.  "Better now, thank you," she noted with amusement.

"Can I get you something to drink or eat?" Kathryn asked politely.

Hellia looked at the glass of caramel liquid with interest.  "I’ll have what you are having."

"Uh, that’s Scotch," she noted with a slight cringe.  "Usually a taste to be acquired," Kathryn cautioned uncomfortably.

"This may be my only chance to try a Scotch. I would like one," Hellia said with a smile.

"All right," Kathryn said hesitantly and retrieved another glass from the replicator.  She handed over the drink and Hellia took a sniff.  "Careful, it’s a bit ..." Kathryn cautioned as Hellia drank the entire contents in one sip.  "Strong." Kathryn winced, hoping they would not be visiting the Doctor.

"Interesting flavor," Hellia said thoughtfully, sniffing the glass again critically.  "Similar to our essence of huelry, which I enjoy," she said with a smile.  "May I have another?" Hellia asked, holding out the glass to her host, startling Kathryn.

"Uh, in humans, too much Scotch tends to . . . uh," Kathryn explained awkwardly.

"Make you sick?" Hellia guessed.

"Yes," Kathryn admitted with a grimace.

"Hmm," she responded. "Then why do you drink it?"

"It . . . ah, first dulls the senses and well, everything," Kathryn said honestly, looking at her own half-empty glass on the table.

"Child, you will not get the answers you are looking for by dulling your senses and shutting everyone out," Hellia said gently, alarming Kathryn.

"Excuse me?" Kathryn responded tersely.

"I sense your confusion and great sorrow.  You do not know how to deal with your loss or how to stop your heart from aching," Hellia said with great compassion.  "Did you lose a . . . ?"

"Are you are a telepath?" the private Captain quickly interrupted, glaring at Hellia with anger.

"No, Captain.  I am an empath, however," Hellia said calmly, prompting a distinct frown.  "In my line of business, it has its advantages," she offered truthfully.

"So when you first met us, you read our emotions?" Kathryn eyed her critically.

Hellia smiled. "I did no more than assess our new acquaintances - as you were trying to do.  I just happen to have a gift that allows me to sense more about a person.  Surely you must know I am no threat to you."

"I . . . why didn’t you tell me?" Kathryn asked sharply.  She had wanted to trust this woman. She had felt safe.  She had felt peace.  Now she felt exactly what the old woman tried to tell her she should not; she felt threatened.

"I am telling you now.  I prefer to discuss Rophayhe’s gift in private.  And with those I trust," Hellia offered, looking into Kathryn’s eyes, which dropped.

Kathryn really disliked the idea of empaths.  They made her command mask useless.

"What we discuss between us, stays between us, Captain," Hellia said offered.

"Are you sure you are not a telepath?" Kathryn said suspiciously.

"I am not.  However, I have had a bit of experience with those uncomfortable with my empathy, which has over time made me cautious in sharing my gift.  Most Balletians are unaware of it; it makes even some believers uncomfortable."

Kathryn exhaled heavily.  She understood but was still not trusting.

"Captain, I feel the hole in your heart.  No one should live like that," she said sympathetically. "If you give Rophayhe a chance, that hole can be filled and your heart healed," Hellia said with soft conviction.

Dear God why did she have to say that, Kathryn thought with irritation.

"The scientist in me has always found religion difficult to embrace," Kathryn said diplomatically, recalling what Tuvok had said - religion was rarely "simple."

"Don’t confuse religion with faith, my child," Hellia said sagely as she started to stand.  "I am sorry to have provoked your suspicion and discomfort.  I would understand if you declined my invitation to the Valley.  But I pray you do not.  It may provide you with a bit of peace, if only for a few precious moments," Hellia said, now leaning on her cane.

Kathryn looked uncertain yet she was still unfathomably tempted.  She went to Hellia’s side to help the old woman.

"Would you like me to walk you to your quarters?" Kathryn asked.

"No child, but thank you," Hellia said as the doors whooshed opened.  She paused and looked at Kathryn. "If it would ease your mind, perhaps you can bring someone you trust with you.  But I must ask you to respect Rophayhe and not bring weapons onto the sacred ground."

How could she ignore all the warning signals and the alarming discussion and still want to go, Kathryn wondered.

"Good night, Captain. I hope, whatever your decision, you find what you seek," Hellia said softly and left.

Chapter 17 - Seeking Peace

After Hellia left, Kathryn paced in her stateroom, unable to sleep.  Nothing new there, she considered irritably, shaking her head.  She hated being at a disadvantage, which was also nothing new in the Delta Quadrant.

The kind, old woman both beckoned and frightened her.  Around the Priestess, she felt a warm whisper of promise for her cold, yearning soul.  And then she learned Hellia was an empath.

That same whisper now seemed to mock her and her naivety.  She should have known that a stranger could not connect with her like that without a catch, she considered dejectedly.  And as if that wasn’t disappointing enough, Hellia all but promised Rophayhe would cure all her ills . . . if she’d let him, her. . . whatever, Kathryn thought with a frown, rolling her eyes. If only it were that simple, the science-minded Captain considered with a heavy exhale.

God knows she longed for that peace.  God knows she wanted her heart to stop aching for something that never was.

With little thought, Kathryn found herself leaving her cabin and strolling the decks, as she had done often in the past.  It was a valuable practice the Captain had learned from her father, serving her well in understanding the health of her ship.  But this was the first time she had resumed that practice since her "waking."  Noting the surprised, but pleased looks, of various crew members she passed, she had to acknowledge it had been too long.

She strolled to engineering, where the Vulcan engineer, Vorik, seemed oddly eager, if a Vulcan could ever truly be classified as eager, to share, in excruciating detail, the project he was working on.  After what she concluded was the requisite number of head nods and polite grunts of interest, she commended his work to increase shuttlecraft engine efficiency and managed to extricate herself to continue her stroll.

After more surprised, but pleased, smiles at her presence, she realized that she had also been missing this family.

Passing through the mess decks, Nelix was delighted to see her "out and about" and tried to persuade her into tasting something that looked eerily like fuzzy black ping-pong balls.  Patting her stomach and declaring herself just not able to, which was the absolute truth, she made her way to Astrometrics, knowing it was Seven’s regeneration time.  It was no surprise to find the Delaney sisters manning the consoles.

"Captain!" Jennifer suddenly said, having moments before been joking with her sister, Megan, who immediately stopped her chuckling and stood straighter.

"At ease, you two.  Can you bring up the sensor images of Balleto?" Captain Janeway asked, walking up and standing beside Megan at the console.

"Of course, Captain," Megan said with a small smile and quickly tapped the console, causing the long-range star sensors to focus on the nearby star system.  Appearing on the large display was a yellow sun with two M-class planets orbiting, one dark green and the other a light blue.

"The green planet is Balleto, Captain," Megan said, looking at her sister uneasily then to the Captain.

"Zoom in?" Janeway asked, getting Megan to nod and tap the console.

"I have to warn you, Captain. The sensors are unable to get a good view of the surface due to the tri-polar magnometric flux.  The same reason transporting down is not advisable," Megan explained, getting a frown from the older woman at another piece of unsettling information.

As Megan warned, the screen filled with a green planet marred by static interference.

"Is it true we may get a chance for shore leave on Balleto and Lataria?"  Jennifer said with barely concealed eagerness.

Janeway smirked slightly.  "There’s a chance.  I’ve asked Mr. Tuvok for his recommendations."

"Thank, God!" Jennifer said, surprising Captain Janeway.  "Uh, it’s been a long time since Jallai," she quickly explained with a shrug.

"Jennifer," Megan moaned with embarrassment.

"Well it has been," she responded defensively.

"I can’t argue with that," Janeway said easily with a smile.

"I’ll bet," Jennifer snickered, then received a sharp look from Captain Janeway, who did not like her tone.  "I mean, uh, you were part of the shore leave party with Seven and you two seemed to enjoy yourselves . . . a whole lot . . . when we actually saw you two," Jennifer said with a sly grin, compelled for some reason to tread on dangerously thin ice.

An excruciatingly polite smile graced Kathryn’s face.

Megan’s head dropped as she shook it at her sister, who had trouble with the concept of caution and keeping her big mouth shut.  It was amazing she had survived as long as she had, Megan considered.

"You enjoyed Jallai, didn’t you?" Jennifer continued to probe in what Megan thought was suicidal challenge.

"Please ignore my sister, Captain.  She’s an idiot," Megan finally spoke up uneasily, drawing the Captain’s unnerving gaze, making Megan wonder if she was the bigger idiot.

"Actually, Seven has given Jennifer above average performance evaluations, so I’m confident that’s not the case," Kathryn countered easily with a disarming smile.

Jennifer glared at her sister for the distraction from what she fully believed would be a revelation that would finally support that juicy bit of gossip regarding the Captain and the Borg on Jallai.

"And from what I understand, Jennifer is quite the expert on all sorts of things outside of Astrometrics, like the flora of Jallai, for example.  Isn’t that right, Jennifer?" Captain Janeway continued conversationally, looking at Jennifer, who blinked in confusion, taking a moment to digest what the Captain had said.

Kathryn’s smile grew in satisfaction when the young officer’s eyes widened in understanding.

"Well, ladies, as much as I would love to keep chatting with you, I should check up on other departments.  Have a good night," Captain Janeway said with a smirk and left the two sisters, who numbly stared at the doors that whooshed shut behind the Captain.

"How . . . ?" Jennifer said weakly, wondering whether B’Elanna would use her bare hands or a bat’leth when she found out she had ruined her shore leave with Tom.

Megan winced, hoping B’Elanna wouldn’t mistake her for Jennifer.


Kathryn chuckled to herself as she left Astrometrics, thankful for Seven’s superior hearing. She did feel a bit bad for not warning Tom on Jallai, but she got . . . distracted.  And that boy really did need to read the Doctor’s shore leave advisories, she considered, pretty certain he would read them from now on.  She shook her head with a smirk that faded when she looked up and found herself now in front of Cargo Bay 2, which wasn’t on her intended route.

It was a bit unnerving how she instinctively ended up there, she considered, taking a deep breath and exhaling with a frown.  She had to admit that as hard as she tried to bury it, a basic need to be near the younger woman kept bubbling to the surface.

She missed Seven’s dry wit that would surprise and delight.  She missed that slightly superior expression when she figured out a particularly difficult problem or made a particularly annoying point to her.  She missed her mesmerizing blue eyes that were truly the windows to her beautiful soul.  And right now, she sorely missed their frank discussions and Seven’s unique insight.

But how could she possibly expect Seven to just pick up their friendship, as if nothing had happened?   How could she expect Seven to even want to talk to her, after having been treated so poorly?

They had been able to discuss Hellia earlier, she considered hopefully, biting her lip.  And Seven did seem happier, her usual spark seemed to be back, she thought curiously, then frowned.  Perhaps she finally recognized how inefficient it was to hold onto a doomed relationship and moved on.

A wave of depression washed over her.  It was her own damn fault, she considered with a heavy sigh, knowing Seven deserved better then what she could offer.  Kathryn’s frown deepened as she sighed again and stared at the door, wondering if she could maybe just sneak inside and steal a glimpse of her regenerating.  Perhaps that would be enough . . . .

The doors suddenly whooshed open, startling Kathryn, who came face-to-face with the woman consuming her thoughts.  The statuesque beauty stood unmoving and stared at her. Kathryn had no idea what to say and Seven did not appear compelled to immediately speak. She shifted uncomfortably as Seven’s optical implant rose questioningly.  It was clear Seven was waiting for an explanation.  After a few uncomfortable moments, Seven finally took pity on her - a little.

"Did you plan on coming in, or did you wish to continue stalking outside my door?"

"I wasn’t stalking," Kathryn protested, then saw the sparkle in Seven’s eye.  She frowned but knew Seven certainly had the right to give her a hard time.  With a sudden, curious look, Kathryn asked glancing in the corridor then back at Seven. "How . . . ?"

"You are loud when you are indecisive," Seven offered dryly, causing Kathryn to look at her in confusion. "I am curious why," she added thoughtfully.

"Why I’m . . . loud??" Kathryn asked hesitantly, still confused.

Seven sighed, then clarified "Indecisive."

"I didn’t want to bother you," she muttered.

Seven stepped back in silent invitation for the Captain to enter.  Kathryn did not move, still looking uncertain. "Your continued presence in the corridor will bother me more than your presence in the cargo bay," Seven noted bluntly.

Kathryn sighed and finally entered. "Shouldn’t you be regenerating?" She asked, approaching the empty alcove.

"Shouldn’t you be sleeping?" Seven countered with her familiar response to their familiar exchange.

"Yeah," Kathryn admitted tiredly, surprising Seven with a troubled sigh as she sat on the alcove step.  After a moment, Kathryn spoke. "Hellia came by for a visit this evening.  It seems she’s an empath," she offered with a humorless laugh as she looked at the floor with clear disappointment.

"And you now find it difficult to trust her," Seven guessed softly, not sure if she was relieved or saddened by the news.

"That’s just it.  Everything is telling me not to trust her, but for some reason I . . . I do," Kathryn said, irritated with herself.

Seven frowned slightly but remained silent.

"She knew I wasn’t thrilled with her being an empath, of course that shouldn’t have been too hard to figure out, for an empath," Kathryn noted with absent irritation, then shook her head and laughed again without humor.  "And she tried to tell me that Rophayhe can heal me.  Just like that," Kathryn said, snapping her fingers.

"And what does she ask of you . . . for this healing?" Seven asked with alarm.

"All I need to do is give Rophayhe a chance," she said with a tight smile.  "Simple, huh?" she said sarcastically and pinched the bridge of her nose as a new headache developed.

"That is a hurdle," Seven said in understanding, drawing Kathryn’s tired gaze.

"Are you sure you’re not a telepath?" Kathryn joked weakly.

"I am merely a student of Kathryn Janeway, the most difficult subject I have ever studied," Seven offered bluntly.

"Harder than slip stream physics?" Kathryn challenged the exaggeration with mild amusement.

"Infinitely," Seven responded unrepentantly, her blue eyes daring further argument.

They looked at each other in an electric moment of silence.  Seven could see the too-long absent spark in Kathryn’s eyes and felt encouraged.  When Kathryn dropped her gaze uncomfortably, Seven sighed heavily, firmly believing her response had not been an exaggeration.

"I still want to go," Kathryn said softly, feeling guilty.

"It is understandable that you wish to find peace.  But . . . ," Seven said cautiously.

"But maybe I want it so badly that I’m getting my hopes up and deluding myself?" Kathryn interjected.  "Don’t you think that I haven’t thought of that??" she snapped with frustration, then sighed.  "I know my track record shows I’m prone to tunnel vision when I see something I really want," she noted derisively.

"I disagree.  Your error in judgment with the Uttuskans does not prove habitual delusional behavior. You are, in fact, typically cautious and calculating, although prone to sudden bouts of recklessness," Seven asserted.

Kathryn eyed her. "You make that sound like a disease," Kathryn complained half-heartedly.

"You came here for my opinion and I gave it to you," Seven countered.

"Yeah, but I wanted your opinion of Hellia, not me," Kathryn joked weakly.

"I believe you were seeking both," Seven noted softly, startling Kathryn with her insight. After a moment, Kathryn’s eyes dropped uncomfortably as she nodded reluctantly.

"Would Hellia be offended if you were accompanied by a guard to the sacred valley?" Seven asked carefully.

"Actually, she suggested I bring someone with me, sensing how uneasy I was," Kathryn responded, prompting a sigh of relief from Seven.  "Of course, she had one condition - no weapons," Kathryn said.  "Good God, am I crazy to still want to go?" She moaned dejectedly, shaking her head.

"As I have said, your desire is understandable," Seven said honestly.  "However, I would strongly advise you to take Tuvok, he does not require weapons to be a formidable. . . ."

"No," Kathryn interrupted, shaking her head. "I . . . ."

"Kathryn, please," Seven interrupted with clear distress.

"No, what I meant was . . . ," Kathryn said uneasily, standing and holding her hands up in a conciliatory gesture, which silenced Seven, who anxiously waited for her to explain.  Kathryn looked at her an awkward moment, then glanced away uncomfortably.  "I’d . . . uh, well, I’d really rather you come with me," she said, certain she did not have the right but equally certain there was no one else she’d rather have by her side.  "Would you?" Kathryn asked self-consciously.

There was an awkward moment of silence that made Kathryn think she had asked for too much. "It’s OK to say no, Seven," Kathryn blurted quickly. "Especially after everything I’ve put you through, I wouldn’t blame you one bi...." she continued, looking down at her feet.

"Of course I will accompany you, Kathryn," she interjected, desperately struggling to withhold the large smile of joy that threatened to appear.

Kathryn nodded with great relief, feeling much better. "Thank you, Seven," she said sincerely, getting a crisp nod of acknowledgment.

As she started to leave, Kathryn paused and glanced back. "Uh . . . you should probably regenerate," Kathryn offered helpfully, motioning to the alcove with a mischievous spark in her eyes that Seven had desperately missed.

An optical implant slowly rose. "You should sleep."

The comment brought a smile to Kathryn’s face before she turned and left.

After the doors swished shut behind Kathryn, Seven took a deep breath as her eyes shut, almost in prayer.  She exhaled, basking in the wonderful feeling of hope.


Kathryn blinked, staring at her bedroom ceiling, unable to sleep.  There were so many things running through her mind, it was no wonder she couldn’t sleep.  With a heavy sigh, she got up and retrieved a glass of Scotch from the replicator.  She stretched and rubbed her neck and took a sip, wondering what the next day would bring.  For the first time in what seemed a very long time, she felt hope.  She wandered about her darkened stateroom a few minutes before glancing over to her computer console.  With a glint in her eye and a very strong suspicion, she went over and sat, placing the glass down.  After a moment of thought, she composed a message and hit send.


You really should be regenerating.


It didn’t take long to get a reply, which made her grin.  Her suspicion was correct.  Opening up the message, she read the response.


Perhaps your failure to get sufficient sleep has made you forget that I am able to forgo regeneration for days without any physical repercussions.  However, being fully human, you must attempt to obtain some sleep before our trip tomorrow.


Kathryn chuckled and took another sip of Scotch before composing another message.


Unfortunately, I have been trying to sleep but I keep thinking about our trip tomorrow to a planet we can’t adequately scan or transport down to, Vorik’s shuttle engine efficiency improvements, Nelix’s fuzzy black ping pong balls which he says are edible but I have my doubts, and numerous other distractions.

I do want to thank you, again, for agreeing to come with me.  I know I don’t deserve that sort of friendship after the pain I’ve caused you. If I could go back and change how I've handled things with the Uttuskans and after, well, I would probably cause a temporal rift that would result in a bigger mess.

I hope you know you will always be the best thing that ever happened to me.


When Kathryn finished, she stared at her message and frowned. "What the hell am I doing?" she wondered with irritation.  Just because Seven was being a good friend didn’t mean she had the right to reopen a barely healed wound.  That would be . . . cruel.  Kathryn shook her head sadly, knowing things could never be the same between them.  She finished her Scotch, then absently tapped the console to delete her message as she placed her empty glass down.  As she started to compose another, more neutral response, she noticed that the message she thought was just deleted had been sent . . . and opened.

"Oh God," she exhaled in a strangled whisper.  She looked at her empty glass with annoyance before her head dropped into her hands in defeat. "You idiot!" she exhaled in disgust.

It wasn’t like she meant to toy with Seven’s emotions.  What she wrote was how she truly felt, she rationalized, wondering what Seven was thinking as the seconds marched by without a response. Seconds continued to pass, though it felt like hours.  "God," Kathryn moaned again, wondering if Seven might be on her way to confront her stupidity now.  It would serve her right to have Seven dress her down for being so insensitive, she considered.

With the screen flashing the arrival of another message, she glanced at the new message with trepidation and grimaced as she opened it.


You are not the only one with regrets.  And I would agree that we should not engage in time travel to correct our mistakes as it would likely cause more trouble.

At first I was perplexed with your assertion that I am the best thing that had ever happened to you, considering I had contributed to the circumstances that caused you so much pain and subsequently failed to help you when you needed it the most.  However, when I consider you have hurt me more than any person could and I still believe you are the best thing that has ever happened to me, I understand.


Kathryn stared at the message, rereading it a few times.  She shook her head with a frown and composed her reply.


I could write a long discourse on how you were not even remotely responsible for what happened.  You were not.  And how could you have possibly failed when I never accepted your help?

If I wrote that discourse, I know that you would be compelled to argue, which I’d be forced to respond to in kind to reassert the fact that you were in no way responsible for my poor judgment.  So, acknowledging our stubborn streaks, I would propose we avoid these discourses, which would likely continue until we get back into the Alpha Quadrant, by agreeing to disagree.


She looked over her message, still not knowing what the hell she was doing, though felt curiously compelled to do it.  She shook her head and hit send.  Getting up, she returned her glass to the replicator, tempted to get another Scotch.  But she refrained, not wanting to dull her senses any further as she continued this oddly comforting message exchange with Seven.  Returning to her console, she found an answer waiting.


I am familiar with your stubbornness in your opinions, regardless of how flawed they are.  But in good conscience, I am unable to allow you to divorce me of any responsibility and remain silent as you continue to believe your clearly erroneous conclusion.  Since I am Borg, my endurance is far greater.  I will not stop countering your flawed belief - even after we reach the Alpha Quadrant.  Accordingly, it would be prudent to simply agree with me in general, or at the very least, on this matter and your need for sleep.


Kathryn laughed, really laughed.  She looked over the amusing message again as her smile faded.  "God I love you," Kathryn whispered as her fingers caressed the screen over her name, longing for the days that once were.  With a deep breath, she blinked back tears and responded.


I’ll try to sleep - if you try to regenerate.


Seven was disappointed that Kathryn was finished for the evening.  But she knew not to press for more than Kathryn was willing to give - for now.  Seven had already received much more than she had expected that evening.  The messages were just another welcome surprise, giving her more hope that Kathryn was finally beginning to accept what she already knew - that they would always be better together than apart.


Agreed. Sleep well.


Kathryn stared at the screen and decided to let Seven have the last word, absently tracing her fingers once again over the screen before retiring for the evening.

As Kathryn settled into her bed, Seven stepped up into her alcove. Before they drifted off, their last thoughts were of each other.

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