Chapter 15

Captain Kathryn Janeway stood on a grassy field in what was probably meant to be Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. She was in the holodeck, running the program that had been created by the six year old Annika, so long ago.

After she'd returned to Voyager, having retrieved the main computer core and the doctor's mobile emitter, Kathryn had felt an overwhelming urge to run the program. In the five seconds she took to analyze her reasons, she acknowledged that the 20 year old she used to be needed to be let out and the only safe place for that was with the hologram of her six year old friend.

Janeway had only run the program once before on Voyager. A month or so after realizing she'd stranded her crew sixty thousand light years from home, Janeway had been in her quarters, staring at the memory chip that held the program. Janeway remembered very well what it held and how the program ended, she also hoped that seeing her young friend's hologram would ease some of the despair she'd been feeling.

However, back then, seeing her younger self so full of life and her younger friend, whom she'd failed so long ago, had only added to the guilt Janeway was never free from. She felt the fresh guilt of her decision to strand her crew in the Delta Quadrant and also the constant guilt she'd been carrying with her for the better part of two decades.

However, now, knowing that somewhere on the ship her young friend was alive, and all grown up made her smile. Annika was alive and to Janeway (and Katie) that was the most important thing. Janeway watched in silence as the program ran its course to its familiar, but still confusing, ending.

Once the program ended, Janeway turned it off and walked to the control panel that held the memory chip. She knew she had the option of saving it in the database so she wouldn't have to always use the memory chip but Janeway wasn't going to run the risk of someone, like Tom Paris, coming across it and asking questions...or worse spreading it like gossip all over the ship.

Janeway shut down the program and tucked the memory chip into her pants pocket before opening the holodeck doors. Janeway stepped into the hallway and noticed Seven leaning against the opposite wall facing the entrance to the holodeck.

Seven looked up at the sound of the holodeck doors opening and when she saw Kathryn step out, she smiled.

Janeway, though surprised to see Seven standing there, couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face at seeing her waiting there.

"Hello Seven, waiting to use the holodeck?" Janeway knew Seven must've been waiting for her because she never really used the holodeck on her own.

"No, Captain I was waiting for you. I was hoping we could talk for a while, in private I mean." Seven said, hoping to get the Captain alone so that Annika could take over and say what she needed to say.

Janeway smiled, "Of course Seven. My quarters?"

"That is acceptable."

Janeway led the way and Seven followed, silently. Annika was in Seven's brain trying to tell her to loosen up and stop talking like a Borg. Seven, meanwhile was trying not to remind Annika that she was Borg and therefore couldn't help talking like one. Seven held back from fully interacting with Annika as it would mean retreating into her mind like before and doing so while walking could be dangerous.

Janeway, oblivious to the internal argument Seven and Annika were having, simply led the way to the turbolift. Once inside, she gave their destination and waited as the turbolift whooshed them away towards her quarters.

Janeway glanced at Seven, wondering what was going on in her mind that she was so quiet. Janeway mentally shrugged, realizing that she might never be able to guess since Seven was such a complex person, and add to that the memories of Annika that have obviously been surfacing and Janeway knew she was better off trying to understand time travel than Seven's thought processes.

The turbo lift opened and both ladies walked out and headed for Janeway's quarters. They got to the door and Janeway was about to key in the opening sequence when Chakotay hailed her.

"Bridge to the Captain."

Janeway sighed, frustrated at the interruption, though a part of her was a little relieved at the chance of possibly putting off the conversation she was sure Seven had in mind.

"Janeway here, what is it Chakotay?"

"Captain, sensors have picked up something...interesting. I think you might want to see this."

"On my way." Janeway knew her first officer wouldn't tell her if she asked, she'd heard that tone in his voice plenty of times and she knew not to fight it. She turned to Seven, "I'm sorry Seven, perhaps we can talk later?"

Seven, though unhappy at Chakotay's interruption, knew better than to argue. "Certainly Captain...you know where to find me." Seven said before she turned on her heel and walked away.

Janeway watched her go and almost called her back. Something about Seven's reply bothered her.

Janeway decided not to linger on that and she headed to the bridge.

'This had better be good.' She thought as she walked onto the bridge a few minutes later. "Report."

"Sensors have picked up a Class 1 Nebula a few hours from here. We're picking up traces of protomatter inside."

"Onscreen."

The viewscreen displayed the nebula and Janeway was impressed. "Any suggestions Chakotay?"

"Well, protomatter could be useful as an energy source on Voyager. I was thinking of taking a shuttle closer to try to collect some of the protomatter. What do you think?"

Janeway smiled. "I think that's a good idea. Neelix might have more insights and be useful on your mission. Take him with you."

"Yes Captain. We'll leave 1400 hours to give us time to make sure we have all we need."

Janeway nodded and then headed to her ready room. She wasn't ready to face Seven just yet so she decided to stay in her office. She rationalized it to herself by reminding herself that with Chakotay on an away mission, she would need to stay close to the bridge.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Seven left the Captain and headed to the mess hall, Annika had reminded her that it was time to eat. Seven stood in the kitchen area of the mess hall and picked up the plate of...food that Neelix had set aside for her. When the Talaxian re-entered the kitchen after talking with Commander Chakotay, Seven held the plate up and said, "these nutritional supplements are unacceptable."

Neelix looked at the plate and, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he looked up at Seven and asked, "Whats wrong?"

"They are pungent." The way she said 'pungent' almost made it seem like the word was synonymous with poison in her dictionary.

Neelix relaxed and said, "that's the whole idea. I've been adding Talaxian spices to broaden your palate."

Seven was undeterred, "considering I have the knowledge of thousands of species in my memory banks, my palate is sufficiently broad, thank you."

Neelix went about his routine as he explained about the up coming Prixin celebration. "It's the Talaxian celebration of family. We observe it every year on Voyager. Now that you're part of the family..." Neelix trailed off as he fought to not remember that Kes wasn't going to be at the celebration this year.

Seven asked, "What should I do to prepare?" Seven wanted to be ready, Annika wanted to avoid embarrassing Katie in any way during the party.

Neelix was a little amused as he explained that Prixin wasn't a mission, it was a party. Before he could elaborate, Ensign Wildman called him to help with her young daughter, Naomi, who happened to also be Neelix's goddaughter. Before he left, Seven stopped him.

"Naomi, I don't recall that designation on the crew manifest."

Neelix smiled, "That's because she's not a member of the crew. Naomi was the first child born on Voyager." Neelix's voice took on a proud tone as he continued, "I'm her godfather and the only one that can get her to sleep lately. Bon appetite!"

Neelix left Seven there to contemplate the new information and the...pungent food.

Seven took a seat at a table off in the corner. As she sat thinking about Prixin and Naomi, and even Katie, Annika suddenly spoke up. Seven closed her eyes and found Annika in their usual way.

"Annika, what is it?" Somehow, in this nether-space in her mind that they occupied when Annika wanted or needed to talk to Seven, Seven managed to sound more human than Borg. Seven found herself wishing she could carry that humanness out into the real world with her...to show Katie.

Annika smiled at her older self, "is it true? Is there really another little kid here on Voyager?"

Seven smiled, "yes, according to Neelix there's a little girl named Naomi, why?"

Annika looked at Seven with a hopeful expression, "do you think you could be nice to her long enough for me to be her friend? It would be nice to have another kid to play with...Katie is great but she's all grown up now."

Seven thought about that and said, with a sad tinge to her voice, "I can try but, there are still a lot of people on this ship that don't trust me because I am Borg. Naomi's mother might not want me to be friends with her daughter."

Annika looked down, saddened. If the people on Voyager could see Seven the way she was now, here in their safe space, they'd never again think of her as Borg. "Ok, fair enough I suppose."

Seven opened her eyes and looked around the mess hall, thankful that no one seemed to be paying her much attention. Seven carefully began eating the food Neelix had prepared, knowing her body needed the nutrients and reluctantly admitted to herself that it was quite tasty.

Seven finished eating then returned to Cargo bay 2 to regenerate. She knew she should try to finish her conversation with Captain Janeway but she also knew the captain would be busy today with the ship's business.

Seven's regeneration cycle was interrupted when she heard Neelix's voice calling out to a cylinder.

Neelix jumped a little when he saw Seven standing a few feet away. "Oh, sorry. I didn't realize you were home."

"I was regenerating."

"I see."

"Do you require assistance?" Seven tried to shake off the coldness in her voice but couldn't, it was too ingrained in her Borg nature.

Neelix never held it against her, knowing that sometimes Seven came off as colder or brusquer than she intended. "No, no, no, I have a small containment cylinder stored here. I'll just be a minute."

Neelix started looking again, calling out for the cylinder as if it were a wayward puppy.

Seven studied him in silence, confused by his actions but curious as well.

Neelix noticed and chuckled to himself as he explained, "I'm sorry, I'm talking to myself. It's my way of remembering things."

Seven looked at him, "you are a peculiar creature, Neelix."

Easy-going Neelix simply said, "thanks...I think." Suddenly he found what he was looking for and grabbed it up. In his rambling explanation, he mentioned the Kazon. Seven's eyes lit up with recognition.

"The Kazon--Species 329."

"You're familiar with them." It wasn't a question.

"The Borg encountered a Kazon colony in the Gand Sector, grid 6920."

"Were they assimilated?" Although he didn't like the Kazon, Neelix didn't like the thought of anyone being assimilated.

"Their biological and technological distinctiveness was...unremarkable. They were unworthy of assimilation." Seven spoke almost clinically, knowing not a lot of people were comfortable around her. Neelix, however, had always been nice to her.

Neelix was a bit surprised, "I didn't know the Borg were so discriminating."

"Why assimilate a species that would detract from perfection?" To Seven it was a logical question.

Neelix thought about it and had to agree, "Good point. Well, um, if you'll excuse me, I'm needed in the shuttle bay."

Neelix left and Seven watched him leave. She hoped that she could one day be human enough to interact with others the way she did with Annika. Seven was about to head to her post in Astrometrics when she was hailed by Captain Janeway. "Janeway to Seven of Nine."

"Seven here, Captain."

"Seven, please report to my ready room."

"On my way."

Seven tapped her badge and headed to the Bridge. Maybe now they would finally have that conversation.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Seven stood in Janeway's ready room and studied the older woman seated behind the desk. Annika was getting impatient with her and wanted Seven to let her take over but she knew she couldn't force it.

Just as Seven was about to let Annika loose, she heard, "Bridge to Captain Janeway."

Janeway sent an apologetic look at Seven before tapping her badge, "Janeway here, go ahead Mr. Kim."

"Captain, we're receiving a distress call from the shuttle."

Janeway's eyes widened a bit, "on my way."

Seven stepped aside as Janeway walked to the door. When she was close enough, Seven whispered, "later?"

Janeway nodded then left to take command and do what she did best.

"Mr. Kim, send a warning beacon into the nebula then begin scanning for the away team."

"Aye, Captain."

It was a tense few hours on the bridge before Harry spoke again, "Captain, I'm detecting a shuttle."

After a few minutes, Janeway gave the transport order and headed to sickbay. Three crew members were on that shuttle but Voyagers sensors only picked up 2 life signs. Janeway needed to know what happened.

Janeway stood by the biobed that held Neelix's dead body and felt an overwhelming sadness. Neelix was a great man and he would really be missed. And one more body added itself to the ever growing guilt in Janeway's heart.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Seven walked onto the bridge and headed to the turbolift. She was stopped by Harry.

"Seven, I saw you with Neelix before the mission and I thought you should know...he was killed. He's in sickbay but...he's dead, I'm sorry."

Harry didn't know why but he felt Seven should be told in person and not through the ship wide announcement that was sure to happen soon.

Seven took in the news stoically before nodding and stepping into the turbolift. "Sickbay." The lift whooshed along as Seven closed her eyes.

Annika, who saw and heard everything Seven did, was sitting on the floor, crying. Seven rushed to her, got down to the girl's level, and held her as she cried.

"Annika, there is a way to save Neelix." Seven said, after a few moments of silence.

Annika, in tears, looked up at Seven, "How?"

"It's a Borg procedure, used to reactivate drones mostly but it can be modified to work for Neelix."

"Do it, get him back Seven, please. He's one of the very few people who've been nice to us."

"I understand. If...Katie, I mean if Captain Janeway, agrees to it, I'll get him back Annika."

Seven hugged the young girl before she opened her eyes and returned to the real world.

Just in time for the turbolift doors to open and Seven walked to Sickbay. As she walked in she heard Janeway say, "somehow, that feels appropriate."

Seven walked up to Janeway, forcing herself to see the Captain and not Katie, and said, "Neelix is dead."

"I'm afraid so."

If Janeway expected Seven (or Annika) to break down she was in for a surprise as Seven directed her next question to the Doctor, "His neural pathways--are they intact?"

"Yes, but there's no metabolic activity."

"How long has he been dead?" Seven needed to know, to be sure her plan would work.

Janeway, not understanding Seven's reaction, intervened, "Seven, I understand--"

"How long?" Seven interrupted, not willing to be deterred.

Chakotay answered, Seven had forgotten he was even in the room until he spoke, "It's been 18 hours."

Seven took that in, "then it's not too late to reactivate him."

Tom Paris spoke up, "What are you saying, that you can bring Neelix back to life?"

"That's precisely what I am saying. The Borg have assimilated species with far greater medical knowledge than your own. We are capable of reactivating drones as much as 73 hours after what you would call death."

"Neelix wasn't a Borg drone." Chakotay said, stating the obvious.

Seven hid her grin when she heard Annika in her head say, 'duh! Commander Obvious! Who the hell was talking to you? Sheesh, shut up and listen! Dummy!' "We will adapt."

"What does this 'procedure' involve?" Though reluctant, the Doctor was obviously curious in learning something new.

Seven explained, talking mostly to the Doctor and Janeway, having already dismissed Chakotay and Paris from her mind. She didn't need their approval she needed Janeway's...and to a lesser extent the Doctor's.

"Nanoprobes are used to reverse cellular necrosis, while the cerebral cortex is stimulated with a neuro-electric iso--pulse."

"But there's nothing left to stimulate. His brain functions are gone." The Doctor said.

"By your narrow definition perhaps, but not by mine. You will extract 70 micrograms of Nanoprobes from my bloodstream. I will modify them to match his Talaxian physiology." Seven paused a moment before she said, "his function in this crew is diverse. If you wish to salvage him, we must proceed immediately."

Tom was all for it but Janeway needed a moment to think it through. After a few moments of thought, and Seven's reassurance that it would work and there'd be no ill-effects to Neelix's brain, Janeway looked Seven in the eye for a few seconds before lowering her gaze and giving the order to proceed, despite the Doctor's protests.

Janeway and the others left and Seven and the Doctor began the process, Seven smiled to herself when Annika thanked her.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

It was the first night of Prixin and Seven stood close to the door of the mess hall, apart from the rest of the crew as she observed them.

The procedure had been a success and Neelix was alive again, but Seven noticed something wasn't the same about him. His smile didn't come as easily to his face as it had before. Seven was only at the party because it was mandatory and because Annika had insisted they go so she could see Neelix and make sure he was okay. Seven stood silently as she observed Neelix's demeanor. Annika saw right away and told Seven that Neelix looked uncomfortable, like he felt out of place. Which was ridiculous because from what she'd gathered, Prixin was Neelix's favorite holiday and he'd been the one to really convince Janeway to add it to the celebrations. Before Seven could approach him, Tuvok began talking.

As Tuvok's speech progressed, Seven observed Neelix's growing discomfort. When Tom Paris turned everyone's attention onto Neelix, he looked like he was going to jump out of his skin. Seven noticed that no one besides herself seemed to notice Neelix's discomfort.

Seven remained in her spot, not knowing how to put Neelix at ease or even if it was her place to try, so she stayed there as the others mingled. She watched as the crew interacted with each other, and idly wondered if there would ever come a time when she would be comfortable in this type of setting.

Seven, knowing she couldn't leave the party so early, distracted herself by looking around at the crew, noting their joy in the moment. Her observations were cut short when she noticed Captain Janeway walk up beside her.

There was a smile on Kathryn's face as she asked in a slightly amused tone, "having fun?"

"No." Seven wanted to say that Annika was having fun but Janeway interrupted her.

"That's probably because you've been standing here by yourself." Janeway had been keeping an eye on Seven for a few minutes before she'd approached her, hoping the younger woman would join the festivities on her own.

Seven studied the other woman for a moment, "I'm not by myself, Annika is with me." Seven paused a moment then, "I--we don't understand the rules and procedures for this type of...social occasion." Seven turned away at the admission, suddenly shy for some reason.

Kathryn suddenly realized that Seven was truly out of her depth, and Annika, being a child, would be no help. She softened her tone, her heart aching at the memory of Annika and the image of her young friend in such an intimidating setting as a party like this could be, "the rules are simple. Choose a group of people, listen to their conversation. Then, when you feel like you have something to contribute, chime in."

Seven was confused by that last bit, "'chime in'?"

"You say something," Janeway clarified, "join the discussion."

Seven took a calming breath before, "I will try Captain, but when will we have our discussion?"

Kathryn smiled, "after the party, in my quarters, say...2230 hours?"

Seven nodded, then walked away to choose a group of people to talk to.

Kathryn watched her go, content for the moment to stand by and make sure Seven didn't require her help. Kathryn felt very protective of Seven and Annika and she didn't want them hurt. She also took the moment to study Seven.

When Janeway realized her eyes were slowly tracing the curve of Seven's breasts and having impure, inappropriate thoughts about Seven's body, she mentally scolded herself before she turned away from Seven and went to talk with Chakotay...anything to distract herself from the nature of her thoughts. The lust that went with those thoughts had hit her like a sucker punch to the gut.

Seven walked over to the Doctor who was speaking to a blond woman. After listening to their conversation, Seven concluded that the woman was the mother of the child, Naomi Wildman.

The doctor's voice caught her attention again, "the early stages of K'tarian development are astounding. Naomi has grown five centimeters since her last physical and that was only three weeks ago."

The blond agreed, "it seems like every time I turn around, I'm recycling her clothes back into the replicator."

Despite Annika's warning to stay quiet a bit longer, Seven spoke up, "Children assimilated by the Borg are placed in maturation chambers for 17 cycles."

Annika cringed in the silence that followed Seven's words, trying not to say 'I told you so' to Seven.

The blonde broke the silence first, "interesting. Well, if you'll excuse me, I need to go talk to Neelix." The blonde left.

The Doctor, curious yet a little sarcastic, asked, "in these, maturation chambers, the development of conversation skills is, I suppose, a low priority?"

Seven studied him, "Yes. Borg do not make small talk."

"I see."

Annika wanted to hurt the Doctor for his tone and his mocking but knew he was a hologram and couldn't be hurt so she simply told Seven to walk away.

Seven arched her eyebrow at the Doctor then walked away, Borg arrogance firmly on display as she moved around the room, killing time until she could head to the Captain's quarters for their long delayed talk.

An hour before she was to report to the Captain's quarters, the Doctor asked Seven to run a hematological scan on Neelix so that he could regulate the next injection of Nanoprobes. Seven was about to refuse when she reminded herself that it was important, and a scan didn't normally take that long.

Seven walked into the deserted mess hall and found Neelix cleaning up. She explained about the scan and why it was needed and Neelix stood there as she began the scan.

But soon, Neelix began to voice his discomfort with the situation, "how much longer will I be needing these injections?"

Seven answered in her usual Borg tone, "until your damaged cells can function on their own."

"I don't really like the idea of Borg technology swimming around inside of me."

Seven glanced at him for a second then went back to the tricorder. "That is irrelevant. You need the nanoprobes to live."

"Live? Oh, is that what I am doing right now, living? I'm beginning to wonder." Neelix began to move around the room and Seven started to get frustrated. At this rate, she'd be late for her talk with Kathryn. Seven tried to get Neelix to stand still by talking to him.

"By most definitions, you are alive."

"Well, part of me isn't alive."

"Which part are you referring to?"

Seven tried to continue the scan when Neelix moved again.

"I don't know, but something is missing. I don't feel like Neelix anymore. Maybe Neelix is gone. Maybe he died and I'm all that's left."

Seven thought about that, in a way she could relate to what Neelix was talking about. The rift between who she was before she became Borg (Annika) and who she was now (Seven) could be likened to a form of death. In essence, when she was assimilated a form of Annika died and when she was reactivated, all that was left was Seven. But Annika was still there, hidden and trapped by the Borg technology and now, Seven had a chance to know her, to be her again if she could find the key to their unification--if Seven could be more human and less Borg.

Seven, however, said nothing of this to Neelix, instead she said, "stop moving and allow me to complete the scan."

"I--I didn't ask to be brought back!"

"You were dead at the time."

"What right did you have to violate me?" Neelix demanded, angry, "you Borg think you can fix anything, but you didn't fix me!"

"There was no alternative."

"Just get out. Just leave me alone. I said get out!" By now, Neelix was right in Seven's face, screaming.

Annika was a little scared but Seven stood her ground, "I would be negligent in my duties if I did that."

"I don't care about your duties! I don't care--" Neelix stopped yelling as the pain took over and he stumbled to a nearby chair. Seven picked up the tricorder again to find out what was wrong. When she saw that his cells were reverting to a necrotic state--dying--she rushed him to Sickbay.

After the Doctor explained the situation to the Captain and Chakotay, he sent the Commander to talk with Neelix. The Doctor went to his office to check on something and Seven and Kathryn were alone for a moment.

Seven turned to Kathryn, "I'm...sorry that our talk was delayed."

"Seven it's not your fault. Once Neelix is done talking to Chakotay and the Doctor gives the all clear, you and I are going to talk--tonight. Understood?"

Seven nodded.

After a few moments, Chakotay came back and after some more talk, the Doctor cleared Neelix to leave Sickbay and he left with Chakotay.

Seven and Janeway left too and headed to the Captain's quarters for their long delayed talk.

TBC...


A/N: Sorry for the long delay...other stuff got in the way. Hope this tides y'all over until I can get back to this fic.