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Early Tuesday morning, and Harry Kim found himself in the observation lounge of McKinley Station, several hundred miles above Earth's waters. The station's massive viewports towered above him, affording a stunning view of the planet; dawn was breaking across the Pacific Ocean, and the snows of Antarctica were lent a striking brilliance by the glow of the sun. And in the face of this spectacle, McKinley's morning shift went about their duties, preparing the station for another day. Starfleet uniforms flitted back and forth before him, and his eye was caught by the vivid red 'BIOHAZARD' symbol on the side of a large metal container that passed him on its way to Waste Management. Off to Harry's right, a Bolean was tinkering with one of the atmospheric conditioning units, and in a far corner, an engineer consulted with what looked like a fluorescent orange lion. A muted atmosphere prevailed overall, snatches of chatter from the station's crew mingling with comm announcements and the unceasing hiss of automated doors, the combined noise carrying all the way up to the lounge's high ceilings. And yet the ambience in the hall seemed somehow incomplete without the clamour and hubbub brought by throngs of people crossing its floors, the station itself seeming to thrum in anticipation of the coming of the day's ships and the return of the commotion and bustle to which it was accustomed.
Tom Paris made his way across the hall, a pair of trays balanced in front of him. "Two traditional German breakfasts," he announced upon reaching the area where Harry was sitting. "Apparently."
"Let's see," Harry said, taking one of the trays. "Bread rolls. Ham. Coffee. Hazelnut omelette. Not bad!" Then, as he was spreading jam over his roll, "Replicated?"
"They told me the chef round here is a sixty year-old Klingon called Bruiser. Probably not a good idea to wake him up at six in the morning."
Harry contemplated his brotchen. "Probably not."
Tom ate quietly for a while. Then, through a mouthful: "So, how exactly is she arriving here? Are her buddies dropping her off?"
"Sure'd liven things up if a Borg sphere turned up and requested permission to dock. No, the Admiral arranged for her to be delivered on the Demeter. That's one of the first ships scheduled to arrive here today, so we shouldn't have to wait very long."
"I'm sure the good crew of the Demeter got a surprise when they found out their cargo would be needing living quarters. They were expecting a corpse."
"Yeah, well, Seven seems to enjoy surprising people, doesn't she?"
They ate in silence at that, until Tom asked: "Does everyone know that she's okay?"
"Well, Tuvok is attending a conference at Psi Epsilon, and the Admiral wasn't able to get a hold of him. Neelix we can't get in contact with either – actually, I don't think he even knows she's supposed to be dead in the first place. But everyone else has been told, I think."
"Remember when she took off? We all figured she wouldn't last a month out there. Everyone joked about it. And she ended up staying for three years."
"And from what I can gather, she's heading right back as soon as she's recovered."
"All those years on Voyager, we all kept telling her what a great place Earth is. And it ends up being such a disappointment that she feels more at home in a war zone."
He had never shared it with anyone, but Harry Kim had in fact been the last among Voyager's crew to see Seven before she left Earth for Arius, three years ago. Pure luck placed them both, ironically enough, in the very same hall in which Harry now sat. Harry had been assigned to the Heidegger, on which he would serve as lieutenant commander, and was awaiting transport to the Mars shipyards to assume his new posting. Seven was sitting disconsolately in a booth in a remote corner of the lounge, so absorbed in her thoughts that she did not notice him until he was standing directly before her.
"Lieutenant!" she started, as if shaken out of some intense reverie.
"Seven!" he replied, beaming, then: "You've heard about my promotion, I see."
"Yes," nodding. "Congratulations."
"Thanks. I'm on my way to Mars right now, actually." He sat down opposite her, then gestured to the three or four bags lying at her feet. "And you? Planning to do some travelling?"
"That is correct."
"Anywhere particular in mind?"
"No, I have not yet decided on a specific destination," she said, and Harry nodded understandingly. Such uncertainty would have seemed highly uncharacteristic of Seven during her tenure on Voyager, but the truth was that since reaching the Alpha Quadrant, the former Borg drone had been distinctly inactive. When Voyager reached its final destination, Seven had attempted to adapt to life in her new setting. Janeway, freshly promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral, secured Seven a position at a scientific research institute in San Francisco. The facility itself was adjacent to Starfleet Headquarters, Janeway's new workplace, and also Starfleet Academy, where the holographic Doctor had been appointed chief of a research department. Janeway intended San Francisco to represent the ideal point of integration for Seven into human society; she would be engaging in cutting-edge research in one of the most modern and vibrant cities on Earth, all the while remaining in constant contact with her closest friends and mentors.
Of course, things did not work out as Janeway intended. Life on Earth, with its confusing arrangement of customs and social conventions, proved far more trying and much less accommodating than in the Delta Quadrant. Seven found herself at odds with her new colleagues, and before long, resigned her position at the institute. A succession of similar postings followed, the intervals of time between such jobs becoming greater and greater, until eventually Seven seemed to see no need for employment at all. Out of the ship's entire crew, Seven had always been the one that was subject to the most intense public scrutiny, and the media made much of increasingly strange and unpredictable behaviour. Seven of Nine, the efficiency-obsessed Borg drone, among the most industrious of Voyager's crew during its long journey home, now spent much of her time aimlessly wandering Earth, roving from city to city, landmark to landmark. Weeks went by during which she would not contact her acquaintances, and rumours swirled of a falling-out with the Admiral.
Harry's conversation with Seven on McKinley Station that day was of little consequence, until Seven asked Harry something that seemed to have been preoccupying her.
"Lieutenant, during your mission on the Heidegger, will there be many opportunities for you to contact Earth?"
"Well…we're headed to Kefka IV as soon as we launch, so we're going to be out of transmission range for a couple of weeks. We're scheduled to make a stopover at Earth after that, though, then it's off to deep space. Why?"
"If it does not overly inconvenience you, I would be grateful if you could send a message on my behalf when you return."
"Sure, I guess. But who is this message for?"
"The Doctor. Icheb. Naomi Wildeman. In fact, the Voyager crew in general."
Harry found this unusual. "Okay…"
"I intend to travel to Arius in the Sulsa System, to lend my assistance to the Borg there."
She met his dumbfounded reaction with a steady, resolute gaze. "You're going to Arius?" he exclaimed. "Why?"
"I believe my abilities will serve a better purpose there than on Earth," she responded.
"How? Seven, there is nothing on Arius. You've seen it in the news reports like everyone else, it's a ruin. There is no government, no law, no facilities-"
"There are Borg. And they are all that is preventing the Collective from assimilating that world."
The resistance movement at Arius began taking shape even before Voyager had made it home to the Alpha Quadrant. After the destruction of Unimatrix Zero, countless Borg drones found themselves discarded by their collective, expelled from the unified, all-encompassing Borg mind. Forsaken by the race that had torn them from their natural homes, and with no hope of acceptance elsewhere in the galaxy, it was only natural that such drones would find themselves brought together. Some opted to settle on remote planets, to establish communities of their own in an attempt to realise the life that was denied them when they were assimilated. Others, however, chose to dedicate their lives to combating their former collective, and took to creating resistance cells throughout the universe. One such cell could be found on Arius in the Sulsa System.
Five hundred light years from Sol, Arius was located on the boundaries of an expansive region of Borg space. A heavily industrialised world, Arius had been beset for some years by attack from the Collective; the world lay nearly in ruins, its people eking an existence in shelters and slums far underneath the devastated cities. To this ravaged world came the banished drones, borne on the same vessels on which they were set adrift when the Hive fragmented. The exiles made Arius their home, their base of operations, and the platform from which they launched their attacks on their former kind. Of course, the resistance could never hope to mount an outright, frontal assault on the Collective; in terms of resources and sheer power, the rebels were no match for the Hive. But tremendous damage could be done by interfering with and compromising the Borg computer system, which regulated the functioning of the entire Collective. The insurgent drones thus spent their days fashioning ever more sophisticated viruses and programmes with which to cripple the hive mind.
"Seven, I don't think you're doing this for the right reasons. I'm sorry that things have not worked out for you on Earth, but that's no reason to just jump on a transport and leave!"
"My experiences on Earth have no relevance to my decision to go to Arius, Lieutenant."
"Then why are you going?"
"I have already told you. I intend to assist the Borg there in resisting the advance of the Collective."
"Seven, you need to think about this. There's nothing for you out there. What if something goes wrong? At least on Earth you have friends you can turn to if something bad happens, you have a support structure. On Arius you don't have anything!"
"I do not desire to be dependent on my friends. Voyager's crew has disbanded. The crew are attempting to establish careers. They have begun to raise families. I cannot demand support of them any more. I am capable of functioning on my own now. As an individual."
He did not stop her from leaving. Later, he would find out that Seven was travelling under an assumed identity, presumably so as not to alert the Admiral to her departure. Harry delivered Seven's message as promised, and though he did not personally inform the Admiral, he had no doubt the news would reach her.
Voyager's crew would not see Seven again for three years. At first, the reaction of certain crewmembers could almost have been described as derisive; Seven had set off for Arius on an ill-considered whim, and her adventure in the Sulsa System would end the moment she recognized the true horror of where she was headed. Not all were so scornful, of course; among Voyager's Maquis contingent, there was something approaching admiration for what Seven had done, even if there remained a lingering uncertainty over whether she could go through with what she had set out to do. But time went by, and it became clear that Seven was not coming back.
Life went on regardless. Harry was eventually promoted to second officer on the Heidegger. Each year, Voyager's crew would come together from across the system to gather in the Admiral's residence and sip cognac on a balcony overlooking the San Francisco Bay. News filtered through to Earth from the conflict on Arius, the resistance there growing stronger and stronger with each defeat it inflicted upon the Collective. The rebel Borg were holding the Hive at bay, and the natives of Arius slowly began to emerge from beneath the rubble of their shattered world. And then, three years after Seven's departure, a message found its way to Earth through the gulfs of subspace. Seven of Nine had been killed.
The message, sent by Seven's comrades in the resistance, did not enter into specifics with regards the exact cause of her death; it only seemed to suggest that she had been critically injured during an incursion into a Borg cube, and had died of her injuries after returning to base. Her body lay in stasis on Arius, and would need to be claimed and returned to Earth. Admiral Janeway immediately set about arrangements; a memorial had to be organized, and someone must be dispatched to accompany Seven's corpse back to Earth. Communications were sent throughout the Alpha Quadrant, informing Voyager's former crew of the death of one of their own. The crew began to make their way back home, back to Earth, as happened each year for the occasion of the annual reunion, only this time they would not be celebrating their return home, but burying a companion.
Then one evening, Harry was contacted by an old friend. The Heidegger had been dispatched on a mission to Wolf 359, but Harry had been granted leave to attend Seven's memorial, and so had been spending the last few days catching up with acquaintances while he awaited the date of the service. He had just returned to his apartment in Los Angeles, when he received a transmission from San Francisco.
"Doc! It's good to see you. How have you been?"
"I've been doing very well, Lieutenant Commander," and it immediately occurred to Harry that the Doctor seemed oddly cheerful, given that one of his closest friends had recently died. "Congratulations on your latest promotion."
"Thanks. How's life at the Academy?"
"Colourful. One of my colleagues has become embroiled in a sex scandal, you may have heard."
"Yeah, I heard." The colleague in question, a prominent authority on exobiology, had found himself subject to the undivided attention of Earth's media for his indiscretions with a Vulcan student. What made the whole affair absurd was the fact that his student was twenty years his senior.
"I have some news with respect to Seven's memorial," the Doctor went on. "We're going to have to postpone it. Indefinitely."
Harry's eyes goggled. "She's okay?"
"She is. She sent a communication, which Starfleet received just this afternoon."
"What happened? Was there a mix-up in identities? Did they mistake someone else's corpse for her?"
"No, apparently she was in fact clinically dead, or at the very least exhibited no lifesigns for some considerable period of time. Her message was somewhat lacking in details, I'm afraid. However, she did say that she is currently en route to Earth, and that is where you come in, Lieutenant Commander."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Go on…"
"Seven is travelling to Earth on the USS Demeter, which is due to arrive at McKinley Station at six hundred hours this coming Tuesday."
"And you think it would be nice if there was a welcoming committee there waiting for her."
"I would go myself," the Doctor insisted. "But I have lectures all morning, and we're rapidly approaching the holiday exams."
"Alright, Doc. I suppose it's the least I can do for a war hero. McKinley, Tuesday, six hundred hours?"
"Correct. And I thought you may require company, so I have already persuaded Mr. Paris to attend as well."
Harry snorted gently. "This really is a welcoming committee. Reckon we should bring fireworks?"
"I strongly advise you to forego anything that may put one in mind of ballistic firearms. Apparently that's a significant problem on Arius."
And so Harry came to be sitting alongside Tom Paris on a bench in McKinley Station, the remnants of his breakfast on the floor at his feet. It felt strangely appropriate that he should be welcoming Seven back to Earth, given that he was the one that saw her off those three years ago. He wondered what it was that Seven got out of a place like Arius. What reward had she found there? What kept her in that place for three years, away from her home and friends? What did Arius offer Seven, aside from privation, despair and constant, violent upheaval? What need did that place fulfil, with its hardship, degradation and turmoil, that Earth could not?
Earth shone in McKinley's viewports. Who knows, he remarked to Tom. Perhaps when she's been here a few days, she'll remember what she's missing.
Thanks for reading. The next chapter will come as soon as possible; hopefully it won't be as long as this one. Please note, however, that this fiction is rated M for a reason, and will deal with some potentially contentious issues such as drug abuse and lesbianism. If you find these ideas off-putting, however, please be aware that I intend to depict these things in a very indirect manner. I got fed up of waiting for someone to write a particular kind of Seven Of Nine fiction, so I just decided to do it myself.