48 Hours

Written by  on January 16, 2002 

48 Hours Cover

When life looks like it’s finally coming back to normal, fate gives it a cruel twist.

Written by: Michael B, Jeffrey Harlan, Seema, LadyChakotay, Thinkey, LauraJo, Zeke, MaquisKat, Heather Briles, Bec, Rebel, Anne Rose and Jennica Williams
Edited by J
Produced by Thinkey, Anne Rose and Coral

Stardate Unknown
Released 16 Jan 2002

“I still say we’re over-doing it,” B’Elanna said as she climbed the small stepladder, crepe paper in hand. Her voice was strained as she raised her arms above her head, stretching the extent of her reach to fasten the colorful decoration to the ceiling. “Don’t you feel a little ridiculous about the whole thing?”

Tom didn’t take his eyes off his daughter as he answered. “Are you kidding? I think it’s the least we could do. This is a big day.” He waved a toy shuttlecraft in the air in front of Miral’s face. “Isn’t it, honey?”

B’Elanna watched her husband and daughter romped around on the floor of her father-in-law’s home with a mixture of irritation and amusement. Truth be told, Tom was nothing but a big, overgrown child himself most of the time, and this birthday bash was proof positive, in B’Elanna’s opinion.

She stretched and tugged at a small blue balloon, preparing to blow it up. She brought it to her mouth, sealed her lips around it, and blew like a hurricane. The new, never inflated latex was stiff and non-compliant, refusing to stretch. As a result, B’Elanna’s slender cheeks filled with air and her face took on the appearance of a hyper-inflated blowfish.

B’Elanna’s dark eyes bulged like a croaking toad as she huffed and puffed, and she wondered briefly if her head would explode before she forced enough air into the tiny balloon to reach critical pressure and open the damned thing. Finally, her stubborn blowing overcame the surface tension and the balloon began to swell smoothly.

Tom watched his wife wheeze into the balloon, and failed to disguise his impish grin. “That first breath’s a killer,” he chuckled.

B’Elanna looked up from tying the balloon long enough to glare at her husband, who was lying on his stomach on the floor playing blocks with Miral. “Uh huh. Why don’t you put all that wind to good use and blow up the rest of these balloons. This whole thing was your idea anyway.”

She tossed the bag of colorful balloons to him and reached for more rolls of pink and blue crepe paper. “I still can’t believe we’re doing this. A small gathering of family and close friends really would’ve been enough, Tom.”

“No way!” he said, looking at his wife as if she’d just suggested shooting Santa Claus with a quantum torpedo. “It’s Miral’s first birthday, B’Elanna. She’ll never turn one year old again. It has to be a huge celebration.”

B’Elanna shook her head as she moved the stepladder to the opposite corner of the room, climbing up to fasten more of the old-fashioned decorations to the wall. “She won’t even remember it. It’s excessive. We’re acting like giddy, first-time parents.”

Tom raised two blonde eyebrows. “B’Elanna, we are giddy, first-time parents.”

“I know, but we don’t have to act like it.” She watched helplessly as the crepe paper she had just fastened on the other side of the room lost its adhesion to the ceiling and came wafting down to the floor. She threw her hands in the air. “That’s it. I’m an engineer, not a party decorator. You want all this stupid ornamentation, you do it yourself.”

“Okay, okay,” he conceded. “I’ll do the crepe paper and balloons. You can hang up the sign.”

B’Elanna raised a dark eyebrow. “What sign?”

“That one,” said Paris proudly. He pointed to a huge canvas banner rolled up in the corner. “I had it made just for today.”

B’Elanna hefted the huge thing into the center of the room and unrolled it. In huge, obnoxiously colorful lettering it read, “Happy 1st Birthday, Miral Paris!” B’Elanna groaned aloud. “It must be 4 meters long!”

Tom grinned idiotically. “I know. Isn’t it great?”

“And where, exactly, would you like me to put it?”

He laughed. “Now there’s a loaded question.” When his loving wife only glared at him in response, he smiled gently and said, “Anywhere you want to, love of my life.”

B’Elanna rolled her brown eyes and muttered, “How about in the trash?”

Tom ignored her as he picked a PADD up off the coffee table. He thumbed the keys absently, eyeing the information. “When does everyone arrive? I’m looking forward to seeing Harry.” He paused momentarily, as if he suddenly realized he was sounding wistful instead of macho. “It’s been a long time, that’s all.”

B’Elanna smiled softly. “I miss him, too, Tom.”

“I just wonder what’s going on in his life.”

She smiled knowingly. “You mean his love life.”

Tom shrugged. “Whatever.”

B’Elanna walked over to her husband and ran her slender fingers through his thinning hair. “You’re nosy, Paris.”

His blue eyes widened at the effrontery. “I’m not nosey. I’m observant.”

“Uh huh.”

“Observant enough, in fact, to notice something you didn’t.”

She eyed him warily. “What?”

“That a certain captain and her former first officer always seem to be arriving within 15 minutes of each other.”

B’Elanna looked unimpressed. “What’s your point, flyboy?”

“My point is that they seem awfully cozy these days.” He folded his arms across his chest, clearly satisfied with himself. “A little too cozy to be just friends.”

B’Elanna said nothing, not wanting to encourage him. She nodded to the bag of balloons he left sitting on the floor. “Better get busy. You have a lot of balloons to inflate, Daddy.”

Undeterred, Tom scooped up the balloons but continued where he left off. “In fact, I would bet a month’s replicator rations that their relationship has moved into the…romantic phase. If rations were a concern anymore.”

Before Paris could continue, the door chime sounded. Saved by the bell. B’Elanna moved toward the door, shooting Tom a look over her shoulder as she went. “Drop it, Tom. It’s none of our business.”

B’Elanna opened the door of Owen Paris’ home to find a deliveryman holding a huge box. “Delivery for Miral Paris,” he said.

B’Elanna signed for the enormous package with a thumbprint. It was surprisingly lightweight. She wished the delivery man a good day, and returned to the living room in time to see Tom’s cheeks puffed out with air, his face bright red as he strained to fill a small yellow balloon. She laughed aloud.

“There must be an easier way to do this,” he panted.

B’Elanna opened the large box, and shook her head when she saw what was inside.

“What is it?” Tom asked.

“It’s ridiculous,” she answered. She reached in and pulled out a very large, very irritating targ piñata. Someone obviously had a very annoying sense of humor. B’Elanna sighed heavily as she looked at the pink, papier-mâché‚ targ. This day was getting more absurd by the minute.

Lieutenant Harry Kim walked through the relatively empty corridors of Fulton Station in orbit over the Utopia Planitia region of Mars that housed the rapidly moving Montana Project, and he marveled at everything that had been accomplished thus far. Never before had he heard of a starship construction project nearing completion in such a short time span, having been given the green light to begin shortly after Voyager‘s first, short-lived homecoming.

When Voyager returned home from the bubble universe, the project, begun to integrate the technologies discovered by Voyager while in the Delta Quadrant into traditional Starfleet architectures, had already begun laying down the skeleton of the still-unnamed vessel.

That was another reason this project was different from any other ship yet built. Typically, the ship’s name is decided upon long before construction nears completion. But here was this still- nameless ship, rapidly approaching the day she would be ready to leave her berth. He’d suggested that the ship be named the Dauntless, in honor of the ship from which Voyager had first learned of the Quantum Slipstream drive and the race that built it, a race, which had been assimilated by the Borg. The actions of Arturis notwithstanding — he was one of the distraught survivors who’d tried to get Voyager‘s crew to suffer the same fate as his people, as he blamed them for his people’s fall — Kim felt their memory should be preserved in some way. Unfortunately, he was told, one of the new Sovereign-class ships had been named Dauntless just prior to Voyager‘s second homecoming.

Kim walked a few meters further down the corridor and stopped in front of one of the large viewports that overlooked the construction site.

“She’s quite a sight, isn’t she, Mister Kim?” A deep voice asked from behind the lieutenant. He spun, caught off-guard. It was Commander Vargas, one of the senior officers on the Montana Project. Kim relaxed and turned back to the viewport as Vargas joined him in gazing out at the nearly completed starship.

She had many of the traditional Starfleet design lines, from an elliptical primary hull similar in many respects to that of Voyager, to the nacelles that sprung from the sides, looking for all the universe as if they were trying to crawl forward, even while the ship was at rest. But there were differences, of course.

A second pair of nacelles was tucked under its counterparts, and they were very difficult to see, even under the bright lights of the dry-dock, because they were constructed using technology inspired by the frozen light refrigeration units discovered in droves amid the wreckage of the Sernaix fleet following Voyager‘s final battle.

Along the spine of the ship, green light glowed from the Borg-inspired technology brought back by Voyager. On the primary hull, areas that were covered in spacesuit-clad engineers were completely black, again owing to the application of the Sernaix frozen-light technology. The ablative hull armor brought back by the future Admiral Janeway had been modified with the refrigeration units, now releasing a blanket of frozen light armor, which could, theoretically, protect the ship from virtually anything.

“Yes, sir,” Kim agreed after a moment. “She certainly is.” He looked over to Vargas, whose eyes were also fixed on the fledgling vessel. “Sir,” he asked, “how long until she’s fully operational?”

“I’d say a week, tops,” Vargas answered with pride.

“A week?” Kim repeated in surprise. “I didn’t think she was that close.”

“You deserve a lot of credit for that, lieutenant,” Vargas replied, turning his head to look at Kim. “If it wasn’t for your team, we’d probably still be scratching our heads, trying to make half of these new technologies work.” Kim blushed self-consciously and began to open his mouth to protest when Vargas stopped him. “Don’t sell yourself short. Keep things up at this rate, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you made lieutenant commander by this time next year.” He turned his attention back to the other side of the viewport.

“If all goes well,” he continued, “by this time next week, the only thing that’s going to keep her tied to this berth is if the higher-ups still haven’t decided on a name for her.”

“Well,” Kim joked lamely, “Voyager‘s free for use now.”

Voyager,” Vargas repeated, to Kim’s surprise, in awe. “How the hell did you guys survive the Sernaix? From everything I’ve heard, they sound damn near invincible.”

“Sernaix,” Kim said, almost chuckling. “Borg. Hirogen. They’ve all learned the same thing: don’t make Janeway angry. Trust me, you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.” He smiled, then added, “There’s no other captain quite like her.” Vargas smiled as well, admiring her for nothing so much as the loyalty she’d inspired in her former crew.

Kim turned his head to look at his superior officer once more. “Sir,” he began, “when the ship’s operational… I’d… I’d like to get a tour of her. See what she looks like finished, and off the drawing board.”

Vargas smiled again. “I think you’ve earned that much for yourself,” he said.

“Thank you,” Kim replied. “If you’ll excuse me, sir, I have to catch a transport back to Earth.”

“By all means,” Vargas said. “Don’t let me keep you.”

Kim smiled in thanks to the commander, then turned and began to make his way to the docking ports. He was looking forward to seeing his friends again at Miral’s first birthday party. Everyone would be there — Captain Janeway, Chakotay, the Doctor… and Seven. When her face flashed through his mind, he realized he’d missed her greatly since she’d left Utopia Planitia, and he wondered what she’d been doing for the past few days.

“I can’t find anything wrong, Seven.” The Doctor sighed and set aside the scanner he’d been using. “Your readings are within normal parameters.” He watched, as frustration seemed to play through her features. “I’m certain what you are feeling is an effect of the removal of the limiter from your cortical node. The strong emotions you are dealing with are bound to have an effect on your sub-conscious, Seven.” Seven hopped down from the bio-bed and followed the Doctor into his office. The layout surprisingly similar to the one he had on Voyager, down to the glass walls around him. “On Voyager, it was so I could keep an eye on my sickbay. Here I feel like I am in a glass fish bowl.” The Doctor sat heavily in the chair behind his desk, and motioned for Seven to take a seat. “How has your counseling been going?”

“The counselor agrees with your diagnosis, Doctor.” Seven settled and looked at her long time mentor, her expression still one of barely masked anxiety. “Though logically your diagnosis is sound, there is something about these sensations that are extremely unsettling. I could not remain on Utopia Planitia any longer, because the ‘feelings’ there were much greater in intensity.”

The Doctor leaned back and took in Seven’s appearance completely. Her body language was tense, even for Seven of Nine. Her face seemed pinched, her eyes almost haunted. “Keeping in mind that I am not a counselor, Seven, my considered opinion would be that you are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. This could all be an after effect of your possession and the other events that you’ve experienced since we removed the limiter.”

Seven nodded. “That too is the opinion of my counselor. She feels that the traumatic events I have encountered coupled with my fears about the anti-Borg sentiments that seem prevalent here on Earth are causing these sensations. Harry, however, has been assisting me to work through the experiences with the anti-Borg radicals. Our shared experience seems to make it easier to relate my reactions … my feelings about the experience to him.”

The Doctor closed his eyes for a moment as several different waves of emotion ran through him. Some shock, as Seven had told him that she was not looking for another relationship. As an outsider looking in it seemed very obvious to him where her friendship with Mr. Kim was heading, however looking at her it was quite apparent that she had no idea of her own feelings yet. There was still some jealousy there, or perhaps

more correctly it would have been termed envy. Envy that Mr. Kim should be the one to spark such feelings in Seven of Nine and not him. The most overwhelming though was the feelings of regret that were sparked inside of him. He had treated Seven quite badly, becoming cold and distant. It was not her fault that she didn’t return his feelings. No doubt she had sensed his animosity, which in turn had led to her keeping her distance from him. The Doctor opened his eyes once more and took in Seven’s worried countenance. He resolved to stand with her no matter what or who came into her life from now on. After all, he was her friend first and foremost.

“Yes, I’m glad that you have someone to share those feelings with Seven. Mr. Kim is a most extraordinary officer, and your shared experiences both on Voyager and here on Earth would give him insight and empathy into what you are feeling.” As the Doctor spoke, he found it surprisingly easy to tell Seven she was doing the right thing by seeking out the support of one of her fellow crewmates. Even if it wasn’t him she was seeking.

Seven smiled slightly. “I have grown to appreciate Harry’s companionship. Now that I have taken the time to become more familiar with him, I find him to be a unique and engaging individual.”

The Doctor nodded and stood, offering Seven his arm. “Well I have a feeling that unique and engaging individual is already at the party that we should be off to.”

Seven’s eyebrow arched, but she took the Doctor’s proffered arm and smiled. “Indeed.”

Tuvok watched out the small viewport as the tiny dot of light that was Earth began to morph into the shape of the familiar blue and green planet. The journey on the small transport craft had been uneventful, although Tuvok’s superior senses noted that the ride wasn’t as smooth as it would’ve been on a graceful starship. But it was of no importance. Comfort was not of paramount concern to a Vulcan. The transport shuttle was functional, and that would suffice.

Without having to break his gaze from the viewport, Tuvok sensed rather than felt T’Pel’s dark eyes on him. “We are nearing Earth, my wife.”

“Yes,” she said, her lyrical voice the only indication of the tightly controlled emotions that roiled around inside her. “You will soon be reunited with your former crewmates.”

Tuvok nodded, turning to meet her gaze. “I must admit, despite the considerable amount of time I have spent among Humans, my understanding of them in still incomplete.”

T’Pel raised a dark eyebrow. “How so?”

“The celebration we are about to attend, for example. I do not understand the Human preoccupation with celebrating the anniversary of one’s birth.”

“They view life in a unique way, my husband. For them, the completion of each year is an accomplishment, a cause for merriment.”

Now Tuvok’s eyebrow rose. “Perhaps. However, in this particular instance, the guest of honor is too young to fully participate in the celebration, or even be aware that the day holds any particular significance. She is unaware of the completion of a year of life. I fail to see the logic in party of this proportion for one too young to comprehend it.”

Had she not been a disciplined Vulcan, T’Pel may have laughed aloud. “You’re seeing in black and white, Tuvok. Humans do not base their lives on logic. They base them on emotions and events. For them, the first birthday of their child is a milestone in their relationship as a family. It is a means of bringing those they care about together. You are among those the Paris’ care for, and it matters not whether you see the logic in the situation. It matters only that you are present. It is significant to them; therefore it is significant to you. You need not find logic in everything, my husband.”

Tuvok eyed her appreciatively. “You are wise, my wife. Attempting to find logic in most things involving Humans is an exercise in futility.”

She nearly smiled. “Indeed. However, I find their customs, particularly the ones involving their young, fascinating. There is always something to learn if one simply looks for it.”

Tuvok nodded his understanding, taking a moment to look upon T’Pel’s attractive face. He found her unique perspective refreshing. He was once again silently very grateful to have her at his side and in his life, and while he would never say such things aloud, he knew she understood. They were, after all, Vulcan.

There was an uneasy silence throughout the room as men and women of different ages all sat around, all eyes focused on the gray-haired man sitting at the end of the table. His attention however was directed at a PADD he held in his hand. Avoiding everyone’s gaze, the man passed a finger along the black collar of his uniform. The tension of waiting was beginning to show its way through.

“Mr. West” One of the members spoke up. West directed his attention towards a man at the other side the room. “You said she would be here by now.” There was a pause before the man spoke again. “Where is she?”

“She will be here Mr. Brock. Apparently there’ve been a few incidents at Starfleet Intelligence that she and several others of our members had to take care of. Everything is fine now, and she will be here soon.” West replied.

Brock didn’t seem all too convinced. He was new to the organization, and sometimes he wondered how such an elite group of people such as Section 31 managed to hold themselves together and maintain the secrecy. They were somewhat of a myth throughout the Federation. A lot of people knew of Section 31, however no one had concrete proof.

However, recent events had created several mishaps. The interest sparked in Lieutenant Harry Kim, B’Elanna Torres and the Borg Seven of Nine had caused some concern among the higher up in Section 31 and their Starfleet associates. The picture of himself and fellow members Kelley and Seagal appearing at Starfleet intelligence completely shocked them. They never suspected a second mind in Seven of Nine, and it never dawned on them that she might be able to re-create from her mind, those missing memories of talking with them. It was dealt with quickly, however now they were presented with the possibility of other mishaps. This, among other courses of action was the topic of the meeting today.

“Ladies, Gentlemen.” Spoke a stern voice from the doorway across the boardroom. Everyone looked up from their respective seats as a woman in her early thirties strode into the room; her confidence seemed to shine through her thick and curly dark hair. Her tone struck Brock as someone who didn’t fool around.

“Lieutenant Commander Barton, how nice of you to make it.” Mr. West spoke as he placed the PADD on the slick dark table they were all seated at. Barton took to her seat at the end of the table. “Now we can move forward. Lt. Commander Barton, do you have anything to report?”

“Starfleet security suspects nothing. All evidence at Intelligence has been dealt with as promised. There should be no more problems.” Barton replied. Brock could swear he’d seen a shred of doubt in her eyes. “There is still however the problem with the Montana Project. If that project sees its completion in the upcoming weeks – “

“The Montana Project will be allowed to finish, on Mr. Vargas’ schedule. We will not interfere anymore on that front. Our security has been breached; we cannot risk the chance of exposure at Utopia Planitia. We will wait for a better time – to see that that ship does not fly any longer than we can risk it.” West stated, much to the surprise of his colleagues.

“Mr. West, with all due respect – ” Barton tried to finish, however she was cut off by the wave of West’s hand.

“No more on that subject. I said it will be dealt with. Right now I am more concerned with the course of action that will be taken within the next week. Mr. Johns, can you give me an update on that?” West asked the blond man, who was sitting near the end of the table.

“I have been in contact with their leader. She seems reluctant, however I think that if we can send her what she wants, they will deal. It seems that our ‘first contact’ with them through Seven of Nine was successful.” Johns replied.

“Very good.” West then took one more look at his PADD. “So that leaves us with the operation at hand. Any thoughts on that?”

Kelley then spoke up. “I have already arranged for a cloaked ship to be ready on command. Since we cannot engage the transport from orbit without an energy surge being detected, we will initiate the transport from here, under the Earth’s surface. That should reduce any trace that might be run.”

“Very good Mr. Kelley.”

“Can I add something Mr. West?” A man in his late 40’s spoke up over the crowd. West’s attention changed to him. “Are we to assume that this.’touched’ stuff is even real? With all due respect, it sounds a little far-fetched to me.”

“Mr. Grant, at the moment I don’t care what we have to believe or who we have to side with in order to make our plan work. The fact is the Federation is facing its biggest threat in history. Even greater than the Dominion. Sacrifices will have to be made, and in this case the sacrificing will have to start with the Federation itself. We have to believe that our calculations will be right. It is our only hope.” West paused, his eyes meeting those of everyone sitting to the table. “It is the Federation’s only hope.”

Tom took stock of his guests. So far, most of the invitees had arrived, with the exception of one noticeable person. However, Tom refrained from making a comment as he scanned the room. He saw Naomi sitting on the sofa, showing off her pet rat to Janeway. Much to Tom’s amusement, Janeway seemed to take a profound interest in Naomi.

T’Pel had taken custody of Miral almost immediately after her arrival and Tom could tell by B’Elanna’s animated gestures that the baby was indeed the center of conversation. Tom smiled. A year ago, he would not have imagined the B’Elanna who stood in front of him now. How far they had come, he thought, and how far they still had to go.

Tom put a piece of cake on a plate and headed in B’Elanna’s general direction.

“Tom!” Naomi exclaimed as he passed her. Tom paused.

“Naomi is catching me up on everything that is going on,” Janeway said, the barest hint of a smile playing across her lips.

“I’m doing really well in school,” Naomi said. “And I’ve made some good friends.”

Tom nodded. “I had no doubt that you would do fine,” he said, recalling Naomi’s earlier fears about returning to Earth. “Looks like you’re adjusting to life on Earth pretty easily, aren’t you?”

Naomi grinned. “I didn’t think I would like it when we first got here because everything was, well, different.” Her smile faded a little in memory of the weeks surrounding Voyager‘s return to Earth. Those, Tom agreed silently, had indeed been difficult weeks.

“But,” Naomi said, her expression brightening, “it is getting better.”

“Glad to hear it,” Tom said. He gestured to the plate of cake in his hand. “I thought it might be time for the birthday girl to indulge.”

“I like the sound of that,” Janeway said, rising from her seat. “The first birthday is a very important one.”

“It is?” Seven of Nine asked. She followed Tom and Janeway to the table, where Tom set the plate down. “The child is too young to comprehend the meaning of the celebration.”

“We didn’t say the birthday party was for Miral,” B’Elanna said, her eyes twinkling as she took the baby from T’Pel and buckled the child into her high chair.

Seven looked confused. “I do not understand.”

“I believe Ms. Torres is referring to the fact that she and Mr. Paris will gain greater enjoyment from the celebrations than Miral will,” Tuvok said. He stood next to his wife. “It is a party more for their benefit than for the child’s.”

“Then I fail to see the relevance of calling it a ‘first’ birthday party,” Seven said. Harry shook his head. “If it is for the parents, then its meaning for the child is inconsequential and therefore, irrelevant.”

“Are you saying birthday parties are irrelevant?” Harry asked. “Let me tell you, that’s hardly the case.”

“I fail to see the logic behind this effort,” Tuvok said. “It is a fleeting occasion, one the child will not recall in the future.”

Harry smiled. “With all due respect, Commander, I have to disagree. I remember one birthday of mine clearly…”

Tom turned his attention away from his friend and back to Miral. She was reaching for the cake with a pudgy fist, ignoring B’Elanna’s admonishments to sit still.

“Just for a minute, sweetie,” B’Elanna said. “Wait until we sing and then-“

At that moment, Miral managed to grab the cake and toss a handful of it into her father’s face. Tom blinked and then sheepishly wiped off his face the best he could with some of the pink birthday napkins.

“Frosting becomes you,” Harry said, laughing. “A little pink on the nose, some blue by the eyes-“

Janeway joined in the laughter. “I agree, Tom. You’ve never looked better.”

Tom mockingly glared at Miral, who stared back at him with innocent rounded eyes. B’Elanna shrugged.

“Just like you, Tom,” she said. “Incorrigible.”

“That is an apt description of Mr. Paris,” Seven added, but Tom was not insulted; he could see the corners of Seven’s lips turning up ever so slightly.


Tom attempted to oblige as the Doctor snapped a holoimage of him.

“This,” the Doctor said, brandishing the camera, “picture shall occupy a place of glory next to the one of Mr. Paris falling in the mud. Keep it up, Mr. Paris, and I will have an entire gallery devoted to your mishaps at my next exhibition.”

The guests laughed, though the reason why – whether at Tom’s discomfort or the idea of the Doctor having his own photo show – was debatable. Even Miral joined in the merriment as she banged her fist on the table as she reached for more cake.

“Excuse me,” Tom said. The frosting and cake on his face was starting to feel sticky. He made his way past Janeway and his father. Owen Paris tapped Tom on the shoulder.

“You know, son,” Owen said, “you once did the same to me.”

Tom paused. “I did?”

“You did.” There was a hint of sadness in Owen’s voice. “From day one, it’s always been like that with you. Confrontational. I’m pleased to see that my granddaughter has inherited her father’s spirit.”

“Right,” Tom said. He recognized the opening his father had presented him, but he decided that this wasn’t the time or place. He made his way to the bathroom, pausing only to greet Chakotay who had just arrived. “Well, if it isn’t Janeway’s shadow,” Tom said.

A silence fell over the room, and Tom immediately sensed he had said something wrong as he noticed Janeway and Chakotay exchanging a furtive look. Tom continued to the bathroom, just as he heard B’Elanna announce that it was time to eat.

“And that was when B’Elanna and Harry realized that I was daydreaming,” said the Doctor. “Of course, not before I attempted to single handedly eject the warp core.”

Harry shouted above the laughter. “Yeah, it was all we could do to restrain him. He kept yelling, ‘I have to save the ship!'”

The Doctor still felt a small amount of embarrassment about the whole ordeal, but had come to see the humor in it as well. Hologram or no, he knew funny when he heard it. “I can laugh at the whole thing now, of course. But at the time, it was all very confusing.”

“You weren’t the only one who was confused, Doctor,” said Janeway. “You had the rest of us running ragged trying to keep up with you.” She flashed him a wicked grin and took a sip of her wine. “You’re daydreams were very entertaining however.”

“Really?” grinned Paris. “Sounds like I missed all the fun. Do tell.”

B’Elanna glanced at Seven of Nine on the other side of the room, who looked back at her unruffled. “Let’s just say he was playing Picasso with a certain member of the crew.”

Harry Kim blushed at the recollection of the Doctor painting a portrait of a very nude Seven of Nine. “You can say that again.”

“Actually, that is imprecise,” said Seven. “Picasso was known for his work in the abstract. The Doctor’s painting was…of a different nature.”

“Wait a minute,” said Paris. “You’re losing me here. What, or should I say whom, was the Doctor painting in this daydream?”

“Me,” said Seven. “He was painting a portrait of me.”

Paris shrugged. “What’s so funny about that?” he said, taking a sip of his party punch.

Janeway flashed her former pilot a lop-sided grin. “It was funny because Seven was…au naturelle.”

Tom’s blue eyes widened as he attempted to suppress the laughter welling up in his throat, lest he snort a mouthful of red punch through his nose and spray it all over his former commanding officer. He chocked down the sweet liquid in a painful gulp and gave the Doctor an appraising glance. “That took guts! You’re a brave man, Doc.”

The hologram smiled in return. “Yes, well, while I would humbly remind you that the content of these fantasies was not completely under my control, the truth is that the majority of my daydreams were . shall we say . of a provocative nature.”

Janeway raised an elegant eyebrow. “Is that so? Such as?”

The Doctor’s holographic cheeks seemed to color a distinct shade of red. He waved a dismissive hand at her. “Oh, I’m sure you don’t want to hear all the boring details, Captain.”

“On the contrary, Doctor. I find you’re innermost thoughts fascinating.”

B’Elanna grinned wickedly. “What’s wrong, Doc?” she joked. “Are you embarrassed to tell us how you daydreamed about coming on to the captain?”

The group laughed at that, with the exception of Tuvok and T’Pel, of course. Chakotay shot Janeway a playful wink; chuckling at the image it created in his mind.

“Actually,” the Doctor said over the clamor. “It was the other way around.”

Silence immediately replaced the noise of laughter in the room as all eyes fell on the captain in question. Janeway, who was about to shovel a spoonful of food into her open mouth, froze in mid-motion and looked at the Doctor. Both eyebrows rose this time as she calmly placed the spoon back on her plate. “I beg your pardon.”

He continued nervously. “Since you asked, I’ll tell you. Unless you’re embarrassed.”

Chakotay smiled obnoxiously. “Of course she’s not embarrassed. We’re all friends here, right Kathryn?”

Janeway regarded Chakotay with a look that said, You’ll pay for that later, mister, and then turned her attention to the EMH. “I’m rarely embarrassed.”

“Spill it, Doc,” said Tom.

“It was a rather amusing daydream actually,” he began with a smug smile. “We were in the briefing room, and the captain slinked her way over to my side of the table…”

“I do NOT slink,” Janeway interrupted.

“That depends greatly on your definition of the word ‘slink’, Captain,” said Tuvok.

Before Janeway could retort, the EMH continued. “In a very sultry voice, she stated that she required my services for an old back injury. Then she took my hand and guided it to a portion of her anatomy that was most decidedly not her back.” He folded his arms across his chest and waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Janeway struggled to keep the flush from her cheeks as her former crew roared in laughter at her expense. The levity was contagious though, and despite her slight humiliation, she found herself laughing along with them. Of course, she made a mental note to threaten the Doctor with decompilation if he ever did anything of that sort again. But for the moment, she just enjoyed the fact that they were all together.

She smiled warmly at each of them. “We had some incredible moments on our journey, hmm?”

“We sure did,” B’Elanna agreed. “In fact, one year ago today we were traveling through a transwarp conduit while I was delivering a baby.”

“Actually,” corrected the Doctor, “I delivered the baby. You simply pushed a few times and cursed in Klingon.”

“Well, at least he acknowledges I had some part in it,” she retorted.

“There was a lot going on during those few hours,” said Tom, his gaze turning inward as he recalled the eventful day that, like so many others, had changed the course of their lives.

“Yes, there certainly was. It was the beginning of some things, and the end of others,” Chakotay said softly. Silence once again fell over the room, and Janeway didn’t fail to notice as Chakotay and Seven’s eyes met, and for a brief moment, a silent understanding seemed to pass between the two. The look seemed to be an acknowledgement that, even though it was long over now, something special had occurred between them during that point in time.

Kathryn placed a hand on Chakotay’s shoulder, not a sign of ownership or possession, but rather of friendship and understanding. She smiled affectionately at Seven, who tilted her head slightly in response. Hearts may have changed, but friendships had endured.

Tom stood and raised his glass. “How about a toast? To our mission.” He slid an arm around B’Elanna’s waist and pulled her close. “And to all the lessons we learned along the way. It changed our lives, and I think we’re better people because of it.”

The rest of the group raised their glasses and joined in the toast. “To the mission,” they echoed.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Janeway. “One I’m glad to say has reached conclusion.” She glanced pointedly at Chakotay as he stood by her side and then raised her glass again. “To completion.”

Murmurs of agreement were heard around the room as they each reflected on the many ways that Voyager had changed their lives, and how wonderful it was to finally be home. “To completion.”

Harry took a deep breath, raised his arm – and the hammer it held – over his head, and brought it down with a whack on the piñata. The resulting jolt traveled, unpleasantly, straight up his arm to his shoulder, creating an annoying ache that paralleled the tremor that shook the table and its legs at the same time.

“Ouch,” he muttered. “Can’t this thing just break?” He rubbed his arm tiredly and winced, sighing, then resignedly prepared to take another whack at it.

Which did not get him anywhere. Instead, it only served to annoy him further and hurt his arm more. Dropping the hammer on the table, he glared at the piñata, as if a look alone could break it apart.

“Do you require some assistance?” Seven of Nine’s voice queried from behind his right shoulder.

“That would be great, thank you,” Harry replied, with a little too much emphasis on ‘great’.

“What seems to be the problem?” Seven inquired.

“This dratted thing won’t break! I’ve been trying and trying but I think whoever put it together did too good a job.” Harry paused for a second. “Any idea what I could do to break it?”

Seven considered for a few moments, then pointed to a section of the piñata that didn’t look any different from the rest. “Try striking it there,” she recommended.

“And the reason for that is.”

“Analysis conducted through my optical sensors suggests that that particular point is a place of weakness within the structure of the construction. Logic indicates that by exerting a sharp force on that particular point, the framework of the piñata would collapse, thereby destroying it, as you hope for.”

Harry had to run the sentence through his brain more than once before he got it.

“Right,” he said. “I get it. Let me give it a try.” He raised his arm yet again and brought it down with a resounding thwack on the piñata at the approximate point Seven had indicated.

With no effect.

He turned expectantly to Seven. “So much for that theory.”

As always, she was haughty. “You must not have struck it at the exact point. Try again.”

He did, still with no result except for an aching wrist.

“As I was saying,” he began, “this idea of yours isn’t working too well.”

“You must be slightly off position.”

“Or you could be wrong.”


Harry fought the urge to laugh. This was how Seven operated – when it was Borg technology versus empirical evidence, the Borg technology always won.

“Why don’t you try, then?” he challenged. Seven accordingly took the piñata from him and delivered another whack, which did about as much as Harry’s earlier efforts had.

He sighed and rolled his eyes. This was going to take a while.

“Having fun?” came the voice of Tom Paris from behind him, a stack of plates and glasses in his hand.

“Not right now,” Harry responded, idly watching Seven deliver another whack. “This piñata of yours won’t fall apart, and if it doesn’t Miral may not get that last present she was promised.”

“Ahh, don’t worry,” Tom smiled as he sauntered on by. “I have complete faith in you.”

“You could help out, you know. She is your daughter…”

“Harry, Harry…” Tom sighed. “How would it look if I walked out on a four-and-a-half year old girl to play around with a piñata? Naomi and I have to clear the table. I’m sorry I can’t help you, buddy…but maybe next time.”

He disappeared into the kitchen. Harry groaned inwardly and resigned himself to an evening spent fighting a stubborn piñata. He let his gaze wander around the room, to where all the women were busy going gaga over Miral.

“Awwww…” came a united sigh from most of them, as Miral, reaching up and grabbing a strand of Kathryn Janeway’s hair, promptly tried to chew on it.

The collective cooing was lost on Kathryn, who was busy attempting to extract her hair from Miral’s tenacious grasp. “You’ve certainly got a stubborn kid here, B’Elanna,” she panted, making a face as her hair was tugged and pulled further down by one very hyperactive baby.

“She must take after you, then,” B’Elanna shot back, and was rewarded with a laugh from everyone and a glare from Kathryn, who then winced, since she had looked up to glare and had as a result pulled her hair right out of Miral’s hand with a sharp jerk.

“Ha-ha,” Kathryn muttered dryly, but she had to admit to herself that it was nice being teased by her former crew for once, instead of ordering them around.

“Can I hold her?” Sam asked.

“Be careful, I think she’s had too much sugar tonight,” B’Elanna warned as she passed the baby over.

“And don’t forget to watch the hair!” Kathryn threw in.

Miral, buoyed by all the excitement, waggled her legs and arms happily in the air, enticing another collective sigh from the women.

“I remember when Naomi was like this,” Sam murmured. “She was just a little taller… had the same habit of grabbing things and people. Sometimes I wish all kids could stay this size… or at least toddler size. They’re so cute.”

There was a general nod of acknowledgement from the rest of the women, then Sam looked up from Miral’s little face, glancing over at Tuvok and the Doctor, who were busy chatting about something at the other end of the room.

“Would you like to hold her?” she asked, gesturing towards Kathryn.

“Love to,” she replied, and accepted the bundle gently. “Awww,” she said, not able to help herself as Miral grinned toothlessly up at her. “B’Elanna, can I keep her?” she pleaded.

“No way! Just because you used to be my captain doesn’t mean I’m giving up my baby to you! Get your own, girl.”

The resultant wave of laughter piqued Tom’s attention and he glanced over to see the women laughing. Nothing new there, they had been acting that way with Miral for a while now. Scanning the room, he noticed that his father and mother were gone, presumably somewhere quieter, while Chakotay was sitting on the staircase, drink and cake in hand, gazing into space and looking very preoccupied.

Tom, of course, was immediately worried. This was a birthday party, not a funeral, and he was one of the hosts. It was his duty to make sure everyone was enjoying themselves…but he couldn’t very well leave Naomi to finish clearing the table by herself.

Luckily he was saved. “Uncle Tom?” Naomi’s light treble voice asked from waist height. “I’m done with the table.”

Tom glanced over. The table was clear; he hadn’t realized they were so close to finishing the last time he had gone back for another load of dishes. But there it was, plain and clear.

He smiled. “Thanks, kid. Go have fun now, okay?”

Naomi grinned and ran off to play, leaving Tom free. He went over to work on cheering Chakotay up, deciding to take a lighthearted approach.

“So was it cold waiting at the transport?” he ribbed, dropping down beside Chakotay.

The joke was lost on the older man. “What?” he said absently.

“You know… you arrived fifteen minutes after the captain?”

“Oh, that. Yeah, we did. Why?”

“It was just a bit coincidental, that’s all… you wouldn’t by any chance have deliberately planned it that way, would you have?” he asked innocently, trying to wrangle a little more information out of Chakotay.

“Very funny, Tom,” was Chakotay’s answer to that one as he took a gulp of his drink.

Tom wisely decided not to pursue that line of questioning. “So what have you been up to these past few weeks?” he probed gently, making an attempt at conversation.

“Eh?” Chakotay responded absently, then the question registered. “Oh… not much, really.” It wasn’t that true an answer, he knew, but it would do. He had enough other things to think about at the moment.

He wanted to talk to Kathryn. He needed to talk to Kathryn.

A flutter of movement to his left caught his eye. Glancing over, he spied Kathryn inconspicuously excusing herself from the bundle of fussing, clucking women surrounding Miral and step out the back door quietly, unnoticed by almost anybody except himself. He knew she must be feeling much the same as she was; she

wouldn’t leave the group of women unless she was quite preoccupied.

Come to that, they both were. It was probably the best opportunity he would get to talk to her and he might as well make the most of it.

“Tom,” he said, and Paris turned. From the looks of it, Tom hadn’t noticed him watching Kathryn or seen Kathryn leave – even better.

“Here,” Chakotay said, and handed his drink off to Tom. “Finish this for me, will you? I can’t get any more down.”

“Uh. okay,” Tom said, surprised, but before he could pose a query Chakotay stood, cake in hand.

“Thanks,” he said, and made his way through the room to the sliding glass back doors. He glanced around quickly; making sure Tom’s attention was diverted, then followed in Kathryn’s footsteps out the door and into the cool night air of the backyard where she stood, silent and ethereal.

It was just after sunset, when Chakotay stepped out onto the back porch. He still had the small plate of cake in his hand as he walked down the steps and out into the yard. Kathryn was standing at some distance from the door, almost invisible in the dusk, leaning against the trunk of one of the large trees.

She was staring up at the moon, which was just now appearing over the horizon. Taking a deep breath, he walked across the yard, and stood next to the tree, behind to her. He paused for a moment to appreciate the way the last of the purple sunset was reflected off her hair and eyes, and he realized that this was a pivotal moment in their lives.

They stood there silently, for a moment, until, still looking forward, she spoke. Chakotay Have you ever noticed that no matter how many moons you see, orbiting any number of planets, this one is different?” She sighed quietly. “Even the scientist in me admires it. It’s more beautiful than any alien moon. Even as a child, even when I could tell you its mineral composition and about the colonies there, it still retained a certain mystery. As though the facts were only the beginning of the story.”

He nodded, although she still hadn’t looked at him. “I used to look at the moon when I was at the academy, and I heard people talking about it like that, but I never really understood them… until now.”

“It’s funny how context and time will change things, isn’t it.” She replied. “Previously unimportant things can become precious, and your highest priorities can fade away.” Kathryn finished quietly and turned to look up at him.

“Yes, a lot of things can change, more quickly than we realize.” He said, seeing something odd in her eyes. They stood like that for a moment, before he started to speak again. “Kathryn, I need to talk to you about a couple of things…” He began, but she cut him off.

“There’s no need. I was at the same table this evening. You don’t owe me an explanation for anything.”

“Kathryn, I want to explain. Please let me.”

“Am I going to regret listening to this?” She asked, with a weak smile.

“No, I just need to clear the air, about the situation with Seven.”

“Situation?” she asked, her eyebrow arching.

“Alright then, call it my temporary bout with insanity, or my midlife crisis. Whatever you like.” He said, dropping his eyes. “I’m sorry I hurt you like that. I wish I could make it up to you somehow.” He whispered.

She stared at him for a long moment while she argued with herself. Finally the part of Kathryn that loved to dream and stare at the moon won out. “I could have helped a little more. Even when I knew it was over with her, I let my pride get between us Chakotay – my pride and stubbornness.” She sighed again. “I’m sorry too.”

He relaxed a little at her words, and looked up to meet her eyes. “Well, it doesn’t have to be an unhappy ending. Maybe this all happened for a reason? To make two hardheaded people see reason. After all, we’re here now.” His voice trailed off again.

She shifted nervously and dropped her eyes to his hands. Noticing the cake there, she seized on it for a diversion. “We’re both here, but you’re the only one with cake. When I went to get some, I was told it was all gone.”

He chuckled, it wasn’t what he wanted to talk about, but it was better than the cold shoulder. “I still have some influence with B’Elanna. She saved me a piece.”

“Well, I guess that tells me where I rate. I see the Maquis loyalties still run deep. So, I guess you’ll understand this maneuver.” She said as she snatched the cake from his hand.

He recovered from the shock and lunged back at her, grabbing the hand with the cake. “Careful,” she warned, “It’s the last piece.”

“Hmmm, I suggest a compromise,” he replied, “Ummph! But you have to stop wriggling, or neither of us will get anything.” How many times had that been the truth of their relationship. He chuckled again at the irony.

“All right, a truce.” She said. “And we split the cake?”

“We split the cake – evenly.”

“Where’s the fork?” She asked.

“Oh, I wasn’t planning to eat it outside, and then Tom accosted me at the door, and … there’s no fork.” He shrugged.

“Sounds like we have a classic survival scenario here – available food source but no means of eating it. What do you suggest?” She said in a mock command voice.

“Well, I think we need to be creative, in the best tradition of Starfleet. We improvise of course.” He said as he picked up the piece of cake and guided it to her mouth.

She stared at him for a moment and then slowly opened her mouth, angling her head to take in the corner of the piece. Biting down, she pulled back and savored the taste of the cake for a moment. “Mmmm. That was worth the effort,” she said with a smile.

He stood, frozen, staring at her, still holding the cake in mid air. She reached up, and took his hand in hers, steering the cake to his lips. He didn’t react at first, then he opened his mouth and took a bite of the cake, his eyes never leaving hers, and his lips caressing her little finger as they closed.

She gasped softly, and he leaned closer, circling his free arm around her back. He brought the cake back to her mouth, not wanting to lose the moment, but still not certain where they were headed. She took another bite, and managed to run her tongue along his middle finger as she did. Then she leaned forward again and took and the finger into he mouth, gently sucking the frosting off of it.

She released his finger, and leaned her head back to rest against the tree. Waiting to see what he would do next.

Suddenly, they both heard the creak of the back door. Dropping his hand, she straightened and he stepped back. Chakotay put the cake back on the plate, and they quickly cleaned the last of the frosting off their hands.

It was Owen, obviously looking for someone. After a moment he spotted them by the tree. “Kathryn, Chakotay, you’re wanted inside. My son doesn’t appreciate his former commanding officers “sneaking away from the party – as they’ve done too many times before.”

“Alright dad. We’ll be in, in a moment.” Kathryn called back, with a chuckle.

Owen shook his head with a grin, and went back inside.

“Now, where were we?” She said, looking back to Chakotay.

“I believe we were eating this cake.” He said, as he closed the distance between them again.

“Right, the cake. I had almost forgotten about it.” She said as his arm slid around her again, pulling her close.

“You do know that Tom suspects something. He was cross-examining me when I arrived.”

“Really? How unusual.” She laughed. “Well, let him wonder.” She paused and looked down at his mouth. “Of course, we wouldn’t want to give him any extra fodder for his rumor mill.”

Chakotay tensed slightly, afraid she was about to pull away. Then he froze as she leaned in and gently scrubbed the frosting off the side of his mouth with her tongue.

He gasped as he realized what she was doing, and suddenly pulled her against him, pressing his lips onto hers. Dropping the cake plate, he brought his other hand up to the back of her neck and continued the kiss, holding onto her like his life depended on it.

After a few minutes, Kathryn pulled back slightly. “Chakotay…”

“Hmm?” he replied.

“Air.” She panted.

He chuckled and pressed his forehead against hers, as they both caught their breath.

“They’re going to come looking for us again in a minute.” He sighed, running a finger gently along her lower lip, and continuing to hold her close.

“Yes. We should go in.” She nodded, without breaking contact.

“Yes, but first, promise me we’ll continue this conversation later. I have a few more things I want to say to you.”

“All right. You name the place and the time, and I’ll be there.”

He pulled her into a tight embrace for a moment and then released her slowly.

They both took a moment to smooth their clothes and then she took the arm he offered, and they walked back into the house – the cake forgotten on the lawn.

Tom swooped Miral up in his arms; she giggled as he cradled her plump body to him.

“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” he called out. B’Elanna looked at him in surprise; Tom wasn’t into making speeches – he had barely said more than three words at their wedding.

“Tom?” B’Elanna asked, making her way to his side. He merely smiled his trademark grin in response. By now, everyone had clustered around Tom.

“I’d like to thank everyone for coming,” Tom said sincerely. “It’s been so long, and it feels really good to have everyone in the same place again.”

“Hear, hear!” Harry lifted his glass as the rest of the assembled applauded. B’Elanna glanced at him.

“Well, that was certainly a surprise,” she said in a low voice. “I didn’t expect you to get all sentimental.”

Tom quirked a grin. “But I’m not finished.”

B’Elanna lifted an eyebrow. “No?”

“No,” Tom said. “In fact, I’ve arranged with my father to take Miral for the night-” his voice dropped to a seductive purr -“so you and I can enjoy some quality time together.”

“Oh?” B’Elanna whispered. She took Miral from him. “I like the sound of that.”

“I thought you would.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Not in front of the guests,” Tom said wickedly. He smiled. “You’re going to have to wait to find out. I’m not giving anything away.”

B’Elanna frowned. “You know I hate suspense.”

Tom grinned. “I believe some of our guests are departing…”

The good-byes went by fairly quickly and B’Elanna felt slightly uncomfortable. Had all of their guests heard Tom’s sotto voce comments about his plans for them tonight? Even Harry passed her with a sly grin on his face.

“I’ll talk to you later, B’Elanna,” Harry said sweetly. “And, Tom, I hope you have a good night.”

After the guests had all departed, B’Elanna put Miral down on the floor.

“So, what exactly is this surprise of yours?” she asked. “Everyone else seems to know what it is…”

Tom looked down at Miral, who had evidently taken a great interest in the boxes, ribbons and torn paper that her gifts had come in.

“It’s a surprise,” Tom said. B’Elanna rolled her eyes.

“You said that before.”

“Yes,” Tom said intensely, “but here’s something for you to chew on. I’ve been meaning to do this since we got back and there’s no time like the present.”

B’Elanna opened her mouth to speak, but it was obvious from Tom’s tight-lipped expression that he didn’t intend to reveal anything more. She shook her head as she went about cleaning up the remnants of the party. She would have to just wait and see exactly what Tom had in store for her.

“What are your plans for the future, Commander?” Seven asked as she, Tuvok and T’Pel stepped outside with the rest of the guests following Miral’s birthday party.

“I will continue to spend my leave with my family on Vulcan,” Tuvok replied. “I am also seeking a posting on another starship.”

“As is most of the crew that remains in Starfleet,” Seven commented. “It was… good to see you again, Commander.”

“We bid you farewell, Seven,” Tuvok said, raising his hand in the traditional Vulcan “V” salute. “Peace and long life.”

Seven returned the gesture, replying, “Live long and prosper, commander.” Tuvok and T’Pel turned and gracefully took their leave of Admiral Paris’ residence. At that moment, Harry Kim approached the former drone.

“Hi, Seven,” Kim said warmly. “Could we… go for a walk?”

“I believe that would be acceptable,” Seven replied. The two made their way down the short walkway between the house and the street, then turned and began walking along the sidewalk.

“So,” Kim began after a few moments’ silence, “how have you been?”

“I have been well,” Seven replied. “My aunt has endeavored to help me adapt to life on Earth.”

“That’s good to hear,” Kim said. “I’ve… I’ve been worried about you. I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you.”

“Nor do I, you,” Seven said to him.

“I,” Kim began again, hesitantly, after another short pause in their conversation, “I’ve been meaning to ask you… I mean, I was wondering if you’d like to join me on a date.”

“A date?” Seven asked.

“Yes,” Kim replied.

“I am not certain–“

“It’ll be fun,” Kim interrupted. “There’s someplace I want to show you.”

“When do you propose,” Seven asked, “that we embark on this… date?”

Kim grinned again, relieved. “There’s no time like the present,” he said.

B’Elanna felt the familiar tingle of the transporter. As she rematerialized, she reached blindly forward, hating the blindfold across her eyes.

“Tom?” she asked, as her hands touched nothing. She could hear Tom chuckling. “Where are we, Tom?”

“Somewhere you’ll love,” her husband answered cryptically.

“That’s helpful,” B’Elanna retorted. She sniffed the air. “It smells like somewhere I’ve been before…”

“Oh, you’ve definitely been here before,” Tom said, his voice silky smooth next to her ear. In a gentle caressing motion, his hands brushed against her hair as he reached up to remove the blindfold. “It’s Sandrine’s.”

“Sandrine’s?” B’Elanna asked as the blindfold came off. She glanced around. The restaurant was exactly as she remembered from the holoprogram, right down to the detailed view of Marseilles outside the windows. “And this is special for what reason?”

Tom kissed B’Elanna lightly on the cheek. “Because Sandrine herself has agreed to let us have the place for the night.”

“For the night?” B’Elanna asked in an amused voice. “All night?”

“All night,” Tom said. He kissed her on the lips, on the curve of her jaw, his fingers reaching to cup the back of her neck.

“Sounds like a long time,” B’Elanna whispered. “What could we possibly do with all of that time?”

“Hmmm,” Tom said. He turned B’Elanna gently around. “First, dinner.” He indicated a table covered with a white tablecloth and set with china. Candles flickered in the center of the table.

“And then?” B’Elanna murmured.

“Dessert,” Tom smiled. “Unless we skip dinner…”

B’Elanna shook her head and broke free of Tom’s arms to inspect the table. The table china was beautiful – white trimmed with silver. Next to each plate was a menu. B’Elanna picked it up.

“Wild field green salad with an almond vinaigrette,” she read. “Tomato-basil cream soup, linguini alfredo-“she stopped. “Tom, this is too much.”

“No,” he said softly, crossing the distance between them. “Think of it as make-up for all the time we’ve spent apart this year.”

B’Elanna felt herself melting under the pure heat of Tom’s smile and the seductive tone of his voice.

“Thank you,” she said. She grabbed Tom’s hand in hers, pulling him to her. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” Tom said softly. Their lips met softly. After a moment, Tom broke away. He pulled out the chair, gesturing for B’Elanna to sit. “Remember,” he said. “Dessert is for later.”

Seven of Nine and Harry Kim sat at a table at an outdoor restaurant near the Piazza del Corso in Rome, as the sun inched further toward the horizon, casting long shadows along the ancient cobblestone streets. Children ran past, playing innocently, while the older generation tended to their street crafts and curbside wares as they had done so for centuries. Harry was sipping an espresso, whereas Seven was limiting herself to herbal tea. She had found out long ago on Voyager that caffeine had the inverse effect on her nanoprobes as synthehol. A casual sip of Captain Janeway’s coffee had given her over six hours worth of nervous tics.

“You have done quite well for yourself,” Seven was saying across the table, smiling at him, “since Voyager‘s return to the Alpha Quadrant.”

He returned her smile and gazed down at his espresso, playfully avoiding eye contact. “I wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out at first,” Kim admitted. “The trials, the inquiries, the backlash against you… I have to admit, I was pretty worried, for a while.”

“For what reason?” Seven asked, her expression one of puzzlement. “No charges of any sort were filed against you.”

“Not for myself,” Kim replied, looking back at her earnestly. “For my shipmates. For the last eight years, they’ve been the closest thing to a family I’ve had. I didn’t want to see anything bad happen to them. Especially to you, Tom or B’Elanna. Not after everything we’ve been through, and especially not after they’d finally found something together.”

“They seem to have adapted quite well,” Seven commented, “to the changes in their status quo.”

“That’s Tom and B’Elanna for you,” Kim said. “They’ve got a knack for bouncing back from tough spots.”

“Indeed,” Seven acknowledged. She paused thoughtfully for a moment, then said, looking at Kim with the mildest of smiles, “I am… pleased that you chose to spend the evening with me, Harry.”

“I’m glad to spend some time with you, too,” Kim replied. He looked down at his plate, noting that both he and Seven had finished their meals. He rose from his seat, and Seven soon followed suit.

“You wish to leave?” she asked him.

“I…I thought we might want to take a walk, that is, if it’s okay with you?”

“That would be most acceptable,” she answered him, smiling.

As the pair began to walk down the ancient Italian streets, Kim stepped close to Seven, relishing their closeness and complete faith and comfort in one another. His hand brushed up against hers between them. They continued to walk in silence, exchanging occasional sidelong glances at one another as they made their way toward the Piazza del Popolo.

He thought about all the various twists and turns that had taken place in their interaction, moving from co-workers, to friends, and now to…to what? During her first year aboard Voyager, he had been quite taken with her, but she was far too inexperienced with her humanity to return his affections, or to even recognize them. And so he had put those youthful fantasies aside, and accepted fate as it played out.

In the process, he had found Derran Tal, and then later rediscovered Lindsay Ballard, both of which ended badly and adding to Harry Kim’s list of failed romances. Seven, on the other hand, had had her own romantic foibles along the way. It had surprised him to learn of her curiosity towards Chakotay, but he had to admit that her interest had given her the impetus to allow herself full access to all that her emotional heritage would allow her.

Maybe this was exactly how it was meant to turn out, Harry thought. Both he and Seven had needed their time to explore others and to mature as individuals, before they were ready to come together again. He had to admit that tonight’s date was a far cry from that night in Voyager‘s mess hall five years ago, when she perceived his ill-conceived midnight inspiration as a mating ritual.

Yes, he thought proudly, we’ve both grown up, as he watched the reflection of the rising sun on her face and the sparkle in her eyes.

After reaching their destination, the two stopped to watch the sunrise. Seven turned to Kim, looked at him in silence for a moment, then asked, “Harry, are you seeking to change the nature of our affiliation?”

“That would depend,” he said as he turned to her, a grin on his face and a chuckle in his throat. “If I were to propose such a change,” he asked in return, “would you be receptive?”

She smiled broadly. “I would,” she replied simply.

Kim smiled back, then placed a hand on her cheek and guided their lips together. The two of them had indeed come together at last.

Earth looked so peaceful from the ship quietly lurking in its orbit. Johns gazed down at the passing continents, wondering how Earth had come this far throughout history. From primitive humanoid ancestors to a great galactic power. Sometimes he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe they would have all been happier if they had stayed on their own planet instead of venturing out. The human hunger for exploration seems very irrelevant when faced with an oncoming threat such as they were now.

He stood in the observation lounge of his tactical ship, the Philadelphia. Starfleet didn’t know about this ship, nor did the Federation. It was a class of ship specifically designed by engineers within Section 31, for Section 31. The Federation will never know of this ship and its missions. They will never know of him.

He heard the footsteps of someone behind him and he turned to see his first officer approaching him. “Seagal has reported in Sir, he says they are ready to proceed.”

“Very well.” Johns acknowledged, never breaking his gaze with the planet below. “Tell them to go ahead.”

“Aye sir.”

The air shimmered and a musical tone resounded in front of the modest home in central Norway as two figures materialized on the nearby walkway, the light from the transporter effect playing off the trees and the front of the building in the dark blue sky. The streets at early morning here were quiet, as this was a small town, the nearest neighbor half a kilometer away, and only an occasional lamp to illuminate the night. Harry and Seven approached the front door on foot, their hands intertwined between them, contented smiles on their faces.

“I had a most enjoyable night, Harry,” she said, her face flushed with warmth.

“So did I,” he said, radiating in the glow of her happiness. “I’d like to be able to see you again,” Kim said as they stopped in front of the stoop of the doorway.

“Sometime soon would be preferable,” Seven replied softly, the realization dawning on her that she and Harry Kim were now, officially, a couple. “It was not necessary for you to escort me to my aunt’s home. I am more than capable of navigating the global transporter grid.”

“I know. I just wanted to,” he said to her. He leaned in to give her another kiss, but she put a hand to his lips, stopping him.

“I believe we are under surveillance,” she said with a smile. Kim looked around nervously, then relaxed as Seven gestured upwards toward a lighted window on the second floor. “My aunt has been observing us.”

“She probably wants to make sure,” Kim replied jovially, “that your date is a respectable gentleman.”

Seven replied with a smile. “I can assure her that he most certainly is.” He leaned in to kiss her again, and this time, she didn’t stop him.

He broke off the kiss a moment later, and the pair bid one another farewell for the night – or morning. Harry stayed to watch as Seven began to type in the access code to the front door. Once he was certain that she was home, he made his way back down the path toward the street.

“So,” came the voice of Irene Hansen from inside the house, “how was your evening?” Harry chuckled as he tried to picture Seven’s first post-date debriefing. It was something he had to endure many a time with his own mother.

Harry walked quietly along the dark street, happy with the world and everything in it. It was a perfect morning, cool but not cold. Not that it bothered Harry Kim at all, as he was all aglow inside.

“Mr. Kim,” a voice called from the darkness as the young lieutenant approached the sidewalk. He turned, looking for the source of the voice. In his disorientation, a single shape stepped out from the darkened tree line, tackling him.

Harry struggled with his attacker, recalling every technique he could muster from his self-defense classes. But the mysterious assailant was stronger than him and delivered a painful blow to Kim’s midsection. As the younger man sagged in the grip of his captor, the attacker slapped a combadge on his chest.

“This is Kelley,” he said. “I’ve got him.”

The two were enveloped in the comparatively blinding light of a transporter as Seven bolted from the front door of her aunt’s home, her enhanced senses alerting her to the altercation. She had been looking out the window, wanting to see her date walk away until the last possible second, when she saw the attack. She rushed out to come to Harry’s aid, her aunt calling after her, but it was too late.

“Harry!” Seven called desperately. Tears welled in her eyes. She was filled with a jumble of emotions: despair at seeing Harry Kim abducted before her eyes, fear for his safety, rage at those who had perpetrated the assault as well as at herself for being unable to do anything about it. She began to sob uncontrollably, her emotions becoming more than she could effectively handle, and that only angered her all the more.

Irene quickly followed her outside, her confusion at the situation escalating. First, her niece had come home almost giddy from a night with a man she obviously cared for, then she suddenly bolted out the door, and now she was sinking to her knees, sobbing.

“Annika,” said Irene. “What happened?”

“Some-someone has abducted Harry,” Seven choked out between sobs, the tears now flowing freely.

“A kidnapping? Here? I can’t believe it! There hasn’t been a crime of violence in these parts in.. . in decades!” Irene said, helping Seven to her feet. “We need to call the police.”

“No,” Seven replied, beginning to regain some of her composure. “The authorities cannot be trusted.”

“What?” Irene asked incredulously. “How can you think of not calling the police?”

“I cannot explain without endangering you as well,” Seven replied, grim determination lacing her speech. She slapped the civilian combadge she had begun wearing since Voyager‘s return. “Seven of Nine to B’Elanna Torres.”

The music was light, almost airy and dreamlike, as they floated across the dance floor. B’Elanna was not well acquainted with French music, but Tom assured her that this type of music had been wildly popular in France during the twentieth century.

B’Elanna sighed contentedly as she felt Tom’s arms tighten around her. How long had it been since they had spent quality alone time like this, free from the stress of the last twelve months?

“This was a wonderful idea,” B’Elanna said. “You know, for a flyboy, you come through spectacularly.”

Tom’s eyes twinkled back at her. “I’m not done either. We have a room upstairs…” his voice lowered. “And the night is still young.”

“Now you’re talking pure indulgence,” B’Elanna said. She tipped her head back slightly as Tom bent to kiss her.

“Indulgence nothing,” Tom said. “This night is one year overdue. Remember?”

B’Elanna laughed softly. Just a week or so before Miral’s birth, Tom had been desperate for her attention, noting at the time that it would be the last time for them to be alone for the next eighteen years.

“You’re right, I do owe you,” B’Elanna said. “But not here, Tom. What about Miral?”

Tom’s fingers wove through B’Elanna’s hair. “She’s fine with my parents, don’t worry.”

“What if something happens during the night?”

“Then we’re only a transport away,” Tom said. “B’Elanna…”

She could never resist that deliciously smooth voice. “You’re right,” she said. “It’s been a long time…”

“I knew you’d agree,” Tom said. He kissed her again and despite the music, they stopped dancing as their lips met. B’Elanna felt warm all over as she reached for her husband.

“About the room…” B’Elanna’s voice trailed off. Tom gazed at her, a mixture of love and lust in his eyes; in all their years together, that look still managed to get B’Elanna every time.

“Yeah,” Tom said. He took her hand.

They were halfway to the staircase when the comm chirped. B’Elanna stopped.

“Tom?” she asked. “Did you…?”

“I heard that,” he said, a note of irritation slipping into his voice. He pulled out his combadge. “I specifically asked that we not be disturbed…”

“Kahless, Miral,” B’Elanna said. She sank into a chair. “Tom, what if something happened to Miral?”

“B’Elanna,” Tom said. His voice sounded calm enough, but B’Elanna knew Tom well enough to detect the slight note of panic. “Let me check, okay?” He crossed to the other side of the restaurant and keyed in his code in the comm console. “It’s from Seven.”

“Seven?” B’Elanna asked curiously and a little relieved; if it was Seven calling, then chances were good that Miral was not the reason for the interruption. She got up to join her husband. “What does she say?”

“Give me a second,” Tom said edgily. “Seven, it’s Tom.”

Seven’s face appeared on the view screen. “I’m looking for… B’Elanna.” Even now, the name tripped unfamiliarly off Seven’s tongue.

“What is it, Seven?” B’Elanna asked.

“Lieutenant Kim has vanished.”

“What?” B’Elanna asked. She and Tom exchanged a look. “Seven, I don’t understand.”

“I believe he has been kidnapped,” Seven said. “Perhaps as a result of the investigation you and I undertook.”

“When did this happen?” Tom asked.

“An hour ago. We were…” Seven seemed flustered. “We were walking and he was transported away. I did attempt to contact him, but there was no response.”

B’Elanna looked at Tom. “We’d better get back there,” she said.

Tom nodded. “We’re on our way, Seven. And I’ll talk to my father to see if he can help.”

“Thank you,” Seven said. “And I apologize for interrupting your evening.”

“No, no,” B’Elanna said quickly. “We’re glad you told us. If Harry’s in trouble…” she felt

Tom’s hand gripping her wrist firmly. “We’ll see you soon, Seven.”

Seven’s image faded out and Tom took a one last longing look around Sandrine’s, his gaze finally settling on the table where the dishes from their dinner still lingered.

“I promise,” B’Elanna whispered, “I will make it up to you.”

Tom inhaled deeply. “Let’s go find Harry.”

Tom burst into Owen Paris’ home, his wife close on his heels. In the few minutes it had taken them to transport back from Sandrine’s, Tom had digested the information Seven had given him and the initial numbness he had felt when hearing the news about Harry’s disappearance had now become panic.

“Tom!” Owen Paris stood up from the sofa, a PADD in hand. “What-?”

“Harry’s gone,” Tom said. “Transported out of range of regular hailing channels. Do you think you-“

“I understand,” Owen said. “Come with me. What’s this all about?”

Tom followed his father. “Your guess is as good as mine, but we’ve got to move quickly.”

B’Elanna stared after Tom as he and Owen made their way upstairs, where Owen’s private comm station was.

“B’Elanna?” Nancy Paris queried.

“Sorry,” B’Elanna said pensively. “I’m just worried about Harry. I think we’ve gotten involved in some things that we shouldn’t have and now the consequences…”

“Things will work out, B’Elanna,” Nancy said soothingly, laying a hand on her daughter-in-law’s shoulder. “They always do.”

B’Elanna shook her head and sank down onto the sofa. “No, things will get worse before they get better.”

“What do you mean?”

“I better not talk about it,” B’Elanna said. Her eye caught a small, plush toy lying in the corner. “Miral?”


B’Elanna nodded. “It might take us a while to find Harry.”

“You’re welcome to leave her with us,” Nancy said gently. “Owen and I, we love having a baby around the house again.”

“Thanks,” B’Elanna said. “I appreciate you doing this for us.”

“She is our granddaughter,” Mrs. Paris said with an edge to her voice. B’Elanna winced; the tone of Mrs. Paris’ voice cut her.

“I didn’t mean to imply-” B’Elanna began.

“I know you didn’t, dear,” Nancy said. “But there is a distance between us. Not between you and me, of course, but the men, now they’re a different story.”

“I’m hoping that will change,” B’Elanna said. This much was true; she very much wanted Tom and Owen to repair their relationship. She rose to her feet as Tom and Owen returned.

“There’s no record of the beam-out,” Owen said briskly. “All transporter activity is logged by HQ and there is nothing to even substantiate that Lieutenant Kim was transported anywhere at all.”

“Seven would not lie,” B’Elanna said. Tom nodded.

“B’Elanna’s right,” Tom said. “It’s obvious we won’t get anywhere with HQ. We’re going to have to do this investigation on our own.”

“I’ll contact Commander Tuvok,” Owen offered.

“And Janeway as well,” Tom said. “She’ll want to know what has happened here.”

“Captain Janeway is on leave,” Owen said. “Lake George, I believe.”

“Well, contact her anyway,” Tom said in frustration. Owen nodded.

“Give me a second,” he said. He turned back to go up the stairs.

“We can leave Miral here for the time being,” B’Elanna said to Tom. “She’s sleeping. Doing fine.”

Tom nodded.

“Do you want something?” Mrs. Paris asked. “Something to drink? Eat?”

“No,” Tom replied edgily. “Sorry, Mom, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“You’re under a lot of pressure.”

Tom sighed. “What if something has happened to Harry?”

“Nothing has happened to Harry,” B’Elanna said firmly. “He is fine. He will be fine.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself of that fact. At that moment, Owen Paris returned.

“No answer from Janeway,” he said. “Her comm has been turned off.”

Tom exchanged a look with B’Elanna. Their decision was made mutually and silently.

“I’ll go to Lake George myself,” he said. “B’Elanna, I’ll meet you at Headquarters.”

A breeze of cool night air whisked through Kathryn’s silk nightgown as she stood silently on the balcony of her cottage, looking over Lake George. Her bare feet on the deck boards covered in late night dew sent a shiver up her spine. In this moment, she felt alive. She watched as the moonlight over the distant mountain cast rays of light over the lake, causing tiny crystal-like sparkles to ripple through the water as the breeze kept it in constant motion. Her life, in this moment however seemed to be at a standstill.

It felt good to be at a standstill. Kathryn felt alive again – she could live again. She breathed deeply as she felt two strong arms encircle her waist. Kathryn leaned back against Chakotay, the skin of her bare back meeting his damp chest, the night air causing the two to remain connected. It felt electrifying.

“You’re not thinking about the moon again are you?” He asked as he nuzzled her neck, placing a tiny kiss behind her ear. She sank deeper into his embrace, her eyes never leaving the light of the moon.

“Not exactly…just thinking,” Kathryn clasped her hands atop his, taking in a deep breath, “about how alive I feel here. I almost forgot what it felt like.” She turned her face to meet his and they kissed ever so slightly, still lost in the afterglow of the moment they shared not too long ago. Here, with his arms wrapped around her, Kathryn realized just how good they fit together. Body and soul.

“It feels good.” He said between kisses. Tightening their embrace, he lifted his head up, gazing at the moon. “I know you were thinking about it, so why don’t you tell me what you were thinking of.” Chakotay said, his hands tracing tiny circles on Kathryn’s belly, as her own hands remained placed above his.

“The telepathic link the Ayrethans created between us could be a lovely thing to have now, wouldn’t it?” Kathryn pondered.

“I don’t know. I think it would take away what mystery there is to be uncovered.” Chakotay replied suggestively, running both hands along Kathryn’s hips. A wiggle was her response and he embraced her again, his head resting on her shoulder.

“I do indeed love the mystery.” She said, chancing a sly grin in his direction. He chuckled to himself, but kept quiet. She could feel his heart pounding against her back, the thumping coming in rhythm with her own. The thought of the Ayrethans had triggered a memory however, and she just had to share it with him. “You know, I can stand here now and with some certainty tell you that I saw this future.”

This only lead to confuse Chakotay. “What do you mean? And don’t tell me you’ve been holding out on me all these years.”

“Not it was when we were in the bubble.” Kathryn began, her thoughts drifted back. Chakotay straightened up, yet kept her close as he waited for her to finish. “When the crew began to have those dreams. I dreamt…well the whole story isn’t important at the moment, however the dreams ended with the woman moving to New York with the man. I just think its funny that when you came to find me it was here.” She finished, smiling to herself.

“What makes you think I was the man in your dream?” Chakotay asked.

“He was like you. And then there was the time you said something at the staff meeting.” Kathryn explained.

“It was fate then, we just had to wait it out.” Chakotay said, leaning in to kiss her again. This time she turned in his embrace has they rested back against the railing, the moonlight casting tiny shadows everywhere as their lips melded together intimately, the coolness in the air and the silence around them making the moment more serene.

As they parted, Chakotay rested his forehead against hers, a gesture that had become to have so much meaning for them. “I love you.” He said silently as she wrapped her arms around him, moving in to snuggle at his chest. They were words he rarely spoke, though in his own way showed her every day. It didn’t need words. However standing there with her in the moment, it felt like the right thing to say.

“You wanted to know what I was thinking about.” Kathryn reminded him as she pulled away and turned again towards the lake. Chakotay followed, standing beside her as they looked over the lake. She pointed off to a mountain in the distance, a slightly higher one than any of the others. “Watch that mountain.” She told him.

“For what?” Chakotay asked as he did so.

“I don’t know what causes it, however on a night when the moon is in growth, almost full, something on that mountain will reflect the light of the moon, causing the area to light up for just a split second.” Kathryn explained as she watched as the moon grew closer to the mountain.

“A crystalline deposit on the mountain itself?” Chakotay asked.

“I never found out. God knows I looked for it as a child. Dad and I even hiked that mountain ourselves. I still didn’t find my answer.” She explained further as she began to dwell on thoughts of her childhood. Another simple time.

“Kathryn Janeway accepts the mystery over scientific explanation?” Chakotay teased as he moved closer, placing a hand on the small of her back. Kathryn chuckled lightly, dipping her head in thought.

“Maybe it’s the mystery of it that keeps me fascinated with it after all these years.” Kathryn spoke softly as she both watched together as the moon intersected with the mountain. “It’ll happen in a few moments.” She whispered as if it wouldn’t happen if she spoke aloud. Chakotay pulled her close again as they watched together in silence.

Little by little, the moon moved into the mountain, casting a dark shadow over the lake. Then within the blink of an eye the mountaintop lit up as a stream of light streaked across the sky, the crystal effect twinkling as it hit them for barely a split second. It continued moving on to their right across the treetops until it disappeared.

They stood in silence, each with their own thoughts. “It’s beautiful.” Chakotay finally spoke.

“It is…it’s as mysterious as I remember it.” Kathryn spoke quietly, beginning to loose herself in childhood memories. Chakotay watched her quietly, wondering how many nights she spent as a child, out on this balcony, watching the moon rise. He could see a little girl, determined to solve the mystery, staying up each night, for as long as the moon was waxing to watch the mountain, but never solving it.

Maybe that was the way it should be. Finding scientific meanings to events that should be left unsolved. Keeping the mystery embedded within. That’s what was lost so much in the 24th century, the sense of mystery. “Kathryn, I want you to promise me something.” He asked, resting against the rail.

“What?” Kathryn asked, a little confused.

“When I first met you…” He watched as her face fell into even more confusion. “You were a mystery to me. A person that I sought to understand. Over the years, I came to know you and we became close friends.” Chakotay said, trying to collect his thoughts.

“You’re not alone, Chakotay, I felt the same way.” Kathryn revealed.

“Ok, then, we’ll make a promise to each other.”

“Promise what?”

Chakotay reached for both of her hands as he looked down towards the deck. “Kathryn, even though I got to know you, part of you still remains a mystery to me. Even when we were connected, it didn’t change that fact. That’s one of the things I love about you. The way you can keep surprising me just when I think I have you figured out.” His brown eyes met her blues. “Promise me we’ll never lose the mystery.”

“I promise.”

He flashed her his dimples as he leaned in, resting his lips against hers in the gentlest of kisses. “We should go to bed, it’s getting late.” Chakotay placed a hand at the small of her back and guided her in through the glass doors and to the bedroom. Amelia came toddling along, her tail wagging happily as she chased the end of Kathryn’s nightgown.

Kathryn hushed the puppy away, chuckling. “You know she can be a little devil when she wants.” Amelia ran and pounced onto the bed, rolling in the bed sheets. Chakotay reached down, taking the puppy into his arms as he sat at the edge of the bed.

“She’s just energetic Kathryn. It’ll pass.” He said as Amelia caught him with a few wet kisses. He placed her onto the bed as he crawled under the sheets himself. Amelia crawled up to Kathryn’s face as she was lying down as well and planted a wet kiss on her cheek.

“She’s incorigable.” Kathryn said as she moved closer to Chakotay. He was about to wrap an arm around her when they heard a loud knock coming from downstairs. “Is that someone at the door? At this hour?” She turned in bed to face the open doorway as another knock echoed through the cottage.

“I’ll go down.” Chakotay said as he got out of bed. “It could be just someone looking for directions.” He added as he walked out of the room. Amelia followed closely at his heels, jumping at his pajama pants’ leg. Chakotay made his way down the stairway and through the kitchen to reach the door. Whoever it was, they were definitely trying to get their attention.

After the next knock, Chakotay opened the door, a little irritated by all the knocking.

He froze.

Amelia barked.

Tom jumped.

Any conscious thoughts both men had skipped a beat.



They both spoke at the same time, each in shock as the other, but for obviously different reasons. Both men stood staring at each other until Chakotay sighed, rolling his eyes. There was no more use in bluffing the man. “What do you want Tom? Its the middle of the night.”

A moment passed before Tom could remember why he was there. “I uh…is the Captain here?”

Without a word, Chakotay moved aside and let Tom into the cottage. Tom glanced around the room, expecting to see the Captain. “She’s upstairs.” Chakotay explained. “I’ll go up and get her, she’ll be down in a minute.” He said as he disappeared up the staircase. Tom stood uncomfortably in the middle of the empty room with only the dog at his feet, whining for attention. He needed to sit.

Tom quickly made his way over to a couch and took a seat. The dog quickly jumped up in his arms, licking him on the face. At least she was friendly, Tom thought.

“I see you met Amelia.” It was the Captain’s voice. Tom turned to see the Captain walking down the stairs clothed in a robe, followed by Chakotay, who looked to be having a tough time pulling a shirt over his head.

“Yeah, she seems quite friendly.” Tom spoke calmly, trying to ignore the situation in front of him. He came there to deliver the bad news, not keep tabs on their personal lives. “But that’s not why I came Captain.”

“I was hoping for a better reason.” Kathryn agreed.

“Harry’s missing. It happened over an hour ago. Seven contacted B’Elanna and I. I have dad looking into it now, however I figured you would want to know.” Tom explained. He watched as his two former commanding officers shared a look. Disregarding the setting and attire, Tom would think that it was like old times. “Dad tried to contact you, but your comm system was turned off. I couldn’t leave you out in the dark.”

“Thank you Tom.” Kathryn said, still trying to digest the information given to her. Harry missing? But why? Then the memory of Harry and B’Elanna’s little investigation dawned on her and it began to make sense. She turned to Chakotay, who was by her side as usual. “We’re going to go?” She asked.

Chakotay never blinked. “They’ll probably want to question us anyway.” He said, giving his consent.

“Give us a few minutes to dress, Tom.” Kathryn said as she and Chakotay turned and made their way upstairs.


Starfleet Headquarters never really shut down overnight, but this particular night it was bustling with activity. Janeway, Chakotay and Paris arrived to find a room full of people, both their own former crew and people they had never met before. Tom’s vision zeroed in on B’Elanna, and he hurried over to join her. Such was his state of mind that not only had he yet to say anything to Janeway and Chakotay about the situation he had found them in, he also neglected to mention it to B’Elanna.

Janeway and Chakotay themselves were less quick to move to one particular person, but instead stood still to evaluate the scene before them. Tuvok seemed to have full control of an entire section of the room, as he dispatched security taskforces and had other Starfleet personnel tracking down every nearby vessel, hoping that one of them would have picked something up on their sensors.

In another corner of the room, two security guards were relentlessly questioning Seven of Nine. Seven appeared quite agitated, a state that no one was used to seeing her in. B’Elanna, who had been working not very far away, was able to hear everything that was being said, and slowly worked her way over so that she might help answer some of the questions. Tom followed, eager to find out more about what had happened. As they got closer, Seven began to speak more emphatically.

“You are looking in the wrong place! I have mentioned Section 31 to you more than once already, yet you continue to disregard what I have said. They are to blame, it is that group that is responsible for Harry’s disappearance.”

The smaller of the two security officers, who had something of the appearance of a weasel, spoke snidely as he replied. “So tell me, why would this ‘Section 31’ be interested in taking your Lieutenant Kim?”

“I,” Seven hesitated, unaccustomed to being unable to answer a question, “I do not know.”

At this point, B’Elanna butted in. “It could be something to do with his work at Utopia Planitia,” she stated.

The weasel turned his attention on the half-Klingon civilian. “May I ask what makes you think you can interrupt when I am interviewing a possible witness?”

“My name’s B’Elanna Torres,” she started, before being interrupted mid-flow.

“I know who you are, that doesn’t answer my question.”

“If you’ll let me continue,” B’Elanna practically growled, before speaking in a more polite manner. “I’ve been working with Lieutenant Kim at Utopia Planitia. Some of our work has gotten us involved in some potentially sensitive areas, and brought to our attention this Section 31 that Seven mentioned. It is highly likely that our work has been monitored, and that Harry was taken due to his involvement.”

B’Elanna continued to explain some of the situation to the security guards, but no more than she felt she could give away to someone that she had never before met. Only enough to, hopefully, give them something to work on in the search for her friend. Captain Janeway’s attention was drawn away by a discussion Tuvok was having with the head of Starfleet security.

“Can I ask why you think this is necessary?” Tuvok’s superior asked.

“A lock down of the fleet’s yards seems logical, given the area Lieutenant Kim was working in before he was abducted.” Tuvok was his usual calm and collected self. “Until a full investigation of these facilities can be mounted, it would be prudent to make sure that any potential evidence or witnesses are not allowed to be compromised.”

“I’ll take it under advisement,” was all the reply Tuvok received before he found himself alone once more. Kathryn took this opportunity to approach him, accompanied by Chakotay who had yet to leave her side.

“Captain,” Tuvok spoke, acknowledging her presence.

“Tuvok, could you bring me up to date on what’s been done so far?”

“Certainly. As you can see, a base of operations has been set up here at headquarters. Since Seven alerted us to the situation we have attempted to track any vessels that have been in the area. As yet, we have not uncovered any useful information. We have yet to hear from a small number of ships however, so that avenue of investigation is not yet exhausted. Seven and B’Elanna believe this to be connected to their research into Section 31, however that suspicion is as yet unsubstantiated.”

“The way I understand it,” Kathryn interrupted, “it is unlikely to be substantiated without an investigation of significant resources.”

“Indeed,” Tuvok replied.

“Is there anything specific that you feel Chakotay or I should be doing?” Kathryn asked.

“Not at this time, Captain. I understand that you feel a need to be involved, but with the resources of Starfleet security behind us there is little left to do at this time.” Almost as an afterthought, Tuvok added, “however, you may wish to talk to some other members of our crew. I have noticed in the past that your encouragement has resulted in an increase in efficiency.”

Despite the situation, Kathryn couldn’t help but let out a small grin. “Whatever you say, Tuvok.”

She and Chakotay began to move away, but they walked just slow enough to catch the first thing said to Tuvok as he was approached by one of the security officers that had been questioning Seven moments before.

“Sir, I have been asked to inform you that Utopia Planitia has been locked down.”

Seven of Nine sat listlessly in her chair, looking out through the window at the view of the harbor and the restored Golden Gate Bridge. The former crew of the USS Voyager had been directed to an empty conference room to wait out any news on Harry’s disappearance. So far, they had heard nothing. B’Elanna eased over to Seven, and cautiously reached out to place a hand on her shoulder as a show of empathy.

Seven looked over to the half-Klingon woman, and nodded ever so softly, a sign of acknowledgement.

B’Elanna glanced back at her husband, who was pacing furiously back and forth. They each had their own ways of dealing with their feelings of helplessness, she supposed. Seven withdrew into herself, Tom got anxious, while she just wanted to reach out to someone. The Doctor and Chakotay were both sitting quietly on the other side of the room. Both were clearly as bored and as frustrated as she was. They also couldn’t

take their eyes off of Seven, whose anguish and worry were evident to all, but neither knew if it was appropriate for them to say anything.

“I swear,” Tom muttered, his furious pacing not letting up, “I don’t know who did this, but if they’ve hurt Harry, I’ll.”

“Tom,” B’Elanna cautioned him, “you’re not doing Harry any good by getting yourself worked up. There’s nothing we can do right now. Let Starfleet handle this.”

“I.” he stopped in mid pace and looked on at his wife with a weary sigh. “I just can’t stand doing nothing, that’s all.”

“Mr. Paris,” the Doctor spoke as he got up, “you’re here as a show of support and as a friend of Mr. Kim. That’s hardly nothing from where I’m standing.”

The door then slid open and Janeway and Tuvok entered. Seven turned to face them, initially hoping for some positive news. But the grim looks on both their faces dashed her hopes of a happy outcome.

“Well?” Tom asked urgently.

“I am afraid that there is nothing positive to report,” Tuvok announced somberly. “Investigation teams were unable to trace the source of Mr. Kim’s abductors. Nor have scans of the crime scene revealed any new


“What about a transporter trace?” asked B’Elanna. “Or footprints? Or something?”

“There was nothing,” said Tuvok. “Whatever transporter technology the kidnappers employed, it is far more sophisticated than that in conventional use by Starfleet. As for physical evidence, we were only able to recover a few partial footprints from the scene. The shoes employed were completely nondescript and have only confirmed Seven of Nine’s account that there was a single attacker. Any physical clues we might

derive from them are generic at best.”

“So you have learned nothing,” said Seven, speaking up for the first time in hours.

“I’m afraid that’s not entirely the case,” Janeway said hesitantly, not wanting to upset the young woman any further. “Orbital Traffic Control spotted a brief sensor anomaly in low earth orbit at around the same time you reported Harry missing. It lasted less than a second. But there’s no sensor log or a recorded flight plan of a ship in that orbit for that time period.”

“No sensor log?” Chakotay said incredulously. As the capital world of the Federation, Earth had some of the busiest orbital traffic in the entire quadrant. Every ship between the atmosphere and Luna was scanned and monitored by Orbital Traffic Control, in order to prevent any collisions and ensure proper policing and security. If a ship parked that close to Earth and was unable to be detected, it meant only one thing. “A cloaked ship,” he added ominously.

Tom shook his head in amazement. “Man, there’s just no rule that these guys won’t break, is there?”

“Then.Harry is no longer on Earth?” Seven spoke, her voice wavering. “He could be anywhere in the quadrant at this time.”

“That is considered to be the most logical possibility by Starfleet Command,” Tuvok concluded. “I regret that I could not provide a more positive report.”

Seven seemed to lose the strength in her legs, as B’Elanna and the Doctor reached out to steady her. “He is.gone,” she said

Janeway went over to the heartbroken young woman and saw the anguish on her face. She had known that Seven and Harry had become closer friends over the past several months, but she had no idea that things had grown as intimate as they had obviously become. But then, she herself had been distracted enough these days.

Kathryn took the former drone’s hands into her own. “Seven, I promise you. We’re not going to give up on the search. Even if Harry’s been taken to the farthest corner of galaxy, we’re going to find him. You have my word on that.”

“And that goes for all of us,” Chakotay chimed in, standing behind Kathryn in a firm display of solidarity.

The door to the conference room then chimed once again, and a nervous young ensign entered the room. “Excuse me. I’m here to deliver a message to Seven of Nine.”

“Ensign,” Tuvok regarded the newcomer with a glare of authority. “Do you have news from Starfleet Security?”

“Sir?” the ensign looked at Tuvok with confusion. “Um, no sir. They asked me to let you know that there’s a message for Seven of Nine from Utopia Planitia. There’s a problem with the Sernaix components and.”

“What’s the matter with you?” Tom addressed the young officer harshly. “Can’t you see how upset she is?”

But Seven looked on at the bewildered messenger with a flash of curiosity. “You say that there is a problem with the Sernaix systems used on the prototype?”

“That’s what they say,” he replied. “Apparently the photonic ablative armor isn’t coming online the way it should, and there’s some irregularities with the slipstream drive. Commander Vargas wanted to pick your brain on this and.”

“What, can’t they just ask Ozymandias for help?” B’Elanna snapped. “He’s supposed to be the expert on these things.”

“Um, Commander Vargas and the Ship Mind don’t exactly have the greatest working relationship, ma’am,” the ensign answered sheepishly.

Suddenly, Seven’s brow furrowed and her eyes lit up, as if a moment of inspiration were coming upon her. “Perhaps it would be better if I were to travel directly to Fulton Station and inspect the difficulties myself. I believe that I would be of greater effectiveness in that capacity. What is more, I am certain that Ozymandias will be quite receptive to anything I have to say.”

“Seven, are you sure that’s what you want to do?” the Doctor asked, looking concerned at her impulsive


“I am quite certain, Doctor,” she answered. “There is little I can do for Harry here, and I believe that the best that I can do for him is to see that his work is completed and ready for launch.” Seven then turned to B’Elanna, a thin-lipped conspiratorial grin spreading over her face. “B’Elanna, would you care to accompany me?”

The engineer noticed the almost sly expression on the other woman and nodded in agreement. “Yes, I think I will. I get the feeling that we’re going to learn a lot on this trip.”

It took three hours for the transport shuttle to arrive at the docking bay of Fulton Station, after what seemed like the longest ride of Seven’s life. She and B’Elanna wasted little time in disembarking and meeting Commander Vargas and Lieutenant Commander Singh in the hangar bay, who both proceeded to escort the two women straight to Engineering.

“You two didn’t have to come all the way from Earth just to help us with a little troubleshooting,” Singh said as they walked. “Everything could have been handled over subspace.”

“The distraction was necessary,” Seven replied crisply.

“Whatever,” Singh shrugged, as they boarded the prototype and moved down its Starfleet issue corridors. “Anyhow, we can’t figure out what’s wrong. The shielding and the slipstream were all running fine after yesterday’s test runs. The Commander thinks it may just be Ozymandias having a little sport with us.”

“That sounds like Oz,” B’Elanna sighed as she rolled her eyes. “The guy’s a real barrel of laughs.”

Finally, they made their way through the ship, down the turbolift and into the main engineering section of the ship. Seven turned to Singh just as they were about to enter the room.

“Commander,” she said, “perhaps it would be best if Ms. Torres and I were to deal with Ozymandias on our own. If his mercurial nature is indeed the cause of the prototype’s dilemmas, then your presence may prove to be disruptive. He is.used to.the two of us. He may be more receptive to our entreats for assistance.”

“Suit yourself,” Singh shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave. “Be sure to holler if you get into any trouble.”

Seven waited until Singh and their escorts headed down the corridor. As soon as the turbolift doors slid shut behind them, the former drone entered Engineering and turned quickly to the mass of the Sernaix slipstream core. As expected, the mass of the core was dark and inert. The grill pattern along the side normally would glow a bright neon blue. Either there was a significant internal problem with the device, which prevented it from drawing power from the plenum of space-time or, as Seven suspected, Ozymandias

was being deliberately uncooperative.

“Okay, we’re here,” B’Elanna said with an annoyed tone of voice to the open air. “You want to tell us why you had to drag our butts all the way to Mars?”

At the sound of her voice, the slipstream core lit up again, and the surrounding consoles returned to normal function. “Well, I was wondering when you ladies would both get here,” said the voice of Ozymandias over the room’s intercoms. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Can it, Oz!” B’Elanna growled at the Sernaix. “We don’t have time for your stupid mind games. We’re in the middle of a crisis here, and we don’t appreciate being yanked away from our friends and family just because you feel like clowning around with Starfleet!”

“Believe me, B’Elanna,” said Ozymandias, his voice sounding much more steady and serious. “I didn’t bring you here for laughs. I needed an excuse to talk to you both, one that wouldn’t arouse the suspicions of certain eavesdropping parties, if you get my meaning.”

“I presume that this room is secure?” asked Seven, looking about anxiously, “and that there are no problems with the prototype.”

“Yes to the first question, and no to the second. The ship is fine and almost ready for launch, even without you two and Harry to smooth things over. I just tweaked around with a few of the ships systems to lure you here.”

“Wait a minute,” B’Elanna said. “I thought you were denied access to all systems outside of Engineering.”

Ozymandias said nothing, but B’Elanna rolled her eyes as she imagined the Sernaix trying to conceal a naughty boy smirk, not unlike the one Tom would often have whenever he had been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

Seven, of course, had no time for this repartee. “You said you wished to speak to us, so speak. What is it that you must tell us?”

“Direct as always, aren’t you?” Oz chuckled. “Well, I understand that there’s been a problem with Harry back on Earth.”

“There is more than a problem!” Seven hissed at the slipstream core. “He has been abducted!”

“I know,” said Ozymandias solemnly. “I found the ship that took him.”

Seven let that information sink in, as B’Elanna rushed up to speak. “You what? Where? How?”

“About six hours ago, I detected a signal being sent out from a fast moving object, moving from the direction of Earth. It was transmitted along the same resonance frequency that the Sernaix use to link with The Realm. I tried to tap into the message without being spotted and was able to retrieve bits and pieces. Basically, your Section 31 friends were the ones who took Harry. I’m pretty sure that he’s being delivered

to Sycorax herself.”

Seven’s breathing went ragged; her posture slumped, as her worst fears were being realized. She had hoped above all else that Harry had been moved someplace on Earth, or at least within range of an easy rescue. But if he was being sent to the heart of The Realm itself, then was there any possibility of a safe return? Was Harry truly doomed?

Why did she allow herself to trust her unsteady new emotions and give her heart away to this young man, when prudence told her that it would only lead to pain and uncertainty?

B’Elanna rushed to her side and held her steady, seeing something on the young drone’s face that she never would have believed, the beginnings of a tear forming at the corner of her eye.

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this,” said Ozymandias. “I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that this is very bad news for your people.”

“Bad news?!” B’Elanna shouted. “You’re damn right its bad news! Our friend has been snatched away and God only knows what they want to do with him!”

“Indeed,” said Oz gravely. “God only knows. But this goes well beyond just Harry’s safety. All those months in the Phase, the Sernaix could have destroyed your ship at any time. But the packs all had instructions to hold back and leave you alone. The Management Cadre didn’t want to risk Harry coming to any harm. The same principle applies to your home planet. Now that they’ve removed him.”

Seven then looked up, her skin turning an even lighter shade of pale. “There will be an attack.”

“Yes,” said Ozymandias. “And very soon, I’d wager.”

“Why?” Seven spoke up, her voice choked with anguish. “Why have they taken him? What do the Sernaix want of him?”

“Yeah, and none of this ‘touched by God’ nonsense,” B’Elanna added harshly. “This has something to do with Harry’s dreams, doesn’t it?”

“I wish I knew what to tell you,” said Oz regretfully. “I only know what the Management Cadre made available to the packs, based on their analysis of what our ships learned from taping into Voyager‘s logs. At some point when you were lost in what you call the Delta Quadrant, Harry Kim was touched by the god of our ancient legends. I can’t be any more specific than that.”

“There is no record in Voyager‘s logs of an encounter with any life form resembling the Sernaix in the Delta Quadrant, nor with any being of divine origin,” Seven stated, regaining her composure.

“Yeah, if there was, I think I’d remember it,” said B’Elanna.

“You ought to, B’Elanna,” said Ozymandias cryptically. “According to the records we accessed, you were touched also. Only your touch became tainted.”

The heels of Seven’s shoes thudded lightly against the soft gray carpet of the corridor as she made her way to the conference room back at headquarters eight hours later. Captain Janeway would not appreciate the news, she knew. The question was what, if anything, would be done?

Stepping into a turbolift to take the short ride to the conference room where the rest of Voyager‘s former crew waited, Seven felt B’Elanna’s reassuring hand on her arm.

“He’s my friend too,” B’Elanna said quietly, as if fearful that the walls would report her words to Starfleet Intelligence. “There are going to be people in there who won’t want to soil their hands with this. We’ve got to make them understand that the safety of the Federation is at stake.”

Seven nodded once. “I understand,” she replied monotonously.

Inwardly, B’Elanna shivered. Seven appeared calm and ready to face the crowd that was waiting for them, but she knew that the budding relationship between her two friends was still at the front of the former drone’s mind. The tone of her voice left questions in B’Elanna’s mind as to how much she would reveal to ensure a rescue mission for Harry.

As the doors to the conference room slid apart, all heads turned to greet the room’s newest occupants. Tom briefly covered B’Elanna’s hand as she took her seat beside him. Chancing a glance at Seven, she saw that the act had not gone unnoticed and a stab of pain was reflected in her crystal blue eyes. As fast as it had appeared, Seven’s eyes changed to the determined steel blue the crew had seen on more than one occasion

when new challenges presented themselves.

Admiral Warhol looked between Seven and B’Elanna, “I assume you have some sort of report to give us after this escapade to the ship yards?”

“I am afraid I have nothing positive to report,” Seven began, looking the admiral straight in the eye. “Oz has informed me that the Sernaix are holding Lieutenant Kim. It is quite possible that they will formulate an attack plan to implement against the Federation.”

“And just how did the Sernaix capture the lieutenant?” Nechayev demanded to know from her place beside Warhol. “I don’t suppose they simply transported him.”

Admiral Ross glanced at Nechayev as if to make a suggestion, but Seven quickly cut him off. “Section 31.”

“Section 31?” Nechayev asked.

“It is an elusive operation which seeks out and destroys potential threats to the Federation. Starfleet will neither confirm nor deny its existence; however, its presence has been felt since the creation of the Federation Charter – though few of even the highest ranking officers would have recognized it.”

“This is absurd,” Warhol scoffed. “I realize that you are devastated by the loss of one of your former crewmates, but I fail to see how inventing tales of this ‘Section 31’ will aid us in finding Lieutenant Kim.”

“A secret organization in which only a few are privy to know of even its existence?” Admiral Paris frowned as he eyed Seven. She believed what she was saying, he knew. But who was to judge whether or not her personal life may have influenced her words. “Even if it existed, how is it possible to run this operation?”

Seven’s turned her cool glance toward Admiral Ross. “Admiral, how possible do you believe it is?”

For a long moment, Ross said nothing. Looking down at the smooth and shiny surface of the table, he debated on how to say what needed to be said. Slowly, and with a little hesitation, he spoke. “Section 31 does exist.”

As he raised his eyes, he found himself being regarded with nine stunned expressions and the cool glare of an untrusting former Borg drone. “They have, when the occasion called for it, worked outside the boundaries of Starfleet in order to ensure the safety of the Federation and its citizens.”

“It’s a fancy tale, Seven of Nine,” Nechayev broke in, “But tell me why we should believe that this ‘Section 31’, if such a thing does indeed exist, is now involved with the disappearance of Lieutenant Kim.”

“I have met with them.”

Immediately the whispers subsided as all eyes turned towards Seven.

“You’ve met with them?” Warhol challenged.

“At first, I thought my lack of concentration and increase of dreams was due to my experiences with the Borg opposition. However, Oz has informed me that while I was possessed by the Sernaix shipmind, I met with several Section 31 operatives.”

“And he knows this because?”

“He was able to access the residual memory logs left in place.”

“A being that has taken over one of our ships is now aiding us?” Warhol asked doubtfully.

“She was in direct connection with Oz and it is plausible that he would have the capability to access this information,” B’Elanna firmly replied.

“What are we going to do about this Section 31 if they actually did give Harry to the Sernaix?” Tom broke in, his eyes focusing on his father.

“We must also consider the possibility of an invasion,” Chakotay added. “Harry would never willingly give the Sernaix information; however, he is one of Starfleet’s best engineers and the knowledge in his head would be of great value to use against us.”

“I’m not sure I fully understand-“

“Warhol, you understand enough,” Janeway rose from where she had been silent thus far. “The question my people want to know is what are you going to do about it?”

“This will take some time to decide,” Nechayev declared. “There is a great deal of information to review and several other individuals will need to be involved.”

“In that case,” Owen Paris spoke up, “I suggest we break from this meeting and call another at once.”

The other three admirals murmured their agreement as they hastily exited the conference room. Only Admiral Paris remained for a moment to touch his son’s shoulder. “We’ll get him back, Tom.” Then, he too was gone.

Janeway watched as her friends – her family – rose to surround Seven. It would be a trying time for them all, she knew. Section 31 had apparently risen and been pushed back under the carpet several times in the course of Federation history. What made this time any different? And if all Oz said was true, what course of action would Starfleet take in order to defend itself from the Sernaix?

“We’re the best ones for the job.”

It took Janeway a moment to realize that Tom was answering the question she had unknowingly voiced.

“We do have the most training against the Sernaix,” B’Elanna added.

“I’m afraid that at this point it’s only wishful thinking,” Janeway told them sorrowfully. “Starfleet will no doubt come up with one of its plans and we may or may not be called upon to enact it.”

Chakotay eyed Kathryn carefully as if trying to see directly into her mind. It had worked for him before, he knew, but this time she was carefully guarding her thoughts and refused to meet his eyes.

Something’s up, he thought to himself. She hasn’t entirely given the situation to the Federation.

The admirals filed through the doorway and into the spacious briefing room within Starfleet Headquarters that was reserved for this group of decision-makers at the head of Starfleet. As each of the admirals took his or her typical seat at the large, ovoid table, the Andorian adjutant to the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Commander Shral, stepped up to the podium at the curve of the table which was overlooked by the Starfleet arrowhead insignia and the words “Starfleet Command” on the wall.

“This meeting of the Starfleet Command Staff will now commence,” Shral said, her antennae twitching nervously — not because of her audience, but the circumstances under which they were meeting – and her hands lightly gripping either side of the podium, which was also emblazoned with the Starfleet seal. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she continued, “the C-in-C.” She stepped aside as Fleet Admiral Brackett stepped up to the

podium beside her. The other admirals jumped to their feet, not quite at attention, but close enough to satisfy the formality of the proceedings.

“As you were,” Brackett said, settling behind the podium. The others returned to their seats, and she continued, “We’ve heard the statements from the eyewitness to the abduction, from his friends and from the experts. Now, we have to figure out where to go from here.”

“I agree with Seven of Nine’s assessment,” began Vice Admiral Edward Jellico, the recently promoted head of Starfleet security. “The Sernaix must be involved, and for some reason, they’re working with someone within the Federation.”

“Hogwash,” interrupted Admiral Warhol, the Chief of Fleet Operations. “I can’t believe this…’tale’ supposedly spun by that Ship Mind at Fulton Station — what was his name? Ozama? It sounds too preposterous to be true.”

“Preposterous?” Jellico asked. “Any more so than giant space amoebas or flaming, space-borne energy creatures shaped like birds? No, we know for certain who it wasn’t. Our intelligence networks would have indicated a move like this from either the Dominion or the Romulans, and even given the changes in recent months, this is far too subtle a move for the Borg.”

“Maybe whoever was involved,” suggested Admiral William Ross, who headed Starfleet’s Personnel Division, “was working independently and using domestic equipment to cover their tracks. Or maybe it really was Section 31. We can’t deny that we know it exists. I saw enough evidence of it when I was on DS9 to prove that.”

“There’s no way that group of psychotics can be sanctioned by the Federation,” commented Admiral Bennett, the head of the Judge Advocate General Corps. “Everything I’ve heard goes against everything the Federation stands for.”

“It’s not our position to judge Section 31,” Warhol said. “For all we know, they may have the unofficial blessing of the Council, and they’re doing the dirty work to safeguard the Federation from its enemies.”

“That’s Starfleet’s job,” came the fierce reply from Admiral Cobum of Starfleet Logistics. “We explore the frontiers, safeguard the Federation, and we never attempt to commit genocide simply to end a conflict.”

“Admirals,” interrupted the clear voice of Vice Admiral Owen Paris of Starfleet Technology, “I know Voyager‘s crew. I know, they’re not together anymore, physically, but they’ve got a strong bond that I’m sure our esteemed Admiral Sulu here would understand.” Paris indicated the oldest member of the board, Admiral Hikaru Sulu of Starfleet Navigation. “Believe me when I say that, if they say that there is a threat

out there that’s headed our way, then we’d damned sure better be ready for it.”

“We can’t allow Section 31 to run loose any longer,” declared Jellico.

“Agreed,” said Bennett. “They should be brought in, and they should face charges for the atrocities they’ve committed.”

Heads nodded in assent, but Warhol cut through, making his opinion clear. “I’ll repeat,” he began, “that they are also doing what is, in their judgment, in the best interests of the Federation.”

“Their methods are reprehensible,” Bennett retorted.

“Our feelings aside,” Brackett interrupted, “doing anything about them right now would be problematic at best. We’ll have to wait and deal with it when the time is right.”

“Section’ 31 isn’t our most pressing concern, either,” added Admiral Nechayev of Starfleet Tactical. “Of all the ships in the Fleet right now, only the six Sovereigns and the new ship under construction at Utopia Planitia can stand up to a Sernaix attack.”

“When will the Montana Project be ready to go?” asked Admiral Hayes, the Deputy Chief of Staff, from his seat near Brackett.

“We can push up production to within a week,” Paris replied. “At this point, it’s just down to getting all the systems working properly.”

“Then let’s do it,” Brackett ordered. “That ship is likely our best bet of retrieving Mr. Kim from his captors, be they Sernaix or otherwise. In the meantime, we’ll also recall the other Sovereign-class ships and fit them with the same frozen-light shielding the new ship is getting. It’ll help even the odds, although, admittedly, not by very much.” She rose from her seat, then added, “If there’s no other business, then you’re dismissed.”

The former crew of the Starship Voyager, with the notable exception of Harry Kim, sat around a modest table in an ancillary briefing room within Starfleet Headquarters. Their expressions were a mix of fear, dread, exhaustion and helplessness. One of their own was missing, and there didn’t seem to be much of anything they could do about it.

Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres sat together at the table, trying to avoid their concerns for their friend by giving that much more attention to one another. Chakotay sat silently, his hands folded atop the table before him, almost as if in prayer or meditation. Seven of Nine paced nervously at the far side of the room, stopping every so often in an attempt to will away her frustration at the impotence of her situation. And the Doctor, standing almost completely motionless next to the table, watched her pacing with concern.

In a corner of the room, near one of the large windows that overlooked the lights of the San Francisco dawn, Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok spoke quietly about the situation, the pair virtually whispering in the somber hush of the room.

“I do not believe,” Tuvok was saying, “that Starfleet is capable of withstanding a direct assault by the Sernaix, nor are any of the other powers in the Alpha Quadrant.”

“They have no idea what they’re up against,” Janeway commented. “Starfleet may have been through hell and back during the war, but from what I’ve seen, the Dominion is small potatoes compared to the Sernaix.” She grabbed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, trying to will away the unease she was feeling, and wishing for a steaming cup of coffee. “They just have no idea,” she repeated.

“That could prove advantageous to yourself,” Tuvok noted. “Your knowledge of the Sernaix and how to effectively combat them makes you an asset that, it is possible, Starfleet does not fully realize that it has at its disposal.”

“It’d be about time they noticed,” Janeway muttered, then began, “What did you–” But she was cut off as the doors to the briefing room slid open with a muted hiss, allowing Vice Admiral Owen Paris to enter the room.

“Dad,” Tom began expectantly as the others stiffened and turned their attention to the elder Paris, attempting to prepare themselves for the worst, but hoping instead for the best.

“Owen,” Janeway said at virtually the same moment, letting her question remain unvoiced. It was a fair bet that everyone in the room had the same question to ask of the admiral.

He waited a moment, then began, “Starfleet’s going into this head first.” He paused to let his words sink in, then continued, “All six of the Sovereign-class ships are being recalled for refit with the frozen light shielding system that’s been developed for the Montana Project, and the go date for that ship’s launch has been moved up to the end of the week. She’ll be part of the first wave of defense, if anything happens.”

“What about Section 31?” Janeway asked.

“Warrants are being issued,” Admiral Paris replied, “for all known operatives. We can’t launch a full investigation to root them all out right now, but it’s a start.”

“What of Lieutenant Kim?” Seven asked, standing rigid as stone along the far wall to the right and behind the elder Paris. “Has any progress been made in locating him?”

“Not really,” Admiral Paris admitted sadly. “There’s not much we can do until we’ve got more information. Jellico’s got his people working on finding him as we speak. Commander Tuvok, I think it would be of invaluable assistance if you would provide them with any data you’ve obtained so far. They may already have the same information, but it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of caution.” He looked at the group before him silently, then focused his attention to his son. “We’ll find him, Tom. We’ll get him back, safe and sound.” He looked to Janeway, then added, “I have to get back and coordinate with the others. I’ll keep you apprised of any major developments.” He turned and left the room.

Chakotay looked from his seat over to Janeway and Tuvok, who were still standing in the corner of the room. He stood and briskly crossed the short distance quickly. “Kathryn,” he said as he stopped at her side, “if you’re planning to make a move to get your career back, you’d better do it now.”

“I concur,” Tuvok said. “Events are in flux, and it would appear that the admiralty is in a far better position to listen to you at this time.”

Janeway looked from Chakotay to Tuvok, and started squeezing the bridge of her nose once more.

Suellen Bartlett’s face was lined with concern. “Good afternoon, Earth,” she began. “This is Federation News with a breaking story which continues to develop as we speak.”

Cadet Icheb looked up from his PADD to the large holographic monitor on the wall of Students’ Mess 4. At his left, T’Kara did the same. Studying was important, but this had to be more important still — how often did the Academy interrupt its population’s meals for a news report?

“Lieutenant Harry Kim, one of Utopia Planitia’s head engineers, was kidnapped last night; he was transported away without warning by forces unknown. Many of our viewers will remember Mr. Kim from our extensive coverage of Voyager, his former posting. The disappearance was witnessed by another Voyager crewman, ex-Borg drone Seven of Nine, and is currently under a thorough investigation.”

John and Mary Kim knew that Starfleet’s investigators were the best there were. They knew that their son was a grown man, resourceful enough to survive many dangers. The knowledge was precious little comfort. They took each other’s hands and looked one more time for the strength that had carried them through eight years of terrifying silence. It was a tired strength. It was all they had.

“In the wake of this kidnapping, Seven of Nine has revealed the existence of a radical protectionist group known as Section 31 which operates in secret within the Federation itself. Details remain unclear, but the group apparently considers itself outside the jurisdiction of Federation law; furthermore, it claims to have existed since 2161 and to have been created by the very founders of the UFP. The information from Seven

of Nine is currently being reviewed at the top levels of government. No spokesman for Section 31 has come forward at this time.”

Somehow, Professor O’Brien was not surprised. What did surprise him — and worry him — was the sudden deluge of information about Section 31. As one of the few Starfleet officers who had direct experience with them, he knew better than most what they were capable of. In his office, O’Brien tried to figure out what would happen next, and what, if anything, he could do about it. After a few minutes he instructed the computer to set up a priority subspace channel to Deep Space Nine; while it was being set up, he replicated

an extra-large black coffee. He had a feeling he would need it before this was over.

“The recent events have raised new concerns about the possibility of an invasion by the mysterious Sernaix. Starfleet is currently at Level-4 military alert, with a state of yellow alert in effect on all vessels and stations, but Command is urging all citizens not to panic.”

Easy for them to say, thought Joseph Sisko. He had seen this before in two Borg scares and repeated bouts of Changeling paranoia, and he braced for the tension and fear that he would be sensing in his customers before long. Of course, he wasn’t exactly cool as a cucumber himself. Cucumber…hmm. Some cold, refreshing vegetables just might help calm people’s nerves a bit. A smile crossed Sisko’s face as he headed for the kitchen to do up a batch of his award-winning Shrimp Creole Salad.

“Among Starfleet’s responses to the potential threat will be the accelerated launch of a new starship in development at Utopia Planitia. The experimental ship, built by the engineers of the Montana Project, is said to incorporate design elements from various alien species. Blueprints are not yet available, but our contact on Mars tells us that the ship is unlike any Starfleet vessel in history.”

Not for the first time, Reg Barclay wondered if Starfleet’s top brass were crazy. What were they thinking, launching this ship so soon? If half the things he’d heard from B’Elanna and Harry were true, it was as likely to fall apart in orbit as to be space-worthy. Maybe in a few more months the design could be trusted, but now? Before even the most basic testing? Madness, madness had claimed the heads of Starfleet. The fact that Reg said that at least three times a month wasn’t important.

“In other news, the –” Bartlett stopped talking as she saw a new PADD materialize in front of her. She lifted it and read. “This just in: Captain Kathryn Janeway, former captain of Voyager, has called an emergency meeting of the Federation Council and the admiralty board of Starfleet. She has announced that she has information to provide — information which she obtained in the Delta Quadrant and the Bubble but has not revealed until now. The meeting will take place this afternoon at Starfleet Headquarters.”

Kathryn Janeway smiled. The show was about to begin.

Janeway tugged at the sleeves of her uniform. She had to admit that the new style of dress uniform, it was new to her even if it was no longer new to the Federation, was pleasing to the eye. Quite striking really, with its black trousers and white jacket trimmed in gold brocade. And she wore it rather well, she dared say. But truth be told, she missed the familiar feel of the dress uniform she’d worn so many times on Voyager. No matter how glad she was to be home, she knew that a part of her would always long for her days on that incredible ship.

But, there would be no time for retrospection today, she reminded herself. There was enough to concern herself with in the present. Harry Kim’s life was at stake, and she would do anything, even sell her own soul, to save him. She only hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

She tried to school the expression of awe from her face as he approached the Great Hall at Starfleet Headquarters. No matter how far she climbed in rank, she knew she would always find this stately place a bit intimidating. After all, within its walls echoed the words of some of the Federations most legendary members. Captain James T. Kirk, Spock of Vulcan, Presidents of the Federation dating back farther than she could recall . and now her voice would be added to the ghostly whispers the Great Hall contained.

She only wished she were headed there under better circumstances. Hang on, Harry, she thought to herself. That’s an order.

The two guards posted at the door eyed her carefully, if not a bit suspiciously as she approached. The young men looked at her, and then back to each other. Then, as if suddenly recognizing her, the taller man offered her a warm smile and a quick nod of his head. “Captain Janeway.”

She nodded and smiled in return, noting immediately how young both of the men seemed. Their handsome faces held the expression of youthful enthusiasm, and they looked upon her almost as if they were looking at a celebrity. They had the same look that Harry Kim had when he first came to her, wide eyed and fresh from the Academy. Her heart constricted painfully in her chest, and she longed to see Harry’s boyish grin

and twinkling eyes again.

Lost in her own anguish, Janeway didn’t notice the familiar figure approaching until he took her gently by the elbow. “Captain, do you have a moment?”

She turned to see the concerned face of the Doctor. She smiled affectionately at him. “Just about a moment, I’m due inside. What is it, Doctor?”

“I’ve been trying to contact you.”

“Oh?” She started walking toward the door.

He sighed exaggeratedly and followed her. “You know I have, and not just me. Most of your former senior staff and some of the crew have also tried to reach you. You’ve taken no calls, returned no messages.”

She gestured to the Great Hall. “As you can see, I’ve been a little busy.”

“We have some questions, Captain.”

“You should direct your questions to either Chakotay, Tuvok, or Admiral Paris. They’re the only ones I am authorized to speak to regarding this situation.”

“That’s the problem,” he said, frustration causing his voice to rise slightly. “They’re not talking either. No one’s talking. We don’t want an official Starfleet briefing on this, Captain. We simply want to know what you plan to do!”

She kept walking, bringing her slender fingers up as if to silence him. “Now is not the time, Doctor.”

Before she could step through the doors, the EMH seized her none too gently by the upper arm and spun her around to face him. “Then when IS the time?”

The guards stepped forward; ready to take the holographic man to the ground. Janeway held up a hand to stop them. “It’s all right. He’s a friend.” Reluctantly, they resumed their positions on either side of the entrance.

Janeway turned her eyes on the EMH. “I understand that you’re upset. But this is neither the time nor the place for this discussion.”

He maintained his grip on her arm. “All we want is to be informed. Please, don’t do this. Now is not the time for you to be making things worse.”

She stared at him with an indignant raised eyebrow. “I beg your pardon.”

Unruffled, he blazed on. “You have this habit of shutting us out when the going gets tough. You take the weight of the galaxy on your shoulders. Normally, we would just wait until you decided to call on us for help. But not this time.”

Janeway summoned all of her training and discipline to keep her anger in check. She knew that her dear friend was not attempting to hurt her, rather the opposite. He wanted to help Harry as much as she did, even if he was going about it the wrong way. She sighed heavily, and with forced patience, said, “Doctor, I assure you, I am not going to make the situation worse. Quite the opposite, actually. I would love to sit with you over a cup of hot coffee and discuss this, but that’s a luxury I don’t have right now.”

She gave him a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder and moved to step around him. “If it’s all the same to you, I have a meeting to attend.”

He stepped in front of her again, impeding her entrance. “As a matter of fact it’s not all the same to me. In case you’ve forgotten, Captain, a friend of ours happens to be missing. And another of our friends is taking it very badly. I just want to know what you plan to do.”

That was it. She’d reached the end of her patience. Her blue eyes narrowed as she glared at her former CMO, and her voice was dangerously quiet as she spoke. “How dare you stand there and smugly insinuate that Harry’s disappearance could be anything other than foremost in my mind? I am very much aware that our friend is missing, Doctor. I feel Harry’s absence with every single breath that I take.

“And I know you’re concerned about Seven. We all are. But she doesn’t have a monopoly on loss here. We all love and care for Harry, and we are all hurting. Being the captain doesn’t make me immune to those emotions. On the contrary, I feel not only concern for his life, but responsibility for it as well.”

The Doctor looked genuinely regretful. “I’m sorry, Captain. I didn’t mean to suggest that you are uncaring. I merely – “

Janeway took him by the shoulders. “Listen to me. I know you feel helpless right now, and that’s frustrating. Everyone wants to help, and all this waiting around has all of us on edge. But I need you to make a leap of faith right now. Do you trust me?”

“Captain – “

“Do you trust me, Doctor?”

“Of course, but – “

“Then trust what I’m about to do,” she said. “I think I know of a way I can help Harry, but I can’t explain it to you right now. I have a chance to fix it. You’re just going to have to believe in me.”

He looked at her, an expression of great respect and devotion on his holographic face. “I believe in you more than I’ve ever believed in anyone, Captain.”

She swallowed the lump of emotion that had welled up in her throat. “Then step aside and let me do what I need to do. It won’t look good if I keep the Admiralty waiting, now will it?”

His face seemed to age years at the thought of the aforementioned group of admirals. “Just be careful. The Admiralty seems to be out for blood ever since Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant. I wouldn’t trust them.”

For the first time in the conversation, Janeway actually chuckled aloud. “Who said anything about trusting them? I can’t explain right now, but I suspect that there was more to their blood lust than meets the eye. Don’t concern yourself, Doctor. I know how to handle the Admiralty.”

He graciously stepped out of her way. “Of course. You’re going to approach them honestly and fairly, right?”

Janeway turned and looked at him over her shoulder just before she stepped into the Great Hall, a wicked but determined smile on her face. “Not even close. I’m going to do what I do best, Doctor. I’m going to do some serious cage rattling.”

And then she was gone.

The Doctor smiled proudly. “Then God help them.”

Janeway entered the hall, her entire body tingling with a sense of purpose and energy. As she took a look around, she noted the council members on sitting on either side of the room, with a separate section roped off for the admirals. Janeway’s gaze swept the room, noting the familiar faces – Nechayev, Ross, Warhol – and much to her surprise, the president of the UFP himself, seated at the head of the room.

With determination, Janeway approached the podium directly in front of the president. “Mr. President,” she began. She paused for a second. “I believe that your presence here directly speaks to the seriousness of our situation.”

The president nodded. “You’re correct, Captain. I heard what was happening and despite the best intentions of my Starfleet advisors -” the president cast an ironic gaze around the room – “I felt it was best to attend this meeting myself. I want to hear what is going on, and more importantly, what we’re going to do.”

Relief flooded through Janeway’s body. “I’m glad to hear of it, sir.” She turned as a gentle hand applied pressure to her shoulder.

“Captain,” Ross said. “A moment of your time, please.”

Janeway stepped back from the podium and turned her attention to Ross, very much aware of all of the eyes turning to focus on her and the admiral.

“I should have warned you,” Ross said in a low voice.

“What is it?” Janeway asked. Truth be told, she was immensely grateful to see that Ross was among those assembled. Ross, along with Owen Paris, had been one of Janeway’s strongest supporters during the turbulent trial days. In addition, Ross had been one of the few people willing to speak out in support of the Maquis.

“I felt that the events were serious enough to merit the President’s personal attention,” Ross said. “Warhol and some of the other members of the admiralty wanted to keep this matter as private as possible.” Ross’ lips quirked upwards. “I disagreed.”

Janeway smiled. “I appreciate your help, as always, Admiral.”

“Not at all. It was an easy enough thing to arrange. The President has always been interested in Voyager and her crew. When I met with him earlier, convincing him to be here didn’t take much effort on my part. Captain, you don’t have much time. Make your point quickly, but make it good.”

Janeway nodded. “I understand. Thank you for the information.”

Ross tipped his head slightly in her direction before leaving to take his seat next to Admiral Warhol. Janeway watched in interest as Ross and Warhol shared a conspiratorial look.

“Captain Janeway,” the President said. “I believe we have everyone’s attention now. Would you like to speak?” His voice was tinged with irony, given the few words he and Janeway had exchanged just a few moments earlier, but there was no malice in his tone – only a soft note of benevolence and support.

“Yes,” Janeway said. Once again, she took her spot at the podium. “You all know what brought me here today -the abduction of Lieutenant Harry Kim. You’ve all seen Voyager‘s logs regarding our encounters with the Sernaix while Voyager was trapped in ‘bubble space.’ The question isn’t whether the Sernaix are a threat to the Federation – I know they are. What is up to debate is when they will attack, not if they will attack.

The Sernaix have a long history of linking with other minds in order to gain information. I believe that that is the reason why Harry Kim was taken. An attack must be imminent. Mr. President, I’m asking for your permission to rescue my crewman and to prevent the Sernaix from attacking the Federation. Given our experiences with the Sernaix, with all due respect, I don’t think there is another crew or another ship in the entire fleet with the ability to take on the Sernaix.” Janeway stopped to take a deep breath. “There is no telling how large this attack will be, Mr. President, but when it comes, my crew and I, we should be on the front lines.”

“With all due respect,” Admiral Nechayev said as she rose in her seat. “Captain, we have six Sovereign-class ships in the vicinity. I believe that that is more than sufficient to counter any threat from the Sernaix.”

Janeway shook her head. “I disagree, Admiral. The smallest of the Sernaix ships can make mincemeat of a Galaxy-class ship in twenty minutes. And that’s without trying. The only way we’re going to be able to stop the Sernaix is if you send people out there who survived eight months against the Sernaix. It’s the only way.”

“I agree,” Ross said, which provoked both Warhol and Nechayev to respond. Suddenly, the entire room was filled with the sound of competing voices. Janeway could hear scattered snatches of conversations – some debating the strength of the Sernaix ships versus Starfleet, the probability of an attack, and there was even an incident of name-calling. Janeway remained at the podium, willing herself to remain strong through the

uproar; those debating the issues had not seen or experienced what she had. She lifted her eyes to look at the President and noted that he was watching the proceedings intently. His expression was a mixture of concern and amusement. He looked back at Janeway and tipped his head lightly to the side, before he lifted his gavel and called for order.

“We’re in recess,” the President said as the voices died away. “Captain Janeway has provided a compelling argument and its attributes must be considered. We’ll reconvene in one hour.”

The assembled got up from their seats and filed out. Janeway inhaled deeply and left the room.

Harry groaned as her tried to open his eyes. Everything had happened so fast. One minute he was floating on a cloud, his thoughts filled with Seven and the exciting new direction their relationship was taking. And then.

He had trouble remembering what came next. He remembered a face, then pain. Now he was here. Only where was here.

As soon as he rubbed the exhaustion away from his eyes, he looked around the room, trying to see where his attacker had taken him. But what he saw was…his childhood room. He was sitting up in his old bed, wearing his old pajamas.

Then the door creaked open slowly, and a familiar head peeked inside. “Well, good morning, sleepyhead,” said Harry’s mother. “We were all so worried about you.”

“M-mom? What happened?”

“Oh, you just had a nasty bump on your head. But everything is just fine now. You’re safe here. You know you feel safe, don’t you?”

Harry looked about his surroundings. The truth was that he did feel safe here. He always had. Everything here seemed exactly as he had remembered it from high school, just before he left for the Academy. He saw the pictures of his favorites teams on the wall, his school trophies, the clarinet sitting on his desk in its wood grain case. All of it was the same, everything as he remembered.

Only it couldn’t be this way anymore. Much of his old stuff had been packed away by his parents after he was reported missing aboard Voyager. Much of it he had taken with him when he was reassigned, other items were still boxed away in his parents’ home. This was a memory, not reality. It couldn’t be real. And then he remembered the attack near Seven’s aunt’s house. Seven!

“What happened, Mom? I was…someone hit me! What about.?”

“It’s all right, dear,” his mother reassured him, as she sat down on the bed, resting her arm on his shoulder. “Nothing can hurt you here. Everything is fine. You can relax.”

“I.I don’t know if I can, Mom. How did.how did you make up my room so quickly? The last I heard, you and Dad were turning my old room into a guest room. What happened?”

“Harry, does it really matter?” his mother said, smiling a bit too broadly. “What matters is that you can rest and be comfortable here. Now, why don’t you tell Mommy all about those dreams you’ve been having. You do trust Mommy, don’t you?”

Harry bolted up from the bed, and looked at the woman across from him with alarm. There was no way his mother could have known about his dreams. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but this isn’t my room. And you’re not my mother! What is this place? Am I on a holodeck somewhere?”

The false Mrs. Kim then stood up again, her expression then shifting to a malevolent expression that Harry had never seen on his real mother. The transition was frighteningly abrupt. “A holodeck? Oh, no. Our technology goes far beyond your own primitive fantasy environments.”

“Y-you’re a Sernaix, aren’t you?” he demanded, trying to maintain his cool.

“A Sernaix?” the woman laughed. “Mr. Kim, I am the Sernaix. And you’ve been keeping secrets, haven’t you?”

Harry stood defiant, angered by his own mistreatment and the casual use of his mother’s face. “I don’t know what you mean, but I refuse to tell you anything.” He then stood ramrod straight, like the good soldier that he was. “Harry Kim, Lieutenant, Starfleet identification number.”

“Oh don’t bother with any of your military rituals,” said the false Mrs. Kim. “We already know all of that. It was as easy to extract from you as your memories of your room from your childhood. What we want from you are the things you don’t remember, the things that are inside of you. I think you know what I mean, Harry.”

Harry wouldn’t relent, as he maintained his cool distance from the woman. “If you can read my mind, then you know that my friends will come looking for me. And God help you when they find you.”

The image of his mother laughed cruelly at him. “Believe me, Harry, you’re far beyond the reach of your friends. There’s nothing they can do for you. And it just so happens that it’s God that I’d like to talk about.”

“Who are you?” he demanded.

His mother smiled at him, not the warm, caring smile that he remembered, but a pitiless smile of satisfaction, the kind that a hunter might show once it had caught its prey. “You already know me, Harry. I am Sycorax, Adimha of the Management Cadre. Caretaker of The Realm.”

Harry looked at her curiously, as Sycorax moved about the room with a comfortable stride, almost like she was floating. “You see, Harry, I’ve waited a long time to finally have this chance to talk with you. I’ve studied you from a distance, but I’ve had to wait until the time was right before I could collect you for myself. And now that I have you, you’ll tell me everything that I want to know.”

“I don’t know what it is you expect me to tell you,” Harry shot back, “but if you are a Sernaix, then you don’t need my cooperation to find out what I’m thinking.” He then gestured with his hands about the room, as an example of what they had already been able to extract from his thoughts.

“But it can’t tell me what you’re dreaming, Harry,” said the image of his mother, the look on her face growing more desperate, and more frightening. “You’re special, Harry. Perhaps more special than you can possibly imagine. I know about the dreams. I know you managed to communicate with the Abomination, the creature you call Ozymandias. He told you the truth, didn’t he? He told you that you’ve been Touched by the gods.”

“I don’t know what you mean at all,” said Harry, trying to appear brave, even though he was scared to death.

“You will soon,” Sycorax said to him, as the image of his mother faded away, to be replaced by the faceless echo of the Sernaix’s disembodied voice. “Once the reality of your situation sinks in, your resistance will fade. Then all your secrets will be accessible to me.”

“I don’t have any secrets!” he called out to the empty room.

“I suspect that you do,” said Sycorax’s voice. “And if you didn’t, then you’d be of no use to me. Another reason for you to cooperate.”

Harry looked around his room. No, this was not his room, but just an illusion. He went for the door, to see how far this fantasy went. But the door would not open, nor would it yield when he tried to slam into it with his shoulder. It was clear that he would be going nowhere until his captors wanted him to.

He then heard the spiteful laughter of Sycorax once again. “Don’t think of it as confinement, Harry. Think of it as being sent to your room without supper.”

When Janeway entered the boardroom, she was greeted with a look of anticipation on everyone’s faces.

“Well?” Tom said. “How did it go?”

Approaching the table she replied. “At the moment, we’re in recess, but I spoke directly to the President. Admiral Ross thought he’d like to hear what I had to say because of his interest in Voyager. I informed him about Harry and expressed my fears about what the Sernaix will do next.

“I told him that there is no other captain, no other crew better suited to stop such a threat, that it should be us out there on the front lines.”

“Don’t you think you were perhaps a little too bold?” The Doctor asked. “Considering who you’re asking to make such a decision?”

Janeway leaned forward; resting both hands on the table and looked into their doubt-ridden faces. “We survived them for eight months, we know their tactics and what they’re capable of.” She paused, looking around at all the rapt and familiar faces she seen over the past seven years. “Over the years, I’ve come to respect and admire all of you. The courage and strength you’ve shown has been remarkable, and I certainly can’t think of any other people I’d rather have been stuck with. We became a family out there, looking out for each other, and right now a member of that family is in trouble, and I for one refuse to stand by doing nothing. If Harry has any chance of surviving it’s up to us.” Using the index finger of her right hand, she tapped the table once in front of her in order to stress her point. “There is no one better suited to deal with this threat than us. I know we can do this.”

The faces around her changed, the doubt vanishing. For the first time since this blew up in their faces, they felt pride in her words, that perhaps they could overcome this together. However, Chakotay wasn’t convinced and gestured for Janeway to join him on the other side of the room. She obeyed.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” He asked softly.

“What?” She replied, unsure of what he was referring to.

“The Maquis are no longer in Starfleet. How are we supposed to do this without pooling all our resources?”

“The President has a soft spot for us. If he agrees with my suggestion then I’m sure something can be arranged.”

“What makes you so sure that they’re willing to come back?” He asked seriously.

Her expression changed to one of shock and fear. When she thought of her crew she thought of the Maquis as well. The line that separated them in the beginning had been blurred for many years now, despite what other people thought, and for the first time, wondered if they could pull this off without them.

Taking her by the shoulders he locked his eyes with hers. “I’m not trying to scare you Kathryn, I just wanted you to stop and consider the possibility.”

She nodded, understanding.

“I swore to you years ago that I would stand by your side, that hasn’t changed.” He said with a smile.

She smiled back, the fear receding, and laid a hand on his chest. “What about the rest of them?”

“They’ll follow, only because it’s you.” Her smile widened.

Sycorax, Adimha of the Management Cadre, had finished with her toying of the Touched One, the human, at least for now. Harry Kim had as yet revealed nothing about the nature of his gifts from the Gods, but it was only a matter of time. If the reports from her human minions on Earth were to be believed, then the knowledge of the gods was already starting to emerge within him. With the right degree of coaxing and study, she would soon learn what the divine ones had passed on to this human, and then the knowledge

would be hers.

Then she would be more than an Adimha. She would be like a Goddess herself.

She drifted lazily amongst the currents of the vast virtual ocean that was her private virtual space. Sycorax had adopted the form of her favorite avatar – that of the kiutre fish from the seas of the planet Nesaqa. Her weary nerves felt the simulated sensations of the ocean currents against her flank, while she darted about the schools of bioluminescent rewesa, which the kiutre preyed upon. She chose the kiutre as her avatar since

she felt it so aptly represented herself. It was a deceptive looking beast, large and ponderous in its everyday movements. But when hunting or threatened, the kiutre could strike with blinding speed, and tear through its prey with an efficiency and hunger that belied its appearance. So too had it been with her. She had clawed her way to the top of the Management Cadre, beating out and destroying her rivals in the process, and had

held the esteemed rank of Adimha for over seventy years. Others in her Cadre had coveted her position and had pressed upon her to step down and take the final journey of Issuance and immortality within The Realm.

But Sycorax would not take that step, for she craved that most vital sensation of the flesh, the feeling of power over others. And so she played her potential rivals against one another, and in doing so managed to rise above the petty squabbles and secure her hold as Adimha.

Now the humans and their Federation had entered into the equation, providing not only a means for the Sernaix to exit the Phase, but offering untold new worlds for the packs to prey upon and dominate. It would be a time of great upheaval and change for the Sernaix, but from chaos came new opportunities. The males and their packs would be kept busy with their new battles and killings, while the females and their cadres would become entranced by the thousands of new experiences and sensations these battles would provide. And presiding over these new distractions, Sycorax thought with satisfaction, would give her an even stronger hold on her power.

And then there was the unknown knowledge locked away in the body and mind of this Harry Kim. If these secrets within him could be unveiled and harnessed by her, then her power over the Sernaix would not only be complete, but truly eternal as well.

“Adimha,” came the nervous voice of a young Satika apprentice echoing through her private space. “There is a message for you from our contacts among the humans.”

“I will take it,” Sycorax responded, shifting about to an empty section of the seascape, free of the glow of rewesa. A featureless black rectangle appeared in the open sea. The humans of Section 31 did not have the technology to interface directly with The Realm, so they would be communicating with primitive video screen. The screen area shifted frequencies until the pale, ugly face of one of the human males came into focus. Sycorax recognized the light hair and weak eyes immediately, that of the human Johns, the one

chosen to speak for Section 31.

“Adimha,” Johns greeted her, unable to see her avatar or private space. As per their agreement, Sycorax would not deign to make herself visible for her human accomplices, certainly not to the point of such an intimate act as showing her true face.

“Mr. Johns,” she replied in kind. “I have received your gift. So far, he has not been as cooperative as I would like.”

“I.I’m sorry to hear that, Adimha,” Johns replied nervously. “I had hoped that we might discuss some of the further details of our arrangement.”

“Oh, make no mistake, Mr. Johns,” she said slyly. “I’m certain Mr. Kim will prove as valuable an asset as I’ve hoped he would be. But there’s still the matter of your failure to eliminate the Abomination and the ship he has helped your Starfleet to build.”

“And I’ve conveyed the regrets of Mr. West and the rest of my colleagues, Adimha,” said Johns. “And I’m afraid that the Federation is aware of the upcoming attack.”

“I expected as much,” she answered. “It will mean that we will have to begin our attack sooner than we had initially discussed. The males are getting restless anyway. They need a diversion.”

“I.I understand, Adimha,” said Johns, not missing a beat. “My colleagues and I expected that this would be your choice, and we’ve come up with some possible targets. For instance, you might want to consider the Romulus system, or the Breen home world.”

“And of course, Mr. Johns, this would benefit your own governments’ position, wouldn’t it?” Sycorax retorted with a canny smile. “I’m afraid the situation has grown beyond that now. To effectively neutralize this new starship, we will have to attack your Federation. The packs are simply too eager for anything less.”

“I see,” Johns answered gravely. “We didn’t expect this to happen this soon. But if this is your position, we have a number of candidate systems already selected.” Johns then transmitted a list of coordinates, which Sycorax glanced over, shaking her head.

“Colonies and outposts,” she shook her head in disgust. “Do you really expect the Defenders of the Realm to be challenged by this? Our people want to experience real entertainment, some true bloodshed and suffering on a mass scale! This is an insult!”

“Adimha,” Johns quivered as he spoke, “I suppose we could include a few of the less important member worlds on that list. Perhaps Grazer V or Benzar would be more to your liking?”

“I suppose it will be acceptable,” she answered, grinning in satisfaction. She knew that Section 31 was negotiating from a position of weakness and was willing to make whatever sacrifices she wanted, as long as some remnant of their precious Federation was allowed to survive. “But you do realize that at some point an attack against Earth will be necessary.”

“We.understand that, Adimha. As long as we’re given sufficient warning to evacuate any key Federation personnel?”

“Of course, Mr. Johns. That’s part of our arrangement, after all. I have no desire to see your Federation destroyed overnight. A proper feast should be savored and enjoyed for as long a period as possible, no matter how sumptuous the taste may be. Right now, I’m the only thing that is keeping the males of my species from letting loose and orgy of uncontrolled violence against you and your neighbors.”

“Yes, Adimha, and we’re very grateful,” Johns answered, the sweat from his brow apparent even through the murky waters of the ocean environment. “I was just.well, that is.if there is to be an attack on Earth, how many casualties are we talking about?”

Sycorax thought for a moment. The capital world of the Federation would be a choice target, but it served too useful a purpose to be destroyed outright in the initial adventures of the packs. She would have to place some limits on the amount of damage the males would undoubtedly do. “I suppose, Mr. Johns, that if your planet were to be attacked by a single corsair, the damage would not be too bad. Only two or three major cities could be destroyed.”

She saw how the pale skin of the human went whiter in response to her answer. “I see,” said Johns. “And.if there should be any larger ships involved, say, a scout or a battleship?”

“Well, I suppose it could get a great deal worse,” she said. “I’ll have to impose some limits, indeed. Tell me, Mr. Johns, out of all of Earth’s continents, which do you consider the most expendable?”

Tom approached B’Elanna warily. She sat with her back to him, focused completely on the comm station. Tom knew that B’Elanna was unaware of his presence, so engrossed was she in conversation with his mother. Tom paused for a second to listen.

“Miral is doing well. We found another little tooth today,” Nancy Paris said, her voice slightly fuzzy from the comm system distortions. From his vantage point, Tom thought he saw B’Elanna’s posture soften just a little, those proud shoulders slumping a half-centimeter.

“Another one?” B’Elanna asked.

“Yes,” Mrs. Paris said. “She’s still trying to get her balance, but I think she is walking better every day.”

“Oh,” B’Elanna said.

Mrs. Paris must have detected the note of sadness in B’Elanna’s voice, because she hastened to add, “But I think she misses her parents.”

“I miss her too,” B’Elanna said, her voice just barely above a whisper.

“Don’t worry about her, B’Elanna,” Mrs. Paris said. “We’re taking good care of her. You just get done what you need to.”

Tom took that as a cue to approach. He laid his hand gently on B’Elanna’s shoulder.

“Tom,” Mrs. Paris said.

“How are you, Mom?” Tom asked cordially. B’Elanna twisted around.

“We should go back,” she said. “I don’t think I want to do this-“

“Don’t worry about Miral, B’Elanna,” Mrs. Paris said.

“Mom,” Tom said, “we’re not. We know she’s doing fine with you. And if you’ll excuse us, I need to talk something over with B’Elanna.”

“All right. Talk to you later.”

“I want to go get her, Tom,” B’Elanna said as soon as the comm channel was closed. “This is ridiculous. We’ve been separated too many times as it is.”

“B’Elanna.” Tom squatted down in front of his wife, taking her hands in his. “Things are going to get pretty serious, you know that. If Janeway gets her way, if Starfleet agrees to let us go out there – I’m one hundred percent behind her.”

B’Elanna nodded, biting her lip. “So am I.”

“You know the risks as well as I do. Miral should stay here.”

“I can’t believe you’d say that,” B’Elanna retorted. Her hands trembled. “Not after all we’ve been through…”

“If we go out there-“

“I know what you’re going to say,” B’Elanna said angrily. She got up from her chair and paced the room. “A starship is no place for a baby-“

“Not a starship, B’Elanna. We’re talking about war.”

“We have a responsibility to our daughter,” B’Elanna said. “This situation is no different than if we were still in the Delta Quadrant with Miral. You didn’t seem to have a problem with it when we found out I was pregnant.”

“That was different. We didn’t have a choice then.”

“Maybe you’re right,” B’Elanna said. The strain in her voice told Tom how hard it was for her to admit that. “It’s Miral we have to think about, not us. Not what I, you, want.”

Tom sighed heavily. He understood B’Elanna’s point of view. He didn’t want to leave Miral either, but circumstances were against them this time. And more than anything, he wanted his little girl to be safe.

“And if we did bring her with us, what kind of life would she have?” B’Elanna asked softly. She was rationalizing now, Tom knew. “A constant state of red alert, to start with.”

“Naomi did fine,” Tom said. He wasn’t sure what he was trying to say, but he felt that the point was important enough to say.

“But as you said before, Sam Wildman didn’t have a choice. We do,” B’Elanna said. “How Naomi did, well, that’s not the point.”

Tom nodded. He understood that B’Elanna was trying to convince herself that leaving Miral behind was the right thing to do. There was no point in arguing now when they didn’t even know what the outcome of Janeway’s meeting with the Starfleet Admiralty was.

“Let’s wait until something definite comes out, okay?” Tom asked softly. He pulled B’Elanna to him, resting his head on her shoulder. “Let’s not worry about it for now.”

But he knew, as he turned his face to kiss B’Elanna, that they would both worry about Miral. No matter what they did, he knew they would always second-guess their decisions.

“Admirals,” the President began as he sat in his office with several of the members of the Starfleet Command Staff, the Parisian skyline visible through the windows behind his desk. “I’ll start this off by making one thing very clear: I don’t feel that there’s very much here that’s left open for debate. From everything I’ve heard, this is big, and we need our people where they can do the most good.”

“What did you have in mind, Mr. President?” Fleet Admiral Brackett asked.

“I’m going to issue pardons to Voyager‘s Maquis crew,” the President said, looking directly at admirals Warhol and Nechayev, who were seated next to Brackett, “and offer them full, active commissions in Starfleet equivalent to their brevet ranks when Voyager returned.”

“Sir, I must protest–” Nechayev began, but was interrupted by the President.

“I have the authority to do so,” the President countered, “and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Furthermore, I want the Voyager crew back together and under Kathryn Janeway’s command. If they can survive eight months against the Sernaix in an Intrepid-class ship, then I think it’s pretty obvious that someone in this room wasn’t thinking straight when they tried to get them all kicked out of the Fleet.”

“But, sir–” Nechayev began again, looking to Warhol for support. But Warhol appeared to be deep in thought and wouldn’t be of much help to her. The President cut her off again.

“But nothing, Admiral,” the President snapped. “I’ve made my decision. Do I need to remind you that Starfleet takes its orders from myself and the Council, and that it’s your job to figure out how to make those orders happen?”

“No, sir,” Nechayev replied, uncharacteristically chastened.

“Good,” the President said, then turned his attention to Vice Admiral Owen Paris, who was also in the room, seated across from Brackett. “I understand the Montana Project is almost ready to fly.”

“That’s right, Mr. President,” Paris said.

“I want Janeway and her crew on that ship,” the President said, his statement clearly an order. “They’ve got to be the toughest, strongest, most resourceful bunch of people I’ve ever seen.”

“Sir,” Warhol said finally, startling Nechayev by breaking his long silence, “in that case, wouldn’t it be prudent to spread them out a little? Not so much that it would disrupt their effectiveness as a group, but just enough so that other crews could benefit from their experience.”

“Hmm,” the President began, considering the suggestion. “Perhaps. What did you have in mind, Admiral Warhol?”

“Well,” Warhol began, “for the time being at least, we should place Chakotay on a reconnaissance ship — as you no doubt are aware, per the Treaty of Algeron, we’ve secured permission from the Romulan government to equip other Defiant-class ships with cloaking devices. I know that one of those ships is looking for a new first officer.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” the President said. “We’ll need to find a new first officer for Janeway, then.”

“Sir, I know just the person,” Warhol replied, a thin grin crossing his features.

“Where do you think Starfleet will proceed next? You made your plea, there’s nothing much more we can do while we’re waiting.” B’Elanna seemed frustrated with the entire situation as she paced the floor of the briefing room. The wait was getting the better of her sanity.

“We wait. Admiral Ross got us out of our hearing intact. I have faith that his word will carry us through now.” Chakotay said as he stepped up, placing a hand on B’Elanna’s shoulder to stop her relentless pacing. “You should sit down.”

“I don’t need to sit down, I’ll go stir crazy.” B’Elanna snapped, her pacing then starting again. She hated the anticipation.

“Chakotay’s right, you should rest.” Janeway spoke up. “Pacing won’t solve anything right now. You’ll just wear a hole in the floor”

B’Elanna stopped then sighed. “Well this keeps me sane, is that enough?” Her impatience was beginning to affect her temper. Tom took this as a cue to stand up and retrieve his wife.

A swish of a door form the far side of the room alerted everyone to the entrance of two security guards, followed by Admiral Ross. Janeway slowly approached him, hoping for the best, expecting the worst. “What is it Sir?”

“The President has requested a meeting with you.” Ross replied. “Alone.”

Janeway didn’t know what to make of his tone of voice. She nodded slightly as she turned back to her friends, giving them a silent nod as well. With that, she followed Ross out of the briefing room.

B’Elanna’s attention turned back to Chakotay. “What does that mean?”

Chakotay kept his calm composure. “I honestly don’t know.”

Yrzedish Pavriqur had once been the chief justice of all Sulor. Admired, respected, known in thousands of solar systems for his level head. There had been a long…interlude, and then he had been respected again. The leader of the Borg Constructive Force. The scourge of the Returned Abomination. The voice that led

the charge against those who would waste a power lesser beings could only imagine.

Now he looked across a map of his empire, not by choice but by coercion, and felt his stomach twist at the sheer size of it. So much power. So much power. And all in the hands of a fool.

“I heard that,” said the man holding Pavriqur up. He let the Sulorian fall to the hard metal floor, felt the sharp pain flood through his nerves, and relished the feeling. He was a man supremely, superbly alive. He was a man of energy.

“It’s been a long ride,” he said, “getting from there to here. Don’t you think?” He grinned as his prisoner struggled to stand up. “You of all people know that. You made me what I am now, and in return, I made you what you are now. Two drastic changes, and what is the universe if not something in a state of constant change?”

“You and your philosophy can go to hell,” said Pavriqur.

“You and your philosophy are already there,” said his captor with a smile.

Behind them, an eerie green monitor flickered into existence. The distorted face of Suellen Bartlett appeared and began to speak. “This is Federation News with another update on the current crisis.”

“Turn that damn thing off,” said the Sulorian. “What do any of us care what happens in Sector 001? Their sun could go nova and not affect our situation one bit.”

“That was how you ran the Constructive,” agreed the other man. “But I learned something from my dear departed friend, Axum. There’s something about that sector and its natives…something that never fails to get them entangled in Borg affairs. They bear monitoring.”

“…. has reached a decision,” continued the news anchor. “Captain Kathryn Janeway and her entire former crew from Voyager will be assigned to Starfleet’s newest vessel. The acting Starfleet ranks of her former Maquis crewmembers have been reinstated and made official. The ship will leave Utopia Planitia later today as planned.

“For further news on the new starship, we’ve opened a channel to our contact on Mars, reporter Marcus Franklin. Marcus?”

“Hi, Suellen.” There was no video with the voice — Franklin had been contacted in a hurry and had to stick with a standard comm badge.

“Marcus, you’ve spent the last few days in and around the Montana project. What can you tell us about the new starship?”

“Well, it’s big — nearly as large as a Sovereign-class ship. Its design, too, is very similar to ships of that class. Like most Starfleet vessels, its structure consists of a primary hull, an engineering hull, and two warp nacelles; it’s also capable of saucer separation, a traditional maneuver which hasn’t been supported in some of the most recent designs.”

“As our viewers have heard, the new ship incorporates some alien technologies. Which ones are they, and where did we get them?”

“I can’t tell you much about that, Sue — the ship’s design is still being declassified. But I can tell you that elements of Borg and Sernaix engineering are all present in the new starship. The general approach of the Montana project’s engineers was ‘use whoever’s version works best.’ Take the computer system, for example: Borg plasma relays work faster than any others known to Starfleet, so they were used to build the interface between the ship’s gel packs and the main computer.”

“Speaking of improvements, can you verify the rumors about the propulsion system?”

“No.” Franklin laughed. “That system is most definitely classified. And something else I can’t tell you is the ship’s name….”

“That’s classified too?”

“It hasn’t been decided yet.”

“Isn’t it standard procedure to choose a name well before a new ship is built?”

“Yes, but not in this case. Even the class is still nameless at this point. I’ve heard some rumors, but nothing solid enough to tell the viewers at this point.”

“Well, thank you very much for your time, Marcus.” The connection closed. “Starfleet Command has once again reminded citizens not to panic, and has reiterated that the Sernaix situation is under complete control. In other news –“

Without moving, the leader of the Constructive deactivated his monitor. He turned back to Pavriqur. “You see? That was significant. Janeway is back — and with a more powerful ship, one that carries some of our technology. She was the one who destroyed the old Collective. She will very likely play a role in this war before long.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Pavriqur in a defeated voice. “The war means nothing now.”

“I beg to differ. Power — isn’t that what this has always been about? And the war will decide who holds the greatest power that has ever existed.”

“The war was never about power. It was about actions, about beliefs. Do you think I betrayed Axum for power alone? I did it because he was making a foolish, wasteful mistake, and I couldn’t prevent him from making it. My goal was always to bring about a new golden age with the resources at our disposal — to build a new Unimatrix Zero on the ruins of this galaxy. You have no idea what any of this was about.”

“The hated Queen is dead. You or Axum would have divided her power among many. I choose to concentrate it all into myself. That is what this is about.”

“And to accomplish that, you will rebuild the Abomination — and become something worse than the Queen herself.”

“NO!” The man whirled on Pavriqur and bombarded him with energy in every form — searing heat, blinding light, rolling electricity. He felt the same pain within himself and rejoiced at the sensation. At last the Sulorian’s screams grew tiresome, and he stopped. “There is no worse abomination than the Queen. What I will become is the culmination of all evolution. I will become perfection. Never forget that.”

With a thought, the man teleported his captive back to the sealed alcove that was his prison. He looked at the map of the Constructive with his biological eye and his technological eye, and both images were the same. He threw his head back and laughed.

Life. Energy. They flowed through his veins. Soon all life and all energy would flow through his veins. Soon he would be everything.

And no one would stop him — not Pavriqur, not the Complex, and not Captain Kathryn Janeway.

Pacing was a fairly effective way of letting out some of the frustration and boredom Chakotay was feeling.

As he walked up and down the short corridor running from Owen Paris’ office to Briefing Room five, he constantly had to dodge various personnel that were hurrying around, engaged in some task or the other. The Federation was, after all, making preparations for a major operation, and it was quite obvious that things were hectic. Despite the early hour, it looked as though they had pulled in as many people as they could, given the sheer volume of people flowing through the hallways.

Kathryn herself had been called in to attend a last minute meeting. Chakotay knew from various conversations he had had earlier on in the day over subspace that B’Elanna had been horrendously busy sorting through and approving various modifications that Starfleet had sent her, and Tom had been called to Starfleet Command to participate in a meeting. Most of the other crew had already been dispatched to Utopia Planitia, awaiting the departure of the prototype ship.

Utopia Planitia. Chakotay paused in his pacing for an instant, then continued at a faster speed, deep in thought. He was beginning to wonder if he should contact someone about his lack of an assignment. He had, until now, hesitated, since he knew how busy Admirals such as Owen Paris were, given the current situation, but every other member of the former Voyager‘s senior staff had been given orders to report to Utopia Planitia as soon as possible, apart from him.

Without warning, a young Ensign rounded the corner, and narrowly avoided hitting Chakotay, jerking him abruptly out of his reverie.

“So sorry, Sir,” she apologized, her eyes growing wide as she recognized him. Voyager‘s crew had become something of heroes since their return to Earth. Chakotay, and the rest of the crew, especially the Senior Staff, had had to come to grips with the fact that just about everyone in the Federation knew their names.

“It’s quite all right, Ensign, it was my fault,” Chakotay said, by way of apology. He watched as she continued on her journey at a fast pace, then shook his head, and began once again to pace.

As he passed the door to Briefing Room two, he glanced at the door, wondering what was being said. There was no doubt in his mind that Kathryn would tell him as soon as she exited the room, but it was still frustrating not to be in there with her. Their time in the Delta Quadrant had made Chakotay used to being in the loop about everything. As an effective command team, Kathryn had shared the responsibilities with Chakotay, and had only on rare occasions withheld information from him. This adjustment was just one of

the few he had had to make on their return to Earth regarding Starfleet.

Immediately, Chakotay turned to face the door of Briefing Room two as he heard the door hiss open. As Kathryn emerged, he started towards her, giving her a small smile as he did so. Her expression was weary, but she managed to return the smile.

“Kathryn,” he greeted her. “What took you so long?”

“Business,” she said, stifling a yawn. “Admiral Paris wanted to make sure we understood one another regarding the mission. We can’t afford any mistakes, not this time.”

Chakotay nodded in understanding. He knew only too well how important this mission was to the Federation. Changing the subject slightly, almost certain that Kathryn didn’t want to talk about the mission after an hour of discussing it at length with a roomful of Admirals, he told her “I still haven’t been given any notification for returning to duty. I spoke to B’Elanna earlier, the rest of the crew have all been given their orders to report to Utopia Planitia.”

Kathryn nodded. “I’ve been given my orders too. I have to get underway in less than an hour.” She was silent for a moment, gazing down at the gray carpet that lined the halls, unable to meet his eye-line. Looking around at the bustling corridors, then gesturing towards the opposite doorway, she said, “I think Briefing Room four is free, can we talk in there?”

“All right,” Chakotay agreed, a feeling of trepidation quickly building. It was unlike Kathryn to want to avoid his questions. As a rule, she was generally to the point with him. She had never been one to beat about the bush, and he doubted she had suddenly gained the habit.

As expected, the room was empty. It was lit by the morning sunlight streaming in through the window as day broke over San Francisco. An eerie blue glow and low humming noise came from the fish tank filled with Lionfish that stood in the corner.

Looking over at Chakotay, Kathryn gestured towards the replicator and asked, “Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’m fine,” Chakotay told her, taking a seat. Ffeelings of curiosity and dread were rapidly building in the pit of his stomach. He wanted nothing more than for Kathryn to get whatever she was keeping from him currently out in the open.

“Coffee, black,” Kathryn requested from the replicator. As the beverage materialized on the tray Kathryn took it, breathing in the aroma. Taking a mouthful, she swallowed, willing the caffeine to kick in. It had been a long night, filled with work and meetings, and it was certainly a good few days since a last good long sleep.

Finally, Kathryn moved over to the table, seating herself in one of the numerous chairs that surrounded it. She placed the mug of coffee on the glass surface of the table with a clink.

“Kathryn, what’s going on?”

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn looked him directly in the eye. “You’ve been reassigned,” she told him quietly, as his worst fears were confirmed. “They want you to depart for Starbase 27 immediately.”

It took a moment for the information to sink in, and for to Chakotay to realize the implications. “Why?” He asked weakly.

Kathryn sighed, thinking of the past half hour she’d just spent arguing this one over with a group of stubborn admirals. “They need their best people out there, Chakotay. They’ve assigned you to a Defiant-class ship, the Logan.”

“But I’m more use on your ship” Chakotay argued. “I know the people.”

“Don’t you think I’ve been trying to tell Starfleet that?” Kathryn asked him, her voice suddenly increasing in volume. “Don’t you think I tried to fight this, Chakotay? Believe me, I argued. But their decision is final.” She slumped in her chair, in defeat. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking up at him, tears suddenly glimmering in her eyes. “I tried, Chakotay. I promise. I want you there, beside me. But Starfleet wouldn’t listen. As far as they’re concerned, your tactical experience is of better use on a reconnaissance mission…”

Chakotay was silent for a moment, gazing out of the window, deep in thought. As his mind accepted the news, his first thoughts were of Kathryn. Turning back to face her, he asked, “What about you?”

Slightly taken aback by his acceptance of the facts, Kathryn quickly replied, “I’ll be fine.” She avoided Chakotay’s gaze, knowing all too well that he could read her like an open book. She wasn’t fine, and he knew it. Kathryn had always been good at masking her emotions, but Chakotay could see through it. He knew her too well, and had the gift of being incredibly perceptive.

“We’re meeting our new first officer at Utopia Planitia,” Kathryn said, in an attempt to fill the silence that had quickly formed in the room. “A woman. By all accounts she’s an excellent officer, I think she’ll fit in. I expect they’ll be some initial resentment at first — the crew wanted you back, Chakotay — but I think they’ll grow to like her, given time.”

Chakotay nodded numbly, resisting the temptation to talk, afraid his own voice would betray him at this point. It was a lot of information to take in — a lot of information that he didn’t want to take in — and it was almost painful to accept. The realization that the crew wanted him back was a small comfort. Not much, but it helped ease the pain somewhat.

“It’s probably for the best,” Kathryn continued, trying to keep her tone as normal as possible as she made another attempt to fill the silence. “After the past few weeks, and everything that’s happened, some time apart will probably be good for us.” she trailed off, unable to continue. Chakotay knew as well as she did that she was lying.

Kathryn gazed out of the window, allowing her hair to fall slightly over her face, concealing it from his view. She didn’t want him to see the tears that had suddenly welled up in her eyes. If she was to convince herself and him of this. But it wasn’t working. Sighing inwardly, she knew all too well that her efforts were in vain. She didn’t want the separation, she didn’t want him to be on the Logan, and she didn’t want a new first officer.

“We probably won’t be seeing each other for a while,” Chakotay managed to speak, finally having regained control. “I suppose it might even be months.”

“It’s possible,” Kathryn said quietly. “It’s very likely, in fact.”

Quietly, Chakotay rose from his seat, wandering over to the window that looked out over San Francisco bay. The sun was quickly rising above the buildings, flooding the city with sunlight, and the water in the bay shone as it reflected the sun’s rays. He noted that almost every light on the Starfleet Headquarters complex that surrounded the main complex was on, supporting his earlier theory of Starfleet calling in everyone they could.

Gazing out across the city, Chakotay forced himself to tell her, “I’ll miss you.”

Pushing her chair back, Kathryn moved across the room to join him, falling easily into his arms. She buried her head in his chest as he held her tightly. Once again, Kathryn was reminded of how well they fit together with her head nestled in his chest, his arms surrounding her tightly. Like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle put together.

Not wanting to spoil the moment, Kathryn wouldn’t allow herself to speak. She was content in his arms, feeling for the first time that evening, that things were right. She remained silent as he held her — one arm around her waist, the other caressing her hair. She didn’t want to ruin what would probably be the last perfect moment she had with him, alone, for a long while.

As she moved her head slightly, Chakotay noticed a dark patch on his jumpsuit, undoubtedly the mark left by a single tear. He paused for a moment, then moved back slightly to meet her eye-line. Kathryn looked up, surprised at the sudden loss of close contact.

“Kathryn,” he managed gently, looking into her eyes. “It’ll be fine. I promise. We’ll make it through this.”

“How do you know that?” she asked, her voice unusually quiet. Chakotay suspected she was keeping it at that level in an attempt to control her tone. Though Kathryn let her guard down as much as she could around him, she was a Starfleet Captain through and through. The training she had been given was a part of her, and the reluctance to show any weakness was a part of that. He didn’t blame her, and wasn’t hurt by this. He understood only too well — being in command in the Maquis had had a very similar effect on him.

“I just do,” he replied simply, allowing her to fall into his embrace again. And somehow, that was enough explanation for Kathryn. Trusting him, she allowed another tear to slip down her cheek.

“I love you, Kathryn,” he murmured softly in her ear, not wanting to break the contact again.

Pulling him closer, she managed a muffled, “Love you too.”

Chakotay gently rested his head atop hers, stroking her soft hair with one hand. “I’ll be with you, Kathryn,” he said quietly. “I’ll be there for them all, but I’ll be there with you. Maybe not in person, but I’ll be thinking of you constantly. You can count on it.”

Although he couldn’t see it, Chakotay knew, somehow, that a smile had crept over her face. Sighing quietly as his gaze flicked back to the window and up to the clouds, he felt a sudden desire to return to the Delta Quadrant. Life had almost been simpler there. Even though he and Kathryn hadn’t been together, this was infinitely more frustrating. Finally, after years, his dream of being with her had become a reality, and now it was being brutally torn away from them.

Still, he knew all too well that he wouldn’t give up their new relationship for anything, despite the difficulties it was presenting, and the obstacles that looked to be in their way.

Bringing himself out of his thoughts, it suddenly hit him that Kathryn would have to depart for Utopia Planitia soon.

“Kathryn, we really will be fine,” he reassured her gently, hoping his tone relayed this as confidently as he felt. “I love you, and that’s all that matters. If we both believe we can make it work, we can.”

“This is why I never let anything happen before,” she told him quietly, looking upwards into his dark eyes. “I always thought this could happen, that we’d be split up like this. I thought we’d got to the stage where we could be fine. Where we could have a normal, regular relationship. Where we could be together and be happy. I guess-”

“Kathryn,” he cut her off, his voice firm. “If it’s meant to be, we’ll be together, no matter what. I love you, and I think you love me. That’s all that matters. I promise you, we will be fine.”

“I do love you,” Kathryn said quickly, not wanting him to think otherwise. “But I genuinely thought we could be together from here on – without this – I wasn’t expecting-”

“Sometimes life deals you a hand that you’ve just got to live with,” Chakotay told her gently. “We’ll be together, Kathryn. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do.” He looked into her eyes, searching them as he asked a question. “Do you trust me?”

“With my life,” she responded immediately.

“Then believe me when I say that we’ll be all right,” Chakotay told her. One hand moved to gently cup her face, guiding it towards his. One tear rolled down Kathryn’s cheek as her eyes closed. Gently, his lips met hers in a firm kiss that felt blissfully familiar. His own arms moved lower, sliding around her waist, and pulling her closer to him.

She snaked her own hands upwards, to clasp at the back of his neck, pulling him down slightly closer to her level. As Chakotay allowed his tongue to meet hers, Kathryn surrendered herself completely to the intense kiss, feeling a sad pang in her heart as the knowledge that it would be the last of its kind for some time, passed through her mind.

Finally, after a few perfect moments, they broke for air. Kathryn stared into his eyes for a moment.

“I love you,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper.

A brief smile crossed her face, wiping away the sad expression for a moment. “I love you too,” she returned, gently grasping his hands with her own.

Pulling her into an embrace once more, Chakotay gently kissed her forehead. Although it struck him as a time at which he should say something, perhaps more reassurance, he found he had no words to sum up his emotions.

Kathryn looked up at him. “I–I have to go and get ready for the transport,” she said gently, regret evident in her voice as her sorrow quickly re-manifested itself. Standing on her tiptoes, she planted a quick kiss on his lips, lacking the passion of the previous one. Then, summing all the strength she had, Kathryn managed to disentangle herself from his arms, and exit the room silently, without looking back.

Chakotay watched the door after it had closed behind her for moments after her departure from the room. Eventually, he turned to gaze out of the window, looking up towards the starry sky where soon he, and Kathryn, would once again be.

Tom opened the top drawer of the dresser. Inside, Miral’s clothes lay neatly folded. For a moment, his fingers lingered on the soft fabrics and then, he grabbed most of the garments and threw them haphazardly into the suitcase.

“Can I help you?”

Tom turned at the sound of his father’s voice. Owen Paris stood in the doorway, looking a little uneasy.

“I’m almost done. I’m just taking the basics,” Tom said. “What are you doing here?”

“B’Elanna let me in.”

Tom smiled slightly. So like B’Elanna, he thought. His relationship with his father had been somewhat cooler than cordial as of late and B’Elanna had been eager for the two of them to reconcile.

After all, she had commented wryly, Miral needs at least one set of grandparents, right?

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to take Miral along with you?” Owen asked again. Tom glanced at his father. “Don’t you think it would be safer to leave her with us?”

“Oh, now you’re asking my opinion?” Tom asked, a note of insolence creeping into his voice. “I don’t want to be separated from my daughter ever again. Not if I can help it.”

Owen smiled ruefully. “I guess I deserved that, didn’t I?”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened,” Tom said thoughtfully. “Maybe you thought you were doing the right thing when you took Miral away from us. Maybe you perverted everything good for the cause. I just know that I’ve never been so miserable in my life. B’Elanna and I’ve talked it over. We know what the risks are and we’re willing to take them. We don’t know how long we’ll be gone and we refuse to leave Miral behind for an undetermined amount of time.” Tom closed the suitcase. “I told you this before. Miral needs to be with her parents.”

Owen sighed. “We’ll miss you.”

“You mean you’ll miss Miral.”

“No, Tom, I mean you.” Owen looked meaningfully in his son’s direction. “May I come in?”

Tom shrugged. “Sure. You don’t need an invitation.”

“With you, I’m never sure,” Owen said quietly. He came to stand next to his son. “Tom, we haven’t always seen eye to eye and I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’d like to think we’ve been given a second chance to make things better. What do you think?”

Tom could hear the apologetic note in Owen’s voice. He thought of something else B’Elanna had once said to him, that it was easier to forgive than to spend the energy to remain angry forever. Suddenly, Tom felt himself softening.

“I think-” Tom swallowed hard – “I think that’s a good idea. I, I would like that.”

Owen’s eyes glistened, much to Tom’s surprise; he had never seen his father express emotion so visually before.

“I said this before, Tom, but I am proud of you. I always have been.”

Tom looked at his father in surprise.

“I hope you make Janeway proud,” Owen said. He reached out, his fingers flicking at an imaginary speck of lint on Tom’s shoulder. “No, I correct that. I know you will make Kathryn proud.”


“You’re all where you need to be,” Owen said quietly. “I never realized that before, but I know it’s true now. Good luck, son.”

Tom cleared his throat. “It means a lot to me to hear you say that.”

Owen didn’t respond, but kept looking at Tom with watery blue eyes. Without thinking, Tom leaned forward and for the first time in years, he embraced his father.

Seven stood looking out at the bay from the window of her temporary quarters. While the scenery was beautiful, it did little to take her mind from her worries. Her mind was a whirlwind of unsettling emotions and thoughts. Again and again, her mind created unsettling scenario after scenario of where Harry was and what the Sernaix were doing to him. Each one more fantastic, more detailed and less logical then the last. Seven found herself wishing to have to pack, but with most of her belongings already on Utopia Planitia, she would have to wait until they received orders to depart.

The sound of the door behind her opening and shutting with its tell-tale hiss made Seven turn to see the Doctor standing there. “Seven, I thought I’d come and check to see how you were doing. I never doubted that Captain Janeway would make the Council see reason and now we’re together again. A crew again with a new starship to fly.” The Doctor had a spring in his step and a gleam in his eye, which caused Seven to smile slightly. This was one thing they had much in common over, neither would be sorry to be departing Earth. “A new ship, a new sickbay, my own staff.” The Doctor smiled widely as he did a mental inventory of the opportunities this presented to him. “No more having to deal with Mr. Paris and his interesting approach to being my assistant. It will be a great relief to be able to train my own staff and not have that particular thorn under foot any longer. No offense to Tom, but as a medic he made a wonderful pilot.”

Seven could hear the pleasure in the Doctor’s voice and she too would have been happy for him and the rest of the crew had it not been for the circumstances that afforded them the opportunity to be a crew under Captain Janeway once more. Instead her mind was so caught up in the turmoil brewing there that she barely acknowledged the Doctor’s commentary, turning back to the window while she tried to banish the thoughts that had her tied in knots.

The Doctor was brought from his reverie as he watched Seven’s reaction. He walked up behind her and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. Seven sighed gently. “I am sorry, Doctor. I have a lot on my mind.”

“I’m worried about Lt. Kim as well, Seven.” The Doctor paused as he squeezed her shoulder gently. “Would you like to talk about it?”

Seven barely noticed the Doctor’s presence anymore. She knew he was here with her, but compared to the scenes playing in her head and the sensations she was feeling, it felt so distant, so disconnected from her current reality. She couldn’t bring herself to answer. It was too much, and the words that came to mind were pale compared to the intensity of it all.

The Doctor’s gaze narrowed at Seven’s unresponsiveness. Her current state was unsettling in almost anyone; in Seven it was a hundred times worse. He knew she wouldn’t answer, but he also wanted her to know he was there for her so he vocalized his intentions to her. While she wouldn’t respond, hopefully it would be a comfort to some part of her. He kept his tone light, but inside he was worried. “Seven, since we’re both ready to depart, why don’t I accompany you to Utopia Planitia. I’ve never been there, so you can help me find my way.”

A slight nod of Seven’s head, acknowledging his request was all the response he received. It was more than he’d expected.

“You will be leaving shortly, then?” asked T’Pel of her husband as they walked among the tranquility of the gardens outside Starfleet Command.

“I will be accompanying Captain Janeway on her shuttle to Utopia Planitia,” said Tuvok, his eyes not meeting hers. “I have made all necessary preparations for my departure and have placed my affairs in order.”

T’Pel arched an eyebrow, as she gleaned the hidden meaning of his words. “You speak as though you do not expect to return.”

He stopped in mid-stride and turned to face his wife. “I have no expectations, T’Pel. It is logical to be prepared for all eventualities. We face a most formidable adversary. While I will perform my duties to the utmost of my abilities, it is entirely possible that our efforts will not succeed.” He then moved closer to her, his voice changing its timber ever so slightly. “You must be prepared for this potential outcome, T’Pel.”

The Vulcan woman stiffened somewhat before speaking. “I am the wife of a Starfleet officer, Tuvok. I have also endured your absence from our home these many years while seeing after our family alone. I am no stranger to the possibility of loss.”

“I know this,” he said, allowing a moment of silence between them. “I have always believed you to be the most courageous individual that I have ever known, even including my comrades aboard Voyager. I deeply regret the necessity of leaving you, and would not take this assignment, were not the circumstances so dire.”

“I understand, Tuvok,” she said, “and I would not expect anything less of you. You are a man of loyalty and duty. I ask only that you perform those duties well.”

“I will endeavor to do so,” he said to her. He then knew it was time to go. Nothing more needed to be said. “My transport is leaving now,” He held out his hand in the Vulcan salute, but using the proper subtle gesture reserved between husband and wife. “Live long and prosper, my wife.”

She nodded and returned his salute. “Live long, my husband,” she replied. That was, after all, the logical thing to say.

Kathryn couldn’t remember the last time she felt so much apprehension to meet someone who would be serving under her command. On the other hand, it was 8 years since she had had to worry about such a situation. Being in command of Voyager in the Delta Quadrant had its benefits at times, and having one constant crew was something Kathryn was grateful for, especially under the circumstances.

Now however she couldn’t shake the thought of meeting her new First Officer. Part of herself was watching her own personal nightmare unfold before her while the other part fought hard to keep the Captain’s mask in place. Deep down, it felt like it was tearing her in two.

With that thought, she dumped her duffel bag on the floor of her new quarters. Her new ship. It would take some getting use to. Especially with how everything was changing by the minute. With one more look around the room, she turned toward the doorway, remembering that she was due on the bridge. She had one more stop to make before she was due – meeting the new First Officer.

Kathryn stepped through the door, mentally preparing herself for the task at hand. It wasn’t one she was looking forward to.

“Captain Janeway?”

Kathryn’s head snapped up and she came face to chest with a dark-haired woman. As Kathryn gazed up, she could tell from the look on the woman’s face that she was all business. The woman backed off slightly, giving Kathryn enough room to step out of her quarters. Once there, Kathryn gazed at the larger woman. In a command red uniform, she stood a good 12 centimeters above Kathryn. As she looked down, Kathryn realized the woman was wearing three gold pips on her collar.

“I’m Commander Thalia Barton, your new first officer.” Barton addressed, extending her hand to Kathryn. She smiled disarmingly down at Kathryn, who felt a little overwhelmed in the moment. Kathryn reached out to shake the woman’s hand, her thoughts racing.

“Well Commander, your personnel file certainly didn’t do you justice.” Kathryn said, offering to walk with the Commander to the nearest Turbolift. “It wasn’t necessary to come and find me down here – I was just making my way to the Bridge right-.”

“By my calculations, you are running late. I decided to come down to see what was keeping you. After all, a First Officer’s job is to make sure their Captain is safe at all times.” Barton explained.

Kathryn felt a shiver pass through her as she said the words. It was something Chakotay would have said. Those words sounded almost too personal now, even if they were spoken by someone else. Yet another sign of how things had changed. There would be a lot to get used to.

Stifling a sigh, she and Barton approached the Turbolift as she pressed the button, signaling their presence to the lift. Finally, Kathryn spoke again. “I know what a First Officer’s job is Commander, more than you can even imagine. I expect you to keep that in mind.”

There was no reaction on Barton’s face. “Yes sir.”

Kathryn cringed. “One more thing. I do not like being called ‘sir’.”

Barton stared straight forward. “Regulation states that-“

“This is my regulation. I wish to be addressed as Captain or Ma’am. The rest of this crew learned to do this, I expect it of you as well.” Janeway felt her temper flare from deep within. There was something about this officer that she already didn’t like. It would definitely take some getting use to.

“Captain, it is widely known that your.crew isn’t exactly regulation. I am simply going by the book.” Barton stated, her taunt well received by Kathryn.

“It would seem you have a lot to learn Commander.” Kathryn snapped, staring straight ahead in the lift to keep her temper in check. “First thing being that, to get something done, by the book doesn’t always work. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have one more stop before going to the bridge.” She finished as the turbolift came to a stop.

As the doors began to close behind her, Kathryn firmly heard the words “Yes Sir!” emanating from the small enclosure.

The low hum of the ship’s engines broke the silence that slowly descended on the bridge. Paris gazed over his new console one more time, familiarizing himself with the various systems. Becoming Voyager‘s pilot was one of the best things that ever happened to him eight years ago. Now, staring now at the consoles and realizing the power behind this one console, he couldn’t be happier to be the pilot of such a pristine ship. Equipped with Transwarp and Slipstream drives on top of the normal warp drive, he couldn’t resist smiling to himself. It was a dream come true. However for one thing, he regretted not paying attention to Harry as he rambled on about the ship at his daughter’s birthday party. At that thought, he glanced to his left, the Ensign at the post next to him a painful reminder of what this mission meant, and how much there was to lose.

Extraordinary circumstances landed the crew of the former Voyager the chance to man the next ship to bare the name. However no one ever said they were good circumstances. Tom knew that there would have been no way for Janeway to get captaincy of this ship if there wouldn’t have been an incident of similar circumstance. It was almost a shame that Starfleet waited until something happened before acting. The Federation and Starfleet should know now that sitting idly by and waiting will not amount to anything in the

future. He sighed to himself. Now that was all water under the bridge. They had to move from here.

Turning in his chair, Paris took a long look around the bridge. Everything seemed so familiar, yet out of place. Tuvok stood at his usual post at Tactical to his left, stoic as ever. Seven was standing towards the back of the bridge manning the engineering console. A console that had Borg and Sernaix components completely integrated into them. Tom would have never imagined such a combination in his wildest dreams. The Montana Project, he hard, had started off on rocky grounds to begin with. No one believed that she would ever fly. And here they were now, preparing for the shakedown cruise. Starfleet surely had outdone themselves with this new ship, the NX-74656-A, the USS Voyager.

Tom’s eyes trailed down from Seven to the woman sitting in the First Officer’s chair. Yet another reminder of the changes that had transpired. Commander Thalia Barton, her most recent posting before this one was a hot short tactical planner and security officer for Starfleet Security. She looked tough, stern. Not the kind of person he would want to be associated with. Even B’Elanna looked less hostile to him eight years ago. Tom couldn’t help but wonder about Starfleet’s choice of a new First Officer. His attention changed however, as he heard a hum approach over the silence.

The turbolift door slid open as Janeway stepped off the lift, taking in the sight before her. Tom could tell she felt the anxiety the same way he did. It felt good to be back, however it was all because of something that none of the former crew wanted to face. Everyone watched in silence as she walked slowly from the lift, making her way before Tuvok and to the two stairs that lay before her. Stepping down, she placed a hand on the engineering console that strung around the back of the bridge. She seemed elsewhere.

Tom slowly rose from his seat and stood at attention. Everyone did the same. “Captain on the bridge!” He spoke in salute to his Captain, however more in honor for his lost friend.

“Thank you Lieutenant.” She looked at him, flashing him one of her genuine smiles as she made her way over slowly to the center of the bridge, as Owen Paris stood up from the Captain’s chair, making his way over to meet her. “Admiral.” She addressed.

“She’s all yours Kathryn.” Owen said, small smile on his face. He knew how much she wanted another ship. It was something short of a miracle that he was Chief of Technology. That placed him in a influential position to say who will get any new ship that left the dry-docks at Utopia Planitia. There was no question in his mind who should get the newly built prototype that was known as the Montana Project. He was

honored to be the one to turn her over to her new Captain.

“Thank you Admiral.” Janeway said, a small smile on her face. She took one more look around the bridge, trying to get use to the idea of a new ship. It felt different. The carpets smelled new, and all the consoles were as shiny as a diamond. It almost felt too new for her liking.

“Take a look.” Admiral Paris motioned in the direction of her chair, more directly the plaque that seemed to be placed between both chairs. She walked slowly up to the frame situated at the middle of the bridge as she leaned in to get a closer look. Her smile widened as she read the inscription.

USS Voyager – First ship of her class – Second ship to bear the name – Registry NX-74656-A – Launched 56031.5.

It felt full circle to her. She stood staring at the plaque for several moments, trying to grasp the enormity of everything that happened in the past 24 hours. It was nearly impossible.

Something caught her eye, however, and she leaned in even closer, to read the inscription at the bottom. Quickly she turned to everyone, however settling in on Tom Paris, who was wearing a smirk on his face. “Whose idea was this?” Janeway asked, her accusatory tone directed at Paris, who at that moment couldn’t feel prouder. Everyone on the bridge, including the Admiral began to laugh as she turned back to the plaque, standing proud. “‘Sometimes, you have to punch your way through.’ It’s fitting.” Janeway said, her

thoughts again shifting to how different everything was now. Mostly she couldn’t shake the thought of going out again without Chakotay by her side. Above everything, that had to be the worst for her. She felt the light mood fade away as her thoughts began to dwell on their missions ahead. Separate missions.

Tom spoke, causing her to leave her thoughts. “I threatened dad with a year’s worth of diaper duty. He seemed willing to comply after that thought.”

“Nonsense, Captain when Tom suggested the idea I couldn’t agree with him more. It was the least we could do.” Owen was quick to stand his ground.

“Thank you. Both of you.” Janeway said, grateful. She extended her hand to Admiral Paris, showing her gratitude. After all the hard times and all the times he said no to her in the past 4 months, he came through for her in the end. There was a part of her that knew she could always count on that. The same part of her that was telling her now everything will turn out ok in the end.

However when that end will be was yet to be seen.

The chamber of the Council of Elders pulsed with rainbows of light, a low hum filling the air. The colors sharp and violent, like the turmoil the Sernaix had started outside the phase – as though the planet itself was aware of the strife to come. In the center of the chamber, an image of Janeway addressing the Federation council hung in mid-air, seemingly constructed by the light emanating from the crystal walls of the round

cavern. The image jumped then to the private meeting between Janeway and the President of the United Federation of Planets. The Ayrethans holding silent witness to the events unfolding around them. No words were needed, as they all knew what was to come next. Their attention still held fast to the image before them. Janeway’s first view of her new ship.

Mateth slowly rose from his seat and made his way towards the fleeting images, his eyes still focused there. “Captain Janeway is the key. While Lt. Kim is the catalyst, Kathryn Janeway is the leader with the strength for what is to come. She will not falter from the path that is before her. Now that her people have recognized her worth, we may act.”

A murmur from those in attendance filled the room and the tension rose. Each of them knew what Speaker Mateth would call for next and for the first time in a millennia, they no longer knew what the outcome would be. The low hum that came from the planet itself grew louder, and it started to change, as did the light that refracted from the walls around them. The hum became a song, a lilting mournful call from the depths of time as the light coalesced into a white glow that surrounded everything, seeming to come from

within them as well as from without. “Our forever ends today. And so it begins…” Mateth whispered, yet it was as clear as though he had spoken normally. Each Elder’s voice joined the song from the planet, and soon every Ayrethan on the planet mated his voice to the song. Until the entire world sang, then the universe shifted and the bubble burst. The Phase was no more.

Chakotay stood still and looked down at the suit cases laid out on his bed, now almost filled with the belongings he was taking with him to his new ship. Everything had happened so quickly. One moment he was out of Starfleet, the next he was back, reinstated with his full rank and assigned to a new ship. One minute he was enjoying the first few weeks of his new relationship with Kathryn, the next he found himself uncertain as to when he would see her again. It was like his life had been picked up, placed into a box and shaken up until it was unrecognizable; nothing like it had been the day before.

In his younger days, he had often imagined how his Starfleet career might go. He would work his way through the ranks, earning the right to one day, if he was good enough, command one of Starfleet’s vessels. Then he resigned; and he got his own ship, just not the one he had imagined. The Liberty had been a hodgepodge of spare parts by the time it got swept into the Delta Quadrant, but it had still been his ship. He’d been sorry to see it go.

Now, he was being thrust back onto a Starfleet ship with barely any warning. When all was said and done, he wasn’t so sure that this was what he wanted. It hurt to think about the rest of his Voyager crewmates all together again. Well, with the obvious exception of Harry. Despite the circumstances, it would be quite a reunion. Kathryn belonged in command of that ship, this he knew, but he also knew that he belonged by her side.

He found himself thinking about who would take his place as her First Officer. A woman. He felt a little sorry for Tom and Tuvok – with the majority of the senior staff being female life could get interesting! He’d always felt it was better to have a more even balance. But then, maybe he was just thinking they’d be better off with him among them.

His thoughts were interrupted by the comm chiming, and he moved over to his wall unit.

“Chakotay here.”

A young ensign appeared onscreen. “Commander, I’ve been ordered to request that you report to transporter pad 4. Your ship is ready for you, sir.”

“Acknowledged,” Chakotay replied, “on my way.”

And so he was. Having terminated the communications link, he turned and threw the last few items into his cases. Into the top of one, he carefully placed an image that he had made Kathryn pose with him for at Lake George. Then, after fastening the cases securely, he picked them up and strode out of the door. It was time to move on.

Naomi Wildman clung to her mother’s arm tightly as they strolled down the long winding corridors towards the transport bay. Long ago, Naomi had deemed herself too old to hold her mother’s hand, adamant that at the age of four, she was far too grown up to show affection in public. But now all this was forgotten as they walked towards the bay, where Naomi would, for the first time in her life, be separated from her mother… possibly for a significant period of time.

All Sam’s good-byes to her extended family had been said long before they had left the apartment. Naomi and Greskrendtregk were the only ones who were accompanying her to the transport. That was exactly how Sam had wanted it. Although her parents and sister wanted desperate to accompany her, Sam had managed to dissuade them.

Naomi was still coming to terms with the imminent separation from her mother. All her life Sam had been there, a familiar figure in her life. Due to being stranded in the Delta Quadrant, they had had a remarkably close relationship, even for a mother and daughter. And now they would be apart, for an undetermined amount of time… and Naomi had seen enough of life in Starfleet while aboard Voyager to be entirely confident that her Mother would be safe.

With that thought in her mind, she gripped her Sam’s hand tighter.

Never before had Naomi suffered the hardships of being the child of a Starfleet officer. She was quickly learning to appreciate what she had had on Voyager all too late… constant companionship and entertainment, adoration from the entire crew. As the spoiled only child of Voyager, Naomi had never been in great need of anything, and as a result had never missed the lack of a Father figure in her life. At any rate, Neelix had been almost that, guiding her and helping her.

The small group walked in silence. There was simply nothing to say. Greskrendtregk and she had discussed everything while Naomi was still in bed, not wanting her to overhear what was being discussed. Sam knew her daughter well, and knew exactly how upset Naomi was about the orders to report to duty. Not that Naomi was making any attempt to hide it… at first she had been shocked, and upset. Now she was hiding her emotions, pretending that absolutely nothing was wrong.

As they rounded the corner, Naomi’s heart began to beat faster as the realization of just how close it was to their separation hit her. She glanced up at her mother’s face, watching as Sam walked on, her eyes focused on the door in front of her, a look of slight determination in her eyes.

Naomi closed her eyes for an instant, trying to pretend that it wasn’t really happening. Although she had grown to tolerate and like her father, she knew her mother better. She recalled the events of the morning, when they had broken the news to her. Although she had felt a slight swell of pride as they explained to her that her mother had to go because she was one of the best in her field, the sensation had quickly been replaced with horror, and then dread.

Finally, they reached the door. Naomi saw her mother take a deep breath, then exchange a look with Greskrendtregk before walking through the door.

Inside the bay, chaos reigned. Cargo containers presumably carrying supplies filled half of the bay, in the process of being loaded. The ship itself stood there, the transport to Utopia Planitia. Naomi felt suddenly sick as she saw it, knowing perfectly well that that ship would be the one to take her mother away from her.

“Okay.” Sam spoke for the first time since they had entered the large building. “I suppose I’d better get on board.” She felt decidedly awkward, unsure of how to reassure Naomi in any way. She smiled gently at Greskrendtregk. “Take care, honey.” She leaned over, planting a kiss on his lips.

He returned the smile. “Be careful.”

“I will,” Sam replied, before looking down at Naomi. “Are you okay, sweetheart?”

Naomi shook her head, as Sam leaned down to Naomi’s level, opening her arms to the child. Naomi flung herself into Sam’s arms, tears suddenly glimmering in her eyes as her mother lifted her up. Samantha wrapped her arms protectively around her daughter, allowing Naomi to bury her head in her shoulder. Tears soaked through Samantha’s jumpsuit as she rocked Naomi gently in her arms as though she were no more than a baby.

“Shhh,” Sam gently comforted her, stroking her daughter’s hair. “Naomi, please don’t cry. It’ll be all right. I promise.”

Naomi raised her head slightly, tears still falling. “I know,” she choked out. “I don’t want you to go.” She flung her head back into her mother’s shoulder, slightly embarrassed at admitting that.

“I don’t want to go,” Sam told her calmly, fighting back tears of her own. “But I have to.”

“It’s not fair,” Naomi’s muffled voice came from Sam’s shoulder.

“I know, sweetie,” Sam responded, hugging her daughter close to her. “But life isn’t.”

“Notice to all passengers. Will passengers of the transport departing for Utopia Planitia please board?

Boarding is commencing. I repeat, boarding is commencing,” the computer reported.

“That’s me,” Sam sighed, gently lowering Naomi to the floor, reluctant to allow her daughter to go.

Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, Naomi tried to blink back her tears. Sam smiled affectionately at her daughter. “Chin up, sweetheart,” she said quietly, pulling the girls chin upwards so that their eye-lines met. She gently wiped away one of the tears rolling down Naomi’s cheek. “Hey,” she said softly, crouching down to become Naomi’s height. “I’m coming back.” She gazed at Naomi seriously. “I promise.”

Naomi nodded understandingly. “I know.”

Sam smiled, trying not to cry. “That’s my girl.” She glanced from Naomi to the transport ship behind them. “They’re getting ready to get underway. I’d better go.”

Naomi nodded. “I love you, mom,” she said, throwing her arms around her mother’s neck.

“I love you too,” Sam replied calmly, hugging her daughter tightly. They stayed in complete silence for a few moments.

“Come on, Naomi,” Greskrendtregk urged her, grasping the girls hand as she backed away from her mother. “We should go.”

Naomi nodded tearfully, clinging to her father’s hand, suddenly glad of the comfort he offered. “Bye, mom,” she managed bravely.

“Love you, sweetie,” Sam told her daughter, an affectionate look in her eyes before she turned, to board the shuttle.

Naomi and Greskrendtregk watched her until she had boarded, and even then continued to gaze for a few moments afterwards.

“She’ll be all right,” Greskrendtregk told Naomi, unsure of entirely how to reassure her.

Naomi was silent for a moment. “Lets go,” she finally managed, averting her eyes from the transport, and beginning to lead her father towards the door.

Kathryn could hear the snapping of the cables that connected the hull of the ship to the station. The detachment of the wires from the hull plating sent an echoing bang throughout the entire top decks. It was a sign of how quickly this ship was pushed into her shakedown cruise. Kathryn felt it was also a sign of things to come.

She sank down into the Captain’s chair as the last of the cords snapped off, leaving the ship free from the shipyard. The blue chair felt comfortable, however it was missing the distinct feeling of wear. For a second, Kathryn missed her old ship greatly. It was replaced quickly however by the thought and feeling of being back in the big chair yet again. It felt right.

One glance to her left and she realized yet again what wasn’t right. Her new first officer, Thalia Barton sat beside her, looking straight ahead. There was a smugness to her looks that irked Janeway, it reminded her of Tom Paris of the early years. On second thought, she reminded herself, Tom Paris came to be one of her best officers. She glanced at Barton again, her thoughts wandering. Everything will definitely take some time, but Janeway couldn’t shake the thought of Barton’s arrogance on their first encounter from her mind. She didn’t like that encounter at all and hoped that they could talk later under better circumstances. That was, of course, if Barton wanted to.

Everyone was doing one last check of the ship’s systems before she would give the order to depart. Where they were going was still an unknown, however Seven and B’Elanna were both working with Oz to see what he could find. With that thought, she gazed down at the seat beside Tom Paris, the empty seat. That was what was important at the moment – to get Harry back. She could solve any minor crew squabbles and technical difficulties with the ship at a later time. Right now finding Harry was their top priority.

“Captain, Engineering reports in that all systems are a go. All propulsion available through slipstream drive.” Tom reported.

“Thank you, Tom.” Silently, Kathryn stood up from her seat, turning to look at each person who was stationed on the bridge. “For those of you who are new to my crew, welcome. For those who served with me for the past eight years. Here we are again.” She said as she walked silently down the two steps to where Tom was sitting. Kathryn trailed her hand along the Helm/Ops station, deep in thought.

“Starfleet feels that this ship is ready to go, and I know for most of you, there are some lingering doubts as to whether this ship will perform. We all do. However, as I look at the empty space at Ops, I can’t help but feel assured in a small way.” Kathryn was lost in thought as she walked to the other end of the console, taking a long look at the new controls. “Harry Kim worked on this ship since the beginning. He believes it can fly. So does our chief engineer B’Elanna Torres and Seven Of Nine. I have faith in their faith. And I hope every one of you will have that same faith as I do.”

Kathryn took a breath as she walked back up near her chair, still standing. “This mission won’t be an easy one, however for the crew of Voyager, nothing ever came easy. I expect the same effort from each one of you as I received when we were lost in the Delta Quadrant and the Time Bubble. We are now in charge of the most powerful, most advanced ship in the fleet. Starfleet made a huge leap in interstellar travel by equipping this ship – the Voyager-A – with a Transwarp and a Slipstream drive. Eight years ago, it would take 70 years to travel between the Alpha and Delta quadrants. This ship can do it in weeks.”

Kathryn turned again, this time facing Ayala who stood beside Tuvok at tactical. “Eight years ago, under extraordinary circumstances, the crew of Voyager and a group of former Maquis were bought together in a quest to get home. Here we are today, still standing together.” She lingered on that note, pondering Chakotay’s absence. “There’s a new mission ahead of us, and we’ll face it again. Together.” She smiled slightly at Ayala, who returned it, then took her seat. “Mr. Paris, take us out.”

Harry shuffled back in forth in the prison that was made to look like his old room. He had given up trying to force open the doors or windows, nor was calling for help of any use. He was stuck here until his tormentors decided to have more fun with him.

If this was a holodeck, Harry thought, then it was an excellent recreation, one that Tom Paris would have been proud of. They had managed to get the details of his childhood down to the wear and tear of his soccer and Velocity team posters from fifteen years ago. Everything was exactly as he remembered it, except for the fact that his mother was not a homicidal dictator bent on destroying his home planet.

“Hello, Harry,” came a familiar voice, as Sycorax reappeared in the guise of his mother once again. “I was hoping your recollections of childhood might help bring forth some other memories of yours.”

Harry looked at the false image sternly. “It’s funny, but my memory has gone all of the sudden.”

“Maybe you’d prefer a change of surroundings?” she asked, as the room shifted around them. Suddenly, Harry was no longer in his childhood home, but on the bridge of Voyager, back in the Delta Quadrant.

He quickly shifted his attention around the room, noticing how everything looked the way he remembered it. Then he looked down at himself, and the loose pajamas he had worn earlier had transformed into his old uniform. He looked back to where his mother had stood, only to see that her image had been replaced with another woman.

“Maybe this is where you feel more comfortable, Harry,” said an illusory Captain Janeway, addressing him with a familiarity that became all the more unsettling.

“What do you want from me?” Harry demanded.

“Like I’ve said, Harry,” she answered slyly, “you’ve been keeping secrets. There are things about this new ship you’ve been building that my contacts on Earth haven’t been able to learn. Maybe you’d like to tell me about them?”

“I know all about your contacts,” Harry shot back defiantly. “Everyone does by now. Just as I’m sure they know that they’re the ones who kidnapped me.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said the false Janeway, as she strode confidently over to the captain’s chair and sat down, all eyes on the bridge watching her. “Your Federation is in no position to stand against us. Our people will have our sport with your people’s suffering.”

“We’ll fight back,” Harry said, trying to muster as much conviction as he could, if only to convince himself.

“Yes, I’m sure you will,” said Sycorax through the Janeway image. “It will be so much fun to watch your kind flailing about, trying to fight when its so obviously hopeless.” Sycorax then shifted in the captain’s seat, looking square at Harry, her face still showing amusement. “Of course, I could make things easier for your people.”

“You? Make things easier?” Harry shot back in contempt.

“Harry, what you don’t seem to realize is that I’m the only one holding back the packs and keeping them from unleashing an orgy of violence against your Federation that would make your Dominion War seem like a family squabble. All I have to do is hold a conclave and get the males riled up enough, and your planet would cease to exist. I’m sure the Abomination told you all about what the Sernaix are capable of.”

“He.he gave me some idea,” said Harry.

“Then I’m sure you can see the importance of you making me happy. Tell me what I want to know, and I can minimize the damage to your people as best as I can. Defy me, and I can’t be held responsible for what happens next.” Sycorax then stood up from her seat and sauntered over to Harry in a very un-Janeway-like manner. “Don’t cling too tightly to your expectations of reality, Mr. Kim. In the Realm, you can have anything you want, anything you desire.”

The scene shifted again, and Harry was still in uniform, still aboard the old Voyager. Only now, he was no longer on the bridge, but rather in the old mess hall instead. And he wasn’t alone. Standing before him was Seven of Nine, wearing the silvery healing suit that she had favored during her first year as an individual.

“Are you in love with me, Ensign?” said Seven.

“W-what?” Harry stammered, as confused at this moment as he had been by this same scene five years ago.

“Your pupils are dilated, your respiration uneven,” said Seven, as she came well within his personal space. “Do you wish to copulate?”

“W-what’s going on here?” he tried to speak. But as soon as Seven of Nine came close to him, close enough to feel the warmth of her body, the sensation of her breathing, she looked up at him, with a mischievous glimmer in her eyes that was not characteristic of the former-drone, even now with her newly liberated emotions.

“It feels good, doesn’t it?” said Sycorax with Seven’s voice. “You humans are so easily manipulated by your emotional desires. It puts my own species to shame.”

Horrified, Harry pushed the false Seven away from him and backed away. Was there no escape from this manipulative tyrant?

“Do you really thing you can best me, Harry?” said Sycorax/Seven. “I know your desires and needs better than you do. Maybe you’d like to see some other episodes from your past?”

The scene changed again, and Harry was in his old quarters on Voyager, standing next to the same Seven of Nine illusion from before. Only now there was someone else here, another woman from his past.

“Come to bed, Harry,” said Tal playfully, lounging erotically among his bed sheets. “That’s an order.”

“Or,” said Sycorax next to him, “you’d prefer it to play out differently?”

Harry then glanced back at the bed. Tal was gone, replaced with another female.

“Come to bed, Harry,” said Seven of Nine playfully, as naked and as sensual as Tal had been just moments before. “That’s an order.”

“Just stop it!” Harry cried out, turning to his side, only to see that no one was there anymore. “I’m tired of your manipulating reality! If you want to know so much about me, then face me as you are! No more illusions! Show me your real face!”

“All right, Harry,” came a booming gravelly voice; one that Harry suspected was the true voice of Sycorax. “If that’s what you want.”

At the moment, the scene melted away. Harry saw that he was stretched out on what seemed like a rack, his arms and legs spread apart. He glanced to each side to see that there were…tubes…sticking out from his limbs and his neck, almost like he had been assimilated into the Borg Collective. His horror increased as he looked about the huge spherical chamber, the walls made of the same dark glassy material that he

remembered from Ozymandias’ ship so long ago. The room was empty except for him, the apparatus he was strapped to, and.

A large, bulky mass drifted towards him, only becoming clear as the light shone upon it that it was a person. A Sernaix. But not like the Sernaix males he had encountered before. This Sernaix was large, obscenely huge, with heavy drooping rolls of fat around its face. He…no, she…seemed to float in mid air, as she was clad in a loose white cloak and shrouded in some kind of mechanical harness. The device seemed to project some kind of antigravity around its wearer, as it allowed her to move about the room with a grace and ease that belied her tremendous bulk. Only as she grew closer could Harry see the look of cruel satisfaction at his terror and helplessness. This was the true face of Sycorax, Adimha of the Management Cadre.

“Welcome to reality, Mr. Kim,” she said to him, with a harsh finality.

Seven of Nine entered Engineering, looking about with great interest. She remembered how this place had looked when she had been working at Fulton Station, back when this vessel had been nothing more than, as B’Elanna Torres had put it, a skunk works. Then, engineers and technicians had been hastily fumbling about in a haze of inefficient movement and activity. But now, this was a working engineering department on a

starship. The crew all had their assigned duties and were doing so with the fluidity and precision of a well-crafted machine. B’Elanna had brought order to chaos, much as the Borg Queen did with the Collective. Of course, Seven thought it best not to share this analogy with the chief engineer.

B’Elanna looked up from her work and acknowledged the newcomer to her domain. “Hey, Seven. Did the captain send you down here?”

“She did not,” said Seven. “I had hoped to converse with Ozymandias.”

“Suit yourself,” said B’Elanna, gesturing towards the slipstream core. “You’d be doing me a favor. I need to get this crew up to speed, and I can’t do that if he keeps making his smart-ass comments while we’re trying

to work.”

“I will endeavor to occupy his time,” said replied, “Lieutenant.”

B’Elanna smiled at the acknowledgement. “You know, Seven, I know I told you that you could call me by my first name. But still, it feels good to get the recognition again.”

Seven smiled at B’Elanna and then turned towards the elevator that went down to the sublevel that housed the slipstream core. A number of modifications had been made to the Engineering compartment since their initial experiments with installing the Borg and Sernaix drive systems. The Borg transwarp drive was now located on a higher platform which overlooked the standard Starfleet warp drive. Meanwhile the slipstream core had been installed in the lowest level, for both easier access to the deflector array systems and for security purposes in containing Ozymandias. Seven approached the Sernaix section anxiously as the lift came to a stop and she got off, beholding the unnatural looking mass of the core. “Ozymandias,” she greeted the being inside cordially.

“Ah, Seven,” said Oz with his regular flourish. “I was hoping you’d be coming to see me. You know, your captain promised that those holographic emitters would be installed here in Engineering soon.”

“I am afraid that is a secondary priority,” she said. “I was hoping…you would have more information on events within The Realm.”

“I figured that this was more than just a social call,” said the Sernaix. “I’ve been trying to tap into the Realm’s subspace frequencies without being detected. So far, I’m getting quite a bit of traffic among the packs. There’s definitely something big about to happen.”

“And…what of Harry?” she asked apprehensively.

“Well, that’s a bit harder,” he answered. “I managed to track the communications from the ship that first took him. I know that he was transferred to a pack ship from there, and was moved to several destinations after that. But I’m still trying to home in on a final point of delivery.”

“I see,” she said softly. “Any information that you can provide would be of great benefit.”

“Of course,” he said, with an uncharacteristic gentleness. “You know, I’m not sure I really understand these emotions that you two are feeling for each other, but I’m guessing that they’re pretty important.”

“I suppose,” she said, her thoughts distant. “But they can be a complication. Perhaps your race is to be envied. Without love, you cannot be hurt.”

“I think that you may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater on that, Seven,” said a familiar voice from behind her. Seven turned to see the Doctor looking at her with a gentle smile.

“Doctor,” she said, “I did not hear you enter.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” he said. “I came to speak with Lieutenant Torres. She was somewhat concerned about, well,” he dissembled before shifting his attention towards the slipstream core and continuing in a more snippy tone, “.what you said to her about her being touched and tainted. She wanted to make sure that there were no problems with her or her baby.”

“Hey, don’t be jumping on me,” Oz replied defensively. “I only repeated what was told to us by the Management Cadre. Personally, I was never able to detect any Touch from her the way I can with Harry. I’m an Adimh, not a medic.”

“I trust that she is well?” Seven asked with concern.

“Well, my scans haven’t found anything wrong with her, if that’s what you mean,” said the Doctor. “But I can’t say that I know what I’m supposed to look for either.”

The young woman said nothing, and thought only of Harry, and how his own special gifts, whatever their origins, were the cause of his disappearance.

“Listen to me, Seven,” said the Doctor. “I know how it is with you. I know that you’re feeling great anguish inside. Often you try to shy away from the things that confront you or cause you discomfort.”

“Your point being?” she demanded.

“What I’m saying, Seven, is that you shouldn’t give up on your feelings or emotions just because they carry with them the risk of being hurt. I’ve seen you these past few months, how you’ve grown and flourished as a human being. I always had the highest hopes for you when I took on your tutelage, but you’ve exceeded all of my expectations. You’ve truly blossomed into your humanity. I beg of you not to throw that away.”

“But…what if I am mistaken? Why must I risk pain and suffering for this?”

The Doctor smiled at her affectionately. “Seven, there’s an old human expression. ‘You have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince.'”

Seven arched an eyebrow at her former mentor. “Doctor, are you comparing Axum and Chakotay to amphibians?”

“What I am saying, Seven,” he continued warmly, “is that the pain and the confusion and choices you made in the past all helped you to grow and to bring you to this point right now. Mr. Kim is different from those other men in your life. He’s the first young man you’ve chosen while completely free of your Borg restrictions and preconceptions of the past. He’s the choice you made as a true human woman.”

“And.if I have lost him?”

“Then you’ll go on,” he added. “You have the strength for that. But you don’t know that you’ve lost him yet. He could still be out there, waiting for you. Now maybe he may just be another frog. But maybe, just maybe, he could be your prince.”

“He’s right, you know,” said B’Elanna, coming up to join him. “And I think that after centuries of fairy tales about princes and damsels in distress, it’ll be nice to have the princess come to the rescue for a change.”

Seven’s features broadened as she stood up firmly, her confidence renewed. “You are correct, both of you. I will not give up. Harry is out there and I will find him. I will not give up hope. That is the human thing to do.”

Suddenly Oz emitted a loud scream throughout Engineering, causing all within earshot jump.

“What the hell was that about?” B’Elanna shouted at the Sernaix.

“I.” Oz tried to speak. “It’s happening. The invasion is on!”

Harry went pale as Sycorax floated up to him, her piercing yellow eyes never blinking, until she was just centimeters from his face. He wanted to look away, but each glance to the side only showed him the violation of his body.

“What did you do to me?!” he screamed at her, trying to wrestle his arms free from the harness he was strapped to, the tubes plugged into his limbs jangling as he shook them.

“You’ll have to forgive the crudeness of this apparatus, Harry,” said Sycorax with a false smile. “It’s been a long time since we’ve tried to link an alien with The Realm. We know that your species doesn’t share our natural abilities to generate a bodyfield, so we had to come up with a more…makeshift…interface.”

He groaned with disgust at what had been done to him. He felt no pain, but only a dull ache that permeated his body. He was still wearing the clothes he had on during his date with Seven, even though his sleeves and pants were in tatters. It was just a well, he thought. He didn’t want to know what these monsters had done with the rest of his body that he couldn’t see.

But then something dawned upon him. If the Sernaix had been forced to rig such a device to access his mind via The Realm, then it meant that they didn’t know about his episode with the slipstream core. For one brief moment, Harry had managed to interface his mind with Sernaix technology, even though such a feat should have been impossible. Perhaps it had been just a fluke, something to do with Ozymandias and the core. But what if it wasn’t? Perhaps, he thought, he had an ace up his sleeve after all.

“Now, Harry,” said Sycorax as she floated around him menacingly. “You’re going to tell me more about your dreams. Did you hear any words spoken to you by the gods?”

“I’m telling you, I haven’t any idea who your gods are, or whether or not they gave me any knowledge!” he shouted in exasperation. “I think I’d remember if I met a god!”

Sycorax stopped in mid-air and turned towards him, her face becoming twisted and angry. She lunged towards him and reached out with her clawed finger. Harry could do nothing as she seized his head in a vise-like grip between her hands.

“Listen to me, boy!” she growled at him. “I could crush you like an insect! I can’t imagine why the Gods would choose a pitiful creature like you as the vessel of their knowledge, but according to your ship records, they did. So you will tell me everything I want to know! Now!”

Harry winced as he felt the pressure and pain of her grip on his head. She pressed harder, to the point where Harry feared she would crush his skull in a mindless fury. “I.I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”

“The Gods!” she exclaimed, her voice sounding more desperate. “They must have spoken to you in your dreams! What did they say to you! I must know their secrets! Their lives! Did they give you the secret to immortality?”

“B-but.I thought you Sernaix were already immortal?” he answered weakly.

“Immortal?” she spat at him. “As digital beings, perhaps, divorced from the physical needs and desires of life. But immortality of the flesh, the immortality of power.that is a gift that only the Gods were said to wield! I must have that power!”

Harry thought of what this woman had said of Ozymandias. She had called him an Abomination, all because he had refused to step down and choose the life of an immortal upload. But now he could see that Ozymandias and Sycorax were two sides of the same coin. Both craved the pleasures of reality all for different reasons, but in her own way, Sycorax was as much an Abomination as the being she had ordered hunted down and destroyed.

The Adimha looked deep into Harry’s face, and saw both the fear and the defiance. Seeing that she was losing her control over him, she released him and floated back. Clearly the human did not fear his own death. Given what they knew of him, the deaths of others would be more likely to move him.

“Very well, Harry,” she said with scorn. “If that’s the way you want to play, then you’ll learn who is the true master of games here.” Sycorax then waved her stubby arm, and the room disappeared, replaced by a vast arena decked with torches and bonfires. The sky in the distance was a volcanic glow of ash and flame. The air was filled with the heavy din of drums and marching armies. Hundred of Sernaix men were seated around them on stone benches, all of them dressed in shiny black leather, with their tattoos glowing a fiery red. They were all shouting and clamoring for attention, and all of them armed with nasty looking melee weapons, and ready to use them.

As for Sycorax herself, she had grown to even greater proportions. In this false reality, she towered over the arena as a ten-meter tall warrior goddess, her bulk replaced with muscle, her robes and harness becoming armor. Her clawed fingers were now extended as ferocious talons and her eyes radiated with flame.

And as for Harry himself, the tubes and attachments had disappeared. He had shrunk down to the size of a mouse, and was being held up in Sycorax’s monstrous paw, reduced to the status of a toy for Sernaix enjoyment.

“This is the Enemy!” Sycorax bellowed to the assembled males, as they quieted down to absorb the words of the Adimha. “See how weak and vulnerable he truly is. So too shall it be with the worlds of his people! Go forth and destroy! Take pleasure in the death and agony that you sow and share that pleasure with all those linked to The Realm!”

“Yes!” the males shouted in unison, raising their weapons in a salute of victory and joy.

“What is our first target?” asked one large Sernaix male, who stood at the head of the crowd.

Sycorax the Warrior Goddess smiled cruelly as she gazed down at the helpless Harry Kim in her hand. “Find Janeway’s ship,” she cackled. “Find it, and make her crew suffer.”

Tom checked the navigation chart again, amazed at the precision of the Borg transwarp drive. They were on the course Oz had set for them now over 3 hours and he had no need to make a course change – a record as far as he knew.

“Does it meet your approval Mr. Paris?” Janeway spoke from her chair, a slight grin on her face as she watched her pilot gaze over the controls like a kid in a candy store.

“Even more than I thought Captain.” Tom replied.

A sudden beep from the ops console alerted both of them to that station. The ensign at the post punched a few buttons in confusion. “Captain, the readings are garbled.” With that, Kathryn stood up and walked down to the Ops console, beside the young ensign. “I can’t get any good readings.”

Kathryn punched a few buttons herself, frowning. “Its possible that there is a problem with the sensor array.” Kathryn tapped her combadge. “B’Elanna are the sensors working?”

Came B’Elanna’s voice over the comm. Kathryn frowned again and tapped

at the ops console. Still nothing. She sighed to herself. Malfunctions were the most annoying thing about a shakedown cruise. Kathryn paused a moment, about to call in a repair team when another beep went off, this time from the Helm.

“Not another one, Mr. Paris?” Janeway shifted sides between the two officers to stand beside Tom. From the look on Tom’s face, Kathryn could tell she wouldn’t like what he had to say. She then felt a shiver beneath her feet that quickly changed into a big shake, nearly tossing her off balance.

“We’re coming out of transwarp Captain! I don’t know what caused it!” Tom hollered as he tried to steer the ship back onto some recognizable course. With one hand, Kathryn latched on to the back of his chair and tapped her combadge with the other.

“B’Elanna, tell me everything is working fine now!” Janeway said as another shimmer shook the ship. She fell forward, catching herself on the console in front of her.

The shaking ceased as Tom released a breath. “I think we’re ok Captain.”

“I still can’t get a clear reading Captain.” The ensign announced.

Kathryn turned to the station at the far left. “Mrs. Wildman, can you pick up anything from your station.”

Sam glanced over the sensor data she had received, and couldn’t make any sense of it. “I don’t know what to make of this Captain. By all accounts, the sensors in Stellar Cartography are working. But…” Her voice trailed off as she frantically tapped at the buttons, trying to make sense of the information.

“But what Ensign?” Kathryn prodded.

“I’m picking up…severe changes to the space-time continuum.” Sam spoke, in disbelief.

“Severe changes ensign? Be more specific.” Kathryn said, turning and strolling up to Stellar Cartography. Sam was still flicking away at the controls as Janeway got close enough to the station to read the sensor data. “This doesn’t make any sense.”

“The stars…there are more of them. And some have disappeared. Wait a second.” Sam said as she flicked away at the controls. “It’s still changing.”

“Captain.” It was Tuvok this time. “I am picking up currents of temporal displacement throughout the sector. It appears to be an after effect of whatever has happened to the stars. I cannot trace it.”

Kathryn felt a migraine coming on very quickly at the mention of temporal displacement currents. Now part of her was hoping this was all glitches within the ship’s systems. “Tuvok, Sam, run a level 3 diagnostic.”

“Captain, I believe there is nothing wrong with the system. I scanned the nearest star to appear. We’ve encountered it before.” Sam stated.

“What?” Kathryn felt her head beginning to buckle under the strain. To her right, she saw Barton appear, a bad omen if she could ever think of one.

“From the Time Bubble, Captain. I think that…wherever we were then is now merging with our galaxy.” Sam finished.

Kathryn felt a tinge of fear ripple through her. That was one place she never wanted to see again. “Are you sure?”

“All sensors indicate such.”

“Mr. Paris, come to a full stop. I want to know exactly what’s going on here.” Kathryn ordered as she turned and began to walk across the bridge. The sanctuary of her Ready Room looked very pleasing at the moment. There she could think things over, there she could figure out what was happening.

“We should keep going.” Barton’s voice echoed throughout the now silent bridge. Kathryn turned slowly to meet her new first officer square in the eyes. All she was met with was vainglorioussness. “We should not be wasting time like this.”

“What makes you so sure we are ‘wasting time like this’?” Kathryn countered. “There has been a severe disruption in the space-time continuum. I don’t know if the Federation took a look around lately, however that usually means something severe happened and could possibly mean that there was a change to our own timeline. The Temporal Prime Directive – remember?”

“Clearly. We should let Temporal Investigations take care of it.” Barton suggested.

“And step into an area of space we know potentially nothing about?” Kathryn approached the larger woman, although she was smaller than Barton, Kathryn’s sense of command and composure made her the dominating one. Her chin tilted slightly up as she faced down the brunette. “That’s the markings of an inexperienced officer, Commander.”

“I am following protocol.” Barton stated calmly.

“And as Captain, I want to know what’s going on. Report to engineering and help Lieutenant Torres with those diagnostics. I’ll be in my Ready Room.” Kathryn ordered as she turned away, not giving Barton a second glance. Sensing Barton’s stare on her back, she turned again. “And don’t forget – Lieutenant Torres is the Chief Engineer.” With that, she turned and made her way into the Ready Room.

The doors swished shut behind her as she called for the replicator to makea cup of coffee. The mission had grown more complicated. If the sensor data was correct as she suspected it was, then there could be no stopping the Sernaix. As far as Kathryn knew, their race spanned the entire galaxy. Passing by the replicator, she reached for her coffee and made her way to her desk and plopped herself down in the seat. With one sip of coffee, she felt herself relaxing.

Placing the mug down on her desk, she opened a channel to Starfleet Command, thinking that maybe they knew what was happening.

The computer announced. She would have to send her message through subspace and hopefully hear back from them within a few hours. Taking one more sip of coffee, she prepared a message and sent it off on a secure channel.

Resting back in the chair, she thought over the events of the last 48 hours. Everything was so peaceful, just two days ago. She and Chakotay were at Lake George, finally getting, what he called ‘all that overdue shore leave you promised to take with me’. Then there was Miral’s birthday party which brought the senior staff back together for the first time in months. Kathryn sighed at the thought. It was certainly one of the most enjoyable evenings she had ever shared with her close friends.

It seemed fate had intervened to make sure something went wrong. Later that night, Paris showed up at the cottage with the bad news. Much to her surprise he never even made a single comment about her and Chakotay. They made their way to Starfleet Headquarters and everything changed. About 12 hours later she was in a meeting with the President of the Federation and shortly after that – they had all been reassigned, she was given the new ship and Chakotay…

Was gone. He was assigned to another ship. The sum of eight years of fear all wrapped up in one single action. Chakotay was taken away from her. That thought still seemed unbelievable even though she sat in this new Ready Room, on a new ship, with a new First Officer.

Life felt like it was crumbling apart beneath her feet. Kathryn sighed to herself and gulped down the last of the coffee. Hopefully things would get easier in time.

Maybe not. The ship was suddenly rocked violently, tossing Kathryn out of her chair and to the floor. She knew the feeling and she knew it wasn’t an insatiable transwarp corridor. Scrambling to her feet, Kathryn ran onto the bridge “Report!”

“Not good Captain.” Tom reported.

“Don’t keep me hanging Mr. Paris.” Kathryn snapped.

“We’re surrounded by Sernaix.”

Kathryn felt her heart sink even lower.

To be continued…

Category : VoyagerVVSP

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