1-09 Rescue

1-09 Rescue

Continued from 1-08 Stranded..

Voyagers problems get worse as the ship is captured and her crew are forced into slavery. The Colonel and Seven of Nine, come to terms with living on a primitive planet, until a potential rescue appears on the horizon..

Voyager and characters (except the Colonel) in this story are copyright of Paramount. No resemblance is intended to any person alive or dead.

The story line and the Colonel are my own.

Constructive criticism and comments are welcome on e-mail story@rgower.f9.co.uk.

If like me you like to know why things occur like they do, I would heartily recommend you start at chapter 1-01 Castaway.

This story is rated PG on the UK sensors ratings

©R Gower 2000

Captain Janeway tried to relax in her ready room. She knew that Lieutenant Torres would do everything in her power to warm up the warp drive in record time, but it would still take another day, possibly even two, given the reduced power levels on the ship, to get it operating properly. Then another two to get back to the planet and find Seven of Nine and the Colonel, if they were still alive.

She had let Tuvok and Chakotay debrief Lieutenant Caerey and Ensign Wildman, not trusting her own judgements, clouded as they were with desperation at the plight of her missing crew.

She had listened to and read their debriefing notes, searching for some crumbs of comfort, but found none. She had even looked up the name 'Trifid' in the Star Fleet database, but found no reference.

In more normal circumstances she would have fled to the Holodeck and attempted to get inspiration from her mentor Leonardo De Vinci, but there was insufficient power available to drive a holodeck simulation. She had tried reading more of the bible that Chakotay had given her, when the ship was in the energy stream. But visions of giant plants walking across the ground killing everything insight, haunted her. She was still blaming herself for the shuttle disaster that had led to the stranding of her crew.

The door chime went.

"Enter," she called, wretchedly.

Tuvok stood in the doorway. "Two members of the crew wish to speak with you, Captain," he announced. "I told them you did not wish to be disturbed, but they were insistent. They claim the Colonel gave them instructions to see you!"

"We've had communication with the Away Team? Why wasn't I informed?" She demanded incredulously.

"No, Captain," Tuvok replied stolidly. "They were given their instructions before they left."

The faces of Naomi and Samantha Wildman appeared nervously from behind Tuvoks back.

"Okay, let them in," Janeway sighed. Inwardly she was glad of the interruption.

"You had instructions to see me?" she asked, quietly. She noted that Naomi was still carrying the flute the Colonel had made for her, it made her uneasy.

"Yes, Ma'am," replied Ensign Wildman. "He told me to offer his compliments and give you this," she announced holding out a bottle, "He also told me to ensure you drank at least half of it, even if I had to drink the other half."

The Captain took the bottle and examined it suspiciously. "What is it?" she asked, as she uncorked and smelt it.

"He described it as a twentieth century nerve tonic," Ensign Wildman answered. "He was most insistent you should drink it."

"But I've only one tea cup, and I cannot use the replicator for another," she protested.

Samantha Wildman, produced two high ball glasses with a flourish. "It seems the Colonel keeps these in their quarters. I think he still has difficulties getting what he wants from the replicator on a regular basis," she announced.

"You've been in his quarters?" The Captain was shocked, quarters were regarded as sacrosanct, the only private space a crewman could have.

"Had to, to get the bottle. The Colonel was quite insistent and precise, both in what I was to do and how you would react," the Ensign replied again.

The Captain sighed and took the two glasses, pouring the contents of the bottle into the two glasses and handing one to the Ensign. I suppose we should follow his orders.

She sipped the golden liquid, carefully, tasting it's flavour then a warm honey like afterglow.

"What is it?" She asked again, in wonder.

"He called it Metheglin. I believe it's made from honey and he got it from Kellor," answered the Ensign.

"Well it's a nice medicine, I'll give it that," the Captain commented. "I've a drop left for you, Naomi," she announced, pouring the remains of the bottle into her tea cup.

"That's all right, Captain," the girl replied. "You should drink it. I've got instructions too," she announced proudly.

"How much does he know about me? He must read me like a book!" she asked in exasperation.

"I believe he often understands people better than they do themselves," agreed Ensign Wildman sagely. "He got us to enjoy ourselves in what should have been a desperate situation, inspired Lieutenant Caerey to achieve something impossible. The only person I don't think he fully understands is Seven of Nine, that's why he loves her so much," she continued.

The Captain nodded, realising the truth in the statements. "And hates doctors because it's so fake," she commented. She drank some more of the mead, feeling it smooth her frayed nerves.

She turned to Naomi. "Let me guess. He asked you to play something to me, that he believes will be a comfort!" She guessed shrewdly.

"Yes, Captain. And get you and mommy to sing it," Naomi answered. "He wrote the words out for me to give to you," she announced, handing over two folded sheets of paper from the Colonels notebook.

The Captain took one and unfolded it. "I recognise those words from the bible Chakotay gave me. It's Psalm 23, The Lord Is My Shepherd, isn't it?" She asked.

"Yes, Captain," replied the girl.

"I suppose, I should be glad I can do something he doesn't expect occasionally. Even if it is only that I've read some of his bible," she announced wistfully. "You had better play it a couple of times, until I can get the tune to fit the words," she suggested.

They stayed and entertained her for two hours, then left as the Metheglin worked it's last magic, sending the Captain into an easy sleep.

"She'll wake up like a bear with a sore head tomorrow," commented Chakotay, when they reported the Captains condition. "But I am grateful, she hasn't slept properly since we went into the energy stream. I'll check on her a little later."

"The Colonel said it would have no side effects," advised Ensign Wildman. "He said even Seven can drink it without getting too drunk!" She added as they left the bridge.

Seven of Nine sat on a grassy knoll on the edge of the corrie that was to hold their new camp. Her Borg assimilation lines were plugged firmly to the solar generator, greedily sucking up energy from the unit in a desperate attempt to regenerate the implants in her body.

He had insisted they picked it up at the expense of anything else during their flight from the Trifids. She was glad now they had. The three days of continuous march, dodging more packs of the terrifying plants, had taken their toll of both her physical strength and the technology that was still part of her body. In the end, after she had fallen for the third time, he had dropped his pack and picked her and the heavy generator up and had then carried her another ten kilometres to this secluded valley.

Even though she usually disdained sentiments, she had to admit the location was beautiful. It was a small secluded corrie set into the hillside, covered in soft grass with tufts of rocks and small trees, more like large bushes spread around. The steep sides gave protection from the worst of the wind. A brook ran through the valley, at one end was a small waterfall falling into a pool, at the other it ran through a narrow gorge set in the lip of the valley and on into the valley below. The top of the corrie was lightly wooded by trees around two sides. If she hadn't known that the Trifids were rampaging a mere 10 miles away on the plains below, she could have forgotten they existed. Apart from an occasional cry from a bird, she could have been the only living thing on the planet.

She let herself reflect on why she had become so attached to the Colonel. The Captain had told her before they had come to the planet, a week ago, that she should simply accept the situation, but it was not something her enquiring and analytical mind would allow her to do.

She tried to assess it logically. By her normally applied standards, he was not the most intelligent person on Voyager, seeming to rely more on instinct and his version of applied 'common sense', than technical competence. He was protective of her, but he was similarly protective of everybody on the ship, even at the risk of his own life. He was friendly to her, more so than anybody else, other than perhaps the Captain, but again he was just as friendly to everybody else. He could be violent, that violence was directed at any form of danger, it was not a reason for love. He always listened to her, without judging what she said or did, but so did the Captain, when she had the time. She found comfort in the times he held her, whenever she felt in danger, alone or angry. Even here with the dangers that they had faced with the Away Team, he had singled her out for very special and personal attention. He always made time for her, she suddenly realised, that made her feel like the most important thing in the galaxy.

As a Borg, she had not needed any of the desires or emotions of a normal human, the need for friendship, protection and comfort, were simply not relevant. When she had been made human again, she had suddenly felt the loneliness and pain of an isolated individual, trying to make themselves noticed in an otherwise busy universe that was trying to survive. The Colonel was willingly supplying everything required, seemingly without asking for, or taking, anything in return. The math still did not entirely add up, but it was the nearest thing she had ever come to an answer, she decided.

She looked around anxiously for the Colonel. Once he had placed her on the knoll and had satisfied himself that she was as comfortable as possible, he had left her to collect his own pack. That was more than four hours ago, the afternoon was wearing on, and she was getting worried at his extended absence.

"Boo!" A quiet voice came from behind her.

She jumped and turned to see the Colonel sitting on the grass behind her. She could have sworn he hadn't been in sight when she had looked less than a minute before.

"A penny for your thoughts?" He asked. "You were miles away."

"I was worried about your extended absence," she protested.

"Didn't think I would leave my Princess on her own, did you? Some despicable villain might have come along and whisk her way to his castle," He laughed.

"Your attempt at applying humour to the situation, is not appropriate," she replied in relief, some of her natural haughtiness coming back.

"Nevertheless, our little hovel on the hillside is ready for your occupation, and dinner is in preparation, Your Highness," he teased her, bowing low in front of her.

She relented in the face of his continued light hearted banter. Recognising the form of speech from a holodeck program he had found, she played along. "Why, thank you, fair prince. You may take me to your castle, upon your white charger!" She announced, hoping she had got the inflection right.

He beamed at her, proving that she had got everything right. Strangely she felt pleasure in the knowledge.

"Our castle is a pole and two sheets of plastic sheeting. The white charger will, unfortunately, be my back. But the sentiments there. Still it's only for a week!" He commented more seriously.

"I am capable of walking," Seven announced, getting up stiffly.

"Good," he announced. "I'd hate to think of you getting fat, because of a lack of exercise," he quipped, ducking as she took a swing at him. Taking her hand he led her to the campsite he had selected. She arrived to find he had built a fire and had some sort of stew bubbling over it.

"You have been busy," she commented, as she settled onto a log by the fire.

He grunted a reply, as he dug out mess tins from his pack, and stirred the stew with a stick.

"Don't ask what it is!" he advised, as he served her with a generous helping of a rather unappetising meal. "I wouldn't tell you if I could, just accept it is edible and tastes better than it looks. I'll try to do better tomorrow, when I've had a chance to look around."

They settled for an evening in each others company.

Captain Janeway woke slowly from her alcohol induced slumber. Drowsily, she checked the chronometer on the wall, it showed that over 10 hours had elapsed since Ensign Wildman and Naomi had been in her rooms, but she felt too relaxed to worry about the time loss. There was still plenty of time before the ship recovered it's Warp Drive potential and nothing else could have happened, otherwise she would have been called. She allowed herself the luxury of a shower, before she returned to the bridge, more refreshed than she had for over a week.

"Good morning!" She announced, casually as she stepped on the bridge, and sat down on her chair. "Status report?" she asked of Ensign Carver, who was on the bridge watch.

"Warp engines are scheduled for repair completion in about three hours. Ma'am. We are currently proceeding on course at one third impulse," he duly replied. "Structural integrity is recorded at nominal levels, the outer hull has been repaired. Shields and phasors will not be repaired until warp power is available, but torpedo tubes are operational," he continued.

"People have been busy!" she commented. "Where are they all?"

"Commander Chakotay ordered them to rest, Captain. They should be returning to duty anytime now," answered the ensign.

She nodded at the wisdom of the action. She had not realised how tired she had been until this morning, the rest of the crew would be in no better condition.

Chakotay stepped from the lift. "Captain," he said, spying Janeway in her seat.

"Good morning," she chimed. "You knew about the Colonel's instructions?" She asked quietly, as he sat in his chair next to her.

"Sam Wildman informed Tuvok and I she had instructions from the Colonel to help you relax. She didn't go into details but it seemed worth the risk," he admitted.

"I don't approve of people deliberately trying to make me drunk," she informed him.

"Will that be one or two months replicator rations from the Colonel?" asked Chakotay lightly. "He must have a good three months of them available, and he won't let anybody acting on his orders take the punishment," he pointed out.

The Captain sighed, "You're right of course. I can't demote him because he's not Star Fleet. I can't remove his privileges because he doesn't use them. The brig doesn't worry him and I can't put him off the ship because he already is and he's too useful to be without him for long."

"And he was right, you needed the rest," added Chakotay.

"There is that as well," she admitted.

Paris, Kim and Tuvok stepped on the bridge and took up their normal positions. They all looked a lot fresher than they had been the previous night. She greeted them cheerfully.

"All I want now is Warp Drive and the Away Team and my day will be complete," she announced, tapping her communicator.

"Bridge to Engineering, where's my engines?" she demanded.

Vorik's bland voice came on. "We are initialising them now, Captain. They will be ready in 72 minutes," the ever precise Vulcan answered.

They settled back to wait.

Seven of Nine woke late, the Colonel was missing. She put her head out of their shelter and quickly looked around. The sky was clear and blue, suggesting another warm and dry day. On the rekindled fire there stood a coffee pot, gently steaming. Spread across the bush in front of her was her normal skin tight clothing. The Colonels shirt, jacket and trousers were spread across another bush. The Colonel himself was nowhere insight.

She pulled the suit of the bush and examined it carefully. It appeared to have been repaired, the tear that had been in it a few days ago had been miraculously disappeared, the only witness being a tiny row of stitching forming a slightly off centre crease, that had been repeated on the other leg to make it look more of a fashion statement that a repair. It had also been washed. Lazily, she wondered when the Colonel had managed to find the time to make such meticulous repairs.

She put it on. The battle dress she had been wearing for the last few days, was more practical, but she preferred the feeling of her normal attire. Suitably dressed she approached the coffee pot with some trepidation. Whilst she found, like the Colonel, she preferred the taste of tea to coffee, she couldn't develop the Colonel's preference for it to be stewed to the point of being pure acid. She needn't have worried, the pot contained nothing but water, a pot next to the mug contained sachets of tea leaves. She carefully prepared herself a mug of tea, wondering what the Colonel would do if the tea ran out before their rescue. The beverage seemed to form his general purpose cure all for all disasters and was as much a part of the Colonel's physiology as the uniform he wore.

Mug in hand, she started to explore the surroundings. She was finally drawn to the sound of the waterfall. As she approached, she heard the Colonel's voice, he was singing cheerfully. Carefully she approached the pool. Hiding herself behind a bush she looked out. She saw the Colonel in the pool by the waterfall, water up to his chest, washing his hair. As she watched he plunged his head under the falling water, then emerged again, spluttering, wiping water and soap from his eye's. He made his way to the bank and pulled himself out behind a ridge of rock, disappearing from sight. She turned to make her way back to camp.

She barely got half way back, before his voice stopped her. "The water in the pool is lovely this morning, not too cold, just right for a bath and brush up," he announced smiling at her. He was dressed in shorts, with a towel around his shoulders looking slightly pink. He handed her her mug again, she had put it down whilst watching. "Not taking up bad habits, are we?" He grinned, eyes twinkling.

She turned away, feeling slightly embarrassed, "I was wondering where you had gone," She explained.

He turned her around again and examined the repair he had made on her suit. "Not bad," he admitted, rubbing his finger along the seam, "It's almost straight and matches the other leg, but I would recommend you don't tear it again. I don't think it will repair again in that area."

"Why did you repair it at all?" She asked, curious.

"I like it, I wouldn't be a man if I didn't," he admitted, "Besides you're fond of it."

"That's why you love me?" She challenged.

"Good heavens No! Please, I'm not that shallow," he protested vehemently, "I love you because you're special!"

"Let's go and have some breakfast, then sort out some sort of plan of attack to keep us amused for the next couple of weeks," he suggested.

"Captain, I'm picking up something on the sensors," announced Tom Paris. "It appears to be some form of ship, but it's huge!"

"On screen. Hail them," Janeway ordered.

"No reply, Captain," advised Tuvok.

The view screen shimmered into life, showing a darkened ship. It appeared like a huge box, massive solar panels glinted in the weak starlight.

"The vessel is 45 kilometres long, 20 wide and 17 high," advised Tuvok. "Mass, 15 billion metric tonnes, the structure is largely hollow," he continued.

"That's impossible," Janeway claimed in exasperation. "That makes it 100 times larger than the biggest Star Base, it would need fantastic amounts of energy to keep it from collapsing!"

"Nevertheless it exists, Captain," Tuvok replied impassively.

"Tom, do an orbit of it, whatever it is," she demanded, her curiosity raised.

"Aye, Ma'am," Paris replied, adjusting course.

"The solar panels, form the ships propulsion," Tuvok advised. "They appear to form sails for solar winds, that could explain the lack of power signature."

"Sort of a galactic 'Mary Celeste'," suggested Chakotay.

"The simile may not be inappropriate," Tuvok agreed.

Voyager finished its orbit of the strange vessel.

"If I weren't in such a hurry to reclaim our people I'd elect to investigate this further," announced Janeway. "Tom, note this vessels location, it's travelling slower than us so we might come back to it later. Then resume course."

As Voyager pulled in front of the alien ship, Kim announced. "Captain, we're loosing power from the engines again!"

"Bridge to Engineering, what's happening down there, why's the impulse drive failing?" Demanded the Captain.

"I was about to ask the same question, Captain," came the voice of Torres. "Something is leeching away power and we can't stop it."

"We have been caught in another energy stream, Captain," announced Tuvok. "It appears to be coming from the alien vessel."

"Tom get us out of here!" the Captain demanded in alarm.

"Trying, Captain," Paris declared. "It's no use, impulse engines are not giving us enough power."

"Engineering, I need a miracle, I need warp power now!" She tried again.

"Sorry, Captain. We've lost that as well!" Torres announced.

Desperately the Captain went for the final solution available. "Tuvok, torpedoes, full spread."

"Torpedoes away, Captain," he started, as two torpedoes darted from the rear tubes. He checked. "The Torpedoes are failing, Captain," he advised, "They lost drive as soon as they left the tubes. I have aborted the firing sequence."

"Captain, the front of the ship, it's opening!" Announced Kim in alarm.

Incredulously, they watched, helpless, as Voyager was pulled inside the ship. The bows of the giant ship closing firmly as they entered.

"Torres to Bridge," Torres voice came over the comms' system, "Power systems have restored themselves. What's happening up there?"

"We have been trapped," replied the Captain, forcing herself to respond. "The question is why?" She asked in wonder.

"Captain, there are a number of other vessels inside the vessel with us," reported Tuvok.

The entire bridge turned to face the Vulcan.

"External lights," snapped the Captain. "Lets see who's here!"

The lights came on and they gazed in amazement as the ship came to a stop.

"There are five other vessels," intoned Tuvok, "All appear undamaged, all have full life support, four have life signs, two are Hirogen," he continued.

"Hail all the vessels," the Captain ordered, "Let's see if anybody wants to tell us what's happening?"

Tuvok did as commanded. "I have the Hirogen vessel, Captain."

"Put them on," she drawled. As the view screen shimmered into life displaying the familiar pinched face of a Hirogen, she announced, "I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Ship Voyager, who are you?"

"My name is Scaron of the Hirogen. I am aware of who you and your vessel are," he announced, "You have been entrapped as well, despite your science?"

"Yes," she admitted.

"Perhaps we can work together to find a way out?" She suggested, calmly.

"Weapons are useless," Scaron informed her, "All power is lost as soon as it hits the walls of the vessel."

"Perhaps there is another way?" She suggested mildly.

"Using your science?" The voice sounded scornful.

"Who or what are the other ships?" Janeway asked, changing the subject.

"The vessel behind ours is a Caron exploration vessel, they were participants in the game," Scaron announced, "A worthy quarry. The other is a Darforn freighter, we do not bother with them, there is no entertainment hunting cows. The dead ship is a Pyron warship, they killed themselves when they were captured but they're self destruct system failed, very unusual."

"How long have you been here?" She asked.

"Six of your months," the reply came.

"I suggest we all meet face to face, then perhaps together we can find a solution to the problem," the Captain announced, "and meet the Caron's and Darforn's, I believe they are listening!"

"Very well Captain, as there is little else to do, I may as well come and speak with you. How do you propose to get me to your ship?" Scaron replied.

"I'll find a way," she promised, "Out."

"Signal the other ships with the proposal, make sure they reply," she demanded of Tuvok.

"Captain to Torres," she called.

"Torres, here Captain," Torres responded immediately.

"Can you get the transporters working?"

"I think so, Captain," she answered.

"Do it!" Janeway commanded, "We will have guests!"

"Do you trust the Hirogen, Captain? Chakotay asked, concerned.

"As the Colonel says, circumstances make strange bedfellows. None of us have anything to lose," she pointed out.

"I have received an affirmative reply form both of the other vessels, Captain," announced Tuvok.

"Good, all we need are transporters."

Five hours later Captain Janeway and her senior officers were gathered in Transporter Room 1, waiting for their guests. One by one they were beamed aboard. First came Scoron and his second Tabrick, "This is a waste of time, Captain," he announced as he stepped off the transporter pad.

"I'm not so sure yet," she replied, carefully.

The second party was the Darfonian commander. "I am Papilon, Master of the Darforn freighter Camber," he announced.

The Captain looked down on him. He was barely four feet tall and reminded her of a furry puppy, big doe eyes in a gentle but intelligent face, small hairy body and long legs and arms.

"How do you do. I am Captain Kathryn Janeway, welcome to my ship," she announced, resisting the urge to tickle him behind the ears.

The final members were the Carons. A tall and elegant female stepped off the Transporter. "I am Carys, Commander of the exploration ship Expar. This is my mate Boros," she waved at the stocky male beside her.

Again Janeway took a moment to view the figures before introducing herself. She was tall and slim, well over 6 feet, her skin was bright blue, two long tendrils appeared from the back of her head and fell to her waist. The male was the opposite, much shorter at just over five feet tall, but he was also broad. Again two tentacles fell from the back of his head, but this time only came to his shoulders.

"Good evening," she announced at last, "We have a conference room prepared, so if you will follow us we can talk," she suggested.

"How did you get here?" She asked, coming to the point immediately everybody was sat down.

"We were on a mission to observe the Nebula," answered Carys immediately, "There are a number of features about it that are unusual, including an energy stream that drains power from systems. We now believe it may be an artificial creation. We were attacked by the Hirogen, when this vessel drifted near, we lost all power and were sucked in, just like you were."

"We know about the energy stream," the Captain commented drily, "We've only just managed to get out of it."

"How?" asked Carys, surprised, "We have lost two ships to it in the last three years!"

"We had advice from a very practical crewman," Janeway replied honestly.

"You say the nebula is artificial?" Tuvok quizzed, "What makes you think so?"

"There is a large mass at the centre, we believe it may be a planet, that is unusual. But we have not been able to get near enough to investigate it. Also the Nebula is moving and changes direction, as if guided," the Caron male answered.

"I will vouch for the Nebula moving," announced Papilon, "My ship was in the Frith sector when we were captured two years ago. This ship we're in seems to belong with it."

"We do not know this quadrant by name, where is the Frith sector?" Asked Chakotay.

"It is approximately two light years away from here," answered Carys.

"We have met many races, but none like you Captain Janeway. Will you explain who you are, where your from and why you are here?"

The Captain took a deep breath. "We are also explorers, but we are from a different quadrant of space, we call it the Alpha Quadrant. We were dragged here by a being called the Caretaker five years ago."

Finally, she asked, "Who's vessel is this?"

"We don't know, nobody's seen it's crew!" Announced Carys.

Papilon spoke up, "Amongst our people there is a story of a race of machines that hijack ships and use them for food. The story describes a vessel like the one we are in."

"Pah!" Spat Scoron, "A fairy tail, to be expected from cattle."

"Gentlemen," the Captain intercepted quickly, "We have nothing to gain by starting an argument. All of our ships are fully functional, except for propulsion. All our crews are alive. That suggests that whoever brought us in here wants us alive for some purpose. What we need to know is what the purpose is, who wants us and how to get out again."

"All of our remote scans have failed to provide information on the ship. I have lost three crew members trying to physically inspect the vessel," advised Carys.

"Okay is there some other way we can examine the ship?" Asked Janeway.

"We could try ultrasound, Captain?" Suggested Torres quietly.

"Go on, we're listening," said the Captain.

"We can't put a transponder on the ships hull because it's electrical and will fail, but perhaps we could put a cup and a piece of fibre onto it. It won't be as detailed as one of our full mass scans, but it may help us map any weaknesses," She suggested, "It's something Naomi showed me after a session with the Colonel." She explained hurriedly, embarrassed by the primitive solution.

The Captain looked at her incredulously. "It's that man again. We really ought to start learning from him and not the otherway around. As we've nothing to lose, we'll try it," she said finally. "Get it set up and we'll find a means of attaching it to the ships hull."

"I'd like to hold these conferences at regular intervals so that any knowledge we glean can be shared," she announced to the assembly, "If we are to find a way out of this we will need to work in co-operation with each other."

"I agree," announced Carys crisply, "Even the Hirogen may be of assistance, they have excellent space suits and personal propulsion systems, they can go places that we cannot reach, They can probably place your cups better than anybody else," she challenged Scoren.

"Very well," he reluctantly agreed, "I shall provide people to attach your device. I cannot see any benefit, but in the spirit of co-operation we will do it."

The meeting broke up, each delegate returning to their ships.

Scoron was as good as his word, he had two crew members presented in space suits and propulsion units as soon as Torres and built her Heath Robinson listening sets. Over the next twelve hours, guided by Boros, they placed on various parts of the hull. Finally they finished and started to analyse the data.

"We haven't got a lot of information, and we haven't had the time to examine the whole ship," admitted Torres to the conference the following day, "But what we do know is that the skin is very thin, less than 12mm thick in places we think, and the material is not very dense, it's only the energy field that stops us breaking out. The energy field appears to be generated by a wire mesh set into the skin. We can also hear machinery operating near the back of the ship, we've left transponders there to listen for any changes."

"Can we cut our way out?" suggested Papilon enthusiastically, "My cargo includes cutting tools."

"We tried power tools, but they failed as soon as they got near the mesh," commented Torres.

"Could we use hand tools?" asked Janeway.

"It would take months," protested Scoron.

"And if anybody touched the wall their suit would fail immediately," pointed out Torres.

"We have plenty of time," commented Carys drily, "I will set my people to work to find a suitable insulator," she finished.

"Captain, your Engineers idea was primitive but has given us more information than we thought possible," she remarked.

The Captain nodded in agreement. "Let's hope your people can find suitable inspiration to find a way to cut through this ships hull," she commented.

The meeting broke up again.

Seven of Nine lay back and watched the blue sky. She had taken to coming to this spot everyday so that the solar generator could catch the full effect of the sun during the midday hours, at least that was what she had told herself, another part of her was hoping to see some sign of a shuttle craft or even Voyager. Even by their most pessimistic estimates the ship was over two months late.

She sighed, considering their position. Of their original electrical equipment only the Solar Generator was still working and she cherished it accordingly. The Tricorder had failed a month ago, the Colonel was using what he described as Mark 1 'Suck it and See' method of identifying objects that were safe to eat. Apart from one occasion, when he had selected wrong and she had spent three desperate days finding food for herself and nursing him, his efforts had been remarkably successful.

She marvelled at the way he had simply accepted the situation and had adapted to suit their seemingly increasingly precarious plight. She drew comfort from his seemingly indestructible spirit, like she drew energy from the generator. It was helping her to adapt better than she would have imagined possible. The most surprising thing she had found about her own adaptations was that she now enjoyed his singing and joining in as he taught her the words. Until now she had considered music a wasted effort that achieved no purpose, now she decided that belief was wrong, along with many others she had cherished.

She was, she realised, becoming ever more devoted to the Colonel and his ways and missed his presence. It was kindling fires inside her that she couldn't begin to understand, but were deeper seated than the difficult symptoms she had hitherto experienced. She wanted him to be her own collective, she realised, feeling almost selfish of the sudden discovery.

He had accepted the demise of the tea supply with calmness, which she considered amazing considering how important it was to him, and had simply found a new source of flavouring the water by testing the leaves of various berry plants that were dotted around the area, finally finding one that they both agreed was acceptable. He had dried animal skins for repairs to their clothing and any future use. Those animals were now being brought down by a bow that he had constructed in a desperate attempt to conserve ammunition for his old rifle. She had watched scornfully as he had made and learned to use the weapon, but was impressed when he had finally mastered the device and had buried two arrows deep into a tree trunk in less than five seconds. Since he had used it with good effect to maintain a steady flow of protein from the plains below. Of the Trifids, although they infested the plains, they seemed to have no interest in exploring the hillside they were on.

"I think we can safely say that Voyager has got herself in another fix," remarked the Colonel sitting down beside her.

She looked at him critically. "Perhaps they decided they no longer required our presence," she replied sharply.

The Colonel jumped on the sentiment quickly, "The only reason why Captain Janeway wouldn't come looking for us is if they were in deeper shit than we are. You know that because you've seen her do it on more than one occasion," he stated vehemently. "Whilst this may not entirely suit a social girl like yourself, you cannot deny it is reasonably safe and peaceful," he continued gently.

She rolled to face him. "When I was a Borg, I crashed on a planet similar to this one. With three other drones, we had to survive for 25 days," she said, "But we were unable to adapt to the situation as you have done, we found the silence unnerving and were unable to forage and hunt for food. When I was made human again by Voyager, I was driven insane by the loneliness caused by the absence of noise. Now I have been stranded on a planet for over three months with only a single human for company, it seems unnatural, but I find it sufficient," she remarked.

"The difference is that you have some control of the situation," the Colonel commented, "If you suddenly decided to run naked and screaming over the hills you can do it, apart from my blushes there's nothing to stop you. The fact that you have company and one that knows a little about surviving and loves you dearly may also be helpful."

"How do you adapt to survive on your own?" She asked.

"You don't," he replied. "You learn to exist, if you're lucky you can exist for quite a long time, but eventually it will kill you. Humans need some company, it doesn't have to be much, but we need to feel there is somebody else there."

"You adapted to being the only living thing on the Klingon vessel," she pointed out.

"It was only for a few weeks," he protested, "If I was on my own here, I'd probably last another four maybe six weeks, before either I ate something bad, got set upon by those damned plants, or simply went mad. It's only because you are here and give me something to focus on that I can survive!" He admitted quietly.

She reached for his hand and held it tightly for comfort. He smiled weakly at her, regaining his normal more cheerful air.

"While we are taking about bad feelings, I think it may be wise to move our camp to the cave in the valley," he announced.

"Why? We are safe where we are," she asked curious.

"Elementary my Dear Miss Nine. We need something more stable than a bit of plastic sheet if we're going to be stuck here any longer. Apart from a couple of showers, there hasn't been any real weather for nearly a three months and I don't like those dirty big clouds coming this way," he pointed at an ominous black cloud that was flooding towards them from the South. "If this was Earth and I saw a bank of cloud like that approaching from a different direction to the prevailing wind, I'd be tempted to suggest we may be in line for a hurricane," he explained, "And our camp can't survive that. Come on we'll move our stuff, then I'll see what I can do to make you feel more you."

"I cannot be anybody but me!" She protested, confused, as he pulled her to her feet.

"You'll see," he announced. Placing the generator under one arm he held out the other for her to take.

Such was the paucity of equipment that it took less than an hour to move everything the four hundred yards to the cave. The Colonel carefully rebuilt their fire in front of the cave. Under a small opening in the roof, he had carefully constructed a primitive chimney and fire place.

"Some of the trappings of home," he announced, "I'll try and improve it as I find suitable rocks."

He picked up a bundle that he had dropped by the cave mouth. "And now to tend to the needs of my Maid Friday," he announced, taking her arm and leading her out across the valley.

"Where are we going?" She demanded.

"Down to the pool," he admitted.

"Now go behind those rocks, strip and get in," he commanded when they arrived, "I'll be along in a moment."

She did as he bid, gently letting herself into the cold water, it came to her waist. There was a splash from the other side of the bank of rocks that she had used to hide behind while stripping. The Colonel appeared and checked when he saw her standing nervously near the edge of the pool, he approached her hand out. "Come on," he encouraged, "A little deeper." He guided her towards the waterfall.

"Stand right there and do as I ask," he announced as they reached the edge of the fall. She could feel its spray hitting her shoulders and face. He released her hair from it's bun then produced a bar of soap and commenced to working it into a lather, finally working it into her hair. Gently he massaged her scalp, then worked down her back, she could feel her own muscles relax under the firm massage.

"Duck your head under the fall," he whispered, "Then I can wash the soap out."

Again she did as he requested and he eased the soap out as he had promised, she sensed that he had become tense in his actions. Finally he let her up again, gently pulling her hair back, he squeezed the surplus water out.

"If you wish to wash your front I'll leave you the soap," he advised huskily, "I think I've done as much as I can safely do for a while at least. I'll see you back at the camp." He turned and waded away without another word, he seemed to be having problems.

She watched him leave, wondering if the problem he was obviously suffering from were related to the ones she felt stirring inside. She too turned and made for the bank.

She returned to the cave to find the Colonel quietly sitting and staring dejectedly into the fire. She moved towards him and gently placed her hands on his shoulders.

"I'm sorry, Miss Nine. I should have controlled myself better," he said bitterly, fiercely poking the fire with a stick. "I was hoping to get you to relax and perhaps enjoy yourself, but I was losing control of my feelings."

He got up, "There is a bundle of stuff over there, you should try them on, I think they will fit. When I've cooled off I'll see if I can trim you hair properly without cocking that up," he announced and turned to leave.

She moved to hold him, but he stopped her, "Please don't!" He managed.

She watched him leave the cave in astonishment and frustration. Advice that the Captain and B'Elanna Torres had given, kept sliding through her mind like beacons, "He wants you to be sure you want him!", "If you want him that badly, you may just have to take him yourself and not wait."

She turned towards the bundle on the floor and untied it and examined it's contents carefully. One item appeared to be a pair of slacks, made from soft skin. She laid it out on the floor beside her, then turned to the next item, they were a pair of calf length boots, the soles were firm without a distinct heel and knocked together woodenly. Finally she picked up the third and final item, it appeared to be a jerkin made from the same material as the slacks. A slip of paper fluttered from it, curious she picked it up and looked at it, it seemed to be an 'aide-memoire' to himself, "I need to find some more material for sleeves, before I give it to her!" It read. Idly she wondered what had changed his mind and when he had found the time to make them.

Biting her lip, she removed the combat trousers she wore and measured herself against the new slacks, then slipped them on, thrilling to the feel of the soft fur that lined them, hiding the less soft seams. The outside of each leg was a set of leather lacing faced by a flap that could be laid across to prevent marking and the cold. Determinedly she set about lacing them tightly to her legs. Once on, she inspected them. They seemed a little short ending about three quarters of the way down her calves, the top rested comfortably high on her waist, with tight lacing they fitted like a second skin. They also seemed a little stiff, but they started to ease as she moved.

Next she tried the boots, her own ships boots had long ago given up the unequal struggle and had defied the Colonel's best attempts to keep them in one piece. She slid her foot into the toe and stamped her heel into place. Another set of laces went from the back of the ankle to the top, finishing about three quarters of the way up the calf.

Again she examined herself as best she could, before testing the jerkin. Unlike the bulky battle jacket she had had to wear for the last six weeks, this felt light as she pulled it over head. He had even managed to pleat and bone it in the right places for it to fit around her breasts. She marvelled at how he had managed to create such clothing that fitted so well without measurement. Again another set of laces and flaps allowed it to be fastened tightly against the elements. These she chose not to do up tightly, simply dropping the ends into the bodice. The length was such to cover the waist of the slacks, the back was slightly longer, allowing her to bend over before leaving a bare midriff.

Satisfied that everything fitted comfortably she turned to the fire and put some water on for tea, figuring that the Colonel would want some. She sat and listened to the gathering storm outside, thinking of what she could do to make him unwind when he returned.

The Colonel almost ran after he stumbled out of the cave. He didn't know where to go but he knew he had to get away from the cause of the emotions he was feeling. He followed the track they had formed that led to Seven of Nine's vantage point. He followed it to the ridge and sat himself down on a rock then looked out towards the setting sun.

"You stupid old fool," his inner voice screamed at him, "You're alone on a planet with the most beautiful woman you've ever met. One that actively tries to be in your company, just as you try to be with hers. You're a man, what did you expect? You couldn't expect not to feel something?"

"I should've been able to control myself!" He cried at the gathering wind.

"You can't control those feelings any more than you can control the weather, you've tried before remember?" The voice in his mind sneered at him.

The rain started to fall.

"What about Seven, doesn't she matter? It's her body, she doesn't need or want me imposing upon it with clumsy actions," desperately he tried again.

"What makes you so certain she doesn't?" The voice returned, "Oh, the clever Colonel, who understands everybody so well, doesn't need to ask does he! He just knows what's good for them and gets them to accept it. But he doesn't know about her desires or himself, does he?"

"I don't want to hurt or frighten her, it wouldn't be right," he sobbed.

"Well boy. I'll tell you the only reason she hasn't told you what she wants is because she hasn't worked it out herself yet! But she will, then she'll get fed up waiting for you to stop cowering away from those same feelings and leave you. Damned good thing too, you're a coward!" It sneered again, then left him to sob pitifully as the rain soaked through his clothing.

He was finally brought to his senses as hail stones started to sting his neck. He looked around desperately in the dark as the wind howled about him. Getting up, he started to make his way back to the cave. He slipped and tumbled into the valley. Picking himself up again he shook his head trying to regain his bearings. Realising he had lost his sense of direction, he beat down the sense of panic that was threatening to rise and concentrated. To his left he thought he could hear the sound of running water, he made for it. After a few dozen strides he realised he was knee deep in the stream, carefully he turned and fought his way up it, towards the falls, frequently slipping, sometimes falling into the water. From the pool he could recognise the route back to the cave by the ghostly trail of rocks left by the bright lightning flashes that were now predominating. A lightning strike hit the ground behind him with a phwompf, making his hair stand on end. He picked up the pace until still slipping and sliding he reached the cave entrance.

"Honey, I'm home," he called gently, then fell head first as a hail stone the size of a football glanced off the back of his head. The lights went out.

As Seven saw him pitch head first through the cave mouth, she sprang for him, dragging him into the protection of the cave. Desperately she inspected him for damage and was relieved to find that apart from a lump that was forming on the back of his head there was no serious harm. Carefully she removed his sodden clothes, hanging them near the fire where they gently steamed, then dried him on the towels they had used earlier. Finally she rolled him into the sleeping bag and covered him with a skin. Satisfied he was warm, dry and safe, she settled back to wait for his recovery.

An hour later he regained consciousness, and looked around dazed. She was there, holding his hand and watching him. Slightly embarrassed he managed to speak.

"One day I'll manage not to get myself hurt and need you to rescue me and put me to bed," he quipped.

"One day you may have to rely on the Doctor!" she scolded, "This time it was only a glancing blow and your skull is unnaturally tough."

"Perish the thought," he muttered, as she helped him sit up and drink from a mug of tea.

"Isn't this where we first came in?" He quipped again.

"No," she replied coolly, "It was the Captain that fed you tea, we were on the ship and you were recovering from severe injuries. There is little similarity, your attempt at humour is inappropriate," she continued.

"Why did you leave?" She interrogated.

"I was party to a set of feelings for you I thought inappropriate and potentially damaging," he admitted carefully. "I didn't and don't want them to upset or harm you!"

"And now?"

"Behind the headache, they're still there, but they are more manageable. Maybe I've had a little sense knocked into me at last," he commented as he lay back again. He changed the subject, "I'm glad that the clothing fits. I was a little worried about the shirt, I've never made anything like that before!"

"It is acceptable," She stated, "Thank you!".

She stood up and did a turn so that he could examine the way it clung to her body.

"Why did you make them?" She asked gently, kneeling over him again, deliberately teasing him with her presence.

"Well, you never seemed comfortable in combat dress, and your normal clothing is beyond repair and I found the ideal replacement material," he started, "I just put the three together," he finished lamely.

"Are you deliberately trying to get me going again? You are aren't you?" he exclaimed in alarm, as she hovered closer.

In the firelight he saw her smile at him, it was only the second time he had seen it. "I wish to experience those feelings you think inappropriate, I believe they are similar to the ones I have experienced for six months, I wish to investigate them," she said candidly, "I believe they are caused by sexual desire. Your resistance will be futile! You will be made part of my collective." Sitting back onto his his stomach she pulled the jerkin over her head, then removed the boots and slacks and slid into the bag with him.

"I can't resist, I want to, but can't not anymore," he whispered as he caressed her. Then more sharply, "You've been reading the doctors books again, haven't you?" As she reached for the source of his problem.

"They are unreliable, but helpful," she murmured in his ear, feeling him respond.

The dispirited council of war met again on Voyager and compared notes. The Carons had managed to devise a method of insulating equipment from the energy shielding of the ship they were in. Over the previous eight weeks they had struggled to find a method of breaking through the hull. So far, despite some initial success, they had had no luck. They had tried drilling then painstakingly sawing through the hull, but within an hour the mesh generating the energy damping field regenerated itself. Efforts to blow a hole through the hull using explosives had also failed. The only thing that had any success was passing fibre optic sensors through holes they had made between the mesh.

"The fibre sensors have enabled us to locate our position," Tuvok announced to the planet. "It appears that we are approaching the fourth planet of the system G57452," pointing it out on the star chart projection for the benefit of the non star fleet members of the committee.

"There has been a change to the sounds from the ship," commented Boros, "Maybe the ship is arriving at its final destination."

"We know this planet," announced Carys, "There is little there, the atmosphere is high in Nitrogen, a few animated plants and some herds of bovine creatures live on it. There is also a tendency for violent electrical storms. It does not sustain intelligent life," she added.

"I hope you're right, I hope this is it's final port of call," Janeway commented drily.

The Scoron turned to her in surprise, "Why, Captain? Are you suggesting there may be an opportunity for a breakout."

"Perhaps more of a break-in. Two of my crew are on that planet, they've been there for the last three months, we were trying to rescue them when we were captured," she explained.

"Two people can't live there without supplies for that long," claimed Boros dismissively, "They are probably dead!"

"A year ago, I would probably have agreed!" the Captain admitted, "But one of them is a specialist in survival. The crew that were with him claim they ate better there than on the ship, he can live there."

A high pitched gurgling voice interrupted her. "We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile, You will obey!" It announced.

"Who are you? What do you want of us?" Demanded Carys loudly.

"We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile! You will obey!" The voice repeated.

"We serve no one!" snarled Scoron, getting up from his seat.

Again the voice repeated itself, "We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile! You will obey!"

A slightly different metallic voice cut in, "You will disembark! You will obey! You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile! You will obey!"

"Not ones for long and meaningful conversations!" Commented Paris, "The Colonel is going to love these guys if he finds them!"

"Captain, an airlock has been attached to access hatches 3 and 6," announced Ensign Kim.

"I think we need to return to our ships," announced Papilon, his worried puppy look taking on an even deeper character.

Janeway nodded absently as they left. "Tom, pick up medical supplies and get the Doctor hidden. Chakotay, assemble the crew. B'Elanna make sure the warp drive is available."

"You're not suggesting we simply walk off the ship on demand?" Torres demanded.

The Captain nodded, "We've been captured alive and were totally powerless to stop it. If they wanted to kill us, I think they could do it. Don't you? Our only chance for the time being is to co-operate," she prophesied.

The truth of the prophesy was played out for them as the irritating screech drew their attention to an image showing on the view screens, "We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile! You will observe!" It was of one of the Hirogen ships. It showed the Hirogen, Tabrick and his crew attempt to attack whoever ar whatever was in the airlock. Suddenly they stiffened as a white gas enveloped them. The gas quickly dissipated leaving nothing more than a shadow on the floor where the figures had been. Sickened they turned away from the screen. "We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile! You will obey!" The metallic voice screeched at them again, as a reminder.

Dispirited they waited for the airlock to open. As it did so they caught their first glimpse of their captors. They were attached to a device like a circular mobile hostess trolley 600mm diameter, with sides extended to within 30mm from the floor and looked like grey pulsating prunes, about 300mm across, from which tentacles reached out and operated small controls. A range of small tubes ran from various parts of the creature to the trolley, liquid could be seen pumping through them. A single large eye was located in the middle of what they assumed to be the front of the creature, it looked at them malevolently from behind a glass dome, the whole assembly was just over 1.5 Metres tall. "It's just a brain in a case," thought the Captain. A number of metal arms waved threateningly from the sides of the trolley.

"We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile! You will obey!" One of the creatures screeched, rolling forward. It extended an arm, pressing it against a crewman, who screamed then slumped as he received a massive electrical shock. Tom Paris was beside him in a moment, running a tricorder across him. "He's only stunned, Captain," he announced in relief, "Anymore and he would have been cooked."

"Pick him up," the Captain ordered, "We must attempt to remain in one piece for as long as possible, or else we might not get out of this!"

"We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile! You will obey!" The Tharg creature screeched again, as they pulled aside making it clear they were to leave the ship. Slowly the crew marched off the ship, then moved quicker as the Tharg started to use their prods to force them to move quicker.

They were herded aboard a large shuttle, looking around, Janeway estimated that there was slightly more than a thousand captives aboard. The shuttle was finally detached from the rear of the mother ship. It plummeted towards the planet buffeting them as it descended. It lurched then settled with a crash onto the ground, the shock dropped them all to their knees. They didn't have chance to recover before the Thargs, with liberal use of their electrically charged cattle prods, were forcing them towards the door again. At the door they were met by a much larger unit.

"We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will work! Resistors will be terminated!" It announced, proving the point by gassing another of the captives, this time a Darfon crew member, he screamed in agony as he dissolved in front of them.

Captain Janeway's face went white from the shock, she took a deep breath, trying to gain control of her reeling thoughts. "What do you want us to do?" She asked, terrified that the creatures would be sadistic enough to kill everyone for pleasure without the slightest provocation.

"We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! You will build our city!" The Tharg announced.

"What with?" demanded Janeway, looking around warily.

"We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will obey! Resistance is futile! You will work!" The Tharg announced as a hopper landed heavily by them. It's doors automatically opening to reveal sheeting like that used to clad their ship.

"I recommend we do as he demands for the time being," suggested Chakotay in her ear, "I think they enjoy killing."

She nodded, "So do I," she muttered, then louder, "Let's do it," she commanded.

Voyagers crew set to work unloading the hopper, quickly followed by both the Darfon's and Carons, finally the Hirogen, after much prodding and another vaporisation, also started work. The panels they were manhandling proved to be quite light, each section measuring 3 Metres by 1.5 Metres and 12 mm thick weighed less than 40 Kg and could easily be handled by two people, but after four continuous hours even these began to feel heavy. They were forced to continue for another three on top. Finally, when they finished completing a roadway 6 Metres wide encircling an area about 200 Metres square, they were permitted to collapse exhausted, in the area bounded by the road. Thargs took station on the roadway at 4 Metre intervals around the the edges of the open area effectively forming a compound to contain them.

Four trolleys approached the compound and disgorged a load of blocks and containers. The captives examined the blocks and containers carefully, discovering it was food and water they each grabbed a handful of blocks and started to eat. As they ate the Thargs started to erect bright lamps around them

"If this continues for long, there will be fights for food and water," Tuvok pointed out to the Captain as she nibbled a block. "Then there will be no opportunity to plan for an escape."

"I agree. Get Scoron, Carys and Papilon over, we'll have to sort something out, before we kill each other," she stated.

"We must work together to find a way of getting out of this," she reminded the commanders when they had assembled.

"If we fight each other over food and water the Tharg will think we're performing for them. I propose we nominate people from each ship to control the issuing and stocking of food and water supplies."

"How many do you suggest, Captain?" asked Carys, "Our ships company is much larger than yours, we need much more effort to distribute than you."

"And the Darfons is larger still, and the Hirogens have the smallest," pointed out the Captain, "I suggest six from the Darfon crew, four from yours and two each from Voyager and Hirogen ships."

They nodded in general agreement.

"What have we learnt about our captors and how do we escape?" she asked.

"The road we have been building forms a power grid, it powers their seats," pointed out Boros.

"The hopper is a Stratospheric Elevator. It is pressurised and contains life support," announced Torres, who had had a chance to work inside it, notionaly to organise the unloading. "If we can take that we can get back to the ship!"

"What will that achieve?" Asked Tuvok, "We will still be trapped!"

"How about getting past the guards and out on the planet?" Asked Paris, "The Tharg are restricted to operating on the roads, they can't follow us!"

"It won't work," commented Carys, "We don't have anybody who can seek out the food we need to keep everybody alive."

"We have one that might, but we don't know where he is on this planet," pointed out Chakotay, "And our guards may not be willing to move out the way so we can run off!"

"You have referred to this crew member before, Captain. What is he that is so special? What can he do we can't?" asked Scoron.

"He can survive off the land and is free for a start," she stated, "He is also in the company of one of our most technically capable crew members. If he knows we are here, then there may be an opportunity for them to help."

"We need ideas, more facts and some sleep," announced the Captain, "We know they have a weakness, they need these roads, how can we exploit it? We'll meet again tomorrow night." She dismissed them.

"Scoron is right, Kathryn, what can Seven and the Colonel do on their own, even if they know we are here?" asked Chakotay when the others had left.

She turned to him, "I don't know, but your the one that said I should have faith in him. Don't go cold on me on that idea," she demanded.

The morning after the storm found Seven of Nine reaching precariously for another crop of berry's that were hanging from the branch that she was laying on. She had been harvesting this particular tree for several days, the fruit it bore, they had found was particularly refreshing, both sweet and juicy. Now she had plucked up the courage to actually climb into it's lower branches to collect some from the boughs she couldn't reach. From her waist hung a leather bag into which she placed the fruit as she picked it. The fruit itself was the same size as an apricot and covered by a hard green shell. They grew in clusters of four on short stems close to the branch.

Finally she snatching the last pair from the branch, satisfied herself that she had sufficient for the day and climbed down. She decided she could allow herself a brief rest after her exertions and sat down to recover, her back leaning against the trunk.

Her never idle mind tried and come to terms with the events of the previous night. Like many things involving her activities with the Colonel, they had introduced a new raft of sensations that she still could not fully rationalise or describe. The only feelings that she could definitely identify were the extreme exhilaration and pleasure she had felt throughout the activity, as he had brought her to body shattering climaxes of sensation, then the warm afterglow as she had fallen asleep in his arms afterwards. He had talked of the pain he might cause, but apart from a small twinge during their cavorting and the stiffness she felt in her muscles when she had got up, she could recall no discomfort. Apart from one small clumsy act, caused by her own inexperience, she did not believe she had caused him any pain, far from it she believed that it had released much of the anguish he was feeling.

He had woken that morning with a start and with acute embarrassment had desperately started to apologise for his actions, but she had immediately stopped him by holding him close and kissing him, tenderly at first then with increasing passion. He had responded hesitantly, but had broken off, leaving her frustrated.

She had often wondered why humans put such importance in their sexuality and their relationships with the opposite gender, now she was realising why. Silently, she thanked B'Elanna Torres for her advice so many months ago, wishing she had taken it sooner. Then she wondered girlishly if B'Elanna went through the same sensations during her sessions with Tom Paris. Charitably, she decided she did, less charitably, she decided they weren't as intense.

A speck in the sky caught her attention, thinking it was an apparition, she looked away then looked for it again. Finding it again she tried to examine it, shading her eye's with a hand, she wished she had the Colonels binoculars. It appeared to be plummeting towards the ground from a great height, suddenly it lurched to one side and banked, she could clearly see it glint in the morning sun. Finally it disappeared behind the distant hills. She continued to watch for a while to see if it reappeared, but it didn't. Finally she got up and walked back to the cave, there was little urgency she thought, the Colonel would be out hunting. Unusually, he was still in the cave, working on the fire place, pushing mud into the gaps in the stone work.

"I believe I saw a shuttle landing," she announced, without wasting time on pleasantries.

He stopped filling the cracks of his stonework and turned to look at her. "Are you sure it wasn't a meteorite or you seeing things?" He enquired gently.

"It manoeuvred," she replied calmly.

"Where did it go?" He asked with more interest.

"It went behind the hills to the South," she replied.

"That will be about four days march. Too far for a quick trot over and look," he thought out loud, "We will need at least a weeks provisions though, we won't have that much time to forage."

Collect as many of our nuts and berries as you can fit in the pouches," he commanded, "I'll collect what's left of our equipment. We'll set off after lunch," he finished, all business.

"You accept I saw it?" She asked, surprised that he had so readily taken her word for it without interrogation, she had expected much more argument.

"Of course!" He replied, surprised, "If you say you saw a space ship, who am I to argue, you know better than I what one looks like and you're not prone to seeing things. Besides I'm bored, we need to explore a little further afield. The only problem I can see is that there are only two reasons for people to visit this planet, either they are in difficulty, or they are trying to hide, neither is particularly good news."

The Tharg, after many attempts at intimidation, finally accepted the Captains suggestion, to allow a party of captives to issue food and water to the workers. She used it as a means to allow the weakest of her crew to rest. They were being forced to work through out the daylight hours, from day break until sunset. How long the day actually was, she couldn't determine, time had lost all meaning after the first days labours. The only thing that was obvious was the simple fact that the Tharg enjoyed inflicting pain. If anybody fell and didn't get up immediately, then they moved in with their cattle prods and kept using them until either their victim stood up or stopped moving at all, So far twelve people had succumbed to their sadism, including two of her crewmen.

Finally after three days, she could take no more and approached what appeared to be the senior Tharg.

"At the rate your killing us, you will be out of slaves within a couple of weeks," she informed him.

"We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will work! Resistors will be terminated!" It announced.

They're not resisting!" She shouted at him.

"They are simply too exhausted to work any longer. If they are not allowed to rest they will die. If we all die, who will build this city you want so badly?" She pleaded, dreading the shock that she expected from a prod in her back.

The Tharg regarded her balefully with it's unblinking eye for what seemed an interminable time. Finally it announced, "We are Thargs, We are your Masters, You will serve us. Resistors will have two hours to recover before termination!"

"Thank you!" She sighed, it was a small concession, but an important one.

"We are Thargs. We are your Masters. You will serve us. You will work! Resistors will be terminated!" It reminded her.

She turned and walked back to her toiling people, hoping that the Thargs would keep their word.

So far they still had not found a method of exploiting the Thargs weaknesses. The Hirogen had tried stowing people aboard the lift, but they had been found out before it lifted off, one of them had even succeeded in getting past their guards, but had run full tilt into a pack of the Trifids that had started to gather around their camp. The Thargs had turned to watch the spectacle of the Hirogen being ripped to pieces, she suspected that they had enjoyed it.

"I wonder what they are waiting for?" She muttered to Chakotay, indicating towards the huge plants that were rattling outside their encampment.

"The same thing we are," he replied, "A mistake!"

Proof, if it were needed, that the Tharg enjoyed the spectacle of painful death came the next day, when a Caron female couldn't be revived in the allotted two hours. Two Thargs picked her up and swung her towards the Trifids.

The Colonel set a fast march when he and Seven of Nine started off from their old camp, but found he had to slow down so that she could keep up, her slim body was simply no match for the strong soldiers quick march. To help her he started to sing marching songs, telling her to keep pace with the beat of the song. This she tried and found that her stride lengthened and that the concentration required meant she could ignore the growing stiffness.

To help her as much as possible, he allowed her to rest for several hours each day at around midday and she attached herself to the generator thankfully. She had tried to keep herself attached to it whilst they were walking, to reduce the need for rest, but found it impossible, the motion was simply too much for her flexible assimilation lines to stay in place. He stood guard over them, both night and day. They were in the middle of the plains and were open to any dangers there may have been. But he was puzzled by the seeming lack of Trifids in the area.

On the third day of their march he saw an object lifting from the ground and had pointed it out to her. "It looks as though you were right," he announced, "But what is it?"

She studied it, then replied, "It is a Stratospheric Escalator, It is used to move heavy equipment to and from a space ship, it is an efficient means of moving heavy objects to and from orbit."

"So they didn't crash then," he suggested.

They had marched on, until he breasted a rise and had immediately dropped to the floor, pulling her down after him.

"Why did you do that?" She demanded.

"Because we are there," he announced, pulling his binoculars out of their case. Carefully he crawled to the top of the rise and looked out.

"I don't think our new guests are very friendly," he commented, passing the binoculars to Seven of Nine as she crawled up beside him. "Tell me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression of Star Fleet uniforms amongst the crowd?"

She examined the scene carefully. "You are correct, there are also Hirogen, Carons and Darfons amongst them," she quoted from her encyclopaedic Borg knowledge of races, "I do not recognise the machines that are guarding them."

He observed the proceedings carefully. "I think we will rest here for tonight, you are too exhausted for us to do anything more. Tomorrow we will think of something to do."

She nodded, too tired to argue.

The next morning they sat on the ridge and continued to watch the activities of the captives. Satisfied that things appeared to be proceeding as they had yesterday and they were in no immediate danger the Colonel settled down to wait.

"I know a little about the Hirogen from the ships general log, they consider themselves to be hunters, so they ought to be able to fight," he said, "Tell me what you know about the others?"

"Darfon, species 9854, passive, not technically advanced. The Borg rarely assimilate as they are not a threat," she started, "Caron, species 842, technically advanced, males are physically strong, females have limited telekinetic capabilities."

"What's telekinetic when it's at home?" he asked, genuinely bemused.

She sighed to herself, there were times when he seemed so simple, "They have the ability to move objects by thought alone," she explained as simply as she could.

"We need to find out more about our enemy down there," he commented, drowsily, "Charge your batteries. I think we will hitch a lift on that escalator thing of theirs tonight!"

He lay back and allowed himself to drift into sleep, for the first time since they had left their camp site, leaving the slightly bemused Seven of Nine to keep watch.

She woke him again, well after midday, by the simple expedient of kissing him then rolling away. She watched, amused, as he dreamily reached out for her, then snapped awake as he found nothing.

"You need to kiss a frog to gain a gallant young Prince," he commented to her wryly, brushing himself down.

"As I wasn't a frog to start with, I'm rather afraid your stuck with the ugly beast," he added, with a crooked smile.

"You are acceptable to me," she assured him, "The Stratospheric Escalator landed for the second time an hour ago, they will launch it again in approximately five hours. You stated your wish to use it. I have also noticed that the 'enemy' are not capable of leaving the roadway that is being built, I believe that it may be a source of power,"

"Okay, lets get going," he announced,

"You may wish to put the old camouflage on again," he added, "We may have to crawl all the way!"

"I do not believe it to be necessary," she claimed, "I have identified a route that will bring us unobserved to within 100 Metres of the Stratospheric Escalator."

"Show me!" He demanded.

She pointed out a circuitous route that led them along a slight depression in the plain.

He nodded impressed, "Well done! You'll be a soldier yet! We'll have to keep low and leave everything here, but they aren't looking outwards too hard, so we can get away with it. Lead on."

Crouching low Seven of Nine led him along the route she had chosen until they came to a point behind the escalators cabin. They rested briefly behind a bush.

"Now we need to get aboard," he commented, "Follow me when I signal."

He leapt up and sprinted from their hiding place and sprinted up to the back of the cabin, flattening himself against its metallic wall. He peered around the corner, seeing no guard, he signalled to Seven of Nine, who joined him at a dead run. Carefully they crept along the sides of the cabin until they could peer in. Apart from what looked like a wheeled laundry basket, there was nothing inside. Gingerly they crept in and examined the basket, it was empty.

"Hide in there," the Colonel ordered of Seven of Nine, pointing at the basket.

"Where will you be?" She asked in a fierce whisper.

He grinned at her, "Right above you," he pointed to a ladder system that ran up the wall and along the ceiling some 15 feet above. "The basket is an obvious place to hide, but nobody looks at the ceiling," he commented.

Gingerly she took her place, whilst he scaled the ladders. As they settled into position an 'enemy' guard entered the cabin and closed the door, it didn't check for any stowaways. The Escalator lurched into action, almost shaking the Colonel from his position, he held on grimly.

The ride lasted thirty minutes, where upon the guard opened the entry door and wheeled off, leaving them alone. Stiffly the Colonel climbed down from his perch, then lifted Seven of Nine from her basket. Keeping close to the walls they approached the doorway, to be met by a massive pallet load of metallic sheeting as it was being pushed towards the opening by automated handling machinery. Desperately they dashed out of the entrance, before they were trapped behind the material.

They looked around, everything appeared to be automated, there were no signs of their, as yet, unidentified enemy.

"In the absence of any form of map, I vote we go that way," the Colonel suggested, pointing at the only corridor that led from the room, "We've been lucky so far, there doesn't appear to be too many of the bastards about, let's hope it stays that way," he added. He unshipped his rifle, ready for use.

The corridor led to a control room, from which three more corridors led off, one from each wall.

"I shall attempt to interrogate their computers," announced Seven of Nine, moving towards a terminal. Extending her assimilation leads she plugged herself to a data port. The Colonel knelt in the centre of the room and attempted to cover the three exits.

For three long minutes, she remained plugged to the terminal, not moving, eyes closed as she concentrated. Finally she opened her eyes and looked at him. "I have interrogated their computer system, the enemy call themselves Thargs," she announced.

"Does it offer a good place to hide so that you can tell me all about them?" he asked quickly, lest she started to give a long sermon there and then.

"Our ship is aboard," she claimed.

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Can we get to it?" he asked urgently, they were riding their luck sat here.

"Yes. Follow me," she announced, setting off down a corridor. "Your weapon will be of little use against them," she continued, "They are also protected from energy weapons such as phasors."

"We will discuss it later, when we are somewhere safe!" He suggested.

They reached the airlock leading into Voyager without seeing another Tharg, but their luck ran out as they entered their own ship. A Tharg was standing in the corridor as they opened the lock. Desperately the Colonel grabbed one of it's arms and started to swing it around, sending it spinning into the wall, cracking the dome open. Immediately he jumped on it, ripping the unfortunate Tharg from it's location. He threw it against another wall then stamped on it until it was a bloody mess on the floor.

"The shit is about to hit the fan big style, I think we had better hurry," he claimed, grabbing Seven of Nines arm and pulling her down the corridors.

"Where are we going?" she panted as they ran down the corridors.

"Cargo Bay 2," he replied grimly, "I need you to work out how to get the ship underway, while I release our crew, but we've got to have a little time to rest and put our heads together properly!"

They entered the bay at a run, then stopped short in surprise, as they found themselves facing the Doctor, he was waving one of the Colonels own weapons at them.

The Colonel was the first to come to his senses. "In case you've never fired a 303 before," he started, "It's only fair to warn you that the recoil will pin you against the far wall and you won't hit anything useful, also it only fires if you put the safety catch off," he continued, as he gently disarmed the shocked Medical Hologram.

"Now, what are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I activated him!" Came a small voice from behind the containers.

Seven of Nine approached the containers carefully. "Naomi Wildman!" She announced, "You escaped capture, How?" She demanded.

"Mommy put me in a Jeffreys Tube, when the creatures came. When they left I went to Sick Bay and activated the Doctor for help," she sobbed, creeping from her hiding place. Running to the Colonel, she wrapped her arms around him, "You will save them, won't you?" She demanded between sobs.

"That's why I'm here, and Miss Nine will look after you," he claimed, gently wiping her tears away with his jacket sleeve then holding her gently.

"How long have you been here on your own?" He asked gently.

"Five days," she sniffed.

"When was the last time you ate?" he asked.

"Two days ago, I found a ration pack and had some of that, but it was cold, I couldn't eat much. There's always one of those things patrolling the decks," she replied, referring to the Tharg.

He pulled some nuts and fruit from his pouches, "Here, eat these, We'll find something a little better later," he said.

He stood up and pulled the Doctor aside. "Congratulations Doctor, you have done well. But I have one question, could you have pulled the trigger?"

"I don't know," the Doctor replied drily, "I am programmed to save lives, not to take them, even if they are as unpleasant as the Tharg."

The Colonel nodded. "Look Seven of Nine is pretty shagged, her Borg bits haven't been regenerated properly in four months and I've got to make her do a lot more here before we can escape," he explained, "What can you do to keep her going for another 48 hours? And what do we have to do to make it possible for you to kill Tharg without agonising about it?"

"I don't know, I'll have to think!" The EMH claimed, obviously distressed.

"Think quickly," the Colonel stated quietly, "They will miss the Tharg I killed earlier, then all hell will break out. I have to get back to the planet on the next lift, to stop them killing anymore people and Seven of Nine has to make the ship ready to get us out of here, she can't do that, protect everybody and stay alert all at once."

"I'll check over Seven at once," the Doctor announced.

They turned back towards the other two. Seven of Nine was sitting on the floor, Naomi on her lap. She was shelling nuts and fruit for Naomi to eat. The Colonel allowed himself a smile at the sight, then went in search of a container containing items he had replictated. Finding it he removed several clips of ammunition for his rifle. Automatically he stripped the gun, cleaned it, then reloaded it with the new ammunition, slamming the breach down with a loud clack.

"How is Miss Nine, Doctor?" he asked, noting the doctor had finished his tests.

"Physically Seven's fine, I have administered a stimulant to help keep her awake," he announced, "But she needs time to regenerate, and her optical implants need realigning."

"There is insufficient time for that," she protested, getting up, "I will continue to function."

"This weapon is now loaded with armour piercing rounds," the Colonel explained to the doctor, handing him his automatic rifle. "To use it lay on the floor and hold it like this, cock it like so," he demonstrated the use of the weapon. "Just don't miss, the bullets inside are designed to penetrate two inches of armour, the ships bulkheads will take the aspect of a colander if you do," he finished.

He turned back to Seven of Nine. "What help can you give me?" He asked, "I need to know as much tactical information as possible about the Tharg."

"Their home planet was named Spartax, it was located in the Epsilon Quadrant, which is why the Borg have never assimilated them," she began, "They were a highly developed race, that destroyed itself in war. Those that survived evolved a new form, taking on the brain type appearance we saw today. They are physically very weak, so they developed metal and glass machines to give them mobility. They have also developed a technology capable of absorbing energy. It is this technology that allowed them to create the nebula that the Captain wished to observe, move the remains of their home world to this location and render Voyager and the other vessels in this hold helpless and protects them from energy weapons. Their conveyances must be in the location of a power grid to operate. Their personal weapons consist of an electrical discharge prod, capable of repeated delivery of ultra high voltages, and an ejector that delivers a highly corrosive gas. The gas dissolves the molecular bands between atoms in all carbon based materials and many metals, it is very dense and will settle within seconds. They may have a tactical flaw, their sensors are tuned to movement and heat. Your battle dress reduces your heat signature, if you stand still they may not sense your presence until they are very close," she commented.

"How many of the bastards are there?" He asked.

"There are 300 units active," she answered, "162 are on the planet, 103 are currently deployed dismantling their vessel for materials. There are also another 2497 in stasis."

"As long as they stay that way, I'll not complain. What is powering them on the planet?" He asked.

"Power on the planet is supplied by a generator system located on a shuttle, it is not protected," she answered.

"Miss Nine, you are a genius! Thank you," he replied enthusiastically. "Is there some way we can gain control of their ship from here?"

"I believe I can control it from the Bridge," she claimed.

"Okay, I'll escort you to the Bridge, then I'll have to love you and leave you. But first I need to pick up some more toys," he announced.

He led them to the bridge. "When I leave, secure the doors and disable the lift between floors," he advised, "That will make it more difficult for them to come and get you. If they wake up big style then get the ship out of here. If I have any stragglers, I'll take them to our valley, you can pick us up or not as you wish," he continued. "If you can get control of it, launch the escalator in 40 minutes from now, bring it back up six hours after landing, or we manage to get a message through," he finished as he entered the Turbo Lift.

They watched him go, then Seven turned to a science terminal. "Doctor, I believe you may take position behind the pilots console and gain sufficient support for your weapon," she intoned, taking charge, "Crewman Wildman you will assist me."

"Did you enjoy your stay on the planet? Weren't you scared?" The girl asked, as she worked the terminal under Seven of Nines instruction.

"You will not attempt to engage me in irrelevant conversation," Seven of Nine instructed, "Polarise the communications beam as I modulate the frequencies," she ordered.

"Mommy said you stayed behind deliberately to be with the Colonel, did you?" Naomi Wildman persisted, adjusting the beam as ordered.

Realising the girl was not going to be deflected, Seven of Nine turned to her. "Yes, I deliberately remained with the Colonel, I believed he required assistance. I was not scared and the stay was," she paused, "Instructive," she answered reflectively.

"Did the Colonel need assistance?" Naomi asked, concern showing on her face.

"I believe he benefited from my presence," Seven of Nine confirmed carefully, "This questioning will cease, we must find the correct frequency to activate the Statospheric Elevator or the Colonel will not be able to return to the planet."

Finally isolating a link to the Tharg ship, Seven of Nine thankfully activated the escalator, then sank gratefully into a chair. "We have forty minutes before we can attempt to gain access to the rest of the ships systems," she announced.

Their guards investigated the hopper suspiciously when it arrived unexpectedly, but could not identify a problem, It was fully laden and there was no unusual movement aboard. Finally they returned to their normal guard duties, they did not notice a dark figure crawl slowly onto the roof of the cabin as soon as the doors opened.

The Colonel watched them depart gratefully, then slipped down the back of the hopper. He had found the hopper within twenty minutes of leaving Voyager, again without seeing another Tharg, then he had had to wait another nervous thirty minutes before it lurched into action. As it had landed he swung himself onto the overhead ladder as he had done on the way up and had crawled out as the Tharg guards investigated the load.

Carrying a leather bag he sprinted towards the shuttle that was less than 100 yards from the hoppers landing site, then attempted to find a way in. He found the doors locked tight and could divine no mechanism to open it. He dropped the bag by the door.

"Bugger, I'm going to need help to get in," he thought.

He looked towards the camp, the Tharg were guarding the prisoners, they didn't appear to be taking any notice of anything outside their cordon. He selected one that was near the edge of the roadway and worked his way up behind it. Checking his pockets and found a nut he had left from their march, rising to his knees behind the Tharg guard he tossed it onto the road, it clattered slightly, enough for the guard to turn momentarily towards it, as he had suspected. He dashed across the road and dived to the ground, laying motionless, he hoped that Seven of Nine was right about their sensory equipment. He counted to thirty then risked a glance behind, the guard had resumed its station. Slowly and carefully he started to crawl further into the compound. Meeting the first of the recumbent figures he got to his feet again and started to make his way to the part of the compound that he had noticed seemed to contain the Star Fleet crew.

The meeting between the captives was getting to be a chore, in addition it had started to rain steadily and there was no cover for the captives, the compound was rapidly becoming a mire. They still had little good news to share, except that only one Darfon had been killed that day.

They noted the crash landing of the hopper with alarm.

"There not going to make us work through the night!" Janeway exclaimed.

"If they do we will fight," announced Scoron, "We will not remain slaves."

Chakotay looked towards the escalator, "I don't think they were intending to," he commented. "It looks as though its arrival has surprised our guards as well," he pointed out, "Perhaps they want an early start tomorrow!"

"If we carry on like this we would be better attacking them and getting it over with," growled Scoron, savagly.

"I am inclined to agree," Carys admitted, "Between us we have lost thirty crew members and we are still no nearer finding a means to escape. Soon we will all be too tired to resist."

"If you get past the Tharg, you will still have to contend with the plants," pointed out Papilon.

"But we will die free!"

"It hurts to say it, because I believe where there is life there is hope, but I am at the point of having to agree," admitted the Captain desperately, "But how do we do it in a way that it allows us some chance of escaping. We need a big diversion."

"It looks as though it will rain through tonight," pointed out Boros, "That may reduce the effectiveness of the Tharg sensors, it may even reduce the abilities of the plants, I've observed they are not active at night ."

"Perhaps I may be of assistance, Ma'am," a new voice sounded from out of the gloom.

"Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen," announced the Colonel, sitting down with the group.

Captain Janeway looked at the tall soldier, a smile of relief forming on her face. "Good evening, Colonel," she replied levelly.

She turned back to the meeting, "I think our chances may just have improved," she claimed, "This man is Lieutenant Colonel Samuels. He is the man that has been living on this planet for some time. Colonel may I introduce our friends, Scoron of the Hirogen, Carys and Boros of the Carons and Papilon of the Darfons."

The Colonel nodded an acknowledgement to the gathering. They observed the tall green clad soldier with a mix of curiosity and disdain. Both he and his clothing were dirty and torn, camouflage paint had been smeared on his face, but his eyes burned in the compound lights..

"Why should a single human be anymore capable of getting us out safely than we can? He's not even armed," demanded Scoron.

"How many have you killed?" He sneered at the Colonel.

The Colonel replied mildly, "If you mean today, just the one. As for armament, I am well enough armed to cope with the Tharg," he announced, producing a baseball bat, "As for your survival, that will depend upon how you react."

"Where is Seven?" Asked the Captain, "Is she safe?"

"Miss Nine is currently upstairs negotiating with the Tharg computers to let us go," he replied, "When I left her she was quite safe, though I'm not too sure for how long."

"As you are here, I assume you have some form of plan?" Asked the Carys quietly.

"Yes Ma'am," he confirmed, "If all goes well, the lift will take off in a little under five hours, the plan involves being on it when it does."

"And how do you propose to achieve that?" Asked Scoron.

"There I will need a little technical help, I'm afraid. We have to persuade the Tharg that we are of limited interest first." he admitted.

"So you want us to attack them and die just so that your friends can escape!" Cried Scoron.

The Colonel glared at him, "If that is what turns you on, but I had the general idea of shifting everybody," he replied levelly.

He turned to Carys, "Miss Nine tells me that you have an ability to move things by thought. Could you open the shuttle doors for me? I couldn't find an external lock."

"Telekinysis you mean, I have a couple of crew members that still have that ability," she confirmed, "What has the shuttle to do with the plan?"

"Their power generator is there, I intend to stop it working. Also if we do get in the lift they will undoubtedly try to follow us with the shuttle, they can't if it doesn't work," he answered.

"Very well I shall provide you with somebody who can operate the locks," she replied, she was starting to like this decisive human, "How do you propose to get her to the shuttle?"

"I will need a diversion, that is where the Hirogen and Voyager can help. I need a bit of a scuffle near our crossing point, nothing serious but enough to hold the interest of the guards."

He turned to Scoron, "I don't particularly want the Tharg involved, or they will get carried away and start killing everything involved, it will unnecessarily complicate things, you'll have plenty of opportunity to kill them later," he stated plainly.

"When do we start?" Asked the Captain.

"I think as soon as you and Mister Scoron can come to an agreement about a little fisticuffs," he suggested, "Say twenty minutes by the road over there," he pointed to an area on the opposite side of the compound to the shuttle.

"Now Ma'am, if you would be so kind as to introduce me to the lady who can operate the doors for me?" He asked the Caron commander.

To the meeting in general he announced, "The Tharg can detect movement and body heat, but their vision is not so hot. Get your people as dirty as possible, and if they are in immediate danger tell them to lay on the floor absolutely still, if they are lucky they will be missed."

Carys led him away.

"Your Colonel assumes a lot when he makes his orders sound like suggestions," Papilon mused as he watched him leave.

"We could have done what he is suggesting," claimed Scoron hotly.

"Indeed we could," agreed Tuvok calmly, "But we would have had little idea of what we would do when we got past the Tharg. The Colonel has access to facts that were not apparent to us and a plan that extends beyond immediate escape. He also intends to reduce the casualties to a minimum, you could not make those claims."

"What would you like to argue about?" the Captain asked Scoron sweetly, "There is a huge range of topics we don't agree on."

He grunted and walked away.

"Chakotay find a couple of volunteers to create the diversion. The rest of you prepare everybody for an escape attempt," she ordered.

Aboard Voyager, Seven of Nine was busy with the computer terminals again. She had achieved a secure link to the Tharg vessels central computer and was now investigating the huge ships power systems, trying to find a way of preventing it from deploying its energy sapping rays.

"There is a problem," she announced to the others, "The Thargs have initiated the protocols to reactivate there people. We have approximately five hours before they are fully recovered."

"Can we advise the Colonel?" exclaimed the Doctor.

"That is not possible, without deactivating the Tharg ship. If I do that the crew on the surface will not be able to return, and the Tharg aboard will know we are here," she explained.

"I have also been unable to gain the access required to deactivate their force fields. I shall have to manually remove them from a terminal on their vessel," she continued.

"Isn't that dangerous?" Exclaimed Naomi.

"Yes, but it is necessary to release the ships. I cannot carry out the operation until nearer the time for the Escalator to return or we will be discovered."

"You might be trapped here!" gasped Naomi, putting her arms protectively around the bemused ex-Borg.

"Naomi Wildman, I have learned from the Colonel is that personal risk is of no consequence when considering the risks to ones friends, there is nobody else capable of carrying out the task, therefore I shall have to do it," She told the girl gently. "When the crew is aboard and I have successfully deactivated the force fields you will activate the programme named 'Departure', it will safely navigate Voyager from inside the Tharg vessel and engage the warp drive. My decision is final," she claimed.

An alarm sounded.

"Two Thargs have boarded the ship," she commented, "We may have to vacate the ship to avoid them."

The Colonel inspected the tall Caron that was to enable him to get aboard the shuttle. She was about fifty in earth years, her face and the long tendrils from her head extending to her waist showed signs of lining from long years, her blue skin was mottled with darker patches.

"Your name please, Ma'am?" He asked.

"My name is Zaphar," she announced, the voice was gentle and assured, it made the name sound like the wash of the sea on a beach.

He bowed to her, "Colonel Samuels, at your service," he announced.

It seemed to amuse the Caron, her face broke into a a smile.

"Your customs seem strange to us Colonel," pointed out Carys, hiding her own amusement, "They are not displayed by the rest of your crew and it is we that are providing the service to you," she challenged.

"My service will be to get you and all the rest of the people here back to their ships," he advised gently, "As for my customs, they were disappearing when I left my own time, but I see no reason to let them drop because of that."

"Come," he announced to Zaphar, "We need to be close to the road before Captain Janeway and the Hirogen start their little demonstration, if we are to get out without being seen. I'm afraid it will be quite muddy," He apologised.

He led her to the last encampment before the road, then had her lay in the mud beside him and demonstrated to her how she needed to crawl to allow them to get closer. They stopped about ten feet from the road and waited.

Two minutes later the sound of an argument could be heard from ten yards further along the road. The Colonel recognised the sound of Tuvok's voice above the others. "Be ready to go," he whispered to his partner, "The Tharg are starting to move for a closer look."

The sounds intensified until it was evident a major scuffle was occurring. The Tharg nearest them turned and started to move towards the commotion. The Colonel grabbed Zaphar, forcing her up, "Now," he whispered fiercely, "Don't look back and don't go more than fifty paces beyond the road."

She staggered forward slipping as she mounted the road and fell . The noise attracted the attention of the guard that they were facing, it turned. "Resistors will be terminated," it screamed at them, bringing the gas ejecting arm up to bare. The Colonel raced towards it, and brought the bat he was carrying down with an ear splitting crash on the dome. The glass around the brain creature shattered and vanished as did the brain itself from the force of the impact. He turned again, in time to see another Tharg rolling down the road towards them. Two small furry creatures rose from out of the mud and bounded rapidly towards the machine, the first was caught in a gas cloud, but the second hit it at full gallop, bundling both of them off the road, it shrieked in pain as it's body hit the electrically charged prod. He shook his head in wonder at the sight, then turned again to his fallen companion.

"It is most definitely time to leave," he announced, picking her up, then throwing her upon his shoulder. In the light from the lamps erected around the camp he noticed that the captives had retreated to the centre of the compound, out of reach of their captors fearsome gas jets, safe for a few minutes.

He set her down again, "Are you hurt at all?" he asked urgently.

"I am not seriously hurt, I slipped," she announced, "I am sorry I have damaged your plan."

"Not seriously I hope," he informed her, "But I'm afraid we will have to run from here. Sooner or later those bastards will decide either to start using grenades to gas our people, or even simply open a gap for the Trifids to enter. Then everybody dies," he said urgently.

They staggered on, he supporting the Caron woman whenever she stumbled, finally arriving at the place where he had left his explosives. They slumped by the vessel to catch their breath.

He opened the bag, "I have here about twenty pounds of Plastic Explosive. It's not as effective as the modern stuff people use nowadays, but it can be set off with a simple chemical detonator," he informed her. "I think there could be another score or so Tharg on the shuttle, so I might be quite busy and you will have to lay the explosives. To use it take a lump and mould it around what ever needs to be damaged, then take a detonator," he produced some pencil like objects from his pocket, "and jam it into the explosive and push the plunger in, it will explode in about five minutes," he instructed her. "Now can you do your magic on the door?"

She nodded and screwed up her eyes in concentration. It was broken as the door was opened and a Tharg rolled out, it was carrying a large tube. Thinking it to be a new weapon of some nature, the Colonel leapt at it, pushing it off the ramp down from the shuttle. It struggled weakly as the power drained from its systems.

"Follow me," he hissed, charging into the ship. Another Tharg was just inside the entrance as the Colonel charged in. He took a back hand swing at it as he bundled past, crazing the glass of the dome, the second blow skittled the dome and the creature to the floor, where he kicked it viciously against the wall. Grabbing Zaphars hand he pulled her into the ship and down the passage way. As they ran into the vessel another Tharg appeared in front of them, to be met by the flying Colonels boot, sending it spinning into the wall, before it could recover it was struck by the whirling bat.

They slowed as they came to a door, they could hear the quiet hum of machinery inside.

"This seems like a good place to start," he suggested panting, "Can you open it?" he asked, calming himself down.

She nodded and again concentrated on the door and its latch. The door silently slid open and the Colonel darted inside, a quick check suggested that they had the right place and the room was clear of Tharg. He turned and pulled the Caron inside, "Now close it again," he commanded, "Then we may have a little peace to do what we have to do."

As they worked they heard several Tharg pass the door screaming at each other, but none entered. Finally they had laid their explosives at what seemed like good strategic points and they met at the door.

"On the way out we stop for nothing," he warned her, "If one of us stumbles, the other keeps going, got it!"

She nodded dumbly, she realised she had never experienced anything like the aggression that the human had so far exhibited.

"Open the door," he demanded.

She did so and he peered out, there was nothing in the corridor. "Run!" he shouted at her as he pulled her out. Of the two he was by far the fleeter of foot, she stumbled to the floor again just before he entered the entrance lobby, she closed her eyes accepting the fact she would die on the ship. He stopped at the end and looked back, seeing her on the floor he leapt back and threw her up onto his shoulder again and ran once again for the door. A Tharg was guarding the entrance doorway. Again the Colonel didn't stop, he simply charged into the thing, it careened down the slope finally falling off to lay beside the unit that had been dumped there earlier. Not stopping to see the effect on the Tharg, the Colonel continued to charge down the slope. A massive explosion bloomed behind him, the blast throwing him to the roadway. By reflex he let the Caron woman go as he was thrown and rolled to a stop, immediately springing up bat at the ready to pulverise anything in reach. He felt the roadway beneath his feet crackle, Zaphar screamed as a shock hit her. Desperately he grabbed her again and threw her off the road, leaping after her as a massive electrical discharge lifted the road around them.

Dazed he finally sat up and looked around them, all the Tharg he could see appeared to be standing stationary their arms drooping. Carefully he stood and approached one of them, it didn't move, even when he tapped the glass. Groggily Zaphar joined him.

"Is it dead? Did we suceed?" She asked.

"The lights are out, it's not moving, I think we may have succeeded rather better than expected," he confirmed.

"Can you get to the Escalator yourself?," he inquired, "I need to make sure everybody else is moving."

"Yes," she stammered. "Why did you stop for me when I fell, you said stop for nothing?"

"I've already lost one more than I intended, I will not lose more if it is in anyway avoidable," he claimed, "Now go, use the roadway and you won't get lost."

He set off down the track towards the compound at a double run. Reaching the edge of the compound, he took a deep breath and yelled with his best parade ground voice, "What the hell do you lot think your waiting for! Get to the lift at the double, before those bloody plants wake up!"

It seemed to have the desired effect, people started to some towards him.

"Pick up everybody that's still alive," he ordered of the first to reach him, "There's plenty of time and everybody's leaving."

He trotted around the track to the place where the two Darfon had leapt at the Tharg and knelt by the body of the one that had succeeded in pushing it off the road. It was panting in laboured breaths.

"Hold on son, your coming with me," he announced, allowing himself to stroke the matted hair of the creature, it felt just like patting an injured dog.

He found a puncture wound in its side, where it had landed against one of the Thargs metal arms and immediately placed a handkerchief over the wound, pressing hard.

"Paris!" he yelled into the night.

The captives had automatically stood and grouped together for protection in the centre of the compound as soon as it was evident things weren't going entirely to plan. The Thargs had trundled in as close as they could and turned their gas jets on them, but the persistent rain prevented the gas reaching as far as the group.

For fifty minutes they stood and shivered in the rain, waiting to see what the Tharg would do, now that their gas weapons had proved useless.

"Your Colonels plan is going wrong, Captain," announced Scoron as he elbowed his way through the throng, towards Captain Janeway, "We should have attacked en-mass, now we have to wait for them to decide how to kill us!"

"He got away and only two people have been hurt, give him time," replied the Captain evenly, silently praying that the Colonel was still working to plan.

As if in answer they heard an explosion in the direction of the Tharg shuttle, then watched in amazement as the roadway around them seemed to lift, sparks flashing against the Tharg chariots. Shortly after they heard a voice crying at them to get a move on.

"Does that answer your doubts!" Captain Janeway demanded of the stern Hirogen.

"He is slow!" He protested, "We could have reached the shuttle much faster," he turned and fled into the crowd, yelling to his people, sparing his embarrassment.

"Chakotay, get everybody moving. Can anybody see the Colonel?" She called.

"There he is," cried a crewman with better night vision than most, "He is running around the compound, I think he may be trying to get to the Darfon that was hurt."

"Tom, come with me," The Captain ordered, "If that Darfon is still alive, the Colonel will need you."

Pushing their way through the crowd they made their way to where they expected the Colonel to be. Their hunch they found was right. Tom Paris immediately knelt by the creature, examining then treating it with his medical kit.

"He's pretty beat up, I don't know how well the patch will hold," he announced.

"Thank you Lieutenant. When we return to the ship the Doctor can finish the job. Let's get him to the escalator thing before the Trifids arrive. I think they've woken up," the Colonel announced, indicating in the general direction of the rattling coming from the serried ranks of malevolent plants. Gently he picked the Darfon up and started to walk carefully towards the escalator.

"What do we do now?" He was bombarded by the question as he entered the cabin of the escalator.

"We wait," he announced loudly, "Miss Nine is due to launch this thing in about another forty minutes, until then the only potential problem we have is the possibility that the Trifids may try and investigate." He laid the Darfon he was carrying on the floor and Tom Paris immediately settled next to it to attempt better treatment.

The Colonels communicator crackled into life, "Seven of Nine to the Colonel," It hissed, "I detected an energy surge from the shuttle, was that your doing?"

"You know how I like gestures, Miss Nine. Please, report your status?" He replied cheerfully.

"All ships are ready to depart, there are four Tharg aboard Voyager, the doctor and Naomi Wildman are on the Darfon freighter, they have not been discovered, I have activated the escalator mechanisim," she answered evenly.

"And where are you?" He asked carefully.

"I am in the escalator control room," she announced, "I required direct access to the Tharg computers to deactivate the force fields."

He nodded grimly to himself as the escalator lurched into life. "Do what you need to do and stay safe," he called softly.

Captain Janeway regarded the thread bare and worn Colonel critically. "She's turning into another version of you in her attitudes," she commented drily, "Nothing matters except the safety of those she chooses to protect. I'm not sure I approve."

The Colonel looked sadly up at her, "I've not changed her Captain," he claimed bitterly, the pain clearly showing on his face, "Thanks to the Borg she's always had that attitude and always will. Maybe I've redirected it a little, but that's all I can do, but it's not right, she deserves better! If she's learnt anything from me, I hope it's how to survive the repercussions!"

"What happens now?" asked Carys, approaching the Captain and Colonel.

"In a little over twenty minutes the escalator will meet the Tharg ship, there may or may not be Tharg to meet us and Miss Nine may or may not be a pile of ashes at the end of the corridor," the Colonel announced heavily, smashing his fist into the wall of the cabin in frustration.

"The Colonel feels strongly for this Miss Nine, Captain. Why?" she commented quietly.

"He's in love with her," explained the Captain sagely, "It puts her one above the rest of us in his desire to protect. If she is safe when we get there, he'll be as cool and efficient as he was on the planet. If not then the only thing I know is we will be safe," she paused, then added, "Provided we stay out of his way."

Seven of Nine crouched in the corner of the control room nervously, her Borg assimilation lines attached to the computers data port, the Colonels rifle resting on her knees.

When she had realised that the Tharg were going to commit a thorough search of the vessel, she had beamed Naomi, the doctor and herself to the Darfon freighter for safety, then had left them to take up her position in the control room. The doctor had given her the Colonels rifle, though she was still not sure why she had accepted it. She knew she could use it, he had taught her during their stay on the planet. But she wondered if she could use it in anger. Perhaps it was the comfort it brought, not to be entirely defenceless.

The ships computer had sensed the power surge on the planet, and had informed her in its turn. Attempting communication with the Colonel was probably an error on her part. But they needed to know the status of their vessels, she thought, it had nothing to do with the desire to ensure the Colonel was still alive and well.

The computer informed her that the escalalator had docked, so she prepared to commit her last act on the Tharg ship, to release the force fields that rendered the captured ships helpless. She tensed as a column of twenty Tharg guards appeared from one of the corridors. Keeping as still as possible, relying on her lack of movement to protect her, she watched them roll into the corridor leading towards the escalators.

Suddenly she realised that the people on the escalator would be caught by the guards, not even the Colonel would be able to take on that many in one go, especially if they were ready. She leapt to her feet and hitting her communicator, she announced, "There are Tharg approaching the Escalator!"

"Roger," a calm voice replied.

She ran after the Tharg, dropping to the ground silently as she came up behind them. Cocking the weapon as she had learnt under his tutelage, she brought it to her shoulder ready. They were waiting for the doors to open, as they started she opened fire. She watched in detached fascination as the first Tharg she hit exploded into fragments as it was hit by the armour piercing rounds. The report of the shots had the desired effect, the Tharg spun around, looking for the new threat. It was a mistake on their part, as with a scream the ex-captives on the escalator charged into them, the Colonel leading the way, the base ball bat swinging freely.

"Resistors will be terminated!" screamed a voice behind her. Desperately she rolled over, bringing the gun up and firing blindly at the sound. The Tharg had been no more than a few metres behind her, it exploded, a second reaching for her also exploded in a shower of glass, then the weapon jammed as a third drove its probe into her leg. She screamed as the high voltage drove a surge of pain up her leg.

The Colonel heard her scream, and answered with a scream of rage of his own, that shook the occupants of the corridor. He charged through the last of the Tharg that had faced the doors and leapt into the crowd that were gathering around the stricken Seven of Nine. The first massive swing of the club smashed through the globes of the two nearest Tharg. He reversed his swing and seemingly without effort brought it back to skittle a third. A fourth managed to deploy its electric prod, but it seemed to have the effect of enraging the Colonel further, as he kicked it away to smash into the wall. The fifth Tharg received an overhead blow of such proportions that that the metal club snapped. It didn't stop him, he continued his charge into the remaining Tharg. He grabbed two by their metallic arms and smashed them together, letting go of one he started to spin the other, as though throwing a hammer in a sports event, sending it careening into the three remaining guards, one fell smashing itself against the wall. The Colonel charged on, diving below the flaying arms of a unit, he grabbed it by the bottom and lifted it clear above him and with a final scream, smashed it down on top of the last guard.

He stopped, the red mist that had enveloped his mind, lifting as quickly as they had fallen, and turned back. The silence was deafening, The ex-captives were watching him in awe, a mixture of shock and horror showing on their faces. They had dealt with the majority of the initial batch of Tharg, but several of their number were laying dead or injured among them.

"Lieutenant Paris!" He croaked.

"Here Colonel," Tom Paris announced, he had been treating a fallen Hirogen.

"Get Miss Nine on her feet again," he commanded, "She has a final duty to do, otherwise I'll have to deactivate this ship the hard way."

He crouched beside her, holding her hand tenderly. She groaned.

"You silly bitch," he chided her softly, "You could have got yourself killed, then what would I do?"

"You would have become violent," she understated, a smile forming on her face, despite the pain.

Tom Paris ran his last medi-kit regenerator over her leg and burnt tissues. "You'll be a bit numb for a while, and B'Elanna will have to do some serious repairs to your implants, but otherwise you'll be fine," he announced, "The leather you're wearing seems to have given protection from the worst of the shock," he added.

He turned to the Colonel, "I've nothing left to treat you Sir!" He announced.

"Have I been hurt?" The Colonel, sounding genuinely surprised.

He examined the remains of his uniform, parts of it were still smoking where the electric prods had made contact.

"I suppose, I must have been," he claimed, then shrugged.

"Come on Miss Nine, lets release those force fields then these good people can go home," he said quietly, gently picking her up.

"Well what are you waiting for," he shouted at the still stunned bystanders, "Lets get out of here before the rest of those bastards wake up!"

"I see what you mean!" Carys commented wryly, to the Captain as they walked up the corridor, "Everybody's quite safe provided he doesn't get upset. Look at those fools," she pointed to the Hirogen, who appeared to be gathering souvenirs of their skirmish, "You'd think they had fought the battle on their own."

The Colonel carried Seven of Nine back to the computer terminal she had used before and crouched before it, supporting her weight on his lap. For the last time she plugged herself in.

"The force fields are down," announced Seven of Nine, "I have encrypted the controls, the Tharg will take a little time to regain control of them," she continued, then slumped back into the strong arms of the Colonel.

"Thank you, Miss Nine. I've told you before your a genius haven't I?" The Colonel asked, tenderly kissing her forehead. "Now I must put you in the clutches of the Doctor for a while to put things right," he soothed her, as he carried her aboard Voyager.

"Beam the Doctor and Naomi back!" ordered Captain Janeway of Ensign Kim, as she and the rest of the crew thundered onto Voyager, "Lieutenant Caery as soon as Seven of Nine and the Colonel get in close the doors, and inform me, the sooner we leave the better."

"What do we do about the Tharg on the ship?" Asked Chakotay, reminding her that there was still a problem.

"We'll deal with them, when we find them," she announced.

She rounded a corner, the rest of her bridge crew right behind her and came face to face with the four Tharg, she stopped dead. They appeared to be trying to get the Turbo Lift open.

"Get them!" she screamed and charged at them.

It was a foolish move, sponsored by frustration. The Tharg stood their ground bringing their prods into play. The Captain and Kim succumbed almost immediately to the prods, but two Tharg also fell to the combined efforts of Chakotay and Tuvok crashing them together, the other two stubbornly resisted and overcame their attack, leaving the bridge crew unconcious on the deck.

The remaining Tharg advanced in the direction of the airlock, arriving as the Colonel stumbled in. He took one look at them advancing Tharg and gently lowered Seven of Nine to the ground.

"Please take Miss Nine to the sickbay Lieutenant," he ordered, "It seems I still have a small duty to perform."

"That was the direction the Captain took," whispered Lieutenant Caery urgently.

The Colonel nodded, crouching down. "When you have deposited Miss Nine, make for the Bridge, I will need your assistance."

Seven of Nine grabbed his arm as Caery started to pull her away, "There is a computer programme, 'Departure' you must activate it on the Bridge," she whispered tiredly, "It will help you activate the ship." She passed out

Again he nodded as he waited for the Tharg. When they got to within ten feet he leapt. Diving between the two, he rolled and grabbed the lower edges of the machines and lifted with all his strength. The two Tharg toppled forwards, dislodging the creatures inside as the domes broke open. He watched them writhe on the floor, without emotion, until they stopped, then followed the corridor to the Turbo Lift.

He found the Captain and her crew outside the lift doors. "Medical Emergency, Lift Two," he called on the communicator, and bent to check his fallen friends. He was relieved to find them still breathing.

"The Turbo Lifts are locked," groaned Tuvok, as he knelt over him.

"I'll deal with it," the Colonel replied quietly.

He turned and made his way for the Jeffreys tube and started the long ascent to the Bridge.

As he fell out of the Bridge access port, he announced, "Computer activate program 'Departure'," then lay exhausted on the deck.

"Acknowledged," announced the impassive computer voice.

He felt the ship shudder as it moved off from the docking ports and crawled into the pilots seat. He gazed at the screen and the console in numb fascination as lights winked on and off. Deciding that the computer had a better idea of what it was doing than he did, he let it get on with it and simply watched as Voyager silently glided out of the Tharg hold then engage warp drive.

Captain Janeway, still groggy from her treatment on the planet, lead the relief crew to the Bridge and found him still hunched over the pilots console six hours later. They were amused as he sprang stiffly to attention as they entered.

"I'm sorry Ma'am, I've exceeded my authority," he announced, swaying slightly as he stood.

"How so?" she asked gently.

"I have stepped on the Bridge without authority or request, similarly I have usurped your authority by taking control of the vessel without authority," he replied stiffly, indicating the pilots console.

She looked at the tall soldier incredulously, his uniform was in tatters, tiredness and strain clearly showing on his face, but he was still erect and proud, arguing about the regulations he had broken.

"Under the circumstances, I think you carried out the correct actions," she assured him gently. "I see that we still have company," she continued, indicating the Caron and Darfon vessels, keeping station with them.

"I asked them to, until I could hand the ship back to you Ma'am," he confessed, "In case I pointed her in the wrong direction. I would be grateful if you would take her back. Please?"

She laughed, the last statements seemed so incongruous, considering all that he had done over the last few months. She stopped as he swayed dangerously.

"When was the last time you slept or had your wounds treated?" She asked urgently.

"Can't remember Ma'am," he admitted stoutly.

"Go to sickbay and get them sorted then go and rest!" She exclaimed. "That is an order," she thundered, as he hesitated and grimaced at the thought of seeing the Doctor.

"Ma'am," he acknowledged and stumbled towards the lift.

She slumped into her chair moaning softly, "He's impossible," she confided to Chakotay, as he sat in his chair. "Almost single-handedly he's led a revolt, rescued people from slavery, destroyed a very dangerous enemy, piloted the ship to safety and now wants me to arrest him for exceeding his authority."

Chakotay had been thinking about the Colonels comments, "I think it's self defence, he does what he believes is necessary without thinking. When it is all over he wonders whether what he did was right but can't make the decision."

"Perhaps you're right," she agreed, "But it is difficult to accept, he is so cool and certain at all other times." Then louder she called, "Tuvok, thank our friends for taking care of us and that we are now in control of events."

"I have done so, Captain," he advised, "However they wish to speak with you."

She sighed, "Put them on."

"What can I do for you?" she asked Carys and Papilon as their images showed on the screen.

"Captain," announced Carys, "We have discussed our recent experiences together and have decided that we would like to thank your Colonel. We believe we would not have survived if the situation had been left in the hands of the Hirogen."

"He refused," interrupted Papilon, excitedly, "He claimed he was performing his duty."

"That is not unusual for the Colonel, he does not accept thanks easily," she answered honestly, "What of it?"

Carys nodded, accepting the comment, "I understand. But perhaps we can offer something else of benefit. We have examined the course back to your quadrant and we posses accurate star charts for the next six thousand light years of your journey, will you accept those on his behalf?"

"And we can supply you with food and materials to help you on your way," yipped Papilon, almost bouncing with excitement.

The Captain was taken back by the generosity of the offer, "I believe the Colonel might be persuaded. For myself and the rest of the crew I would thank you for your gift."

Again Carys nodded, "It is agreed then, let it be a sign of good faith between our people. We will arrange for transmission." The screen went blank.

"Chakotay, liaise with our friends over what they decide to give us. I have a house call to make," she demanded and turned for the lift.

The Doctor was actually happy to see the Colonel, when he arrived.

"For once you've done the right thing and not got yourself seriously hurt," he announced glibly. "Just as well, Seven will need to regenerate for a week, before she can start pumping nano-probes into you again," he added.

"I think, I prefer you bitchy and temperamental," the Colonel grumbled.

"Could you have pulled the trigger of that rifle?" he asked, curious.

The question removed the smile from the Doctors face. "I don't think I could," he answered slowly, "It would have been too difficult to override my ethical routines."

"Deliberately killing your first intelligent life is very difficult," the Colonel admitted, "It took me days to get over it. Lets come to a deal. I'll look after the crews physical safety, you look after their health and we'll both work at keeping Miss Nine content and working," he suggested, a smile forming on his face.

He slid off the couch and marched out of the Sick Bay and turned towards the lower decks and Cargo Bay 2.

He entered and found Seven of Nine standing in her alcove, asleep. He dragged up a cargo container next to her and slumped down on it.

It was where the Captain tracked him to fifty minutes later. He stood to attention as she approached, she could have sworn he was asleep when the door opened.

"I have a problem," she announced, carefully.

"Ma'am?" He asked, equally carefully.

"I have a crewman, who refuses to accept a direct order from the commanding officer, what should I do?" she asked, a trace of a smile playing on her lips.

"I believe the Regulations are quite clear on the matter Ma'am," he announced, "The course is summary Courts Martial, with the possible penalties ranging from loss of rank, extended jail sentences and execution, depending upon the perceived danger caused by the refusal."

"Which should I use on you?" She demanded quietly, "I was quite specific, you should have yourself treated in sickbay, then go and rest."

"I am carrying out your orders, Ma'am!" He protested, "All of them!"

She looked at him quizzically. "Go on?" She prompted.

"I went to sickbay and was treated as ordered. I am resting as ordered, and I am continuing to look after Miss Nine as ordered," he announced stiffly. "The latter I have failed to carry out properly twice, I do not intend to fail again!" He admitted sadly.

"She is in no danger here and she won't be awake for a week, what state will you be in in a week Colonel!" The Captain demanded.

"I could wake Seven up and get her opinions on how well you are following my orders?" She offered casually.

"That will not be necessary, Ma'am. She needs to rest properly," He protested in alarm, "I'll come quietly."

"Good!" She announced, "I'll set the computer to remind you in good time to be here when Seven wakes, you will go and sleep. You will also report to my quarters at 19:00 tomorrow for debriefing over dinner, bring a bottle," she commanded.

In no state to argue strongly he left for his quarters. The Captain smiled, set the computer alarm and returned to the bridge.

He arrived at her door promptly at 19:00 as ordered and chimed the door bell.

"Good evening Ma'am," he announced, snapping to attention and saluting, as he entered.

"There is no need for formality Colonel, this is a friendly and informal dinner," she advised gently, leading him into her rooms, "Here I am Kathryn. You brought your 'nerve tonic', good!" She observed and relieved him of the two bottles of Metheglin he had brought.

"Ma'am!" He replied crisply, he hadn't relaxed.

She sighed, defeated, "Sit down, and relax, please," she almost pleaded with him, "And call me Ma'am or Captain again and I'll bring Tuvok in to throw you in the Brig."

"Ma.." he started, then corrected himself, "Yes Miss Janeway," doing as she bid.

"It's better, I suppose," she admitted, "Do you call Seven of Nine anything other than Miss Nine?" she asked.

"Sometimes, Miss," he answered, still formal.

"I'm not in your league as a chef, I hope strogonov is acceptable," she called, from the replicator at the back of her quarters.

"Perfectly, Miss," he answered.

Together they ate their meal, she making sure he was well plied with drink.

"I remember the first meal we had in your quarters, chicken soup and tea," she commented, remembering, "You were an unknown entity and we were scared of you and what you might be, as you were of us. Only Seven was really prepared to work with you, how you've changed her! Now you're one of our family and we look to you for help in a crisis," she mused, "A twentieth century man has become one of our strongest assets, it is a remarkable achievement."

"Thank you, Miss," He answered.

"What do you recommend I do with Lieutenant Caerey?" She asked, changing subjects, "He insisted on returning to the brig when we were freed," she continued.

"He's a good engineer, even if he doesn't know it himself. I suggest a stiff talking to, make sure he feels the risk he put Naomi and her mother in, remind him he has a family that may one day be in the same position. It will live with him longer than a jail sentence," suggested the Colonel.

She nodded, "I'll do it," she announced.

"Now tell me how you survived on that planet and how you think you failed to protect Seven of Nine?" she demanded, emptying the second bottle of Metheglin into his glass.

He went over the whole story, leaving nothing out, including the guilt that he still felt over his feelings and actions.

Finally the Captain spoke up. "Have you considered the possibility that Seven needed you to make love to her? She loves you, she may not totally understand the feelings, but that will not stop them operating on her. It is her final step to achieving humanity, finding somebody she needs to bond with, even give herself to," she counselled.

"It doesn't make it right, Miss, I should of continued to control myself. It was an error on my part. It would have been unacceptable behaviour in my younger days," he avowed.

"There is not a man on this vessel who wouldn't like to be where you are and wouldn't respond in exactly the same way and a lot sooner!" She exclaimed, "Just accept in this area you are as human as we are, I for one am very glad you are!" She continued hotly.

"As you wish Ma'am," he replied stonily.

"Not as I wish, you silly man! As you need and want to!" She almost screamed at him, "She needs you and you need her, accept it!"

"Yes Ma'am," he answered quietly.

The dinner finished he left the Captain, still feeling uncomfortable about the Captains comments. The Captain went to bed hoping those same comments had struck home.

He was sat by Seven of Nine when the regeneration cycle completed. She smiled at the lonely figure waiting for her, for him it seemed to light the bay. Tenderly they embraced and kissed.

"I have made many mistakes and this is probably the biggest I've ever made," he announced huskily, "I have failed to protect you adequately twice, once from the Tharg and once from me. But if you still want me I'm yours for as long as you want me to be so," he vowed.

"That is acceptable," she replied softly.

"May I take you to breakfast," he smiled, offering his arm.

"That is also acceptable," she affirmed, taking it in hers.

The mess was full, so they joined Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres at their table.

"How did you enjoy your time in the wilds acting like Cavemen?" asked Paris casually, as means to start conversation, he noticed that Seven of Nine was still wearing the supple leather suit that the Colonel had manufactured.

"It was educational," replied Seven levelly.

"What did you learn best?" Asked Torres, her keen senses picking up small signals.

"One person for company is enough if you care for them," she announced bluntly, then continued, "Lieutenant Torres, I wish to thank you for your advice on Kellor," she paused, "It was accurate," she commented.

Torres blushed acutely.

Tom and B'Elanna excused themselves and got up to go to their respective duties.

"What was that about?" a baffled Tom Paris asked.

"I think our Borg has finally become very human and taken the stiffness out of the Colonel while doing it," she announced cheerfully, leaning forward and kissing her beau firmly.

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