Disclaimer: Please go back to chapter one for rating, pairing and author's note, etc.
"What?" Miranda couldn't believe her ears. "Are you insane?"
"I assure you, Miranda; I am of sound mind and body." Seven didn't falter. "We will move Caroline and Cassidy to secure quarters aboard one of the larger shuttles and place a force field around them. We can blame Andrea's absence on how she must care for Caroline and also that she's still recuperating."
Miranda began to understand. She could inhale a little easier with each new breath. "And my girls stay on this force field protected shuttle with security personnel and medical professionals." She tapped her lower lip and sat down again next to Andrea's biobed. "And then what?"
"Andrea will be our bait." Seven kept standing and Miranda could practically see her brilliant mind working. "Having made a recovery, she is now all you have to live for together with Cassidy. We will spread the rumor that Cassidy is suffering a major depression after losing her twin and is being treated in your quarters by the Doctor. This makes Andrea the prime target and you as well."
"We can set up new and tighter surveillance of subspace transmissions," Janeway said. "This way, we can intercept any messages to and from Maladorian regarding their new orders. If there is no such transmission, we will have to assume that they've already received the orders they need at any contingency."
"It's not too hard to figure out. He wants me to first back off and lower my guard and make it easier for him to kill me." Miranda shook her head and took Andrea's hand. "Are you up for this playacting, darling?" she asked, looking worriedly at her young lover.
"To keep you and the girls safe, I'll do anything. You know that." Andrea spoke somberly. "If they possess more of the toxin or the explosive, we shouldn't limit ourselves into thinking they will only go after us. You need to put some safety measures in place to protect the civilians."
Miranda nodded and turned to Janeway. "She's right. What about some fire drills? This way we can be somewhat prepared how long it takes for us to shift the civilians to the safe areas in case we need to separate the disk from the propulsion part of the ship."
"Yet another good idea." Janeway kept tapping at her dataPADD, taking notes as one after another, the women sitting next to Andrea's biobed came up with ideas.
Eventually, it seemed they had a plan. Miranda's heart was trembling in her chest when she considered of having to attend her own daughter's fake funeral. She had to couch Cassidy on how to act during the service and it wasn't that her daughter wasn't bright enough to pull it off. She had been through a lot the last few days. This was more than any child should have to deal with.
"She will be all right. I will make sure Caroline knows I'm with her. It will work, Miranda. We'll get them. And Maladorian." Andrea wrapped her arms around Miranda's neck. "I love you," she whispered. "Now go make preparations with Kathryn and the others. I'll tend to the girls."
"You can barely sit up," Miranda said, still so very worried about Andrea who looked so pale.
"That may be, but I can still hold our girls in my arms, even if I have to lie down."
This made Miranda smile for the first time in days. Trust Andrea to manage this as well.
Shuttle bay One was packed with people wanting to offer their condolences to Miranda. Seven stood to her left as Kathryn held the eulogy next to the photon torpedo casing. Knowing how good at acting Kathryn could be; Seven had seen this during a number of negotiations, it was still eerie to observe how pale her lover looked as she spoke of Caroline Priestly.
As she glanced at the crowd, Seven wondered if the two men responsible for this charade were present. If they did, and if they were suspicious enough to scan the torpedo shell, they would find readings of a dead person of Caroline's size in there. The fact that this was entirely manufactured by a holo-emitter paired with some Borg ingenuity was undetectable by a regular scanner.
Miranda looked stoic, but her face was stark white, and her blue eyes brimmed with tears. No doubt, she envisioned this nightmarish scene being authentic. Seven had to swallow hard as well when she thought of the two girls tucked into a big bed with Seven under strict surveillance. Last Seven saw them; Andrea had lain in the middle with Cassidy snuggled up next to her as she cradled Caroline's semi-unconscious form. Seven had programmed the computer to answer accordingly if anyone managed to perform a ship wide search for any of the three on the bed.
"And now, we commit Caroline Priestly to the vast unknown, where her remains will be conserved by space for all eternity. Her mind and soul will remain with us until we find the one who stole her young life and forever changed the lives of her mother and twin sister. Once we know the truth, we hope Caroline will be at peace. For the rest of us, this healing has only begun." Kathryn stepped to the side and let the four ensigns responsible for the torpedo shell step forward. They moved the hover frame carry the shell to the airlock. There everything went automatically and soon it jettisoned the empty shell into space.
"Thank you, everyone, for joining Miranda Priestly and us during this sad event," Kathryn said and let her gaze wandering among the attendants. "I want to take this opportunity to also ask all of you to be very careful, especially around people you don't know."
People started to leave and some of the senior fleet officers stopped by and gave Miranda their condolences. Seven soon saw the signs of this becoming too much for her. Miranda started to tremble and her lips grew paler and thinner by the second.
"This is it for now. I am taking you to Cassidy." Nodding pointedly at Kathryn, Seven put an arm around Miranda's shoulders and led her toward the smaller turbo lift at the far end of the shuttle bay. "Here. This will take us there in less than two point four minutes."
"Thank you." Miranda drew a deep breath and startled Seven by wrapping her arms around her neck. "Seven. That was perfectly horrible."
Unaccustomed for other people than Kathryn to ever touch her, not counting the twins and Naomi Wildman, Seven still found it natural to stroke Miranda's back. "We will soon be with both your girls and Andrea. There you will shake the feeling that this might have been real." She shuddered. "As will I."
"You felt it too?" Miranda let go and looked up at Seven."
"Awful. Absolutely awful."
"Yes." The lift stopped and Seven made sure the corridor was empty before they exited it. "Four doors down to the right."
"Am I silly to fear they won't be there when I walk inside?" Miranda wiped her hands on her trousers.
"Not at all."
With slow, jerky movements, Miranda punched in the security code for her girls' quarters.
The first sign of trouble were the unconscious security officers on the floor inside the door. Miranda grabbed for her phaser and scanned the room. Her girls laid clinging together on the bed, Cassidy alert and Caroline looking dazed and groggy. Andrea was nowhere in sight.
"What happened?" Miranda said, rushing forward to the girls as Seven moved to secure the rest of the room while calling security and Janeway.
"D-don't touch us, Mom." Cassidy was trembling, but not moving.
Miranda frowned. "What's going on?"
"The men. They transported in. Shot the guards. Did something to the Doctor and took Andy."
"Why can't I touch you?"
Cassidy blinked back tears. "They put something in the bed and I heard the K'tarian say to the other one that you'd get a nasty surprise once you got here."
"Seven. Your tricorder." Miranda snapped her head to her friend. "Or better yet, you scan the bed and my girls." She was so upset now, she was shaking. The scan would not be accurate and might actually trigger something if she tried it.
Seven scanned the bed and stopped as the tricorder beeped insistently. "Miranda, there is a high yield explosive on the right side of Caroline, right next to her hip. If we move either them or the bed cover, it will go off."
"Gods." Her knees weakening, Miranda feared she might faint. Seconds later, the universe righted itself and the fuzzy grey edges of her field of vision went away. "Send out a ship wide notice about Andrea's disappearance."
"Belay that." Janeway entered the quarters. "Are they dead?" She motioned for the security officers on the floor.
"Stunned. Medical staff is en route." Seven walked over to her. "We are dealing with the same type of explosives as we encountered in the Jefferies Tube."
"Why aren't you going to look for Andrea?" Miranda interrupted.
"Because I they just found her in a turbo lift. Security personnel are there…taking care of her."
"Is she all right?" Miranda spoke with tense lips, expecting the worst.
"She is all right, but she has a device strapped to her upper body, no doubt of the same make that's in your daughter's bed."
Janeway saw the last of the color drain from Miranda's face and this time, she knew the woman would pass out. She moved quickly and pushed Miranda into a chair. "Head down between your knees, Miranda. Now."
Miranda's breath came in staccato, shallow gushes. "I c-can't take it." Her voice was barely audible.
"Mom?" One of the girls spoke in a shrill voice. "Mom?"
"You must remain still, Cassidy," Seven said and sat down next to the bed. "You cannot shift, even if I understand you wish you tend to your mother. She is upset that you and Andrea are in jeopardy. If you listen to me and do as I say, I will have you both out of the bed safely."
Amazed at how calm and reassuring Seven sounded, Janeway kept Miranda bent over for yet another twenty seconds before she allowed her to sit up.
"We haven't heard anything, which is good."
"No explosion you mean?" A twin piped up again from the bed.
"No, that's not what I meant, exactly." Janeway winced at how her words could be interpreted. "I meant, my security personnel are experts and they're working on freeing her, like Seven is doing here." She stood after giving Miranda a stern glance. "Remain seated. I mean it. You cannot disrupt the girls."
"I hear you."
Walking over to Seven who carefully folded back the blankets from the foot of the bed and up, she took over the tricorder. "You're doing fine. I say you can keep doing that for forty-five centimeters more. By then you're ten centimeters away from the charge."
"Understood." Seven peeled the covers up and off the girls by rolling it slowly. "I am going to need a plasma coolant aerosol. We should all wear protective masks."
Janeway glanced at a security officer behind her. "Do it."
"Aye, ma'am." He left the quarters for a moment and then returned. "ETA of the equipment in two minutes, Admiral."
Nodding, Janeway turned to keep scanning when her comm badge beeped. "Take over, Ensign." She handed the security officer the tricorder and stepped out into the corridor before responding.
"Admiral," a male voice said, "we have managed to remove the vest of Ms. Sachs, but we're not being as successful with the collar."
"Excuse me? Did you say collar?" Janeway pressed a hand to the back of her neck.
"Yes, Admiral. The perpetrator has booby-trapped what looks like a regular dog's collar and we cannot detach it without risking..."
…decapitating her. Janeway finished his grim sentence and blue-tipped fury seared through her. "I'm going to join you. Keep her calm until I get there." She had an idea how Andrea could still be saved, but if it failed, Janeway didn't want anyone else to be responsible, but herself. The risk was far too great.
Andy tried to remain calm, but the cramped area in the turbo lift and the urgency around her as the man and woman from security tried to free her from the damn bomb, was making her tremble.
"Move aside," a throaty voice said and Andy wanted to weep when she saw Janeway. The admiral stepped inside the turbo lift, wearing protective gear and carrying some, probably intended for Andy.
"Hello there," Janeway said softly and knelt next to Andy. "Here. Let's get this on." She held up the vest.
"Why?" Andy spoke through clattering teeth. "If this thing on my neck goes off, that won't do me any good."
"Humor me." Janeway helped ease Andy into the vest. "Now let's see what we have here." She scanned and inspected the collar. "Was it the same men as before?" she asked by way of conversation.
"Yes. I don't get how they can move about the Brilliance and not get caught. Especially the K'tarian. I haven't seen many of them aboard since we left San Francisco."
"Neither have I." Janeway stopped working for two seconds. "Now there's a thought. Thank you."
"For what?" Wearily, Andy sat with her head tipped backward. "Please tell me Miranda doesn't know about this? The collar?"
"She does, I'm afraid." Janeway looked at her with sympathy. "Did you see what went on at the quarters before they took you away?"
"No. One man beamed away with me instantly. The other…" She flinched, making Janeway hold up a warning hand. "The girls? Did they do anything to Cassidy and Caroline?"
Janeway looked like she debated whether to level with Andy or not.
"Tell me. Please. I won't freak out and set this thing off, I promise. Kathryn?"
"There is a similar device as this next to the girls under the covers. Seven is dealing with it."
"Oh, Gods," Andy whispered. "And Miranda?"
"Isn't doing so well. Frightened for her daughters and heartsick that she can't be with you."
"Oh, no. Poor Miranda. She loathes being helpless. This will not bode well for those guys once she gets her hands on them. They're going to regret it, no matter the outcome."
"The outcome is going to be great. I forbid you to consider any other option."
"Yes, ma'am." Smiling wanly, Andy tried to stay positive, but all she envisioned was two scared girls right next to a bomb. She prayed Seven would yet again come through, like she had so many times aboard Voyager.
"I'm down to the last two circuits." Janeway was perspiring, small beads of sweat forming on her forehead.
"Wait, wait." Andy held up a hand. "What if it's the wrong one? What happens to you?"
Janeway looked astonished. "It's not the wrong one. We're both going to be fine. Both of us."
"Kathryn, listen to me." Andy spoke urgently. "Align the instrument and give it to me. Show me what sensor to push and then get out of here."
Janeway looked shocked. "I most certainly will not."
"Yes, you will. For my sake. For Seven's sake. You will give me the instrument once you've aligned it and tell me where to push. I mean it." She gazed firmly at Janeway, not trembling at all. "Show me."
Subdued, Janeway seemed to realize Andy wasn't going to give in. "Very well." She worked some more on the circuits, held the instrument still, and had Andy raise her hand to it. Placing Andy's fingers on the right setting, she bent and kissed her forehead. "Press all three sensors at once when you're ready. It will be fine."
"Okay." Andy watched Janeway pull back. The turbo lift doors closed and she heard the melodic sound of a force field slamming in place. She took a deep breath. "Computer. Record private message for Miranda Priestly."
"Miranda, I'm about to try and fix this damn collar. I'm trying my best not to freak out and I really, really want to be back in your arms at this point. I pray the girls are safe and sound soon. If I screw this up, and I'll try not to, know that I love you. You and the girls are my family, my everything. I wanted you to know that. End recording. Send message to Miranda Priestly if I expire."
The computer beeped its confirmation. Andy smiled wistfully and pressed the sensors.
Miranda hugged herself where she knelt on the floor next to the bed where her girl was trying to not move a muscle. It had been about fifteen minutes since Kathryn left, but it felt like hours.
"Is Andy going to be all right, Mom?" Cassidy whispered. Her eyes followed Seven's every move.
"Of course she is." Miranda did her best to convince herself of these words as well. "Kathryn is there to help her. She won't let anything happen to Andy."
"Just like Seven is helping us."
"I will now remove Cassidy from the bed as she is farthest from the device." Seven motioned for Miranda to move back and give her space. "Once she is away from the bed, I want you to carry her to the corridor, behind the force field."
Miranda wanted to object that she couldn't leave Caroline, but knew she had to make sure Cassidy would be safe, or she may lose all of her children. "Understood."
Slowly, Seven pealed the covers back from Cassidy and placed them on top of Caroline. "When I pull you toward me, you must not try to grab your sister," she cautioned Cassidy. "You must be unmoving and limp, and do exactly what I tell you. I will make sure you understand so do not worry about making a mistake. You will be fine."
Cassidy swallowed hard. "Yes, Seven."
Miranda did her own fair share of swallowing. Once Seven had freed one of her children from the covers, she pushed her hands underneath Cassidy and tugged the little girl toward her. Miranda knew Seven's superior physical strength made the maneuver easy, but she still bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood.
"Straighten your arm and flatten it against the bed." Gently, Seven eased Cassidy free off her sister and handed her over to Miranda. "Go."
Miranda looked into the eyes of her remaining daughter and saw how Caroline struggled to keep from shaking as the toxins still caused havoc with her system. Now with her sister not there to hold her, she was close to convulsing.
"Get her out, Seven. Please."
"Go!" Seven didn't lift her gaze anymore to Miranda, but her voice left no room for misunderstanding.
Miranda rushed out the door, the guards ushering them forward and closing the force field behind them. She tore free from the proffered hands of support and sank to the floor with her child clinging to her neck.
"Mom, Mom, I shouldn't have left her." Crying, Cassidy clung to her. "She was shaking and that's going to set the bomb off and she's going to…and Seven who's trying to save her. What if they…?" Her voice broke and she sobbed inconsolably against Miranda's neck.
"Seven will get your sister out of there. Caroline will rejoin us and she'll recover from the toxin, like Andrea did." The thought of her lover, the young woman whom she loved against all odds, made Miranda shiver. She told herself they would all survive this and once they had, the hunt was on. No matter what, there would be nowhere for these two men to hide.
Then her world crumbled around her an explosion tore through the door of the quarters she just left. The force field stopped it from reaching them, but everything behind it was pulverized.
Janeway pushed herself through the door to the turbo lift and down next to the sobbing young woman. Tears of shock and relief poured down Andy's face and after removing the now harmless collar, Janeway pulled her into her arms.
"You're fine. You're all right, Andy. I have you."
"Oh, Gods, Kathryn. I—I thought…" Gasping, Andy clung to her. "It's all gone. All of it?"
"All of it. Can you stand? We have to get you somewhere safe."
"Safe?" Andy laughed, a shrill, hollow sound. "I've been locked up in secret quarters with your best guards. There's nothing left that's safe.
Janeway didn't blame Andy for feeling like that. "Listen. I'm not going to let either you or the others out of my sight until we've caught these men. If they want to get their hands on you, or the twins, they have to go through me."
"Wow. Now that tone I have more faith in." Andy looked up at Janeway. "I can get up now."
"Good. Come on." Janeway pulled her up and kept a close eye on her so she didn't faint. "We need to get back to the girls and Miranda—"
A distant rumble caused reverberations traveling through the deck plates. Andy grabbed Janeway's arms in a vice-like grip. "Th-the girls?"
"Janeway to Seven of Nine." Janeway's blood ran cold through her veins, chilling every part of her. "Seven, respond. Seven!" Pushing her fingers through her hair, Janeway tapped her foot as stress permeated her. "Janeway to Seven, come in." Nothing. "Janeway to Miranda Priestly."
"Kathryn?" Miranda's voice was barely recognizable. In the background she heard the voice of a sobbing child.
"One of the girls…just the one?" Andy pressed her hand over her throat where she'd carried a bomb only moments ago. "Which one?"
"Report, Miranda," Janeway barked, hoping to reach the dazed woman on the other end.
"Seven saved Cassidy. She was working on Caro-Caroline, when the bomb in the bed went off." Miranda sounded like a woman without hope. Janeway knew how she felt, but she wasn't prepared to accept it.
"Computer. Site-to-site transport to the location of Miranda Priestly for two." She pulled Andrea who didn't have her comm badge on, closer as the tingling sensation of the transporter took hold.
The mayhem that met them was discouraging. Andy fell to her knees next to Miranda and that was when Janeway realized she had not told Miranda her lover was all right.
"Andrea!" Miranda and Cassidy held on to her like they were drowning and she alone could save them.
"Oh, Miranda," Andy cried, hugging both of them.
"Report," Janeway barked as her heart shattered in her chest. The complete destruction of the quarters spoke for itself.
"We've tried our tricorders, ma'am, but they don't work due to the residue in the air. Neither do our comm badges. I sent Crewman Peters to alert the medics and repair crews from the closest working comm console."
"Good." From where Janeway stood, she saw straight into space through the corridor bulkhead and into the destroyed quarters. Inside, the woman she loved beyond anything and everything, had given her life to try and save a child. Janeway moaned quietly, but harnessed her pain. There was still work to do. She would fall apart later and never recover. This was an undeniable fact.
"Are the emergency force fields in place?" she asked unnecessarily, but she had to focus on details or she would lose it. There was no debris floating outside the Brilliance, which meant the force field contained the explosion.
"Yes, ma'am, we—oh!" the ensign's eyes grew huge as he stared at something behind her. "Admiral! Look!"
Janeway pivoted and stared in disbelief, sure she was hallucinating right along the ensign. From what she saw, a tall, blonde woman stood in what used to be the doorway, carrying a listless child in her arms. "S-Seven?" Janeway whispered.
The woman heard her, because she turned her head a looked at Janeway with dazed eyes. The child didn't move, but Janeway saw her breathing. How was this possible? After another moment of utter shock, Janeway began moving toward Seven and her burden. "Lower the inner part of the force field," she ordered and a few long steps later she hugged both Seven and the child tightly. "Oh, Gods, Seven. Darling, I was sure you died in there."
"We almost did." Seven staggered sideways. "I must admit, my hearing on my human ear seems to be detrimentally affected. I also need to sit down." This last part came out with disgust, which made Janeway give a broken chuckle.
"Come. Over here." Janeway led Seven over to where Miranda was sitting with Andy and Cassidy tucked against her, so wrapped up in a mother's grief, she hadn't noticed what was going on. "Miranda. Miranda!" Janeway knelt next to Seven who had simply slid to the floor next to them. She shook Miranda's leg and had to pinch her to break through her agony. "Seven and Caroline are here. They are not dead."
Miranda's red eyes blinked at her, in total bewilderment. "What?"
Andy and Cassidy reacted faster. "Caro!" Cassidy pulled her sister toward her and cradled her in her arms. "Caro, Caro, Caro…" She cried and rocked her sister. "Oh, please open your eyes. Please, please…"
Andy placed a gentle hand on Miranda's cheek and forced her to look down at both her daughters. "Look, Miranda. They're both here now. Look."
Miranda looked for a few moments longer and life began to seep back into her system before their very eyes. Her skin flushed, her eyes went from dull grey to bright blue, and she hugged her daughters close. All three of them fell into Andy's arms.
As soon as Caroline was no longer in Seven's care, Janeway wrapped her arms around her again and held her like she would never let her go again. "How did you manage this? You truly are my miracle, Seven, do you realize that?"
"I do not, but I am pleased I was able to use my Borg implants to erect an emergency force field bubble around Caroline and myself. I was not certain it would hold, but it did. I was unable to prevent the damage done to our ears."
"The Doctor can repair busted eardrums. That can be fixed. The most important thing for all of us is that you saved the two of you. You're amazing. Wonderful, beautiful, amazing—I said that already, didn't I?" Janeway laughed, her nerves collapsing as she spoke. Her laughter somehow changed into crying. Tears streamed down her cheeks and only the fact that she was in Seven's arms made her think she could survive a scare like this one.
"Holy shit," a voice said from behind, making Janeway glance over her shoulder.
Nash and Tal stood there, eyes huge as they regarded the destruction. "You all right? All of you?" Mouth agape, Tal leaned into Nash. "That's amazing."
"We can celebrate later," Nash said somberly. "I have worked with your eminent computers to run some scans. You will find my theory very interesting—and very rewarding."
Janeway sat up, but didn't let go of Seven, not yet. "Go on."
Nash nudged Tal. "You tell them. It was your hunch."
Tal blushed. "All right. I kept thinking there was something familiar about one of the faces of the men in the portraits Andy drew. Oddly enough not the human man, but the K'tarian. So we worked on the sketches and ran them against the database afterward." She took a deep breath. "The computer states there is a 94% chance the K'tarian is Maladorian himself."
Janeway stood together with Seven; her hand still nestled at the small of her back. "Have you confirmed these results?" she asked gravely.
"Three times." Tal handed Janeway a data PADD. "It's him."
"And he's on my ship. Attacking people in my care." The blood drained from her cheeks as Janeway turned to Seven. "Now that we have this information, is there any chance you can device a search algorithm for these men?"
"Yes." Speaking in her usual sonorous voice, Seven squared her shoulders, clasping her hands behind her back. Janeway, who still was holding on to her lover, patted her hands.
"Good. Do it. I can think of one place for these three to be safe," Janeway continued, motioning toward Andy, Caroline and Cassidy. "We're taking them with us to the bridge and erect level ten force fields."
"That didn't do much good last time," Miranda objected and rose as well. She stood among her children and Andy, her eyes calmer now, but with a flat, eerie expression flickering over them every few moments. This was a woman pushed to her limits when it came to personal torment. She should take Miranda out of the equation and continue without her, but this might shove Miranda over the edge.
"You don't understand, Miranda." Janeway looked at the pale faces of the three people on the floor. "We will erect force fields around the bridge, yes, but we will also use Seven's special programs and do so with each individual. Each one of Caroline, Cassidy and Andy will have their own force field contouring along their outline. Even if Maladorian beams onto the bridge and fires, he won't penetrate their force fields, nor will he be able to grab them or beam them off the ship. I have a hunch that is his next mission, once he figures out this one failed."
Miranda mulled this over. "All right. But I won't let them out of my sight until he's caught."
"I understand that." Oh, did she ever. She glanced over at Seven who was already working on a station further down the corridor. "I suggest we all move to the bridge. If we help these three over to Seven, we can all beam site-to-site."
Janeway bent and helped Cassidy to her feet as one of the guards lifted Caroline in his arms. Andy insisted on walking on her own, supported by Miranda. Janeway knew she wouldn't exhale until they rematerialized on the bridge.
Miranda wondered how long she would have to live with the ice cold knot in the pit of her stomach. She only had to look at her children or Andrea, and the fear of losing them made it impossible to breathe.
The bridge had visitor's chairs along one of the bulkheads and here Cassidy and Andrea sat while Caroline was still reclining with her head in Andrea's lap. Miranda barely saw the faint shimmer against their skin, but it was there. This was the only reason Miranda was able to function at all. If someone other than herself, Janeway, or Seven, tried to touch these three, the force field would render them unconscious.
"I have a location for the human masked as a K'tarian." Seven spoke curtly. "I suggest I go with a small security detail to not alert them of our findings."
Janeway seemed reluctant, but Miranda knew Seven's plan was sound.
"How about erecting a personal shield for yourself?" Miranda said, tilting her head. "Just to be safe."
Seven looked like she meant to object, but glanced at Janeway, which made her features softened marginally. "Very well."
"Thank you," Janeway mouthed and together with Miranda she watched Seven and three security officers leave the bridge.
Seven moved along the corridor toward the aft mess hall, an establishment mainly frequented by the maintenance personnel from the lower decks. They were a special breed, Kathryn maintained, who liked to keep amongst themselves. Working in the bowels of the Brilliance was something they took great pride in and they didn't blend well with the rest of the crowd most of the time.
No wonder Maladorian had found it so much easier to hide here. Security had search this deck, but that was before they had more information about him. The Brilliance with its huge crew compliment and passengers possessed many places to hide.
"According to our scans, he's in the far left of the bar area together with another human male." Lt. Treville said, her eyes narrow slits. "I recommend that Tebek and Jumira cover the starboard exit if they run."
"Affirmative. Set your phasers to heavy stun. We want him alive if attainable." Seven raised her weapon for emphasis. "However, if they appear determined to put someone else's life at risk, do what needs to be done, no matter what."
Treville and the two mail security officers nodded. The two men took off toward the starboard exit and after two minutes, two discreet clicks from Seven's comm badge confirmed they were in place. She sent two clicks back and entered the mess hall with Treville; their weapon's obscured between them.
At the far end of the bar, the two men sat together, focused on a data PADD between them on the counter. Seven strode toward them, not about to let them get the upper hand by discovering her first.
As the human man glanced up and went rigid, the K'tarian hoisted a disruptor of unknown origin and directed it at Seven.
"I suggest you refrain from firing," Seven said. "You have three other phasers directed at you."
"At least I'll get the pleasure of knowing I take you with me," Maladorian said with an ugly sneer."
"And this is where your reasoning is flawed, Maladorian." Seven had to hide a smirk at his stunned expression. "Yes, we are aware of your identity." She saw him fire his disruptor, felt it impact with her force field, which held perfectly. Both men flew off their chairs as the heavy stun phaser beams hit them from two directions.
"Seven of Nine to Janeway."
"Janeway here. Report." A faint tremor in Kathryn's voice was the only evidence of her emotions.
"Subjects are identified and rendered harmless. Ensigns Tebek and Jumira are placing them in maximum security restraints."
"Take them to the bridge." Kathryn paused briefly. "Well done, everybody. Well done."
Miranda stood before the two maximum security cells, guarded by triple force fields and two security officers each. Janeway wasn't taking any chances, and not only with them attempting to break free, but with someone like Miranda who wanted to see them suffer and die a slow, agonizing death.
"Ah. Ms. Priestly. Fashionista and spy all wrapped up into one lovely package." Maladorian stood, his true human appearance restored by the Doctor. He was a handsome, burly man, and Miranda had never hated anyone more.
"Maladorian. Nice to see you locked up where you belong."
"Oh, I'm not worried." He chuckled. "This won't last long." He motioned around him at the stark cell. "Can't say it's my style of living."
"I would enjoy it as long as I could if I were you. I overheard Janeway talk to her superior officers via subspace. They're talking maximum security storage for you. You know? One of those asteroid facilities where everything is concrete, rock, and impenetrable metal alloys. Makes the brig here look like Risa in comparison, doesn't it?"
Maladorian's face changed into a foul sneer. "You bitch. If you think I don't have contingency plans and will be far gone before anyone places me anywhere—"
"Contingency plans?" Miranda tapped her chin. "Hm. Oh, right. You're referring to the armada of fifteen or so attack craft that were; with the emphasis on were hiding behind a nebula two parsecs from here?" She chuckled. "I wouldn't count on them. The Enterprise happened to be in the neighborhood and Jean-Luc is an old friend of mine, so he took care of that for me. The attack craft didn't have much to offer to when facing the flagship in combat." She shook her head in mock sorrow. "Seven of Nine and the Brilliance's chief engineer found the rest of the small explosives you planted around the ship in very strategic places. You did a good job masking their location, I'll give you that, but you hadn't counted on the ingenuity of our Borg." Miranda wasn't going to reveal how Seven had scanned for Maladorian and his cohort in crime's DNA rather than any masked devices. That should be something for them to ponder. If she couldn't kill them, she would at least mess with their minds.
"Just you wait," Maladorian hissed. "You assume you have Nash's full cooperation, but I know better. If you stupid enough to trust her, think again. She only cares about herself and whoever pays her the best. And I have always paid that woman handsomely."
"Nash Forster is no longer part of your organization, but, you know, some among your organization might still consider she's your right hand. You haven't told anyone she went AWOL and sided with your enemy, have you? Didn't you find it pretty embarrassing that the woman you kept so close, but not as close as you'd hoped as she never became your lover, betrayed you? I think so. Maybe you told the truth to one or two, but all in all, the vast part of your network will still assume Nash Forster is the one they turn to when you are unavailable. You can see where this might be good for the success of my mission. This way I'll take you and your organization down with ease. We'll send in Forster and Celes, they take over the operation and start dismantling it as they send your people straight into the loving arms of the Federation authorities. I'll make sure you have at least some means of following the news casts. Wouldn't want you to miss out on it all. That'd be inhumane."
Miranda stood there, watching as the man before her disintegrated with rage. He shouted obscenities that even the universal translator couldn't keep up with and his face was now a dark plum color. Very unbecoming.
Turning, Miranda walked out of the brig, knowing she would not go back. She'd achieved what she came to do and now all she wanted was to rejoin her girls and Andrea. She longed to curl up with them on the large bed in their quarters. Once Caroline recuperated they would spend a few days in one of the holodecks at a beach on a tropical island.
Hurrying, the last of the ice in her belly melted away. All Miranda had to do was focus on her family and she would be all right.
Kathryn stood inside the door to their quarters and watched the tall, statuesque blond over by the view port. Seven nodded wordlessly and reached out her hand. "Kathryn."
"Seven." Kathryn closed the distance with long strides and took the proffered hand. Seven's human hand. Quickly she took the Borg hand as well and squeezed it.
"I cannot thank you enough for all you've done over the last few days."
Seven blinked. "I thought you might be displeased that I did not connect the evidence sooner."
"What?" Kathryn pulled Seven into her arms. "Oh, darling, no. No. You are the reason Andrea and the twins are alive, and the rest of us not in the hands of Maladorian and his cohorts. We owe you everything, Seven. Don't ever doubt that."
"You are certain?" Seven was trembling. "I—I could not bear to disappoint you, Kathryn."
"You never do." Kathryn pulled Seven's head toward her and kissed her full lips. She parted them decisively, knowing she needed the closeness as much as Seven needed reassuring. "I love you, Annika." She rarely used Seven's given name, but this was one of the rare times it felt natural. "With all my heart, I love you."
"I love you too, Kathryn." Seven kissed down Kathryn's neck and began to unclasp her uniform. "And I need you."
"Oh, Gods, Seven. I need you too. It's been so long." Kathryn trembled under Seven's skilled hands. Soon all her clothes pooled around her feet and she did her best to tear Seven's uniform from her lithe body.
"Allow me," Seven said, smiling. She removed the last of her garments and lifted Kathryn, one arm under her knees and one behind her back. "Bed?"
"Most certainly." Kathryn clung to Seven and buried her face in her neck, using one hand to pull out the two pins that held the blond hair in an austere twist.
The bed, their bed, was as soft and welcoming as Kathryn remembered. The notion of how close it had been for her to have to sleep alone forever made Kathryn shudder and she pushed it away, out of her mind. Seven was alive; she was here where she belonged. It had taken them years to confess to love and to act on their feelings. Nothing was going to destroy that. Nothing.
Seven shifted, moved in between Kathryn's legs and began devouring her with the perfect fervor. She tugged at Kathryn's nipples with her lips and teeth, soothed with her tongue, and nibbled them again.
Kathryn whimpered and arched her back, trying to get even closer. She wrapped her legs around her lover, her hips undulating. She wanted Seven to take her, to keep her, to make her belong with this wondrous creature again and again.
"Now, Seven. I can't wait."
Seven explored Kathryn's drenched folds, clearly found her ready and entered her with two fingers, and later, a third. "Like this, my love?" Seven lowered herself further, nuzzling the sparse hair at the junction of Kathryn's legs. She parted the engorged lips and flickered her tongue across the aching clitoris, making Kathryn stretch her legs and whimper. "Oh, please…"
Moving her hand faster, Seven seemed to know what Kathryn needed. She curled her fingers slightly, found the rough patch on the front of the wall inside her lover. Kathryn cried out when Seven found the right place to massage with insistent fingertips, because her back arched until she feared it would break.
"I…I need to come. I need it so much…I need you…" Kathryn heard herself chant as the fire raged inside her.
Seven flattened her tongue against Kathryn's clitoris and placed her lips around it, sucking gently. Using her thumb, she made sure to lubricate it well before she pressed against Kathryn's lower opening. She had done this once before, but the result had been encouraging even if Kathryn had been quite shocked at her response.
Now, Kathryn was too far gone to feel embarrassed or shocked. As Seven massaged the puckered opening, Kathryn moaned huskily, over and over, rocking her hips as if trying desperately to impale herself.
"May I?" Seven murmured against Kathryn's drenched flesh.
"Yes!" Obviously impatient, Kathryn pulled her knees further up, now fully exposed. "Please, please…"
Not wanting Kathryn to beg, ever, Seven pressed the tip of her thumb inside, moving it carefully. Her own sex burned and she knew if she rubbed against the bedding or any part of Kathryn, she would orgasm. Trembling, Seven pressed her thumb in further, now using all four fingers to take Kathryn.
"Seven! Yes, oh yes…oh Gods." Kathryn reached above her and held on to the headboard. Her inner muscles contracted rhythmically and she convulsed at the same pace. Letting go of the headboard she reached for Seven. "Hold me, hold me." Kathryn shuddered as she wrapped her arms around Seven who shook despite her superior physique.
"Your turn," Kathryn gasped, clearly not fully recovered. "Your turn, my darling." She pushed her hand down between them and cupped Seven's soaked core. She entered with two fingers and that was all it took. As soon as she grazed Seven's clitoris and brushed by the area inside that was so incredibly arousing, Seven came in long, shuddering convulsions.
"Kathryn…" She clung to her lover, feeling so very safe and loved. "My Kathryn."
"Don't leave me, Seven. You can't leave me." Kathryn cried silent tears against her shoulder and Seven's own tears welled up.
"Nor you. We have to be together. It is detrimental to our wellbeing if we are not."
Laughing through the tears, Kathryn nodded. "You are quite astute, my darling. Absolutely right."
"Yes. I know."
Kathryn used the bed sheet to dry both their tears, chuckling weakly as she did, before she pulled the blankets up around them. "Now I just want to hold you and hear you breathe until it's my turn to play with you."
"Ah. Very well." Seven smiled and closed her eyes. She was going to rest for a little while. As Seven relaxed, Kathryn began to breathe in that familiar, slow, even pace that proved she was fast asleep. Certain she could stay awake to keep vigil, Seven sighed as an irresistible sleep overcame her.